Oregon Legislature gets head start on budget questions – Statesman Journal
It’s January, and the Oregon Legislature already has a plan for what the 2015-17 budget should look like. Nothing is set in stone, and everything is subject to change, but at least it has an idea of a framework.
Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, and Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, announced the budget framework Wednesday afternoon. It is focused heavily on education, while social services and public safety agencies are being asked to make some cuts.
Devlin and Buckley share the responsibility of running the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. (That’s a fancy name for “budget committee.”) Devlin is often known as the numbers guy and Buckley as the big-picture guy. They have been doing this together for several years, and Devlin said they have been consistently pushing themselves to figure out the budget earlier.
Last year, they announced it in March, which was the earliest in history, or at least the history anyone remembers.
This year, it’s out in January, two weeks before the session even begins on Feb. 2.
Why does that matter? Who cares if it’s January and politicians are already talking about the budget?
On a practical level, it doesn’t really change anything. State agencies turned in their budget requests during the fall, said Matt Shelby, spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services.
They asked for what they asked for. That isn’t going to change now that they’ve seen what Devlin and Buckley have planned.
On a more philosophical level, it matters a lot.
An early budget framework allows for deeper conversations and more public input, Devlin said. It allows lawmakers more time to listen to people who have concerns about how the money is being spent, and it allows them more time to decide together how to best accommodate those concerns, he said.
“You have to make a lot of decisions, and you have to be very disciplined in those decisions,” he said.
Oregon uses a very detailed budget process, he said. There are budget subcommittees that focus on certain subjects, and they hear presentations from smaller pieces of each subject.
For example, the public safety subcommittee will hear a presentation specific to the Oregon State Police, the Department of Corrections and more.
The early budget plan will allow subcommittees to move through some of the simpler budgets early in February or March, Devlin said, and leave more time for the big, meaty subjects that will come with debate.
“We’re not just trying to balance the budget in terms of revenues and expenditures,” he said. “We’re trying to balance it in terms of priorities.”
The priorities in the budget framework that has been announced don’t please everyone, he said. Already, he has heard from people upset that their programs are being cut and from people who don’t believe the “more” money their programs may get is actually enough.
That’s normal, Devlin said. What’s different is having the conversation so early.
And the conversation is the point. More time for ideas, more time for discussions, more time for conversations will hopefully lead to the best possible outcomes, Devlin said.
Senate President Peter Courtney agreed.
“I honestly believe if you give the dedicated men and women of this Legislature the information they need and enough time to consider it, there is no limit to the quality of work they will produce. That’s Oregon’s way,” he said in a news release Wednesday. “We are constantly looking for opportunities to be better, do better and govern better.”
Already the conversations have started.
For example, Senate Republicans have already said they prefer Gov. John Kitzhaber’s approach to education funding, which was more focused on outcomes, than what Devlin and Buckley presented, although they aren’t sure either budget included enough money for schools.
Those are the conversations Devlin is looking for, he said, so the Legislature and the budget subcommittees are ready to go in February with very little lag time.
“Every one of them is anticipating they’re going to work on Feb. 2,” he said.
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