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MailTribune.com
  • IN SALEM

    Legislators reach state budget deal

    Accord reached on eve of February session
  • Rogue Valley legislators Peter Buckley and Dennis Richardson announced a major budget deal Tuesday, culminating three months of negotiations on the eve of today's opening of the Oregon Legislature.
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  • Rogue Valley legislators Peter Buckley and Dennis Richardson announced a major budget deal Tuesday, culminating three months of negotiations on the eve of today's opening of the Oregon Legislature.
    Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, and Richardson, a Central Point Republican, are co-chairmen of the state's Ways and Means Committee, which builds the budget proposal that will be presented to the full Legislature.
    They said the budget deal would avoid cuts to K-12 education and programs for seniors and the disabled, while creating a cushion in case the state suffers continued declines in revenues. "It's a major breakthrough," Richardson said. "It was a heart-wrenching process that reflected a lot of different attitudes."
    Discussions began in November with Buckley, Richardson and Sen. Richard Devlin, who represents the Senate side on the budget committee. Buckley and Richardson both serve on the committee because the House is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. "We've been working ever since," Richardson said. "But intense negotiations happened over the past three weeks. Many times it didn't look like we were going to do it."
    Both Buckley and Richardson expressed confidence that the budget agreement would meet approval by the full Legislature.
    Buckley and Richardson said they were looking at a $200 million shortfall in the $15 billion Oregon budget, based on recent economic forecasts.
    Richardson said some of the savings resulted from an agreement not to fill middle management positions, which would force the state to run leaner.
    Those cuts include eliminating positions that he said essentially were used to lobby legislators to preserve state programs.
    Eliminating the manager and public affairs positions would save $25 million.
    "We don't need to be lobbied by departments," he said.
    The deal also would reduce a number of Oregon Health Authority programs, saving $33 million. The budget plan proposes shifting a $41 million tobacco lawsuit settlement into the general fund and reducing long-term care funding from $53.4 million to $40 million.
    There are a variety of smaller cuts proposed for other programs, such as a $1 million cut in the Department of Human Services JOBS program, a $2.2 million cut in a domestic violence program and a $1.6 million cut in the Department of Corrections budget, which would result in the closure of one small facility, but no release of prisoners.
    Richardson said the state's budget outlook is still dependent on assumptions, including the possibility the state will receive millions from the federal government for a health care reform program in Oregon.
    A $146 million ending fund balance also is part of the agreement. That would provide a financial cushion in case there are more revenue declines — a situation that has dogged the Legislature for the past several sessions.
    However, if the state continues to see major declines in revenues, all bets are off. Buckley said the Legislature would have to take a hard look at across-the-board cuts in education and senior and disabled services if revenue projections continue to slide.
    Part of the ending fund balance — $23 million — has been set aside so the legislative Emergency Board could respond to interim financial needs without calling the Legislature back into session.
    Buckley said he had hoped the state's revenue projection would have improved because numerous programs are not able to meet the demand for their services. He pointed, for example, to community colleges, which haven't seen increased funding that corresponds to rapid hikes in enrollment.
    In 2010, voters approved annual meetings of the Legislature, rather than the every-other-year meetings previously mandated. The even-year meeting is limited to 35 days, and legislators say they hope it will be shorter than that this year, closing before the end of February.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email dmann@mailtribune.com.
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