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Not good news

Editorial

Taking money from cities and counties is wrongheaded ' again

Oregon has huge state budget problems. But a plan to pump an extra &

36;7.3 million into state coffers this spring isn't even slightly good news.

A bill approved by the Legislature would take the money, usually set aside for cities and counties, and give it to the state if its revenues are lower than expected this spring.

Legislators somehow have rationalized this, the umpteenth wrong-headed money grab they've rationalized over the past year, as doing the right thing in troubled financial times.

But while another &

36;7.3 million will put a tiny dent in statewide shortfalls that run to the hundreds of millions of dollars, it will create significant shortages in the budgets of the local governments.

Most of those, including the city of Medford and Jackson County government, already are cutting services to meet the higher costs they expect in the next budget period.

For Medford, the Legislature's money grab could amount to &

36;50,000 in lost cigarette tax revenues in the current budget period, which ends June 30, and about &

36;126,000 in the following year's budget.

For the county, it could amount to about &

36;180,000 in cigarette tax and lottery proceeds this year and nearly &

36;800,000 in the coming year.

Losing those amounts won't singlehandedly break either entity, but they will add to the problems the governments already must overcome, many of them caused by shortages in the state's Public Employees Retirement System.

They also seem to reflect an attitude on the part of legislators that Oregon doesn't need right now: You've got troubles too? Too bad.

This year's theft is a done deal, signed into law by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, but next year's remains only a possibility, yet another pocket the state might reach into in an attempt to pay its bills.

A better plan would be to look elsewhere. Raiding city and county budgets won't solve anyone's problems ' it will only rearrange the pain.

Oregon can and should do better than that when it confronts the reality of the next budget.