Budget blues from the Capitol
If you think the war has softened fanaticism and extremism, look not to the East but south to Salem. All the bipartisan rhetoric and made-for-TV handshakes that marked January evaporated even before the gavel dropped to open the new legislative session.
After a few days of wandering Capitol halls and parrying with veterans such as Sen. Tony Corcoran, D-Cottage Grove, Rep. Steve March, D-Southeast Portland, and Sen. Charles Starr, R-Hillsboro, I've come to the conclusion that this legislative cycle will end Ñ whenever it finally does Ñ with intensely partisan gridlock over the budget for the next biennium.
House Democrats, led by Rep. Deborah Kafoury, D-Northeast Portland, have churned out a package of proposals that already has Republicans sharpening their knives. The Revive Oregon Plan includes a modest 10 percent tax cut for single filers who earn $35,000 or less a year and for joint filers who earn $70,000. It also would provide a $500 tax credit to businesses for every job that pays $15 per hour or more.
Among other provisions, the plan would increase tax credits for business research and development, raise automobile registration and title fees, and route $250 million of SAIF surplus funds into the general fund, earmarked for tuition relief for college students, work-force development and health care. The plan also would boost cigarette taxes by 20 percent and raise taxes on beer and wine by 5 percent.
Much of the plan makes good economic sense. But the flip side is that even by Democratic estimates, the plan would generate $1.18 billion Ñ still hundreds of millions shy of balancing the budget. Around $2 billion is the projected total required to have a balanced budget during the next two-year cycle.
One twist to the 2003 session is that Republican legislators are likewise championing a long list of proposals designed to either raise taxes or increase fees. What's next? Democrats calling Republicans tax-and-spend conservatives? Not only that, but a Republican is leading the charge for a sales tax. House Bill 2556 and House Joint Resolution 13, proposed by Rep. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, would pave the way for a sales tax if passed.
The news is that Democratic Party of Oregon chairman Jim Edmunson wants a 'regime change.' The party leader wants Starr, the current chairman of the Senate Education Committee, dethroned for sending a letter to a constituent critical of public schools.
Let's remember that last year, the Educational Crisis Team, made up of parents of minority students and low-income households, threatened to boycott Portland Public Schools in protest over low academic achievements. Even though the boycott was averted, the substantive issues of equity in education still infuriate these parents. Like Starr, many black parents are giving up on public education. Where is the outrage?
Starr has expressed his commitment to better public education. Instead of calling for his resignation, Democrats could ask whether he is willing to support a policy that provides all students identified as being below grade-level benchmarks with documented, individual instruction plans.