Huge state budget cuts still to come

In the past few weeks, you've probably heard a lot about our efforts to rebalance Oregon's current 2007-2009 budget. As co-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, my focus has been not only to make it through this biennium, but to prepare our state for much more serious impacts in the coming two years as a result of the global economic slump.

First the good news — we will make it through the remainder of this biennium without additional cut days this year for the vast majority of our K-12 students, and for all of our Head Start, community college and higher education students. Our courts will stay open and essential health-care services will continue to be provided.

We've accomplished this by following one basic rule — to never stop working until we have exhausted every option to keep vital services intact.

But make no mistake — we are at the edge of much more severe cuts for the next two-year budget. We are facing an economic crisis of immense proportions; a crisis forcing us to make deep and lasting cuts in state government. It's a crisis that begins at the international level, one that cuts deeply throughout our nation and has come home to affect us here in Oregon.

I know there are those who believe we can solve everything just by eliminating government waste. While we are working to make government more accountable every single day, we have gone so far beyond the easy cuts that Oregonians faced the real threat of school and court closures again.

So how did we avoid those drastic measures this time? And what can we do to get Oregon through the 2009-2011 biennium?

For the current rebalance, we asked every state agency to provide a list of cuts amounting to 20 percent of the remainder of their budget. That amounts to 5 percent of their two-year budget. Then we held public hearings on those proposed cuts and worked on the lists and the feedback with legislators from both parties, resulting in major changes. Finally, we plugged in the dollars we received from the federal stimulus package and made final adjustments. We filled a hole of $885 million, the largest hole our state has ever faced this close to the end of a budget cycle.

Some folks were very upset that ending balances or reserve funds in their favorite area were captured. Taking $1.8 million out of $12.5 million in reserve funds from the Oregon Cultural Trust might have been the most difficult decision for me personally. My background is in the arts, my wife still works in the field, and our family is dependent on her income.

But no one escaped that kind of cut; no agency went unscathed. And yet everyone — from schools to courts to the Cultural Trust Fund — has been able to continue operating. Our goal was to make sure the cuts were fair, balanced and did not put any Oregonian at risk, and I believe we accomplished that goal.

We accomplished this difficult rebalancing task because we were willing to make those tough choices.

We'll need to adopt the same approach with the 2009-2011 budget.

In a few weeks, you'll see what the budget for the next two years will look like if we have to cut an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion or more. We'll plug in federal stimulus dollars and the state's own reserve funds. And we'll embark on a series of hearings around the state to receive input on the wide range of cuts that must be made and possible revenue increases that might keep vital services intact.

We will then pool all that information together, hold more hearings and wait for the May revenue forecast to give us our final numbers before we make our legislative budget proposal for 2009-'11.

We have to take a balanced approach, and we have to work together to get through this. There will be cuts and there will be revenue increases, such as an increase in the corporate minimum tax that we'll be considering.

In times of crisis, all of us must shoulder some responsibility to keep Oregon the vibrant state that we love. That time is now.

Rep. Peter Buckley, R-Ashland, represents District 5 in the Oregon House.

Share This Story