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Goldschmidt Proposes Budget Seeking 'Children's Agenda' and Tax Changes

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Gov. Neil Goldschmidt of Oregon has proposed a $4.4-billion state budget for the upcoming biennium that would hike aid to schools by 12.7 percent over its current level.

The Governor's budget, which was unveiled Dec. 1, earmarks $1.5 billion for elementary and secondary schools, or roughly 30 percent of districts' estimated costs for the two-year period. The state currently picks up 28 percent of such costs.

In addition, Mr. Goldschmidt called on lawmakers to approve a $29-million "children's agenda" that includes programs to improve the health, education, and care of children from infancy to age 6. The plan, which represents the Governor's first major initiative on children's issues, was developed following a series of hearings that he held across the state this past year.

Oregon officials have come under increasing pressure to raise the4state's share of school revenues in the wake of a highly publicized series of district shutdowns in the mid-1980's. The state currently ranks among the nation's lowest in terms of the percentage of its budget dedicated to public schools.

In September, a blue-ribbon commission appointed by the Governor deemed the school-finance system inequitable and inadequate, and recommended that the state adopt the long-term goal of covering half of districts' costs. Mr. Goldschmidt's budget proposal includes several of the panel's short-term recommendations, such as providing property-tax relief in some areas and establishing a property-tax base for all districts.

Paying Past Bills

Gregg Kantor, the Governor's spokesman, said the proposed fiscal 1989-91 budget is an attempt to "pay the bills of the past."

"It pays for a lot of bills that have come due because of putting them off for so many years during the early 1980's," he said. "We didn't build prisons, we let school finance hang, we didn't invest new money in children."

The overall budget would increase state spending by 19 percent, Mr. Kantor said. It does not call for new taxes because the state's economy is growing, he added.

The Governor's proposal seeks $70 million in general property-tax relief, another $20 million in state aid for property-poor districts with high tax rates, and a $20-million funding increase for special education.

Mr. Kantor said the blue-ribbon panel's report "was basically used as a guide" for those proposals. The amounts sought by the Governor, however, are lower than those recommended by the group.

New Tax Bases

Mr. Kantor said the Governor also adopted the panel's suggestion that the legislature place before the voters next spring a resolution that would establish up-to-date tax bases for all districts and allow for 6 percent annual increases in local spending. Several districts have been prevented from raising their budgets during the past three years because their voters have rejected tax levies.

The Governor's $29.6-million early-childhood proposal includes $8 million for "Great Start," an effort to improve the health, development,and family environment of youngsters. Counties would develop their own plans to deal with early-childhood issues and seek grants from the state under the program.

Mr. Goldschmidt's "children's agenda" would also provide funding for prenatal and infant care; infant health screening; health insurance for organ transplants and other medical emergencies; special assistance for homeless, migrant, and runaway children; and grants to reduce the state's dropout rate.

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