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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Senate floor speech on the Oregon Education Budget

By Avel Louise Gordly, State Senator
Senate District 23

Salem, Oregon--

Mr. President, colleagues, fellow citizens of our beloved state of Oregon….

I want to begin my remarks today with an African proverb that has guided me throughout my career in this institution. There have been times when these words marked a happy occasion—a victory for Oregon and for Oregonians—but far more often in recent years the words have described our state as a lament:

“The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people and in the halls of its government when the needs of children and the most vulnerable are not cared for.”

We have convened today to vote on an education budget that is by all credible measures inadequate to meet the needs of our children.

The reality today is that the budgets for pre-kindergarten, for our k-12 schools, for community colleges, for higher education, for public safety and for human services are all inadequate. They do not meet the needs of our citizens and of our state. They do not meet the needs we face today, and they do not prepare us to meet the needs we know we are going to face tomorrow.

All of these budgets are inadequate. They are inadequate because revenue is inadequate, and revenue is inadequate because our revenue system is inadequate.

Our revenue system is incapable of meeting the needs of our state and the growing needs of our people. We all know this. It is one of the few areas in which there is near-universal agreement. A recent study ranked Oregon’s revenue system as one of the two worst state revenue systems in the nation. Only Oregon and California received “D” rankings in the study.

This is not news. We received the same rankings two years ago, during the 2003 session. The Oregon revenue system was broken then, we knew this, it was not news, and we—Oregonians both within and without this legislative body—did nothing to fix it.

These studies, these rankings are important. They are not intellectual exercises. They have a direct impact on our state’s bonding rating, on our state’s credit report, on the cost of doing business in Oregon, and attracting new businesses to our state. They have a direct impact on the cost of raising your family, of educating your children, of ensuring that you will live in a safe neighborhood, of seeing that your grandparents have adequate housing and access to services and medications to meet their needs, and that our senior citizens and our most vulnerable citizens can live with the dignity and respect they deserve. These are plain facts.

The flaws in our revenue system ensure that our budgets will be inadequate to meet the needs of our citizens. We are facing a budget crisis today because Oregon’s revenue system is broken and the Legislature—elected to serve the people of this state—has lacked the will to do the hard work it will take to fix the system.

Before my time here in the Oregon Legislature, more than twenty years ago, the Oregon Legislature made a commitment to meet the needs of our children, to meet the needs of the poorest of the poor among our children across our beautiful state. Urban. Rural. Northern, Southern, Eastern Oregon, Western Oregon and every place in between.

The Oregon Legislature made a commitment to these children, establishing a state policy to create a Head Start program for our most vulnerable children. The Legislature then promised to fund Head Start programs to meet the needs of all of our eligible children.

That promise, that commitment, has not been kept. And that is not the only unkept promise. The education budgets circulating in this building today break promises made to every child in this state.

I believe that we as a state must move beyond a patchwork approach to funding our schools and the other state services that Oregonians need and deserve. Even if the lottery commissions were adjusted to 15%, there still would not be enough revenue for schools, including pre-kindergarten through higher education, and it would still not provide the degree of stability that we need to position Oregon for success in the global 21st century economy.

I also believe that funding for education and for other state services must not depend on our raising a new generation of gamblers! Surely, we can do better than this, and we must!

We are here in this session to do the People’s business, and the People need to see our revenue system reformed and restructured.

Our job description is to serve the needs of our people, not to serve the demands of an ideology or a partisan party line, Democrat or Republican. Our people need to see tax reform and restructuring enacted now! In this session!

Our job description is spelled out in the Constitution that each of the ninety members of the Legislature swore to uphold upon taking office. Article 9, Sections 2 and 6, of the Oregon Constitution states that—when there are insufficient revenues to pay for government services, the Legislature shall levy a tax. That mandate in our Constitution was enacted to ensure that we legislators would do our job to meet the needs of our citizens should change need to come. Change needs to come! Now!

This constitutional mandate to provide for the needs of our people does not direct the Legislature to simply enact a new tax on top of everything else. That is not what I am suggesting, and I want to be very clear about that. This constitutional mandate requires the Legislature to enact tax reform so that there is sufficient revenue.

Article 9, Sections 2 and 6. I encourage you to look it up.

These Constitutional mandates require the Legislative Assembly to undertake tax reform and restructuring to provide revenue that is both sufficient and stable. Otherwise, Oregon will continue to pit the needs of children against the needs of seniors, the needs of our most vulnerable against the needs of those less vulnerable, and all without the needed sense of security that stability provides. And that is exactly what is happening in this building today, in both chambers.

Mr. President, colleagues, fellow Oregonians, I will be voting in support of this budget today, but in the form of a lament:

“The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people and in the halls of its government when the needs of children and the most vulnerable are not cared for.”

Thank you

Avel Louise Gordly, State Senator
Senate District 23

Senator Gordly delivered this floor speech on May 13, 2005

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