Republicans call Oregon budget deficit a ‘scare game’

Remarks come as lawmakers brainstorm ways to generate more state income

In this May 12, 2011, file photo, the Oregon Capitol is shown surrounded by spring blossoms in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)
In this May 12, 2011, file photo, the Oregon Capitol is shown surrounded by spring blossoms in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Hundreds of thousands of Oregonians could lose funding for health care if lawmakers don’t find a way to make up for the $1.6 billion budget deficit the state is currently facing.

But as lawmakers work to come up with ways to generate more state revenue, some Republicans are disputing whether the budget shortfall even exists.

Political analyst Jim Moore tells KOIN 6 News the answer is simple: When it comes to what state lawmakers want out of the current budget, they’re $1.6 billion short.

“Clearly there’s going to have to be cuts from all levels, but health care is probably the most vulnerable,” Moore explained. “Some of those people will be kicked out of the system and not be able to access the money to help them buy insurance.”

The budget shortfall could also have big impacts on education funding. Portland Public Schools and other districts around the state are preparing for the worst, which could mean cuts to staff and teachers, and increases in class sizes.

A document released Monday lays out how state lawmakers are working to come up with ways to generate more revenue, so the cuts won’t be quite as steep.

“They’re trying to say, ‘Are there ways to raise revenue to make this work?'” Moore said. “They’ve been talking about business taxes…  so they can cut less.”

Meanwhile, Senate Republican Communications Director Jonathan Lockwood said he doesn’t agree with Democrats’ efforts to find additional sources of revenue.

“What the Democrats are doing is issuing out threats in order to scare people into issuing a tax increase,” Lockwood said. “Instead of fear-mongering, let’s sit down and craft a budget that works. Stop playing this scare game that they’ve been doing in perpetuating this myth that we have a shortfall when we do not.”

Lockwood added that he thinks Democrats are punishing constituents for failing to pass Measure 97, which would have increased taxes for Oregon’s biggest businesses.

House Democrats Communications Director Scott Moore responded by saying Senate Republicans “were literally just praising these budget cuts a couple of months ago when the co-chairs’ budget framework was released” on January 19.

Although the proposed cuts weren’t officially released until April, Moore said they were listed as “possible areas to cut” in the January framework Republicans praised.

But Lockwood disputed that, saying it’s “flat out not accurate” to say the January framework is the same as the official list of possible cuts published on April 17.

“When did we praise killing 350,000 heath care plans? When did we praise killing vital programs to pay for Democrat voter registration drives and union pet projects?” Lockwood replied. “The quotes in the January press release literally say the same thing we are now: that Democrat-overspending, misplaced priorities and unnecessary cuts to necessary programs like veterans, poor people and seniors, will not fly.”

Lockwood and Moore both question whether the other understands how the budget process works. Moore added that Lockwood may have encouraged Republican legislators to support the January framework “without reading the details.”

“If you read that document that was released in January and compare it to the recently released reduction lists, you’ll see that the program area numbers all match up, that the suggested program cuts were mostly laid out 3 months ago, and that the Monday document just puts dollar figures on those cuts,” Moore said via email. “There are some tweaks here and there (like how to account for a possible hospital provider tax) but otherwise, it’s basically the same bleak presentation.”

More went on to say he “should add that House Democrats believe these cuts are unacceptable, but without bold action on cost containment and revenue reform, the magnitude of the budget gap would require deep cuts in these programs.”

Oregonians will have a better idea of how the budget situation will unfold by the time the legislative session ends in July. At this point, nothing is set in stone.