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Local editorial

DHS picture remains unclear The governor is right: sit tight and see what develops next

Some legislators can't fathom what's up with the budget of the state's Department of Human Services, and they want to return to Salem this month to find the answer.

They want a special legislative session so they can move more money to the department's budget or cut services now, before an anticipated &

36;172 million DHS shortfall affects others. They want to slap someone on the wrist for screwing up the budget ' again ' and talk about how to avoid these kinds of problems next time.

But what they really ought to do is sit tight.

Sure, some are just trying to do the right thing by seeking a session to unravel the mess. But if experience is a guide, calling a special session to deal with controversy like this is not likely to result in a solution.

It's easy enough to see where this is more likely to go: Who's responsible for the predicted shortfall in the DHS budget? Should the department get all the money it wants, anyway? Then, to the question almost guaranteed to put the assembly into spin-in-circles mode: What about that state budget? How did it get so out of control?

Complicating a move toward a special session now is the fact that Gov. Ted Kulongoski and House Speaker Karen Minnis both have dismissed the idea, saying it's unclear so far what the department's true financial picture is.

— We think that's right.

Much of the predicted shortfall comes because the department underestimated by about 30,000 people the number who will need its services through 2007.

But it's unclear what the shortfall really will be because the economy is changing quickly and because the department uses outdated information for its forecasts. Pumping up or cutting the budget now might just make the situation worse.

The department also has a new director. He's been on the job just over a month, not nearly long enough to have a grasp on what's going on here, let alone to fix it. Finding a way for the department to make accurate predictions should, obviously, be one of his first goals.

Some legislators also have suggested an outside audit of department finances, a move whose time has come. It's clear now that inaccurate predictions about the budget are more than a one-time problem for DHS.

This requires attention, but it doesn't require the immediate intervention of the entire legislative assembly.

Avoiding that, in fact, seems like the best approach to getting the job done.