Richardson, Buckley agree on budget deal on eve of 2012 session

Rogue Valley legislators Peter Buckley and Dennis Richardson announced a major budget deal today, culminating three months of negotiations on the eve of tomorrow’s opening of the Oregon Legislature.

Buckley, D-Ashland, and Richardson, R-Central Point, are co-chairmen with Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, of the state’s Ways and Means Committee, which builds the budget proposal that will be presented to the full Legislature.

They said the budget deal would avoid cuts to K-12 education and programs for seniors and the disabled, while creating a cushion in case the state suffers continued declines in revenues.

“It’s a major breakthrough,” said Richardson. “It was a heart-wrenching process that reflected a lot of different attitudes.”

Buckley and Richardson said they were looking at a $200 million shortfall in the $15 billion Oregon budget, based on recent economic forecasts.

Richardson said some of the savings resulted from an agreement not to fill middle management positions, which would force the state to run leaner. Those cuts include eliminating public affairs positions that he said essentially were used to lobby legislators to preserve state programs. Eliminating the manager and public affairs positions would save $25 million.

“We don’t need to be lobbied by departments,” he said.

The deal also would reduce a number of Oregon Health Authority programs, saving $33 million. The budget plan proposes shifting a $41 million tobacco lawsuit settlement into the general fund and reducing long-term care funding from $53.4 million to $40 million.

There are a variety of smaller cuts proposed for other programs, such as a $1 million cut in the Department of Human Services JOBS program, a $2.2 million cut in a domestic violence program and a $1.6 million cut in the Department of Corrections budget, which would result in the closure of one small facility, but no release of prisoners.

A $146 million ending fund balance is also part of the agreement as insurance against future shortfalls.

— Damian Mann

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