SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday unveiled a $23.6 billion budget proposal and policy agenda for 2019-21 that would substantially increase funding for education, health care, the environment and other programs.
“Our current strong economy gives us the best chance in a generation to address persistent, structural challenges so we can achieve our full potential,” Brown said.
Brown is backed by newly strengthened Democratic three-fifths supermajorities in the Legislature that can pass tax bills without Republican help. The next session will convene Jan. 22.
The budget blueprint shows that Brown sees the Trump administration as a foe in areas from the environment to immigration. The governor would codify the pre-Trump era version of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act into a new state law, the Oregon Environmental Protection Act.
The budget sets aside $2 million for an Oregon Defense Fund to fight federal actions and $2 million for an immigration rights advocacy program for residents facing possible deportation.
The budget includes $8 million for the Redmond campus of Central Oregon Community College.
To fully fund her agenda, Brown said the Legislature needs to find ways to generate an estimated $2 billion in revenue.
Brown’s plans occur two days after a legislative analyst’s report that the state budget could have a $623 million shortfall, largely due to unexpected funding requirements for the Oregon Health Plan.
Some legislative Democrats have suggested they will attempt to pass a corporate gross receipts tax.
Republicans denounced the plan Wednesday afternoon.
“This is not a challenge to the Legislature; it is a challenge to the wallets and pocketbooks of hardworking Oregonians,” said House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass. “This is a call to drastically increase taxes on everyday Oregonians.”
The governor is required under Oregon law to produce a balanced budget. In the past, the final budget approved by the Legislature has often differed widely with what the governor proposed. The two-year fiscal cycle begins July 2, 2019.
Here are some highlights of the governor’s budget:
Education is the biggest recipient of new money under Brown’s budget. Education accounts for $11.8 billion in spending — 50 percent of the budget.
A total of $800 million would be used to extend the school year to 180 days in the state’s 197 school districts, as well as reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. It would allocate $133 million to fully fund Career Technical Education programs in public schools approved by voters in 2016 under Measure 98. Another $70 million would go to CTE programs in colleges.
Brown wants to create places for up to 10,000 new pre-schoolers to better prepare them for kindergarten.
The budget calls for $220 million in additional funding for higher education, with the goal of keeping tuition increases at public colleges under 5 percent.
Brown wants to nearly double the amount of money available through the Oregon Opportunity Grant, the state’s largest need-based college grant program.
In an administrative shuffle, the governor would move the Chief Education Office to the office of the governor, who under state law is also the superintendent of public schools.
With federal support shrinking, Brown would restructure the way the Oregon Health Plan is financed. Money would come from a combination of taxes on some hospitals, on insurance and managed care companies, and on large companies that don’t provide affordable comprehensive health coverage to employees. It would levy a $2-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes.
Brown backs a plan to create a carbon emissions program that sets a “firm but gradually declining limit on greenhouse gas emissions, requires large emitters to obtain allowances in order to emit under the cap, and establishes a market for emitters to buy and sell allowances.”
While this sounds much like the Clean Energy Jobs bill that is expected to be introduced by Democrats in the Legislature, Brown has said she wants a bill that has wide support and won’t automatically trigger a referendum drive to overturn it.
The governor would shut down the Department of Energy and the Carbon Policy Office to create a new Oregon Climate Authority. The budget proposal said the realignment would result in a 25 percent cut in the Energy Supplier Assessment paid by Oregon utilities.
The position of environmental justice coordinator would be added to the Department of Environmental Quality to ensure that the poor and communities of color are not inordinately exposed to pollution.
Brown wants to make vote-by-mail free, with the state picking up the price of postage. The governor says she wants a constitutional amendment approved by voters to impose unspecified campaign finance limitations. She would like a “real time” campaign contribution database that anyone can access and a special commission to investigate the role of “dark money” — contributions from groups that do not disclose their donors.
Brown would expand the state’s automatic voter registration system to state agencies beyond the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Brown said she wants to clear up the backlog of permits and inspections, particularly in child care and assisted living center inspections, food safety inspections and water and air permitting.
The governor’s budget says the Public Employees Retirement System needs between $1 billion and $1.5 billion to stabilize school district rates. Her budget dedicates $100 million for a PERS “side account” that could help districts pay down their debt using excess funds, where available.
“The governor is committed to working during the 2019 session to identify the remaining funds needed to stabilize school district PERS rates,” the budget proposal says.
Housing: A $406.1 million package of investments in affordable housing programs, emergency housing assistance, and fair housing training. Special emphasis will be given to homeless children and veterans.
State Police: Double the number of troopers over the next decade. Brown would restore $8 million in funds to fill vacant trooper positions and spend $3 million to hire 10 additional troopers.
Guns: Tighten safeguards to keep criminals and mentally ill persons from purchasing firearms, and increasing the age for the purchase of “assault weapons.” Create a statewide threat assessment team mentorship program for colleges and universities.
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, email@example.com