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No, Virginia

The last post made a reference to the forces opposed to Oregon’s measures 66 and 67 as proposing “a few too many specious arguments.” On example was given there; another really should be noted here. As, also, a case study in the wisdom of double-checking potentially unclear facts before speaking.

Like other states, Oregon annually issues an annual financial report, and on page 14 of the most recent one you can find this statement: “As of June 30, the State’s government funds reported combined ending fund balances of 44.4 billion. Of this amount, approximately 25.1 percent was reserved for nonspendable items, such as inventories and permanent fund principal, or specific purposes, such as debt service. The remainder was classified as unreserved, undesignated fund balance and was available for spending, subject to statutory and constitutional spending constraints.”

Reading it cold, you could reasonably think: Wow! So Oregon doesn’t really have a revenue shortfall at all: In fact, it has a big pile of money ready for spending. What do we need Measures 66 or 67 for with all this money available?

That was the essence of what Senators Chris Telfer, R-Bend, and Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, suggested a few days ago, just as the ballot-casting on the measures were getting underway.

Given that these two senators were enmeshed in the budget-setting through the first half of last year, you might think they’d wonder where this massive pile of money, invisible to them and everyone else then, suddenly came from.

Turns out, as you probably expect by now, it doesn’t exist.

The Oregonian checked in with Kathryn Ross, who drafts the reports, which like many other accounting reports the world over is full of what you might call “terms of art.” It is written as it is to comply with national standards for such reports (Washington and Idaho do about the same), and that means it has to be read carefully – many things aren’t always what they initially seem. Ross: “I’m always amazed that people could think there’s a pot of gold here that no one knew about except the state controller’s division.”

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