If you go

What: Joint Committee on Ways and Means state budget hearing

When: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 16

Where: Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, Three Sisters Conference and Convention Center (South Sister), 3800 SW Airport Way, Redmond

Those wishing to speak can sign up at the event. The committee announced it will hear from as many people as possible, but that it cannot guarantee everyone who signs up will get a chance to address the committee.

To submit written testimony, email to: waysandmeans.budget@oregonlegislature.gov . Include your city of residence in the subject line. All submissions will be posted online to the Oregon Legislative Information System (OLIS).

The Joint Committee on Ways and Means budget proposal can be found online at: www.oregonlegislature.gov/lfo/Pages/JointWaysMeans.aspx

Gov. Kate Brown’s budget proposal can be found at: budget.oregon.gov.

The Legislature’s state budget “road show” will pull into Redmond on Saturday as part of a statewide swing to let Oregonians weigh in on the $23.7 billion tax and spending proposal.

The Joint Committee on Ways and Means will hold a hearing at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The Legislature’s top budget writers earlier this month released a $23.7 billion spending plan for 2019-21, $2.1 billion above the current budget. Funding levels are maintained for K-12 schools and the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid system for low-income residents. But it also calls for $360 million in cuts to a variety of agencies and services.

Under state law, the budget must be balanced between revenue and spending. The legislative budget plan does not include new taxes, but its revenue forecast is based on a continued robust state economy, which would be undercut by any downturn.

“We want to acknowledge that this is not a perfect budget; there will be folks who are not happy with this budget,” Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, one of three committee co-chairs, said in a March 7 briefing for reporters. “But our job is to balance the budget within the resources we have.”

Rayfield is the House chair for the committee. Sens. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, are co-chairs representing the Senate.

The committee’s budget proposal was presented as an alternative to Gov. Kate Brown’s $23.6 billion budget plan, released late last year. Brown’s plan included a $2 billion optional “investment package” that would be spent on education projects from pre-school to university level. Lawmakers would have to find new revenue, which the governor did not specify, to fund the package.

Education leaders criticized the legislative budget plan, which allocates less money for K-12 schools than Brown’s proposed budget. It proposes an $8.87 billion budget for K-12 education. The Oregon School Boards Association says schools need at least $9.13 billion to maintain current levels of service.

“This number represents a significant step backwards,” said Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association. He said without additional funding, local school boards would have to plan on staff layoffs.

Steiner Hayward, the Senate co-chair of the committee, acknowledged the impact on education during the March 7 briefing.

“We recognize that this budget will still end up with deficits for many of our school districts,” she said. “We don’t like it, and yet, we’re constrained to the resources we have available.”

Republicans were split on the proposal. Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, said he preferred the Legislature’s plan to the governor’s.

“For the first time in my career in the Senate, it is refreshing to get a glimpse at a budget framework that is fiscally responsible and will leave a healthy ending balance,” he said.

But House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, said the plan did not address the key issue of dealing with the more than $26 billion long-term shortfall in PERS, the state pension system.

“This budget proposal makes clear the futility of attempting to fund our education system without addressing the PERS crisis,” Wilson said.

If history is a guide, neither the Legislature’s or governor’s budget plan will be approved as-is.

This is not an end-all, be-all document,” said Johnson, the Senate co-chair, of the Legislature’s budget proposal.

Lawmakers and the governor will negotiate, with the final budget plan approved near the end of the 2019 session, which must conclude no later than June 30.

The key battles will pit Democrats against Democrats.

The party holds three-fifths supermajorities in the House and Senate, meaning they can pass fiscal bills without any Republican support — if the Democratic caucuses stick together.

Any budget plan must then be approved by Brown, also a Democrat.

Brown said on Thursday in the Capitol that she disagreed with the legislators’ budget plan, saying cuts were not what was needed.

“That was a tough-love budget,” Brown said. “I appreciated their characterization of my budget as aspirational.”

Brown said that despite the budget coming from legislative leaders, she believed most lawmakers did not support program cuts.

“Most of us in the building would say that is not tolerable in terms of the level of funding for public resources, public safety,” she said.

Brown said possible revenue sources include a tobacco tax, which could eventually bring in $360 million during future two-year budget cycles.

She supports an employer assessment tax that could bring in $120 million. The tax would target large businesses that do not offer a comprehensive health plan for workers, forcing employees to buy private insurance or rely on the Oregon Health Plan.

“We have large employers who are not providing any kind of health insurance,” Brown said. “That’s not OK.”

Brown said whatever tax revenues that are created should prioritize early childhood education, K-12 schools and community colleges.

The Joint Committee on Ways and Means held earlier hearings in Coos Bay and Pendleton. A hearing is scheduled for Portland on March 21. Hearings will continue in Salem.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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