It's easy to say that the Legislature has a spending problem — in fact, we've said it ourselves, in a number of editorials over the years.
Last week's release of a surprisingly sober budget from the three chairs of the Legislature's powerful Ways and Means Committee helped to put some of that problem in perspective.
You already know the general outlines of the issue: The proposed budget for the 2019-21 budget cycle features a record amount of revenue, some $23.2 billion. It's a 10 percent increase over the 2017-19 budget, fueled in part by the state's economic recovery (a recovery that's showing signs of slowing).
But even that big bump in available revenue isn't enough to cover the anticipated increase in costs, and two areas in particular are playing a major role in driving those: the increasing premiums associated with the state's underfunded public pension system and spending associated with the Oregon Health Plan, the state's Medicaid program. (The proposed budget makes no cuts in eligibility or benefits for the Oregon Health Plan.)
In both of those cases, we're still trying to figure out how to pay for decisions state officials and legislators made years ago — a cautionary note today's lawmakers should keep in mind. We knew back then that eventually the state would need to pick up more of the load for Medicaid. We also knew, or should have known, how decisions about pension benefits would play out decades down the road.
But state officials and legislators aren't alone in helping to dig this state budget hole. Voters have picked up a shovel from time to time.
A popular way to do that is through the initiative process, and a good example of that is Measure 98, the initiative mandating that school districts spend additional dough on career and technical education classes.
We have no objection whatsoever to these classes, and evidence continues to show that participants in those classes graduate from high school at a higher rate than students who haven't taken those offerings. (In addition, these career and technical classes often can lead to well-paying jobs that don't necessarily require a four-year college degree.) Our objection was that the measure came with no funding source. Nevertheless, voters easily approved the measure, and that budget hole got a little bit bigger.
The proposed legislative budget allocates about $170 million for Measure 98 programs, less than the $300 million that would be spent if the programs were funded at the level called for in the initiative. Measure 98 advocates were steamed and vowed to lobby for the full amount.
But in a budget that generally calls for a 5 percent reduction in state services, the question has to be asked: Where will that money come from?
That's a question that voters as well should keep in mind the next time they're asked to vote on an initiative. (mm)
It's time to talk time
Can you name one issue where Oregon Gov. Kate Brown agrees with President Donald Trump?
Now you can: Both came out this week against our twice-annual time change as we toggle, meaninglessly, between standard time and daylight saving time. We made the most recent switch at 2 a.m. Sunday, springing forward and losing an hour of sleep.
Momentum is growing to do away with the time switch; as we noted last week, a bill to keep Oregon on daylight saving time year-round has been introduced in the Legislature, although Oregon voters would first need to approve the move (and Congress gets a say as well).
This week, reporters asked Brown if she was in favor of the proposal to abandon the time switch, she did something she rarely does in public: She swore. (Warning: The next paragraph contains mild profanity.)
Here was her answer: "Hell yes! I think everyone's done with the time change."
And now "everyone" includes President Trump, who noted on Twitter this week that year-round daylight saving time would be " O.K. with me!” (mm)