Now's your chance

The Legislature made some history last week when it passed the public education budget for the next two years, the earliest that has happened since 1995. Ahead lies more hard work — how to parcel out what's left of expected revenue after schools have been funded. Rogue Valley residents can help the process by telling legislative budget writers what's most important to them in a hearing this Friday in Medford.

Schools got less than they wanted but slightly more than Kitzhaber had proposed in his budget plan. It's still a bare-bones education budget, leaving districts scrambling to cut costs.

The cutting will extend into every nook and cranny of state government over the next few weeks as lawmakers try to balance a budget that is $3.5 billion short of the money needed to continue funding the state at current levels.

The three co-chairmen of the Joint Ways and Means Committee — two of whom represent Southern Oregon — released their proposed budget last month. It, too, was produced earlier than has been customary in recent years.

The plan is based on the March revenue forecast, which predicts the state will have $14.65 billion for its general fund. The co-chairs elected to hold $310 million of that in reserve in case there is a further downturn in the economy. When lawmakers return to Salem next February, they could allocate those reserves if the economy continues to improve.

After public education, which accounts for about half of the state's general fund, the major components are human services — about 25 percent — and public safety and the judicial system — about 17 percent. Ways and Means subcommittees will be poring over the details of the various agency budgets in the weeks to come.

From 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, April 22, the Joint Ways and Means Committee will hold a public hearing on the budget at the Medford Armory, 1701 S. Pacific Highway.

Co-chairmen Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, and Reps. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, will be on hand to hear what Southern Oregonians think is important. The committee also includes Sens. Alan Bates, D-Medford, and Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, as well as Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte.

If you care about how your state will get through two very tough years, attend the hearing and make your opinions known.

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