New Ore. lawmakers hear long-term care concerns

Competition for limited dollars

SALEM, Ore. - State lawmakers showed up in Salem this week for their pre-session, to get organized and receive the governor's State of the State address. They are also hearing from a number of advocacy groups, including AARP.

That group offered a briefing about Oregon's long-term care system, which is considered a model in the nation for its focus on home- and community-based care as people age.

As is the case every year, says AARP Oregon Director of Government Relations Rick Bennett, long-term care services have to compete for limited dollars with other worthy priorities -- including public safety, education and health care.

"None of those, frankly, are adequately funded at this time in Oregon," Bennett said. "We do have to look at the revenue -- particularly how we spend that revenue, not only on direct services, but also on tax expenditures or what we more commonly think of as tax credits or deductions."

Bennett says lawmakers asked questions at the briefing and were given computer files containing additional information, as part of the Legislature's initiative to be as "paper-free" as possible this session.

Gov. John Kitzhaber's preliminary budget makes many assumptions about trimming state expenses in some areas and boosting revenue in others, Bennett said. Overall, AARP is pleased that the governor appears to be making long-term care a priority, he added.

"Unlike the last several years with our economic downturn, Gov. Kitzhaber's budget maintains the current funding of these services, plus provides an extra $30 million in what he's terming 'investments' in our long-term care system," Bennett said. "We were very pleased to see that."

Among the many bills already introduced to raise revenue are a proposed new sales tax on soft drinks and hikes in cigarette and gas taxes.

Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service prepared this report.

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