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Town Hall Meeting Avoids the Real Questions

Why are we wasting 200 million dollars of state money on corporate welfare for OHSU when people are dying from lack of social services?
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:
 http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2002/05/11072.shtml

excellent coverage! 11.Jun.2003 12:27

--

But, the bill that gave OHSU 200 million dollars from the tobacco settlement was SB832, not HB832. Thanx for the update and the priceless quote from Senator Schrader.

Lack of Transparency 11.Jun.2003 12:42

MNo

Plus, there is a critical lack of transparency in a process where there's been testimony on an amendement to a bill that still isn't properly public. Even many legislators have no idea HB 5042 is to do more than just allocate OHSU's normal budget to them. The other $106 million is still, for all intents and purposes, an invisible amendment.

HB 5042 itself is startlingly simple and completely lacking any reference to the Oregon Opportunity money, yet a call to Steve Bender's (Legislative Fiscal) office will reveal that the Oregon Opportunity money is definitely a component of HB 5042, as an amendement that just never appears.

HB 5042 -  http://www.leg.state.or.us/03reg/measures/hb5000.dir/hb5042.intro.html
HB 5042 history -  http://www.leg.state.or.us/cgi-bin/searchMeas.pl

For more information or to express your opinion on this issue contact the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education

Rep. Susan Morgan (R), chair  rep.susanmorgan@state.or.us 503-986-1402
Rep. Alan Bates (D)  rep.alanbates@state.or.us 503- 986-1405
Rep. Tootie Smith (R)  rep.tootiesmith@state.or.us 503 986-1418
Senator Ken Messerle (R)  sen.kenmesserle@state.or.us 503-986-1705
Senator Avel Gordly (D)  sen.avelgordly@state.or.us 503-986-1723

Steve Bender - Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) staff
(503) 986-1836
Budget Analyst
900 Court St. NE
H178 State Capitol
Salem, OR 97301