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Effort for state savings account defeated

The most controversial feature was to suspend temporarily the kicker, a rebate to taxpayers

SALEM ' For years, the Oregon Legislature has introduced proposals for a rainy day fund to help state government weather bad economic times.

On Wednesday, an effort by two Republican senators, including Sen. Jason Atkinson of Jacksonville, to set up a state savings account once again went down in defeat.

The proposed joint resolution to change the Oregon Constitution and create a stability fund of up to &

36;2.5 billion ' 25 percent of the general fund ' was submitted as a minority report to an elections measure.

It failed on an 11-19 vote. Backers needed a two-thirds majority, or 20 votes, to refer it to the voters in the May 2004 primary election.

— Atkinson and Sen. Roger Beyer of Mollala filed the minority report to get the proposal to the floor.

We asked for this in bill form, but Democrats locked up on us, Atkinson said. The Senate is tied 15-15.

The proposal also included a cap on state spending based on population growth and the consumer price index. The most controversial feature, however, was to suspend temporarily the kicker, a popular feature with Oregonians.

State law requires that if tax collections exceed state revenue forecasts, the surplus is rebated to taxpayers.

Beyer, who carried the minority report, said if the Legislature had established an emergency reserve when times were good, it would have gotten us through the six special sessions.

Sen. Steve Harper, R-Klamath Falls, vice-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, supported the proposal.

Our revenue is volatile because we rely on the income tax, he said. So how do we save for the future, for another recession ' and it's coming. We don't spend every dime we take in every year.

Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, co-chairman of Ways and Means, opposed the legislation. He said the state already funnels lottery dollars into an education stability fund, and limits will be placed on spending beginning with the 2003-05 budget.

Another limit seems a little ridiculous at this time, said Schrader.

Beyer countered that the education stability account is dedicated solely for education and not other state programs such as social services and public safety. The minority report's savings account could be tapped for all state programs.

Besides, said Beyer, a lot of people in Oregon don't believe money from gambling should be used to support education.

We have to have a (broad-based) savings account or we will go through this again and again, he said of the grueling six special sessions called last year to patch the state budget with one-time revenues.

Don Jepsen is a longtime journalist and free-lance writer living in Salem.