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Incumbent state lawmakers feel the heat

Sen. Starr says Oregon can fund schools and contain its spending

State Sen. Bruce Starr can be excused for feeling like he had a target on his back at a candidates' forum held in Hillsboro last month.

Starr was one of just two Republicans who showed up at the Oct. 5 event and he spent much of the evening sparring not only with his opponent, but also with other Democrats

Starr, who represents Senate District 15, which encompasses Hillsboro, Cornelius and Forest Grove, said he will push for tax money to be spent more effectively by requiring 65¢ of every tax dollar to be used in the classroom. He also wants to place the K-12 budget at the top of the legislative agenda each session.

'As we look at the next legislative opportunity in January, what we hear is how important education funding is,' Starr said. 'But what do we do when we get to Salem? Education is funded last.'

His opponent, small business owner John Napolitano, said he was interested in increasing teacher training, improving parent involvement in schools, raising the amount of money spent on Talented and Gifted programs, and ensuring greater transparency in school district budgets.

While he didn't denounce Starr's proposal at the forum, Napolitano is against mandating that 65 percent of school funding be spent in the classroom. On his website, Napolitano calls the ratio 'arbitrary' and argues that 'with this proposal we will lose control of our education budgets.'

Though he isn't running against Starr, David Edwards - a Democrat vying for the House District 30 seat - blasted the required ratio, saying it would force schools to cut funding for such necessities as nurses, counselors, transportation and even heating and cooling.

'It's a one-size-fits-all that concentrates only on inputs rather than outputs,' said Edwards, whose district includes North Plains and areas north of Hillsboro, Cornelius and Forest Grove. 'Clearly, this is not the right approach for our schools.'

Starr responded by saying the state must make tough decisions about what can afford rather than taxing and spending more. Even if taxes are raised on corporations, those costs eventually filter down to the public, he said.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a Democrat seeking re-election in House District 33, asked Starr to be specific.

'It's nice to say, 'prioritize.' Tell me what you'd cut,' Greenlick said.

When Starr responded that welfare services could be one potential budget reduction, Greenlick said that cutting such funding would have a direct negative impact on the elderly and children. 'It's OK to say, 'cut welfare,' but welfare means people,' he said.

THE MAUI FACTOR

At one point during last month's candidate forum in Hillsboro the room erupted in laughter when a written question posed by an audience member was read: What would legislators do if a lobbyist offered them an expensive trip to an exotic location?

Once the room quieted, all eyes turned to state Sen. Bruce Starr.

'The bottom line is, I made mistakes,' said Starr, who previously admitted he didn't disclose lobbyist-paid trips to Maui and Israel after an Oregonian article revealed several lawmakers had not reported such gifts, as required by law. 'I've learned from it, and I've since rectified those mistakes.'

Despite Starr's remorseful admission, several other candidates expressed disappointment not only that legislators failed to report favors from lobbyists, but that they accepted them in the first place.

'I challenge you and all of my colleagues not to take gifts from lobbyists,' said state Rep. Mitch Greenlick. 'They're not giving gifts to us because they like us.'