Here’s the complete text of Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski’s remarks to reproters on Wednesday following the defeat of the Measure 30 tax increase:
“Yesterday, the people of Oregon were forced to pick between two difficult choices: pay more in taxes at a time when many families are having trouble making ends meet, or face cuts in essential services like education, health care, and law enforcement.
Given the state of the economy, the fact that a majority of voters decided not to take on a higher tax burden isn’t surprising.
But now it’s time to move forward. The voters have spoken, and it’s our job in Salem to follow their direction and reduce spending.
As you know, when the Legislature passed the budget last summer, they also passed a disappropriation bill that would go into effect if Measure 30 were defeated. It was the Legislature’s bipartisan consensus on the best way to cut nearly $800 million in spending if that became necessary.
Many people have asked me whether I would call the Legislature into special session if Measure 30 were voted down, and my answer has always been the same: I am not inclined to call a special session unless it will bring certainty, stability and resolution to the issues, both in the short term and into the future, rather than political posturing.
We have reached a stage in Oregon where 95 percent of our general fund budget is spent on education, public safety and health and human services, in large part because of mandates from the federal government or from Oregon voters. Because that is where the spending is, that is also where the reductions in spending will be felt. In order to comply with the voters’ wishes, I have directed our state agencies to absorb the cuts to the greatest extent possible without affecting programs.
There are some executive actions I can take to establish a set of values and priorities to preserve programs for kids, seniors and people with disabilities – those in our society who are least able to fend for themselves, those with the least political power. I intend to set those values and priorities and to work with a bipartisan legislature to minimize the impact of these cuts.
First, as I said in my inaugural address last year, during tough times, children go to the head of the line. That still applies today. So while we must reduce spending on health services, we should make it a priority to keep the Children’s Health Insurance Program, so that needy kids will at least be assured of a minimum level of health care. This costs very little for the state, but saves quite a few children for our future. In addition, we should make it a priority to continue prenatal health programs for pregnant women, so that every child has a healthy start in life.
Second, we cannot abandon our seniors. It is my priority to continue to supply coverage of prescription drugs for our low income seniors. And we will continue prioritizing other programs for our seniors and people with disabilities.
Third, we must protect public safety. The disappropriation bill cuts $58 million from the public safety budget. There is no way to avoid most of those cuts. But I will not let hardened criminals out of the state penitentiary before their time. I have directed our public safety agencies to absorb as many cuts as possible within their administrative overhead first.
And, because the state crime labs are so important in helping our cops prosecute criminals, I intend to ask the Emergency Board of the Legislature to use their discretionary dollars to protect those labs from the cuts they are currently scheduled to take. We will work with our partners, the sheriffs and counties, to minimize the impact on our community corrections programs.
Finally, we must do everything possible to protect our schools from more damage. K-12 schools will see a cut of $284.6 million. Many of these cuts have already been felt: with the threat that Measure 30 would be on the ballot, the 198 school districts, where spending decisions are made, reacted in similar ways. They have simply not hired back the teachers they need. They have cut back on subjects, and they have increased class sizes. Ultimately, this is not helpful to our children or our economy.
I will continue to be an advocate for more school funding for our kids, as well as cost savers, such as pooling health insurance for teachers. I urge the citizens to get involved in their local school districts where these spending decisions are made, so that they can have some control over how school dollars are spent.
As for higher education, access remains my #1 priority. Though higher education faces a cut of $7.5 million, we will look for additional operational and administrative reductions in the chancellor’s office and campus by campus, and we will take those reductions before we resort to tuition increases.
Let me say one thing about efficiency and accountability in government. Together, we have already saved the taxpayers millions of dollars – in fact, billions, with a B – by reforming PERS, streamlining regulations and cutting jobs in government. We are consolidating computer data centers, leveraging our purchasing power to reduce procurement costs, and altering our budgeting process to focus on core priorities. Moving forward, we will continue to make progress. In the coming months, my staff and I will be working overtime to preserve essential programs, save money and prove that government can be accountable to people.
I have consistently said that I am very optimistic about Oregon’s future. Unemployment is coming down -although much too slowly. New businesses are moving to Oregon and Oregon businesses are expanding. Revenue forecasts are holding steady – or even going up a little. I think the worst is behind us. But there is a great deal of work ahead of us. I have tried very hard to set a new tone in Salem – to make it clear that this Administration will work with legislators of both parties to improve the lives of Oregon families.
I have always believed Oregon’s greatest strength is its people. We are blessed with a strong spirit and a hardy constitution. Together, we’ll create a better future for our state.”