When people talk about Oregon’s “budget” they are generally talking about Oregon’s General fund Lottery fund budget. That’s the budget the State Legislature votes on and adopts every two years, and includes education, public safety and most human services expenses. (The General Budget is not to be confused with the all funds budget, which includes all the federal funds transfers, general budget, lottery budget, expenses from trust accounts, and dedicated fees and expenses. The Legislature has little control over the all funds budget.)
This is an analysis of Oregon General and lottery funds Budgets from 1999-01 biennium to the current 2015-17 biennium.
So is the Oregon General funds budget out of control? Are we throwing more and more money at education? The answers I think are probably not, and an emphatic no.
For this analysis, I chose 1999 as a starting point. For a couple reasons. First, it was after all the Measure 5 and 50 phased in when the state started picking up the majority of State education spending for all schools. If you start earlier, it would look like there was enormous growth in education spending, but that’s misleading. M5 and M 50 capped property taxes and education spending was largely transferred from local districts to the State. So taxpayers did see more State tax dollars going to education starting in the 1990’s but they also realized a reduction in local taxes because their property taxes were held down. Using pre 1999 budget data would therefore create and apples to oranges comparison unless I was to delve into all the local property tax relief taxpayers received. Ain’t gonna do that.
And, 1999 was also a good year for the economy. There was steady growth, low unemployment and the 2001-2003 downturn wasn’t contemplated. Similar in many ways to our recent economic long and steady growth.
The Budget hasn’t gone off the rails. In fact, through the 2013-15 budget it was been below the inflation and population adjusted average. (By the way, this is the TABOR formula that many conservatives argue we should adopt). The most recent 2015-17 budget is high historically, but when you compare with other post recovery budgets (1999 and 2007), not terribly so. And of course, many will argue that the budget should be accelerating at a higher than average rate to get education spending back up to where we need it to be.
I was rather surprised of two things. First, that all candidates talk about education but fail to prioritize it in their budget. Second, in spite of consistent complaints from some candidates about out of control spending and how we should quit throwing money at schools, K-12 and higher education have actually been the big losers in the budget battles over the past 16 years. Its public safety and human services that have been the big gainers. Both in inflation adjusted dollars, and as a percentage of the total Oregon State Budget.
I’m not arguing that we should cut human services. What I am arguing is that if there is out of control spending, it hasn’t been on schools. It has been on public safety and courts – and most probably a large part has been on incarceration costs – and on human services.
So the next time an incumbent claims that they are protecting school funding, or someone argues that we just keep throwing more and more money at schools, you can share this post with them.