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Heal thy state

Oregon editors say

Kitzhaber prescribes strong medicine but the neediest are going unattended

The Oregonian

As a physician, Gov. John Kitzhaber knows well the medical credo, First, do no harm. If only he would apply that ideal to Oregon's ailing public schools.

Instead, Kitzhaber announced in a statewide televised address Wednesday he will go ahead and do what he's been warning for weeks.

He will veto the Legislature's budget bills, summon lawmakers back to Salem next week for up-or-down votes on his vetoes and force yet another special session on Oregon's fiscal crisis in early September, just as schools are about to reopen.

The governor wants legislators to let voters decide in November on a three-year income-tax surcharge that would raise &

36;500 million a year for education. He thinks there's political support and time for a successful campaign, but that's an exceedingly risky leap of faith.

Schools would have to open next month without enough money to get past April ' a bit of brinksmanship the governor hopes will force the issue on public school finance. Meeting with journalists before his speech, Kitzhaber ridiculed the Legislature's budget measures as Prozac for the masses, borrowing against future tax resources.

Here's the hard political truth about the income-tax surcharge he prefers: There's not enough time. There's not majority support in the Legislature. And Oregon voters, who are watching their retirement funds and savings accounts getting clobbered on Wall Street, almost certainly would defeat it at the polls.

Kitzhaber said he will call the Legislature back into session Aug. 16 to either sustain or override his vetoes.

We strongly believe that lawmakers of both parties should vote to override the governor's vetoes. That's not because the school-payment shift and tobacco-tax bonding are great public policies ' they aren't ' but because they are better than the alternative, which is most likely to be sweeping budget cuts.

It will be difficult to override the governor's vetoes. It requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature ' 20 votes in the Senate and 40 in the House. But that's the responsible option for legislators because the governor is wrong to force this confrontation now. Kitzhaber is right that the state must call the question on school funding ' but the time has passed for him to do it.

Next year, Oregon will have a new Legislature, a new governor and the time ' a full, regularly scheduled legislative session ' to address school funding and tax reform. In his 7&

189; years in office, Kitzhaber has vetoed more bills than any other Oregon governor, and only twice has his veto been overturned.

Challenging him now won't be easy, but lawmakers of both parties need to protect schools and community colleges, and must push the question of tax reform and spending into the next full session. This time they have to say no to John Kitzhaber.