Capitol Recap

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Enrollment figures are based on fall 2002 data reported by state officials for pre-K-12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.


Without New Revenue,
Legislature Lowers Aid

It's been a tough first year for Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama, a Republican who watched voters overwhelmingly reject the tax and accountability plan he had hoped would transform Alabama and its education system.

Instead, just weeks after the failed Sept. 9 referendum, legislators in a special session rushed through a budget that compelled an array of cuts in state government and education programs. ("As Promised, Cuts Follow Failed Alabama Tax Vote," Oct. 8, 2003.)

"While I had hoped for a different outcome, it was the people's choice to make, for it is their government, not ours," Mr. Riley told legislators at the start of the special session in mid-September.

Gov. Bob Riley

25 Democrats
10 Republicans
63 Democrats
42 Republicans

When the dust settled, overall state spending for K-12 education had declined slightly—by less than 1 percent—from $3.02 billion last year to $3.01 billion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Adding to the pain of the cuts are additional costs for teacher health-insurance and retirement benefits, which are expected to eat up an extra $80 million in state education aid this year.

The cuts include a big drop in spending on textbooks, from $42 million last fiscal year to $5.2 million in 2004, and the elimination of a $2.8 million line item for teacher professional development, $6.2 million for school library enhancements, and $8.4 million for school technology.

Also, the state department of education is seeing a 17 percent reduction in its operations and maintenance budget, amounting to $3.9 million. The agency will absorb much of that reduction by not filling 51 vacancies. It currently has 293 employees.

The situation is a far cry from how things might have been, say supporters of Gov. Riley's ambitious plan to rewrite the tax code. Those changes would have eventually brought in an extra $1.2 billion, with much of that money destined for education. Mr. Riley proposed the package after discovering an estimated budget shortfall of nearly $700 million.

Instead of simply plugging the hole, he wanted to bring in enough additional revenue to expand funding for some programs and set up new ones, such as merit-based college scholarships. The package also contained new accountability measures for schools and state government.

But voters said no by a vote of 68 percent to 32 percent.

—Erik W. Robelen


New Tax Increases
Could Be in Jeopardy

In their longest-running legislative session ever, Oregon lawmakers in late August approved an $11.6 billion biennial state budget for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 that includes $792 million in tax increases.

K-12 education will receive $5.2 billion over the biennium, a 13 percent increase from $4.6 billion in 2001-03. Schools may get another $100 million if certain lottery revenue and general-fund revenue targets are met.

Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski signed the budget bill on Aug. 26 despite having said in January that he would not approve a budget with an income tax increase.

"I signed this bill, as a last resort," the first-term Democrat said in a statement, "because I am committed to providing all of Oregon's children with a full school year."

Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski

14 Democrats
16 Republicans
25 Democrats
35 Republicans

Yet schools, which trimmed school days and cut programs last year because of the state's depressed economy, may have to wait a bit longer to know how much state funding they'll actually get.

Controversy over the budget-balancing, tax-hike measure was so rancorous that it stretched the legislative session to a record-breaking 227 days. The measure includes a temporary income-tax surcharge ranging from 1 percent to 9 percent, a minimum corporate tax on business sales, and an extension of the state's 10-cents-a-pack cigarette tax, among other increases.

In response, tax-measure opponents have launched a signature-gathering drive to force a referendum on the tax increases. If they gather at least 50,420 valid signatures by Nov. 25, Oregonians can decide on the tax-hike legislation in a Feb. 3 special election.

If voters were to repeal the tax measure this coming winter, the state budget would suffer almost $545 million in revenue losses. Of that, $414 million would come from the budget for schools.

—Rhea R. Borja

Vol. 23, Issue 7, Page 22

Published in Print: October 15, 2003, as Capitol Recap
Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories