Editorial, The Oregonian, September 17, 2003
The big lie of Oregon politics
The anti-tax, anti-government activists eager to overturn the Legislature's tax surcharge and strip another $800 million from the state budget are trotting out a new version of an old, familiar lie in Oregon politics: Schools won't be hurt.
The latest misrepresentation is that Oregon school districts and their students won't suffer cuts if voters kill the Legislature's tax plan, which includes $400 million for schools. ". . . Our point of view is, schools aren't depending on the money," claims Jason Williams of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon. "They already budgeted to live without the money before this tax was passed."
In fact, most districts are planning for and depending on a state school budget considerably larger than $4.8 billion, which is what Oregon will have to spend on schools if Williams and his allies in the Republican and Libertarian parties succeed in forcing a vote and killing the Legislature's tax plan.
A spot survey by the Department of Education found that Klamath Falls and Tigard-Tualatin school districts have assumed a $5.2 billion state school budget. Salem and North Clackamas are planning for about $5 billion. Springfield assumed a $4.95 billion level of support. Medford, $4.98 billion.
Meanwhile, some school districts have planned for a worst-case budget scenario. One of them is Coos Bay, which reports that it would be forced to cut 19 days from its school year if the state school budget falls to $4.8 billion. We'll grant Jason Williams this much: Coos Bay isn't depending on the tax surcharge to balance its budget.
It's only depending on it to deliver a full school year.
By now, voters ought to know better than to fall again for the seductive line that they can safely reject or reduce any tax without concern for their schools. This is the lie spun a decade ago by sponsors of Measure 5, the property-tax limit. It's akin to the "secret plan" that GOP lawmakers promised to protect schools while urging voters to reject Measure 28 in January. The rest is history: Voters shot down the measure, the Republicans kept their secret and Oregon became known far and wide for closing its schools early.
Here we go again. School districts are damned if they budget for adequate funding and a full school year, and damned if they don't. Williams and Kevin Mannix, the leader of the Republican Party, claim with straight faces that Oregon can slash $800 million in spending and not hurt schools or kids.
Don't believe it. Before you sign one of their petitions, remember this: They have no plan -- secret or otherwise -- to protect schools from cuts. They have nothing more than the same tired line: Schools will be fine, just fine.