Effects of school-budget override are unclear

SALEM — With just days left until the Legislature adjourns, lawmakers pushed through a $5.8 billion school funding bill, overriding the governor's veto.

Despite a confused Wednesday in which the funding bill got tied up in the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans joined Thursday to beat back Gov. Ted Kulongoski's veto.

For nearly two weeks the governor and legislative leaders have been at odds over how to organize the school budget.

Democratic legislators allocated $5.8 billion, leaving $200 million for next year if the economy improves. Kulongoski wanted an allocation of $5.6 billion with $400 million in reserve.

"I'm happy about it, but surprised," said Vicki Robinson, Central Point schools business services director. From reading news reports Wednesday about the House failing to pass the bill, she said, it appeared the override might not succeed.

At first glance, she said, the override won't affect the Central Point School District's budget.

Central Point and Medford, Jackson County's largest school district, already had crafted budgets based on a $5.8 billion state education fund, but they might have had to trim those budgets had the governor's veto remained in effect.

It isn't clear exactly how the budget will be divvied out to schools over the two years.

"Unfortunately, it's still very uncertain, and school districts are going to have to be conservative with what we do because we still don't know how this will play out," Robinson said. "No one wants to be in the situation we were in this year when we had to cut a whole bunch in the middle of the year."

The governor says the Legislature's plan leaves the state without adequate reserves should the economy continue to weaken.

"With record unemployment and state revenues at risk of declining over the course of the biennium, I remain concerned that today's decision puts the state's long-term financial stability at great risk," Kulongoski said in a statement. "I hope that I am wrong. I hope that in February 2010 when the legislature reconvenes that state revenues have held strong, and we are in the position to invest more into K-12 education not cut it."

This is the first and only override of Kulongoski's seven-year stint in office.

Before the override vote went through, Rep. David Edwards, D-Hillsboro, restated lawmakers' belief that their version of the budget was prudent, while giving schools more security.

"Budgets are bound to disappoint more people than they please," Edwards said.

Overriding the governor's veto became a legislative sideshow this week. Though the funding plan originally passed through the both chambers with enough support to withstand a veto, its second trip through was much more difficult.

Senate Republicans held up the override for much of Wednesday. However, later that evening Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli revived the measure, saying simply that passing the budget plan would "advance the calendar."

Upon reconsideration, the Senate passed the override easily, only to see it stall in the House, again along party lines.

Discussions continued well into Wednesday evening. By Thursday afternoon, several House Republicans had reversed course yet again — including House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna.

"The day before's vote was a pretty good indication we wanted to be included in the conversation," Hanna said. "We got to have a conversation ... I think the vote today shows our members were satisfied."

Democrats promised the Republicans nothing in return for their votes, Hanna said. But his caucus was able to promote some bills, including a film tax credit, and air their concerns about others, including one that restricts field burning that ended up passing regardless in the Senate Thursday.

Mail Tribune reporter Paris Achen contributed to this story.

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