Oregon budget deal keeps prisons open

Oregon budget deal keeps prisons open

Oregon budget deal keeps prisons open

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by Associated Press

kgw.com

Posted on February 24, 2012 at 7:29 AM

Updated Friday, Feb 24 at 4:07 PM

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Key legislative leaders have agreed not to close prisons or cut funding for schools, but a compromise budget plan would lay off State Police detectives and further tighten the belt on safety-net programs for needy families.

Legislative leaders shared the proposal with rank-and-file lawmakers Thursday night after the leaders from both parties signed off, officials said. The spending plan still must be approved by the full Legislature.

The finalized budget outline would not tap reserves or raise taxes. Gov. John Kitzhaber would sign budget bills if they reached his desk, Kitzhaber spokesman Tim Raphael said.

It calls for state agencies to reduce their staff, primarily through attrition or layoffs in secretarial, middle management and public affairs positions -- a $25 million cut that Kitzhaber had asked to reduce but which lawmakers insisted upon in hopes of reducing the long-term cost of government.

The proposed budget also would slash funding for people who provide in-home care to seniors, although legislators hope they can find federal money to reduce or eliminate those cuts.

Lawmakers are grappling with slower-than-expected growth in Oregon's economy that has resulted in a $341 million drop in projected tax revenue for a $14.6 billion two-year budget.

"This budget isn't perfect. But it's a pretty good deal given our circumstances, and we were able to work in a bipartisan fashion to come up with something we all could live with that keeps the most vital services intact," Rep. Peter Buckley, a Democratic co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee, said in a statement.

Republican officials could not immediately be reached late Thursday.

A budget framework released earlier this month called for the closure of the Santiam Correctional Institution in Salem. But Kitzhaber and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, publicly opposed the closure and it was eliminated from the final budget document. Lawmakers also dropped a proposal to separately cut $5 million from the Department of Corrections.

Twelve detective positions would be eliminated from the Oregon State Police.

Among the hardest-hit programs are safety net initiatives for low-income families.

The compromise budget includes $13.4 million in cuts to long-term care providers, who help provide services to seniors and the disabled so they can stay in their homes. The Service Employees International Union and the AARP had fought those cuts in advertisements, saying they would be tough for the workers to absorb.

Families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would not see their payments reduced. But a separate program that continues cash assistance for welfare recipients after they find work would be defunded, and people who drop out of the program for various reasons would have a harder time getting back in.

Co-payments for families receiving Employment Related Day Care would increase by 10 percent, an average of $5 to $10 per month.

Funding for domestic violence advocates and infrastructure grants for shelters would be pared down. The opening of four wards in the new Oregon State Hospital would be delayed until the 2013-2015 biennium.

Lawmakers used much of a $56 million legal windfall from tobacco giant Philip Morris to avoid more serious cuts, but the finalized budget avoids doing the same with an $8.9 million settlement with Farmers' Insurance. A portion of the state's share of a settlement with mortgage lenders over foreclosure practices would be retained to offset future revenue shortfalls or unanticipated spending, although Buckley said the priority would be to use it to assist people affected by foreclosure.

The plan would leave $118 million in the ending fund balance, which is used to offset declines in future revenue forecasts over the next 16 months of the biennium.

Lawmakers have so far been unable to reach an agreement on bonds for construction projects, and that piece of the budget is still in the works.

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