On Monday a large crowd of concerned citizens met at Grant High School to discuss the state budget crisis with about a dozen state representatives including House and Senate Democratic Leaders Kate Brown and Deborah Kafoury, Senate Ways and Means Co-Chair Kurt Schrader, Senator Avel Gordly, and Representative Jackie Dingfelder. Everyone seemed to agree that social services need to be funded yet there wasn't much in the way of solutions that address the heart of the problem, the misallocation of money we already have.
Senator Schrader presented some pretty modest figures for how much we need to fund basic health and human services, for maintaining environmental protections, etc. The figure he gave for all human services was about $300 million and for environmental protections $8-13 million. He asked the audience for suggestions on how to come up with the money.
One of the only suggestions offered was a well-intentioned but regressive sales tax being promoted by Senator Gordly to try to salvage life-saving programs. Unfortunately our "representatives" seem to have a blind spot about the massive corporate welfare going to OHSU while people are dying from lack of social service funding. The legislature is currently deciding on the second half of 200 million dollars of the tobacco settlement which is slated to be given to OHSU for their biotech venture "The Oregon Opportunity Plan". Compare this figure, approximately $100 million dollars, to Schrader's figures. According to those figures, that money would provide one third of the needed money for all social services. How many lives could this money save?
One audience member expressed concern that a successful tobacco cessation program that had been funded by the tobacco settlement has been shut down. This program was scrapped to reclaim about 4 million dollars. A few of the representatives echoed this concern, including Representative Tomei who stated she was interested in trying to restore the funding to this program. This program has had measurable success as opposed to the Oregon Opportunity plan which offers no guaranteed benefits to Oregonians. In a conversation this writer had with RepresentativeTomei after the meeting, the allocation of the tobacco settlement to OHSU was brought up and she knew nothing about it.
Unfortunately this seems to be typical, that our "representatives" either are unaware of the fate of this massive amount of state money or they simply refuse to pay attention to it.
At a similar Town Hall meeting that took place soon after the passage of the bill that gave OHSU 200 million dollars from the tobacco settlement (HB832), Senator Kate Brown was questioned about this allocation. She claimed that she knew nothing about the bill even though she cosponsored it.
At least there was one representative at this meeting who was willing to speak the truth about OHSU. In a conversation I had with Senator Schrader, I suggested that this 100 million dollars be used for services that are proven to save lives instead of on a risky business venture. He not only said that he has concerns about this use of the tobacco settlement, he expressed concerns about the way OHSU conducts itself generally. Referring to the president of OHSU, the main proponent of the Oregon Opportunity plan, Senator Schrader said, "Peter Kohler is a liar... he is extremely disingenuous" and "a poor steward of the medical community".
Many people in the audience seemed to think that the budget problem is a problem of Republicans versus Democrats. A suggestion from an audience member that the solution is to vote Democratic elicited many cheers. Why should we have any faith in either party? In 2000, Oregonians voted against giving OHSU 10 million dollars of the tobacco settlement. We should not forget that in 2001 the Senate Democratic leader, Kate Brown, sponsored the giveaway of 200 million dollars of our money to OHSU for a business venture that even OHSU's own biotech guru, Dr. William New Jr., doubts will succeed. http://www.portlandtribune.com/archview.cgi?id=16161
Not only that, when questioned about the bill, Brown claimed to not remember what it was. She either lied or forgot about $200 million dollars. Either is completely shameful.
For more background on OHSU's theft of the tobacco settlement: