Oregon’s schools are critical — without quality education available children and, indeed, everyone else in this state face huge economic handicaps. Arguably just as important, however, are such things as public safety, poverty and health. Yet state lawmakers are considering a plan that would put tax dollars into the school stabilization fund immediately while delaying the same action for the state’s rainy day fund that’s expected to cover the rest.
House Bill 2315 would set aside 1 percent of tax revenues to the schools stabilization fund beginning in the next biennium. At the same time, another 1 percent would be directed to the broader rainy day fund. Maybe.
The rainy day fund would get additional revenues only if the state unemployment rate dips below 6 percent, 2 percentage points below what it is today. While the notion of tying the set-aside to a broader measure of economic health may make good sense, we wonder why the different standards for the different pots of state cash.
We do buy the argument that schools are important, don’t get us wrong. But we know that other services the state provides are equally important to their recipients as schools are.
The Oregon Health Authority took a 19 percent hit in its general-fund dollars during the biennium now ending, for example. That translated into a 19 percent reduction in payments to service providers. Meanwhile, programs like the Family Health Insurance Assistance Program, which subsidizes health insurance for low-income Oregonians had to quit accepting new clients.
State police have nearly 70 fewer sworn officers than they did in the 2007-09 biennium, more than 100 fewer than in 1999-2001 and a whopping 158 fewer than way back in 1979-81. That’s put a greater burden on county sheriff’s offices, many of which also have had to make staffing cuts.
And so on.
In the end, lawmakers are elected in no small part to make the tough budget decisions that impact the rest of us. Setting education apart from everything else may make that piece of decision-making easier, but it doesn’t give legislators the opportunity to weigh where all the state’s tax dollars might best be spent.