By Representative David Gomberg, House District 10
Dear Neighbors and Friends,
Last week I talked about legislation. This week I want to go in-depth on budget issues as we prepare for a public meeting in Newport.
Saturday, I took part in the first of five Ways and Means “road trips” as the budget-writing committee began a series of listening sessions around Oregon. Over 300 witnesses signed up to offer their thoughts on state spending at the Portland hearing. And although we stayed longer than originally scheduled, there was only time for about 50 people to speak. This was the scene from the table where I sat.
The odds of being called next Friday in Newport will be better as I expect attendance will be smaller. The event is scheduled from 5 pm-7 pm, April 14, at the Performing Arts Center, 777 W Olive St in Newport. You must sign up online to testify in advance.
The roadshow includes stops in Portland, Newport, Roseburg, and Ontario. After the in-person tour has concluded, the Ways and Means Committee will have one last statewide hearing from the Capitol on Wednesday, May 3 at 5 pm. Unlike the others, the final hearing will be available for both in-person and remote testimony.
Please note that the final, statewide hearing is on Wednesday, May 3, not a Friday, as I had written in my previous newsletter.
Everyone who spoke Saturday was asking for more money. They spoke to us briefly but passionately about schools, health care, transportation, and the arts.
All of these events are formal hearings and recorded as part of a permanent record. You can watch and listen here.
And while I agree that increased investments in many areas would benefit Oregonians, the inconvenient truth is that we have limited money to spend this year. Oregon’s economy is still growing, but not as fast as it has been. Slower growth, coupled with the end of federal pandemic spending, means less funds to maintain the “current service level” or CSL, which is an estimate of how much is needed in the future budget to buy the same services we have today.
Relief dollars from the federal government buffered many Oregonians from the worst impacts of the pandemic. Those one-time dollars will no longer be available to keep businesses open or provide essential services to Oregon families like health insurance, rental assistance, food support, and more.
The budget leadership this session has divided these difficult conversations into three parts.
The first deals with the issue of current service level — existing services paid for with Oregon dollars. Leadership has proposed almost all agencies take a 2.5% reduction from the CSL. This freed up some money for new priority investments.
The second portion includes early priority investments that aligned with the Governor’s budget — homelessness, housing, behavioral health, and the semiconductor industry. These new services will be paid for in part by the funds freed from the cuts in the CSL. Measures to address housing, homelessness, and semiconductors have now passed. A final large priority is the K-12 education budget, which has been proposed to increase by $400 million over the previous biennium, to a total of $9.9 billion.
The third part of the budget is the remaining $325.6 million dollars. This bucket is meant to fund other high-level priorities — including expanded health insurance for low-income families, help for Oregon’s failing public defense system, and additional investments for climate resilience. However, the Co-Chairs note in their framework that this $325.6 million will not be sufficient to cover every priority. These funds are also needed for the roughly 200 policy bills sent to Ways and Means that require money and hope to reach the legislative finish line in June. Most will not.
Currently, there are no additional funds to address lowering the costs of attending college, providing affordable childcare, food support for hungry Oregonians, or the many other ideas legislators have brought forward for funding consideration. Oregon has faced much harsher budget realities than those before us currently, but there are still many families in need of services that will go unfunded — and for the first time in history, Oregon is sitting on a stockpile of savings.
To create a balanced budget, we rely on economic forecasts, which are estimates of how much we will have to spend from taxes, fees, lottery tickets, and alcohol and cannabis revenue. The final forecast for this budget-writing cycle will be released in May. If the forecast does not improve, the Oregon Legislature will be faced with a difficult decision – to end support for Oregonians still in need, or dip into reserves.
Oregon has two savings accounts which are both at historically high levels. In her budget, the Governor proposed diverting additional deposits over the next two years, and instead invest those funds in programs that will help Oregonians right now. The Co-Chairs chose instead to continue saving.
Again, the final decision will depend on the May revenue forecast.
The Ways and Means subcommittees have already begun hosting public hearings on the proposed agency budgets for the 2023-25 biennium. You can see a full list of all agency budget bills this session including the bill numbers assigned to each agency, which subcommittee they were referred to, and which hearings have already started here.
The budget hearings that started early in session tend to be on less complicated, fee-funded budgets like the State Board of Accountancy budget, for example. Bigger agencies that spend a lot of taxpayer dollars typically have their hearings later in the session and require multiple hearings in order to get through all of the details of the budget. Once agency budgets are considered, committees will look at new proposals that cost money.
There are seven subcommittees: Capital Construction, Education, General Government, Human Services, Natural Resources, Public Safety, and Transportation and Economic Development (TED).
The TED subcommittee, where I am co-chair, manages budgets for the Department of Aviation, Consumer and Business Services (DCBS), Employment, Housing and Community Services, the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC), the Business Development Department, Public Utility Commission (PUC), Racing Commission, Real Estate Agency, Department of Transportation (ODOT), and Veterans Affairs.
In the coming weeks, the debate about how to shape the final budget will be tough. The legislature will have to balance responding to a possible recession, with the immediate needs of Oregonians still facing the impacts of the pandemic and rising inflation. The Co-Chairs’ first proposal is cautious and continues to build our reserves. But things could change after the roadshow tour, when we travel across Oregon to hear directly from Oregonians about their hopes for the state budget and the services they find most important.
Senator Anderson and I have a joint Town Hall scheduled for Friday morning from 8-9:30. You can attend in person at the Lincoln City campus of Oregon Coast Community College or watch the online by going to https://oregoncoast.zoom.us/j/92741742488.
At 10:30 I will offer welcoming remarks to the Ocean Acidification Symposium at the Marine Science Building Auditorium. I will be the guest speaker for the Newport Chamber of Commerce at noon. At 3:30 I’ll join Lincoln County Master Gardeners for a ribbon cutting at the new Seed Library at Newport Library. And then we have the Ways and Means roadshow at the PAC at five.
Yes – it is going to be a busy day!
Ways and Means members will stay over on Friday and Saturday morning I’ll take them on a tour of Yaquina Bay and introduce them to the fishing fleet. I’ll stop by the Depoe Bay Crab Feed, Chowder Cook-Off and Wooden Boat Show. And finally, Saturday evening I’ll Swing into Spring at the Lincoln City Cultural Center at an event benefiting the Siletz Bay Music Festival.
Hope to see you out there somewhere!
address: 900 Court St NE, H-480, Salem, OR, 97301