Republicans propose no-new-tax budget

SALEM — Republican lawmakers unveiled a budget proposal Tuesday that would keep state spending flat while forgoing any tax increases. Democrats and social service advocates immediately pounced on the plan, calling it unrealistic and vague.

The plan comes a few days before lawmakers are expected to get a firmer picture of just how much money the state has to work with over the next two years. Most expect the deficit could top $4 billion, leaving the state with less than $13 billion — that's the assumption around which Democrats are building their budget.

The sides approached the budgeting process in fundamentally different ways. Democrats, who control the House and Senate, have pinned their numbers on the assumption that the state must spend almost $17 billion to maintain current services from July 2009 through June 2011 — the Essential Budget Level.

But Republicans say there's no reason to use that as a starting point.

"The EBL contains inflated factors," said Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point. "You're trying to budget against something ephemeral."

The essential level includes salary increases for state employees and an expected increase in incarceration due to a recently passed anti-crime measure. Instead, Republicans say budget writers ought to forget that number and focus on the revenue Oregon is expected to bring in — just over $14 billion as of March, though it's expected to drop.

The Republicans' proposal also assumes that the 2007-09 budget levels would work for the upcoming two-year budget period.

Sen. Frank Morse, an Albany Republican, said those numbers still represent lean times, but the interest groups he's spoken with have said they could work with it. "I have had responses — and this is a quote — 'I think I might have died and gone to heaven,' " he said. " 'For sure we can make that work.' Another example: 'I think that's the best news I've heard all session.' "

However, education and social-service advocates were saying just the opposite Tuesday.

"This proposal from the Republicans is completely irresponsible and completely out-of-touch with what Oregonians need," said Cathy Kaufmann, a member of the advocacy group Human Services Coalition.

At the essential budget level, human services would still be hard-hit, Kaufmann said. Rolling back to 2007-09 levels, she added, would be unimaginable, given the growing number of unemployed turning to the state for assistance.

Public-safety and education advocates feel the same way, she said. "We are across-the-board united that this little stunt from the Republicans" is not going to cut it.

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