Legislators must put party politics behind when helping uninsured Oregon children

The health of approximately 117,000 uninsured Oregon children is partially in the hands of Republicans who recently helped reject a cigarette tax increase.

Rep. Scott Bruun, whose district includes West Linn and a portion of Lake Oswego, and Rep. Jerry Krummel, who represents a large swath of Washington County including Sherwood and portions of Bull Mountain, were among those who opposed legislation to increase Oregon's cigarette tax by 84.5 cents per pack that would fund the Healthy Kids Plan.

And that's where the 117,000 children come in. Without expanded funding, these children will continue to be without medical coverage.

We understand the recent vote presented a moral dilemma for some legislators. This is a dilemma that legislators must decide how to reconcile: Opposition to new taxes versus expanded health care funding for more kids.

Republicans who oppose the cigarette-tax increase cite a variety of concerns, ranging from general opposition to new taxes to specific worries about tying a potentially unstable funding source to something as important as children's health. The tax proposal actually gained support from a majority of legislators in the House but not the three-fifths super-majority required for tax increases.

The tax's defeat dealt a temporary setback to Democrat Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who said early on that the Healthy Kids Plan was a major plank of his 2007 legislative agenda. Democrat legislators, who control the Oregon House, also have sought to increase funding.

In fairness to the Republicans, many cite legitimate concerns when opposing higher cigarette taxes. Some believe that funding from a higher cigarette tax would be an unsustainable revenue source. But saying 'no' is simply not good enough. These legislators also must recognize their obligation to work with Democrats and offer an alternative.

What's at stake here is the well-being of Oregon children - and indeed the overall health of this state.

While the funding for the Healthy Kids Plan was rejected for now, the plan to expand health care for more young Oregonians - in the form of Senate Bill 31 - is still alive. It is up to the Oregon House of Representatives to provide the additional funding.

Successfully providing expanded health care to more Oregon children can first be addressed by making sure that this matter is no longer debated or decided along party lines.

All Oregon legislators, regardless of party membership, must agree that leaving 117,000 kids just as vulnerable as they are today is not an acceptable legislative outcome.

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