Special session aids schools, senior citizens and mental health
The Oregon Legislative Assembly just completed a remarkable special session, which will be remembered for many things.
It will be remembered for what it did for education. It will be remembered for what it did for senior citizens. It will be remembered for what it did for mental health and the working poor.
Our K-12 schools will get an extra $100 million for next school year. For Woodburn and other local districts it will mean being able to hire back teachers, reduce class sizes and add back school days.
Oregons universities will receive a $25 million funding boost. Thats enough to keep tuition increases around 2 percent for the winter and spring terms in the current school year and prevent tuition increases completely in the 2014-15 school year.
Community colleges will get $15 million and will be able to hold the line on tuition increases next year, as well.
Seniors and Working Poor
One of the bills passed during the special session included reforms to the unique-to-Oregon senior medical tax deduction program.
The changes will make tax savings available to 67,000 seniors with an income below $30,000 for the first time. In the past, taxpayers had to itemize their deductions to take advantage of the program. With the reforms, that is no longer necessary meaning more seniors who dont itemize can now receive an additional tax break up to $1,800 for individuals and $3,600 for couples.
Additionally, with the savings from the reforms the Legislature doubled the budget for Oregon Project Independence, which will allow more senior citizens over 60 to live independently and safely in their own homes.
Lawmakers also added $5 million to the budget for senior transportation and set aside $26 million to be appropriated for senior programs in the 2014 session.
We were also able to expand the state version of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable income tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and families. EITC, as it is known, is a federal tax credit based on income. Previously, qualifying Oregon taxpayers could receive a state tax benefit equal to 6 percent of their federal benefit. Changes made in the special session up that percentage to 8 percent. It means these taxpayers who need it the most will get to keep more of their hard-earned money.
We created a dedicated funding source for community-based mental health treatment in our state by raising the tax on cigarettes by 13 cents a pack in this budget cycle, another penny a pack in 2015-17 and another 1 cent per pack in 2017-19 for a total increase of 15 cents a pack.
You probably remember that in February I called for a game-changing investment in mental health treatment in our state. Statistics indicate that one in nine children and one in 18 adults in Oregon suffers from mental illness. The Oregon Health Authority also reports that the state is currently serving less than half the adults and slightly more than one-third of the young people who need treatment.
We are going to change that.
During the 2013 regular session, we were able to add nearly $50 million to proven treatment programs. In this biennium, the increase in the cigarette tax approved during the special session will add $20 million more to that total. Its enough to allow us to fully fund a wide range of treatment and prevention services for children and young adults and to build on the progress we have made for other adults who suffer from mental illness.
Making Government Work
Just as we did in 2011 and 2012, the Oregon Legislature once again overcame partisan obstacles to get the job done. In the true Oregon spirit, your lawmakers agreed to compromise, find consensus and do what was best for Oregon and her people.
Thats what this special session will be remembered for most.