The sun may be shining on the governor's mansion, but the rest of the state has endured a downpour of tough economic conditions.
It's time for voters to break out the umbrellas and approve Measure 19 on Sept. 17. This measure taps into a "rainy day" fund so our schools do not suffer any more reductions to their budgets. The governor opposes these types of "quick fixes." However, we have news for the governor. It's raining.
We feel that voters, perhaps caught up in the governor's well-publicized rhapsodies about fiscal responsibility, were misled when they shot down a similar measure back on May 21. We suspect a different governor could have worked with the Oregon Legislature and informed voters toward a different outcome. On Sept. 17, we have a chance to correct that mistake and pass Measure 19.
Measure 19 authorizes a $150 million withdrawal from the lottery-fed Education Stability Fund to backfill 2002-03 K-12 budget cuts and still leave a $138 million balance in the fund. Measure 19 also provides for 18 percent of future lottery proceeds to be deposited into the fund and creates a school capital matching fund to help school districts with their future capital construction and improvement needs.
The Grant School District No. 3 Board of Directors supports Measure 19, and rightly so. They sense that the ongoing squabble between Gov. John Kitzhaber and the Oregon Legislature is bad for the state and bad for schools.
The fight concerns how to cope with revenue shortfalls in the state budget. What's odd about this dispute is the fact that legislators patiently have returned for special session after special session to patch together a budget that can avoid hurting public education. Nevertheless, the governor has refused to budge and has vetoed their bills. The governor should have supported these measures and made the case for his successor to work toward a long-term solution for education funding. Instead, he ignored the challenges facing families all across Oregon and continued to demand higher taxes from its citizens.
We're in a recession. We lead the nation in economic bad news. Our rural areas have become a basket case thanks to the shutdown of our major industries, but even the typically prosperous urban areas have felt the effects of the economic downturn.
Never mind what the public-opinion polls say. Kitzhaber's high approval ratings cannot mask the basic failure of his logic. The governor veils his demand for increased taxation in the language of "responsibility" and finding a "long-term solution for education funding." However, he displays neither responsibility nor long-term thinking by reacting knee-jerk to the legislature's accounting provisions. He's playing a game of chicken with the legislature, without realizing that he is a lame-duck governor who could have confronted these issues years ago. Now, the governor is just being stubborn and dogmatic to the detriment of our schools.
Gov. Kitzhaber may live in a palatial mansion with a comfortable salary, but many Oregonians are not so fortunate. They cannot afford to pay more taxes, nor should they have to.
Also, our school districts deserve better than 11th-hour dramatics from a governor who professes to care about education. His antics could cost school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars. Grant School District No. 3 faces a "worst-case scenario" of $400,000 in devastating budget cuts if state reductions prompted by the governor's vetoes are not offset by the Oregon Legislature.
The governor's moral crusade against legislators has gone too far. We need a short-term fix to keep our schools running. Acting responsibly, school boards like ours made the tough decisions last spring when they devised their budgets for this school year. This month, local school board members made the responsible decision to support Measure 19. Now, citizens should make the responsible decision to support schools by passing Measure 19 in next month's special election. Then, it's time to elect a governor who can put the state's welfare above his own moral crusades.