It’s time for a long-term view of government’s role in Oregon’s future

On August 26, the state of Oregon received another revenue forecast with more bad news.  This revenue forecast indicated the state has an additional $377 million less than expected for the current biennium (2009–2011).  In addition to the $563 million less than expected in May 2010, the state budget is now $940 million short in this biennium after the legislature made cuts to programs and increased taxes through Measures 66 and 67.

Misery loves company, and the state economists are now expecting the revenue shortfall for 2011–2013 will be $3.3 billion—much, much more than the $2.5 billion expected as late as May.  We’ve already experienced cuts to services and state government—now the question is how much will legislators and the Governor ask us to cut before they begin to consider other options?

Further cuts to the general fund budget—which primarily funds schools, public safety, and human services—will be disastrous for the state.  Cuts to housing and human services lead to increased need for emergency services.  A family just scraping by with $418 in cash assistance a month from TANF who then receives a cut of $25 or $50 often ends up at the local food pantry to feed their kids, relying on emergency rent assistance, or may even become homeless and end up in a shelter. These emergency services are more expensive in the short (and long) term than prevention, but state government instead chooses to cut these services, rather than make difficult choices about increasing revenue.

The Governor has asked agencies to prepare budgets with cuts up to 25% for the 2011–2013 biennium.  For Department of Human Services, this will mean additional cuts to services for seniors, people with disabilities and families who can’t make ends meet in this tough economic climate.  It’s time to ask ourselves what the role of government is, and what kind of state do we want to live in.

It’s time to ask ourselves what the role of our public structures are, and how much we value and depend on these structures.  And if we value them, what can we do to ensure they continue?

It’s time for Oregonians to start talking about what public structures we value, and whether we’re willing to pay for those public structures. It’s also time for the Governor and the Legislature to start talking about revenue solutions to a revenue problem—we can’t cut our way out of this budget hole. Instead we need to look at our revenue streams—tax loopholes, tax credits, the kicker, among others.

The Governor and his reset commission have labeled this a “dark decade” of budget deficits and recession. While the revenue forecast is bleak, this is also an opportunity to engage Oregonians in a conversation about what the role of government is, and what they want the state to look like.  We’re interested in a state that believes in taking care of its neighbors, investing in its future, and makes smart choices about where to spend its revenue.