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Ore. Governor Seeks Reforms To Ease The Impact of Measure 5's Tax Limits

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Gov. Barbara Roberts last week called for a complete overhaul of Oregon's tax system to enable the state to cope with the fiscal strains created by Measure 5, a property-tax-limitation initiative approved by voters in 1990.

"We must prepare to address the need for tax reform and long-term stability,'' Ms. Roberts said in her State of the State Address. "For if Oregon is to prosper, the decisions we make during this session must be sound, responsible, and compassionate.''

Under Ms. Roberts's proposed 1993-95 budget, school funding could be cut as much as 10 percent as a result of the additional fiscal burden placed on the state by Measure 5.

The initiative requires the state to reimburse school districts for revenues lost as a result of lower property taxes during the five-year phase-in of Measure 5--a figure expected to reach some $1.57 billion in the 1993-95 budget. But the state can still make cuts in the basic support provided to districts from the general fund.

As an intermediate solution to the burgeoning fiscal crisis, Governor Roberts proposed cutting over $900 million out of the state's $6.4 billion budget. Much of the savings will come out of education funding, which represents 45 percent of the overall state budget.

"It's a substantial chunk out of our general fund, '' said Marilynne Keyser, a senior policy adviser to the Governor on education and workforce-development issues.

In distributing the proposed cuts, Ms. Keyser said, public safety was ranked the top priority and could receive some 6 percent in cuts. Education ranked second, and could receive a 9 percent to 10 percent cut, or about $520 million. Other state agencies were targeted for proportionately larger cuts.

Despite her calls for reform, the Governor "does not believe the people or the legislature are ready to endorse a total tax overhaul,'' Ms. Keyser said. "She has said, 'When you're ready, I'm ready, and here are the things I think we ought to have.' ''

Living With Cuts

Meanwhile, Ms. Keyser cautioned, schools "should expect to live with that cut for the next two years.''

Because school leaders have been aware of the potential impact of Measure 5 for two years, she added, most districts have already been "tightening their belts and figuring out how to do the job with fewer resources.''

In addition to the proposed cuts, the Governor also called for an increase in cigarette, beer, and wine taxes, as well as a new tax on health-care providers. Revenues from these increases would not aid school budgets, however, instead funding substance-abuse programs and a new state health plan.

Also outlined in Ms. Roberts's budget is a plan to streamline state government by eliminating, privatizing, or merging state agencies, with the end result of cutting the total number of agencies from 116 to 56.

Ms. Roberts's budget proposal drew sharp criticism from Superintendent of Public Instruction Norma S. Paulus, who said the Democratic Governor was "out of step with the public.'' Ms. Paulus, an elected Republican, said she expected the legislature to pass a budget that would not contain such large reductions.

"I'm very optimistic that we can convince the legislature that education should be the number-one priority,'' she asserted.

Ms. Paulus said she believes the ultimate answer to the state's education-funding problems is to establish a sales tax and dedicate the revenues to the schools.

"Other attempts to change the tax system have tried to attach it to government spending and the public has always refused to do that,'' she said, "But I do think they would support a tax that was dedicated solely to education, particularly to K-12.''

OKLAHOMA

Walters Faults Progress Under Reform Measure

The comprehensive tax- and education-reform law passed by the Oklahoma legislature in 1990 has not done enough to improve the schools, Gov. David Walters said in his State of the State Address this month.

"I want what all Oklahomans want,'' he said, "a good education for all our kids, and I don't believe they are getting it even now with [House Bill] 1017,'' as the reform law is known.

Although funding for elementary and secondary education has increased 46 percent in three years--from House Bill 1017 funding and other new dollars--teachers' salaries have fallen and student-test scores and dropout statistics "haven't significantly improved,'' said Governor Walters, who supported the passage of HB 1017.

"I understand that [improvement] takes time,'' Mr. Walters said, "but tell that to every other function of state government as we ask them to cut services by 10 percent in order to write another $100-million-plus check to just one part of our education system.''

In asking "for a few things for the people's money,'' Mr. Walters said schools should:

  • "Prioritize'' use of local resources over the next three years to insure that every public school is air conditioned.
  • Make computers available to every student.
  • Become the "center of the community,'' providing before- and after-school child care.
  • Have a school-based health clinic.

Mr. Walters also called for statewide public school choice and urged that driver's licenses, welfare payments, and parole from prison be denied high school dropouts who fail to get their General Educational Development certificate.

"If you want my support for additional money,'' he told the legislators, "I want your support for real, tangible, visible improvements in our schools.''

In his speech, Mr. Walters also said he would propose putting money into a previously unfunded state higher-education trust fund and expanding a pilot apprenticeship program statewide.--M.L.

IOWA

Branstad Seeks $60 Million In New School Funding

Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa last week proposed spending $60 million in new money on elementary and secondary schools next year.

Predicting during his State of the State Address that an upturn in the economy would leave the state with an additional $100 million in annual revenue, Mr. Branstad proposed spending 60 percent of that amount on education and most of the remainder on health programs for the poor and elderly.

"Education has always been the cornerstone of our state's economic-development strategy,'' Mr. Branstad said in explaining his decision to include more money for schools in "a very tight budget.''

"Our success,'' he said, "will be measured not only by our fiscal responsibility, but by the jobs we help create, the education we provide our children, and the quality of life our citizens enjoy.''

If approved by the legislature, the Governor's proposal would increase the share of the state budget devoted to education to just over 58 percent, a slight increase from last year.

Private schools would get more help as well, with an additional $1.3 million going to fund transportation for students in non-public schools and an additional $1 million going into a grant program to help about 900 more students attend independent colleges.

The Governor also urged legislators to give local schools more freedom from state regulations and called for more spending on state universities and community colleges.--P.S.

VIRGINIA

Wilder Vows to Stop Violence in Schools

In his State of the Commonwealth Address last week, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia called on state legislators to "act swiftly to stop violence in our schools.''

Governor Wilder urged passage of legislation to strengthen penalties for furnishing firearms to minors and threatening the lives of school officials. School personnel, he said, should have access to information about the violent backgrounds of some students.

"It is a horrifying fact that our schools are mirroring our society and becoming more violent,'' Mr. Wilder said, pointing to an incident in Franklin County, Va., in which a junior high school student held his class hostage with a handgun.

"These senseless actions are allowed because guns are too accessible to our schools,'' Governor Wilder said.

The Governor also announced an initiative to limit the sale of firearms to one per person per month.

Turning to the area of welfare, Governor Wilder called for a sweeping overhaul of the current system under which recipients would be required to receive job training.

The Governor's plan would consolidate existing Medicaid, Aid to Families With Dependent Children, job-training, and child-care programs into a Job Assistance Trust Fund.

In the "workfare'' program, the Governor explained, recipients would receive training to work in temporary jobs in the private sector. Participants in the program would receive a paycheck for their efforts and state and local taxes would be recycled into the fund.

"The road to ending poverty is not financial subsidy, but human empowerment,'' Governor Wilder said.

Unlike last year, when he used his annual address to outline a plan for reducing funding disparities between rich and poor districts, Mr. Wilder did not mention the issue of school finance or a legal challenge to the existing funding system mounted by a coalition of low-wealth districts.--J.P.

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