By State Representative Rob Nosse
As I am writing this column a special session of the legislature is looming to deal with policy questions raised by COVID-19 and to figure out our state’s budget in light of a looming recession and lose of tax revenue.
Hopefully by the time you read this, dates for a session will have been set. Many people have reached out to me with suggestions for things the state should do differently during these times. Please keep your ideas coming.
It is a cliché to say this, but a budget is a moral document. This is especially true for our state budget. A budget shows who and what we care about and what kind of community we want to have. It reflects what our values are because it funds programs and services we believe we need or should have.
I serve on three key budget committees in the Legislature. It is not an easy assignment. I have always fought for the values of our community when it comes to allocations. This means fighting for what working families and our most vulnerable neighbors need, while investing in public education and health care as well as programs that protect our environment.
Sometimes when we craft our state budget, we don’t have the resources we need to make critical investments. I’ve always believed that we live in a rich country. We can ask the more privileged among us, as well as wealthy corporations, to pay their fair share of taxes, so we can have the money we need for our schools and other crucial services.
Many of my colleagues in Salem share my opinions, but not all of them do. Sometimes legal and bureaucratic barriers prevent us from passing a budget that reflects those values. In the 1990s, conservatives made some changes in our state’s legislative process and our constitution that constrains what we can do.
It takes a three-fifths supermajority to pass a tax increase in the legislature rather than a simple majority. This means that a small conservative minority can prevent even modest attempts to ask the wealthy to pay more.
We send the “kicker” (extra state revenues above the forecast) back to you, and save “extra revenue” in a “rainy day fund” so we can cover a short fall in a program or make sure we have the money we need to fight forest fires in a tough fire season.
Prior to COVID-19, we were poised to make record investments in healthcare and human services programs and in schools. Unfortunately, some of that is in jeopardy right now.
Lottery and tax revenues, including planned revenue from the new corporate activities tax, are down by about $2.7 billion. In a $23.6 billion budget this is a big hit.
Hopefully two “savings accounts/rainy” day funds, each with around $750 million, can help cushion the blow along with some of the $1.6 billion that we got from the Federal Government to help with state and local government efforts to fight the coronavirus.
I am also hopeful that as our economy opens back up, and if the predicted second wave during winter flu season is mild, our revenues will start to come back up.
Sure, we may need to tighten our belts a little, but not to the detriment of schools, healthcare and services that low-income folks, children, the sick and elderly, rely upon to live, especially in these COVID-19 times.
In 2019, we got the supermajority votes we needed to pass the Student Success Act, which asked medium and large size businesses to pay a little more so we can make urgently needed investments in our public schools. It took 29 years to get something passed, but we did finally pass something.
Here is my point: it is possible, even now, to fight for progressive revenue reform and win. It is possible to ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share or even pay a little more, so we can have a budget that reflects our communities’ needs even during a recession caused by a pandemic.
I am humbled and honored that so many of you voted to re-elect me. I hope you will join me in standing up for what we need.