Rep. Esquivel - District 6 - Article Mail Tribune 1-10-10

This article appeared in the Mail Tribune Sunday, January 10, 2010. 


Oregonians Should Know the Facts about State Spending and Agency Reserve Funds

By Rep. Sal Esquivel (R-Medford)


Oregonians will soon vote on two tax increases which will affect our state's future.  Even though voters rejected two major tax increases (Measures 28 and 30) earlier this decade, the Legislature keeps coming back for more.  I believe there are a few things Oregonians should know as they hear and read about potential cuts to education, public safety and other critical services if these job-killing measures fail.


Proponents of Measures 66 and 67 claim the tax increases are needed to prevent "draconian" cuts.  However, Oregonians should know that just within the last year overall state spending increased by more than 9 percent, or $4.7 billion.  While much of this new spending is due to one-time federal stimulus, discretionary General Fund spending still increased by 3 percent in the 2009-11 legislatively adopted budget.  It's clear that state government hasn't tightened its belt like the rest of us. It's also clear that the Democratic-controlled Legislature has failed to prioritize spending to protect critical public services.


While the Legislature increased state spending, Democratic leadership still cut our overall education funding by $529.7 million. As critical services are cut, the Governor is handing out pay raises to middle and upper management and increasing state payroll by $250 million. Considering state government wasteful spending, it's unacceptable that legislative leaders are threatening to punish Oregonians if voters reject their permanent job-killing tax increases.


While Democrats threaten cuts to critical services, they have allowed state agencies to stash billions of dollars in funds hidden from the public. A recent analysis found that there is at least $2.5 billion in agency "ending fund" balances as of June 30, 2009.  This data, compiled by the Legislative Fiscal Office, isn't even complete yet because some agencies still haven't released their numbers.


While not all of these tax dollars can be used to balance the budget, the Legislature has the ability to use a significant portion to protect critical services. During the February special session the Legislature will have an opportunity to redirect excess cash to more urgent needs while preserving agency operations. The Legislature can also pursue significant savings by reforming benefits to state employees, which the National Conference of State Legislatures considers the most generous in the nation.


The Legislature should also cut bureaucratic overhead. For example, a 10 percent cut in the Department of Human Service's administration would save $20 million. If the economy continues to worsen, and state revenues continue to decline, the Legislature's Emergency Board also has $30 million at its discretion.


Oregonians should remember the threats that were made before voters handily rejected tax Measure 28 and Measure 30.  After both of these tax increases were defeated, the Legislature still found a way to rebalance the budget and grow state government bureaucracy.  Measures 66 and 67 are no different.  Once again, Oregonians should tell state government to live within its means, refocus on putting people back to work and creating jobs in the private sector - the heartbeat of the Oregon economy. 



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