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Hannon, governor seek solution to school funding woes

After a meeting with the governor Friday afternoon, state Sen. Lenn Hannon said there is hope that schools will be able to avoid further devastating cuts despite the state's possible &

36;1 billion shortfall.

I really have a firm sense of optimism that there's a solution there, and I think we can keep the schools funded, said Hannon, an Ashland Republican. It will take a combination of increases and one-time fixes ' but it appears we can do it.

But what I need to emphasize is it's going to require some leadership and it will have to come from both sides of the aisles, both Democrats and Republicans.

The state is currently facing a budget shortfall that has been estimated to be between &

36;800,000 and &

36;1 billion. Much of the problem is due to the state's recession, but that financial trouble was exacerbated when voters rejected Measure 13 on Tuesday. The measure referred to the voters by the Republican-led Legislature, would have siphoned &

36;220 million from the state Education Endowment Fund and been given to schools to keep them from having to make deeper cuts than is already occurring.

Since Tuesday, Hannon, who is the Senate's budget chief, and Sen. Peter Courtney, a Salem Democrat have been discussing possible bipartisan solutions to the crisis. Hannon said he and Courtney were able to come very close on a plan, although there was still some middle ground left to cover.

At 2 p.m. Friday, Hannon and Courtney met with Gov. John Kitzhaber in his office at the Capitol in Salem.

I think we made tremendous progress today, Hannon said in a phone interview as he drove back to Ashland late Friday afternoon.

Hannon declined to give specifics about the funding proposals. He said the governor was going to call the Senate President and the Speaker of the House, who are on a trade mission in China, and brief them on the discussions. Kitzhaber then will make an announcement, revealing some details of the meeting when he speaks before a Rotary Club in Eugene on Tuesday.

Hannon said his meeting with the governor lasted about an hour and a half.

We took our proposals, and he brought his proposal, and it was amazing the amount of similarities between the two, Hannon said. What we emphasized is anything we do should only be taken as a short-term solution. It should not be construed as a long-term solution.

In the long run, something needs to be done to address the school-funding formula.

Some of the solutions that have been discussed in the past include increased beer and wine taxes, increased cigarette taxes, adding a surcharge on income tax, using the national tobacco settlement fund for a one-time fix, and delaying implementation of Measure 88, which increases the amount of federal taxes that can be deducted on Oregon tax returns.

Hannon cautioned there is an urgency to their discussions. Schools need to finalize their budgets by July 1, so legislators must come up with a plan by early or mid-June. That's especially a problem because the legislative leadership is out of the country until June 4. A special session of all legislators has not yet been set.

We will try to move the process along as far as we can, but we realize that any possible final decisions can only be made after they get home, Hannon said. The reason for meetings now is to move the process along in their absence ' we can't wait 10 days while they are out of the country.

Hannon will continue his meetings with the governor Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Reach reporter Dani Dodge at 776-4471, or e-mail