- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon’s top legislative budget writers have unveiled a plan to close a looming $1.8 billion shortfall by making cuts across state government — a plan they hope lawmakers and voters will reject as unacceptable.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports ( https://bit.ly/2k8CZNQ ) that during a Thursday news conference Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, and Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, said the 2017-19 budget proposal could lead to teacher layoffs, university tuition hikes and kicking people off the state’s Medicaid program.

The magnitude of their proposed cuts was not a surprise. Democratic leaders in the Legislature said earlier this month they hoped the $20.6 billion budget would help build political will to overhaul the state’s tax system. In a joint statement, Devlin and Nathanson described their budget as “one we believe Oregonians will reject.”

“We do not believe the resources allocated in this document are sufficient,” Devlin said.

State economists expect the state to have nearly $1.3 billion more in tax and Lottery revenue in 2017-19 compared with the current two-year budget. But that’s not enough to cover rising costs, particularly from the state’s Medicaid program and personnel costs such as raises and public pensions.

Unlike the budget proposal Gov. Kate Brown released in December, Devlin and Nathanson’s budget plan assumes the state will not pass any new taxes. Brown softened the impact of the budget shortfall in her proposal, by assuming lawmakers would pass $897 million in proposed new revenue.

Nathanson and Devlin attributed the budget gap to a “structural deficit” created by ballot measures voters passed in the 1990s to reduce property taxes. Voters also passed three ballot measure in November that didn’t include any new funding but will cost an estimated $357 million over the next two years, according to Legislative Fiscal Officer Ken Rocco.

Devlin and Nathanson suggested the state cannot fully fund those ballot measures, because doing so would force deeper cuts to other programs. That philosophy is similar to Gov. Kate Brown’s budget proposal, which particularly upset supporters of the ballot measure to boost services for veterans.

Devlin said that although the budget would increase spending on higher education, it would not be enough to avoid tuition increases of around 10 percent. According to a budget summary, cuts to Medicaid could cause some low-income Oregonians to lose insurance and others might lose coverage of dental, mental health and addiction services.

In a statement, Senate Republicans applauded the budget as more realistic than Brown’s proposal.

“We sincerely appreciate the hard-work of the Joint Ways and Means Committee co-chairs in crafting a budget based in reality,” Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said in a statement. “The only way Oregon will get through the current budget crunch is by setting better spending priorities and demonstrating budget discipline.”

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