Speakers' message: no cuts

An overflow crowd in Ashland Friday night pleaded with legislators on the Oregon Joint Ways and Means Committee to stave off cuts in public services and find new ways to raise revenue.

“I understand the challenges you face, but you shouldn’t cut health care, education and public safety,” said Erica Holiday of Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon. “Increase taxes on out-of-state businesses and large corporations.”

The joint committee is holding hearings throughout the state to take public input on the next biennial budget, which goes into effect in July.

Maria Ramos Underwood, of Unite Oregon, told the committee the current system of funding is unfair.

“It pits education versus healthcare and law enforcement. It asks people to come with their hand out to compete against others," she said.

She told the assembled lawmakers there needed to be a better way. “I’d like to encourage you to think about new ways of raising revenue.”

The crowd erupted in applause.

Gov. Kate Brown has prepared a preliminary budget of what she acknowledged carries deep cuts to shore up a $1.7 billion shortfall to maintain current services and fund education ballot measures approved by voters.

The meeting at SOU's Stevenson Union attracted advocates for education, health care services — especially for disabled Oregonians — and mental health care, which faces some drastic cuts under the proposed budget, including the closing of a psychiatric hospital in Junction City. Testimony also focused on higher education, with students and teachers speaking out for maintaining and growing services in Oregon.

Karen Starchvick, chairwoman of the Medford School Board, expressed frustration that schools had to request funding to take care of students.

“Here we go again, facing the roller coaster of funding for our students,” she said. She suggested that traditional ways of funding Oregon education fails students. “Oregon’s over-reliance on income tax creates a very difficult environment.”

Kate Kennedy, a veteran teacher in the Ashland School District, told the legislators they must increase revenue. “We have the lowest corporate taxes in the nation. My entire career as an educator has been spent dealing with reduction in revenue.

“I implore you increase revenue in Oregon."

An Education Week study rating schools across the country ranked Oregon 38th in public education based on student achievement and funding. Only four states had an effective lower tax rate for education: Arizona, North Carolina and North and South Dakota.

Other speakers Friday asked the lawmakers to fund public health agencies dealing with communicable diseases, not to make any cuts to veterans services and to avoid cuts to agencies such as Planned Parenthood.

The testimony was often cheered or supported by crowds standing with signs saying, “I agree.”

The majority of speakers represented health care and education.

Many gave personal stories of losing health care, of classrooms too full to care for children in trauma and of mental health services which saved a friend or family member and which they urged not to be cut.

The Joint Ways and Means Committee will have plenty to consider as it continues public hearings throughout the state. Legislators move on to Eugene Saturday and Tillamook on Friday. They already have taken testimony in Salem, Portland, Hermiston and Madras.

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