Oregon lawmakers debate how to use additional $979 million

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Following another sunny revenue forecast in Oregon – fueled by a surge in corporate and income tax revenues – economists say state lawmakers have an additional $979 million to spend this legislative session.

The forecast released Wednesday comes as state lawmakers are a week into a one-month legislative session. Prior to lawmakers returning to the Capitol, some said — even without the forecast — they expected to spend roughly $2 billion this session.

The growth in revenue means a larger budget to work with during the short legislative session.

But how the money is used remains up for debate.

With the excess revenue, Senate Republicans said in a press release they will push to spend $60 million on Oregon State Police to help local law enforcement with general public safety needs and to combat illegal marijuana grows.

“Crime is on the rise,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “The Governor continues to double down on letting criminals out of prison, while several bills are working through the legislature that will make our communities more dangerous. We must invest in public safety.

According to the statement, Republicans will also pursue a $50 million appropriation to fund forest thinning operations around the state.

“Decades of forest mismanagement has left our forests overstocked ready to explode with a single spark,” Knopp said. “We must act in a bold way to ensure Oregonians are protected from devastating wildfire.

“We must also be responsible with this money. We need to reserve more funds for the next downturn. We also need to look seriously at giving Oregonians a tax break. The government has buckets of money, but inflation is pinching the pockets of working Oregonians. As Democrats introduce bills to increase taxes, Republicans are looking at ways to cut them.”

The state’s teachers union said the additional revenue offers a chance to increase education funding.

“Today’s revenue forecast demonstrates that Oregon is well-positioned to invest in our neighborhood public schools and to get our students the resources they need to thrive,” said said OEA President Reed Scott-Schwalbach. “One of best ways to do that during our current legislative session for lawmakers to pass House Bill 4030, which includes funding to build the next generation of educators, retention grants for current educators, and streamlines the process to get more educators into Oregon classrooms for face-to-face instruction and student support.”

Gov. Kate Brown also issued a statement on the revenue projection.

“Our latest state revenue projections present an opportunity to make investments that spur a strong economic recovery and support working families, especially those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic, wildfires, and the unprecedented challenges Oregonians have faced in the last two years.

“This is a pivotal moment for Oregon. We have a windfall of one-time resources this year, and we have the opportunity to make big investments—and to do the big and bold work to help our working families and businesses thrive. We cannot miss this moment.

“While I am pleased to see growth in wages for Oregonians, there is more work we need to do to grow, develop, and support our workforce. Now is the time to make critical investments in housing, child care, workers, and businesses to help jumpstart growth and keep our economy moving.

“And as we work to help Oregon families succeed, with these additional resources at the midpoint of session, we also have an opportunity to ensure that every Oregonian feels safe in their community. I will continue to work with legislators to address community safety, and I encourage members of both parties to bring forward their ideas for evidence-based community violence prevention and intervention. When we invest in and create opportunities for Oregonians and their families, we create safer, healthier communities.”

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