Lawmakers bracing for bad news

Jonathan J. Cooper / The Associated Press /

SALEM — The severity of state budget cuts comes into sharper focus this week, when economists tell the Legislature how much tax money they think Oregon will collect.

The last two quarterly revenue forecasts have delivered disappointing news, forcing legislative leaders to recommend layoffs of state workers, the closure of a prison and smaller paychecks for workers who provide in-home care to seniors and people with disabilities.

Nobody’s expecting to see an influx of money when the projections are released Tuesday, and a sharp decline would force legislators back to the negotiating table in search of more service cuts to close a budget gap that’s already expected to be at least $200 million.

Whatever the new forecast shows, the estimate is needed before the Legislature can press ahead with efforts to get the budget back in balance.

Lawmakers have already been under pressure from interest groups fighting proposed cuts, and that pressure is likely to intensify this week as budget votes draw nearer.

“I expect there will be a lot of interests that come in and aren’t satisfied,” said Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, a lead budget negotiator.

Previous revenue forecasts have projected that Oregon will take in $300 million less than lawmakers assumed when they finalized the $14.6 billion two-year budget last summer.

The co-chairs’ budget-balancing proposal assumes this week’s forecast will lop off another $50 million to $80 million, so a downward forecast in that range wouldn’t require lawmakers to start over, said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland.

Buckley said he was optimistic that Oregon will see job growth on par with positive national figures released Friday. Companies added 243,000 jobs in January, far more than economists expected, and unemployment fell to its lowest rate in three years. The lack of a sales tax means Oregon’s revenue is highly dependent on personal income taxes, which benefit from people having work.