A few years back, House Republican Julie Parish blew the whistle on a group of Republican House caucus good old boys who went down to Palm Springs to get close to some “harmless visual stimuli” at a G-string circus. Sort of an adult Spring Break! This year, Republicans decided to clean up their act. It appears every Republican in the capitol is headed to Las Vegas this year instead to catch a Penn and Teller magic show. There’s no reason for a Grand Bargain this time around, so they came back with a Grand Illusion: The Disappearing Secret Budget Act — more fun than a pole dance!
How else can you explain the upside-down game being played in Salem right now? Usually Oregon Democrats push for increased funding for public schools. But these days, the Republicans in the Legislature are the ones asking for a larger state education budget. Seriously? As it turns out, probably not.
Last week, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek laid out their budget, a state school fund of $7.255 billion for the next two years. Roughly 10 percent more than the 2013-15 budget. Most of the increase pays for instituting full-day kindergarten next year. Since the school funding formula is based on a per capita student basis, expanding kindergarten creates more student hours to be staffed. Good ideas have a cost. So most schools are looking at a push, with status quo budgets for most school districts.
The state school fund bill also contains language that K-12 could get 40 percent of any additional revenue in the May forecast. That is if a $350 million hole in the budget caused by the kicker doesn’t occur. The School Boards Association is still arguing for $7.5 billion. Courtney and Kotek hope to have the budget voted on and in place by the end of April, which would be very early. School districts could actually plan a budget based on real numbers. Whoda thunk?
Republican leaders are demanding an $8 billion budget for 2015-17; where, pray tell, are they going to find the additional $745 million? If K-12 gets more, then human resources and public safety, and maybe community colleges and universities get less? You could mothball the new state hospital in Junction City, lay off 100 troopers, close a prison or cut services to the poor. Seriously?
The vote last Tuesday on the House floor, a party line vote of 35-25 party after a two hour “debate,” shed little light on the Republican solution. Sen. Chuck Thomsen believes freezing state workers’ wages can free up $130 million. There you go: If you want more for K-12, take it out of the hide of the worker. Nice cause/effect public policy logic there, Chuck. Otherwise, not a detail of a Republican budget, a Republican solution to Oregon’s now chronic K-12 and higher ed underfunding.
Good ideas have a cost; House Republicans know full well they can withhold support and therefore suppress any meaningful tax reform because of the 36 votes required to move such a measure to the Senate. We’ve seen such bravery in the past, but it’s rare because the consequences are usually severe and career shortening. And even if a tax reform measure got to the Senate, which actually has a 60 percent Democratic supermajority at 18-12, it would probably need a brave Republican soul or two to secure passage.
Meanwhile, there’s not a hint of a Republican solution to properly fund public education in Oregon. But at least they get it, finally. This public education funding stuff is real important to voters. But instead of offering anything … Poof! $745 million just disappeared!
Sen. Floyd Frank Prozanski had his hands full last week, holding his hearings on gun reform. Floyd has been working on this issue for years. He came up one vote short two years ago. It looks like he’s got the votes this time. Among other things, Senate Bill 941 closes a loophole on person-to-person gun sales. It would also allow judges to bar patients receiving court-ordered mental health treatment from buying a gun. Needless to say, practical measures like this have gun nuts in an uproar. Grant County Sheriff Palmer said it would be “borderline treasonous” to pass the bill. Isn’t “borderline treasonous” an oxymoron, Sheriff? You either are or you ain’t, I don’t have to show you no stinkin’ borderline! Good work, Floyd.