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$15 billion plan for Oregon.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

G o v e r n o r ' s b u d g e t

SALEM - For the first time in years, an Oregon governor was able Monday to pull the curtain off a spending proposal that didn't cut, but called for big spending increases for education, highway patrols and health care for the uninsured.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski's recommended $14.93 billion discretionary budget for 2007-09 represents a 20 percent increase from current spending levels.

Thanks to the state's rapidly expanding economy, income tax revenue is fueling one of the biggest jumps in state dollars in years, moving the state into what the Democratic governor called "an era of great opportunity."

"After climbing back from our state's deepest recession since the Great Depression, we are regaining our economic footing," the governor said at a news conference, referring to the revenue free-fall of 2002-03 that greeted him as he entered office.

Back then, Kulongoski took the reins as the state was kicking poor people off the Oregon Health Plan, shortening school days, laying off state troopers and limiting safety-net programs only to the sickest and most frail of elderly and disabled Oregonians.

Besides plowing into state programs all the largess of the state's recent revenue boom, Kulongoski wants to generate about $300 million more through higher taxes on cigarettes, corporations and auto insurance to pay for expanded services in health care, education and state police.

Kulongoski called these "consensus items" in the array of tax-reform possibilities, which he expected to draw support in a Legislature that just switched to Democratic control.

However, incoming leaders of the House and Senate told newspaper editors that the tax-raising proposals would require discussion and additional detail before they could talk about their chances of passage.

The governor followed through on a vow this fall during his re-election campaign to propose canceling the projected rebate of higher-than-expected corporate income taxes and using the anticipated $275 million to start a rainy-day fund for government services.

Kulongoski's budget recommendation would put 60 percent of the dollars into education and would use the rest to maintain current service levels in human services, public safety, natural resources and consumer protection programs.

Even after keeping pace with inflation, population growth and growing enrollments and case loads, Kulongoski's budget offers an additional $820 million to augment programs with expanded state revenues, along with the roughly $300 million that would come from his tax-increase proposals. Kulongoski's plans to boost spending include:

Providing Head Start preschool to all eligible 3- and 4-year-olds for the first time.

Adding 139 Oregon State Police troopers to state highways. Kulongoski has proposed an auto insurance surcharge for more stable funding in the future but said enough money exists within existing resources for the added troopers.

Increasing by $32 million what's available for need-based grants to college and university students. This is part of Kulongoski's "shared responsibility" model, which would ensure that all students seeking higher education or job training could enter postsecondary education through a combination of work study, family assistance and government-furnished aid.

A $6.06 billion appropriation for public schools. That's 15 percent more than currently goes to elementary and secondary schools. The money would help reduce class sizes and ensure that students can take physical education, music and other classes that have been trimmed in recent years.

A $595 million capital budget for 45 campus construction and repair projects throughout the university system, which the governor called the largest since World War II.

Expanded health care to 100,000 people who lack insurance. Most would go to low- and middle-income children, along with 15,000 of the poor adults who were removed in recent years from the "standard" version of the Oregon Health Plan. Kulongoski's proposed 84.5 cents-per-pack cigarette-tax hike would pay for the increase.

Increased spending of $17 million for treatment of parents with addiction problems related to alcohol and other drugs.

The addition of $10 million to bolster the state's community mental health services.

In the wake of one of the first governor's budget recommendations in years to expand public services, many with a stake in state spending expressed support for the budget.

State schools Superintendent Susan Castillo said she was "so pleased to be here talking about reinvesting, and reinvesting significantly, rather than cutting as we've been doing for so long."

But fiscal conservatives voiced concern that the governor's budget represented unsustainable growth in spending, which would inevitably lead to painful service reductions like those a few years ago when the state's economy plunges and income-tax revenue falls.

"I don't think the budget is sustainable at all. That's probably the most disappointing thing," said House Republican Leader Wayne Scott of Canby.

Scott said his party wanted to see the state improve its public safety programs, education and system for caring for the elderly, "but we also have to do it within reason."

Kulongoski acknowledged that his recommendations were starting points in the political give-and-take that will carry on into next summer before the Legislature approves a budget.

"You do know," he said, "that the governor proposes and the Legislature disposes."

Public safety Gov. Ted Kulongoski proposes putting 139 additional Oregon State Police troopers onto the state's highways. Colleges The governor would include $595 million for 45 construction and repair projects throughout the university system, would hold tuition increases to about 3 percent and would adopt a new funding model for financial aid. K-12 Kulongoski would provide $6.06 billion for public schools - a 15 percent increase to help reduce class sizes and restore educational programs. Human services The governor proposes a cigarette tax increase to expand health care to 100,000 Oregonians who lack insurance.
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Title Annotation:Government; Gov. Ted Kulongoski proposes using a surge in state revenue to restore public services
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 5, 2006
Previous Article:School officials see improvements under funding plan.

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