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Ways and Means: No new budget cuts for community colleges
Photos and Story by Dana Haynes
The co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget-writing Ways and Means Committee have just announced that they do not plan to ask for more cuts from Oregon’s community colleges, between now and June 30.
Here’s how it works: Oregon’s budget is built on a two-year cycle. It starts in July of an odd-numbered year and ends two years later in June. So we’re working on the 2007-09 budget right now and the Legislature is getting ready to craft the 2009-11 budget in the months to come.
And this is important: the state cannot run a deficit, the way the federal government can.
So after the last revenue forecast of 2008, when it became clear that the state had less money than it had anticipated, every state agency was asked to give back some money – PCC included. Then, in January, when the state economist predicted a further drop in revenue, the call came for a much larger amount of money to give back.
That was going to be very tough for community colleges to do, and here’s why: State agencies are funded by the Legislature every quarter throughout the two-year cycle. That’s eight payments. But in order to survive the last recession in 2002-03, the Legislature crafted a little bit of legerdemain: Community colleges would get their payments for the first seven quarters of the biennium, but would not get the eighth payment until the next biennium begins. So we won’t receive that eighth payment until July.
In short: We were being asked to give back money we won’t receive for months!
The co-chairs of Ways and Means – the committee that holds the purse strings – got that inherent unfairness.
But they also mentioned that community colleges are the “first-responder” in a recession; that people turn to us to bolster their résumé, to get certified or re-certified, to stave off a lay-off. And that chopping back community college programs hurts, rather than helps, the economy.
There’s a long way to go in Salem and the last act of this hasn’t been written yet, but for now, we received some tremendously good news from the co-chairs, Sen. Margaret Carter of Portland and Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland.