SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown presented her budget proposal for the next biennium Thursday, aiming to address a $1.7 billion shortfall while maintaining funding for critical areas, including education and health care.
In her proposal to the Legislature, Brown proposes closing a loophole in so-called pass-through taxes, increasing a tobacco tax and discarding the customary increases in budgets for state universities and community colleges.
The proposed $20.8 billion budget maintains current service level funding for early childhood and kindergarten through 12th grade.
State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, told NewsChannel 21 Thursday he wants the state to work on education reform.
"We can't keep doing it the same old way, because obviously it's not working," he said. We have the worst graduation rates in the nation, worst attendance rates -- our quality metrics are all going downhill."
Buehler said he believes the state needs to find other ways to close the budget deficit and not cut funding for key needs such behavioral health.
Gov. Brown also has proposed to close a state psychiatric hospital in Junction City and a youth correctional facility in Clatsop County.
"We just can't cut our behavioral health budget. Our mental health system is one of the worst in the nation," Buehler said. "We're under a watch from the federal government right now because we have too many people in a mental health crisis. We have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation -- that's the wrong place to cut."
Brown's budget also looks for other efficiencies, including keeping vacant state jobs open for 60 days and eliminating non-mandatory travel for state employees.
The cuts and revenue increases together are expected to address the shortfall.
In a statement, Brown said she had prioritized investments in education, health care and job creation to empower Oregonians and support their quality of life.
"I present this budget as a short-term solution,” Brown said. “It is the starting place for a broader conversation about how best to align our resources with our shared values and vision to move Oregon forward.”
Oregonians are encouraged to learn more about how the governor has strategically invested in these priorities at www.budget.oregon.gov.
House Speaker Tina Kotek's statement:
“The Governor’s recommended budget for 2017-2019 demonstrates her commitment to maintaining early childhood investments, protecting vulnerable families as much as possible, and working to create greater opportunity for all Oregonians.
We’ve made solid progress after years of cuts during the Great Recession. The investments the legislature has made in education and job growth are paying off, while our prudent budget planning has allowed us to build the strongest reserve fund Oregon has ever had.
Unfortunately, Oregon’s budget is built upon an insufficient revenue structure that stretches back 25 years – and that is apparent as we look to the 2017-19 biennium and beyond. We are currently facing cuts that every community in Oregon will feel.
I’m committed to working with the Governor, my colleagues, and the entire state to build a budget that maintains positive momentum for Oregonians. We have a great deal of work to do in order to build the Oregon we truly want.”
House Republican Leader Mike McLane (R-Powell Butte) issued the following statement regarding Governor Kate Brown's proposed budget:
"My disappointment with regards to the state of our budget is matched only by the frustration of knowing that this situation was entirely preventable to begin with. We have known for years that Oregon was on an unsustainable fiscal path, yet our leaders continued to operate as if the bill would never come due. Well, it's here, and despite record revenues and despite what has been described as a roaring state economy, we are being told we don't have enough tax revenue to cover the tab.
"There will be much debate over the next few months over how to address our budget situation. My hope is that before we consider asking our community employers and working families to make up for the lack of financial discipline in Salem, Governor Brown and legislative Democrats will commit to having an honest conversation about our state's unsustainable rate of spending. Until we are willing to have this conversation and address the root of our budget problems, we will continue to experience the same kind of budget challenges we are facing today."