Oregon Governor Kate Brown released her recommended budget and policy agenda for the state’s 2021-23 biennium on Tuesday, recommending that the Legislature invests heavily in coronavirus pandemic relief efforts while calling on the federal government to provide financial assistance.
In a press release, the governor’s office said a federal stimulus plan is “critical to addressing the dire needs Oregon and other states face due to the Covid-19 pandemic and wildfire recovery.”
“2020 has challenged Oregon in unimaginable ways,” Brown said in the release. “We have been tested to the core, and the most vital needs of Oregon families — health, safety, education, housing, and the ability to learn a living — have all been challenged in new ways.”
The governor said she has been “awe-inspired” by the ways Oregonians who have risen to the challenges brought by this unprecedented year.
“The compassionate spirit of our state has shined through,” she said. “Oregon has proven to be a port in the storm. Through it all, we are determined to rise, and rebuild. And as we do, we must ensure the future is a just one; that we create an Oregon where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Where every voice is heard.”
Brown’s proposed budget for 2021-23 totals $100.2 billion in spending, including $25.6 billion that would come from Oregon’s general and lottery funds. It also includes more than $293 million in increased revenues and a surplus of $243 million in the general fund, according to the governor’s office.
In a statement Tuesday, Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, of Lyons, excoriated the governor’s draft budget and priorities for the coming biennium, calling her proposal a “ship without a rudder.”
“Governor Brown demands Congress send Oregon money, however, millions of funds from the first federal coronavirus relief package have gone unspent,” he said. “Money from the federal government has limitations, and there is no guarantee that federal money will go towards the holes left in the governor’s budget.
“Clearly, the governor has been asleep at the wheel.”
In 2020, Governor Brown convened a Racial Justice Council with leaders from Oregon’s Black, Indigenous, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, immigrant, refugee, Native American, and Tribal communities to develop specific investments and policy proposals to begin to dismantle systemic racism in Oregon.
Those proposals are interwoven throughout the governor’s recommended budget and policy agenda, the key points of which are outlined below.
Brown’s office said climate change, wildfires, water quality and access disproportionately impact minority communities.
To address this, Brown’s budget will invest in the creation of an Office of Environmental Justice and will also invest in “greenhouse gas reduction programs, and equitable water access, and wildfire preparedness, response, and prevention.”
Criminal Justice Reform
The governor’s office said in a release that the events of 2020 have magnified the urgency of the need for reform of the criminal justice system.
The proposed budget and policy agenda calls for expanding police accountability measures, reforming the state’s courts and stabilizing the budget for the Department of Corrections.
Brown’s budget calls for investments to “strengthen the core functions of our democracy” through the expansion of voting access and institutionalizing the governor’s Racial Justice Council.
The Racial Justice Council was convened in 2020, bringing together leaders from the state’s minority communities to “develop specific investments and policy proposals to begin to dismantle systemic racism in Oregon.”
The proposed budget for the 2021-23 biennium includes an increase of nearly $66 million in funding for housing and homelessness. In addition, Brown says she’ll ask Congress for $350 million in rent assistance.
The budget also includes $20 million in homeowner assistance, $250 million in affordable housing development funds and $30 million in public health modernization to “better prepare Oregon’s public health system to respond to events like the current pandemic,” the governor’s office said.
And the budget also calls for $17.9 million in funds to invest in a range of strategies to help protect seniors living in assisted living and nursing homes from COVID-19.
Brown’s office said a “key priority” in helping support small businesses and workers is to “secure additional coronavirus relief funds from Congress.” The current funds expire Dec. 31.
On the state side, the budget maintains funding for the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, Oregon Worker Quarantine Fund, the COVID temporary paid leave program, and the Oregon Employment Department.
The governor’s budget also includes $146.4 million to modernize the OED’s benefit delivery system and to help implement Paid Family Leave benefits for Oregon workers.
The governor’s office said the state faces a $718 million budget gap for the Oregon Health Plan, primarily because of the pandemic. Brown’s budget aims to help close the gap “through cost savings,” but also relies “an expected extension of enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) funding.”
The governor’s budget directs $9.1 billion to the state school fund, which includes full funding for Student Success Act programs and initiatives and grants for schools under the High School Graduation and College and Career Readiness Fund. The budget draws $215 million from the Education Stability Fund for public schools.
Brown’s budget also calls for an expansion of early care and education programs through Oregon Pre-K, Early Head Start, Preschool Promise and the Early Childhood Equity Fund.
Brown directs $189.5 million to rebuild communities impacted by the wildfires. Another $170 million of community development resources will be made available to the Governor’s Wildfire Economic Recovery Council. It also includes $73.7 million in fire preparedness, response and prevention.
The governor’s budget includes $118 million for broadband expansion across the state, which “will connect an additional 50 urban and rural communities that currently lack access.”
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