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Legislative session kicks off Wednesday with budget at forefront

Oregon’s 79th Legislative Assembly officially convenes Wednesday, Feb. 1, and it opens with more challenges than money to cover them. Education issues will play a heavy role in this session.

All talks start with the state budget, and economists are projecting that Oregon’s income will fall $1.8 billion short of what it needs. Oregon can’t pay the bills despite being in a period of economic expansion.

High on the list of priorities – for OSBA and the Legislature as a whole – will be revenue reform. Oregon’s heavy reliance on personal income taxes means that the state faces cycles of boom and bust that follow the swings of the economy. Other states use property taxes and consumption taxes to smooth out their cash flows, but Oregon voters have resisted attempts to raise such taxes over recent decades.

Tied to the revenue reform discussion is how to limit cost drivers such as health plans and the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). 

With or without revenue reform, school officials agree there is not enough money in the budget for K-12 education. The co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee offered up a budget framework in January that proposed $7.8 billion for schools. Gov. Kate Brown’s budget proposal offered slightly more, $8 billion, but her budget was also counting on revenue additions that the Legislature hasn’t approved yet.

Oregon school districts, however, say they need at least $8.4 billion to continue school services at current levels.

Other potentially significant education-related issues include implementation and funding for Measure 98; implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind; school construction bonding; the potential loss of tens of millions of dollars of federal timber payments under the Secure Rural Schools Act; and mandatory PE requirements set to take effect this fall.