March 4th, 2013 By NIGEL JAQUISS | News | Posted In: Legislature, Politics, Schools

Legislative Budget Boosts K-12, Angers Unions

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There are a couple of key takeaways from a quick skim of the budget that the co-chairs of the Legislature's Joint Ways and Means Committee released today. 

1. There's slightly more money for K-12 education, the biggest single line item in the budget, than there was in Gov. John Kitzhaber's budget, released last November.

Kitzhaber proposed $6.15 billion, plus $253 million in pension savings. The co-chairs' budget, written by Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) and Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland), is $6.55 billion plus $200 million in pension savings, or a net of $350 million more funding than the governor proposed.

2. While Kitzhaber sought $865 million in pension savings, the co-chairs have dialed that number back to $455 million. Here's their reasoning:

"Given the legal uncertainty surrounding proposed changes to PERS, yet given the huge impact the costs of the system are having on our ability to provide vital services, we believe the best course of action is to revise the Governor’s proposal in order to increase the chances of standing up to legal challenge and to decrease the potential damage to our schools, colleges, universities, human services, public safety and other needed programs should a legal challenge prevail," Devlin and Buckley wrote.

Although the lawmakers took a less aggressive posture toward public employee benefits than did Kitzhaber, organized labor responded strongly. Here's what Oregon Education Association, SEIU Local 503, Oregon AFSCME, the Oregon State Fire Fighters Council, AFT-Oregon, the Oregon School Employees Association, and the Association of Oregon Faculties said in a joint letter:
We are disappointed that the co-­‐chairs’ proposed budget does not call upon corporations and the wealthiest Oregonians, who have enjoyed almost all of the benefit of the economic recovery, to do their part in funding schools, senior services and other vital programs. It’s unfair and irresponsible to balance the budget on the backs of working Oregonians and on those who rely on services. Legislators should make sure that those who’ve prospered even through this economic crisis are paying their fair share.

It is extremely troubling that the proposed budget breaks a promise to hard-­‐working, middle class Oregonians and retirees on a fixed income. At the same time, the legislature and the Governor recently bent over backwards – even calling an emergency session – to be able to promise special treatment to profitable corporations like Nike.

The PERS proposal included in the co-­‐chairs budget is very similar to a 2003 proposal that was ruled unconstitutional. This means that these dollars will likely never make it into Oregon’s classrooms or to other valuable programs.

Making matters worse, the COLA proposal will cost the state millions of dollars to litigate and once this proposal is found to be illegal—again—the legislature would have to rebalance the budget and slash funding for schools, health and senior care, and public safety in the middle of the biennium.

It’s important to remember that every public employee group—educators, public safety, health care and other front-­‐line works—have taken pay cuts, furloughs, and are paying

more out of pocket for health insurance. They are also doing more with less. Class sizes are bigger. Caseloads are larger. Public employees, like all middle-­‐class Oregonians, are making sacrifices. Unfortunately, the co-­‐chairs’ budget continues to ask working and middle-­‐class families and the vulnerable to carry all of the burden.

This budget appears to be another way of scapegoating those with a target on their back: public employees. We are now seeing the kinds of demonization of public employees here in Oregon that were the foundation for what happened in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, where middle-­‐class workers’ voices have been silenced. We’ve seen clear evidence of this trend through continued attacks on promised pensions, and petitioners are now on the street with an initiative to put “right-­‐to-­‐work” on Oregon’s ballot.
 
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