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Senate approves $8.2 billion state education budget

Although the measures provides more money than Gov. Brown's proposal, unions and other critics say the bill falls short.

SEN. ROD MONROE'S OFFICE - Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, in April 2013, at the Oregon Capitol in Salem.SALEM — The Oregon Senate voted 25-to-5 Thursday, June 8, to approve an $8.2 billion state education budget for the next two years.

Before their vote, multiple senators expressed hope that they would be able to enhance that amount by the end of the session. The $8.2 billion is greater than what Gov. Kate Brown proposed in the face of a $1.4 billion state revenue shortfall.

"This is a remarkable place to be at this point in session," said Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis. "Like others have said, I hope we are able to come back and do more. I know that our schools need more."

Democrats in the Legislature are working on a revenue reform package that recently caught a wind of momentum when a prominent business coalition made up of Associated Oregon Industries and the Oregon Business Council showed support.

The education budget is the first and one of the largest budgets the Legislature will consider before session's end July 10. The spending plan consists of $7.68 billion from the general fund, $452.9 million in lottery proceeds and $63 million in recreational marijuana tax revenue.

The plan exceeds the existing two-year budget by 11.2 percent, said Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland.

Education advocates, including the Oregon School Boards Association, have said the amount fails to account for schools' increasing expenses related to bargained salaries and the rising cost of providing health insurance and pension benefits.

A group of demonstrators made up of union members and others jeered at members of the Ways and Means Committee earlier this week as they filed into a meeting room to vote on the budget. The protestors' main message was that $8.2 billion is not enough.

"This budget is based on known existing resources. If we had gone above it at this time would have been taking money from community colleges from universities from mental health … from public safety," Monroe said. "That would be imprudent certainly, with no resources. …Right now, this is the best we can do."

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said he had to vote no on the budget.

"I made a commitment to school districts that I would not support anything less than $8.4 billion. ... It is my hope the other side of aisle will get serious about significant spending reforms that will allow Republicans to get to new and enhanced revenue."

A "breakthrough" revenue plan offered by Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, could bring the education budget up to $8.5 billion, according to Kotek's office.

The additional money could be approved in the Legislature's end-of-session bill, dubbed the "Christmas tree" bill.

rown told reporters Thursday she would like to see any additional school funding go toward career technical education, funding a high school graduation initiative, Measure 98, approved by voters in November and decreasing class sizes.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
email: pachen@portlandtribune.com
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