The road to recovery is bipartisan

Oregon is in the midst of the most difficult economic climate that we have experienced since the Great Depression. As a result, the May 15 state revenue forecast projects a deficit of $4.2 billion for the 2009-2011 budget cycle.

For some perspective, this amounts to a loss of almost one-third of the state's budget. Because 94 percent of Oregon's general fund is allocated to education, public safety and human services, the huge shortfall facing the state means inevitable cuts to these vital services. In short, the fate of our education system, the safety of our communities, and services for our needy and elderly are at stake.

As co-chairman of the human services budget-writing committee, I know the painstaking work that has gone into crafting a budget that is sensitive to how this massive loss of funding can affect Oregon's schools, public safety, families and our most vulnerable children and elders. The budget presented is the product of months of work in your state Capitol and public hearings in cities across Oregon — including a large showing from our visit to Southern Oregon in late April. We listened to parents, students, seniors and Oregonians from all walks of life.

In Jackson County alone, caseloads for food stamps are 40 percent higher than last year. This illustrates the difficulties Oregonians are experiencing that cannot, and will not, be ignored. We are at a critical juncture: The demand for services continues to climb at the very same time the state is experiencing an unparalleled shortage of funds.

To compound matters, unlike the federal government, Oregon's state government cannot print money or carry deficits. We are constitutionally required to balance our budget. In this instance, that means a mixture of targeted cuts reaching over $2 billion and sensible revenue increases to make up the difference. In order to raise revenue, we may need to ask large corporations and Oregonians who make more than $250,000 per year to carry a greater share of the tax burden.

I am encouraged by the business groups that have voiced support for this approach; they depend on many of the same services — a police force that protects us, roads that move freight, and schools that educate our work force. There is also wide agreement among financial professionals that Oregon's economy won't recover if the middle class doesn't.

Much has been said about the Republican proposal. In this economic climate, it is time for a bipartisan solution. Their suggestion for using ending fund balances from state agencies deserves serious consideration. That said, their budget assumes a $14 billion general fund, but in reality we have only $12.85 billion available. It calls for the same level of spending for state troopers as 2007, when we've hired 39 new troopers during the past two years. Finally, it doesn't take into account that unemployment has risen to over 12 percent statewide, and it ignores the 30-plus percent increase in requests for state assistance. A combination of both plans appears to be the most sensible approach: cuts, fund sweeps and moderate tax increases.

Let me be clear: Our economic recovery is not about Democrats or Republicans — it is about what is best for Oregon and Oregonians, and will require a bipartisan effort that utilizes the best recommendations of both parties. We have a strong history of coming together to make it through difficult periods and this time is no different. I am confident that your elected officials are working in Salem to ensure that Oregon's best days are still to come.

Sen. Alan C. Bates, D-Ashland, represents District 3 in the Oregon State Senate. To read the Ways and Means co-chairs' budget for yourself, please visit www.oregonsenatedemocrats.com.

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