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Oregonís Growthís Budget Crises

This article was published in the Corvallis Gazette-Times on 5/7/2002.

Oregon's growth policies, laws lead to statewide budget crises

By Jeffrey R. Lamb, OCVA Chairman

"BUDGET crises everywhere!" The cries go out from communities across the state. To read the newspapers, one would think schools and education are the only things being hammered. Any county commissioner or city manager struggling to maintain vital public services will tell you thatís not true.

The Legislature helped create these current budget crises in many cases by preventing local jurisdictions from addressing money problems caused by unfunded state mandates and policies. The state has promoted growth and in-migration (population growth) through bad public policies and land use laws. Especially to blame is the state law mandating a twenty-year buildable supply of land within cities urban growth boundaries (UGBs). This locks in place a harmful "growth at any cost" mentality.

This mandate, in essence, forces communities to grow (sometimes against their will) and taxpayers to subsidize that growth while lowering their current level of public services and quality of life.

When the State "gives away the farm" through subsidies (tax breaks) to attract income tax revenue through growth, it will eventually experience a bust. There will always be busts and it's the communities that will bear the brunt of state budget and program slashing. Affected citizens who raise these issues are immediately marginalized. They are called "anti-growth zealots," "NIMBYs," "xenophobes" or other nasty names when the real issue is, how do we pay for the infrastructure to maintain necessary public services?

Cities can obtain limited cost recovery through System Development Charges (SDCs) but not for the "big items": schools, police, fire and libraries. State law has prohibited SDCs for these essential services since the 1989 SDC Act was passed. The building and development lobbies convinced the Legislature to outlaw SDCs for these purposes. This is damaging the stateís livability and needs to be repealed in the 2003 Legislative Session. Just think what 13 years of missed opportunity to recover these costs has had on your communityís (Albany) current budget problems.

Meanwhile, we are two special sessions down with a third on the way. We have lawsuits and bitter disputes over the budget deal Governor Kitzhaber made during the last try. The entire process seems headed for stalemate.

But the budget crisis grows bigger by the day.

The latest bombshell is the $ 8.5 billion hit the Public Employee Retirement (PERS) Fund took. This is estimated to cost State and local governments (the taxpayers) an additional $260 million per year to make up the difference. It almost certainly means more cuts and will only make the third upcoming special session a nightmare for everybody.

As in the Middle East, both sides are engaged in battle with their positions locked in stone. Oregonís citizens are caught in-between. It is virtually certain that average citizens and human services will suffer, while the lobbyists and their money protect special interest groups. In recent debates, the candidates for Governor all declined to speak about how they would handle these crises. Small wonder, then, that news reports say there is little public interest in this race. People want leadership, but are not finding it.

Oregonís bridges and highways are falling apart from age and over-capacity use. Law enforcement officials fear that budget cuts will lead to early release and limited prosecutions of criminals. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

If the state is going to promote growth through unfunded mandates using taxpayer subsidies, then we should all stop and rethink the impact of all this growth and development. The big question is, who will pay for the necessary infrastructure (schools, police, fire, libraries, etc.) to support that growth and the responsibility that comes with it ?

In May and November, Oregon will elect a new Governor and Legislature. Neither will even begin to solve the budget crisis unless they change Oregonís growth policies. If they do not, you can be certain that there will be more budget crises and a lower quality of life on their way to you and your family in the future. People need to get a commitment from their candidates on where they stand on growth subsidies and the deepening school funding crises. The cries go out from communities across the state: "we want vision and leadership in Salem!" Donít settle for less.

Oregon has been a wonderful place to live and work: letís keep it that way.

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