The difference that public involvement can make

By Representative Ben Cannon (D-Portland). [Editor's note: This item was submitted late yesterday.]

Just a few hours ago, sitting at my desk on the floor of the House of Representatives, I pushed this little green button to cast a "Yes" vote on a bill to "re-balance" our budget for the two year budget cycle that ends on June 30.

Due to a steep decline in revenue collection resulting from the nationwide recession, we were forced to make program cuts and spend one-time funds (including federal stimulus dollars) in our effort to end this year with a balanced budget.

Our vote today will result in significant cuts to many state programs, including some that are very important to me. This was not an easy vote to cast.

However, I believe that we rebalanced this budget in a way that is fair, effective, and participatory. I am particularly proud that we managed to preserve a full school year for most public schools, including Portland Public, which just a few weeks ago planned to end the school year eight days early.

Today's vote ended a process that began months ago -- when it first became clear that the economy was entering a deep recession.

Throughout the process, public opinion and constituent input has had a significant influence on my perspective and, I believe, the perspective of my colleagues.

I wrote up some more detailed thoughts about how citizen involvement powerfully shaped the budget bill that we passed today, and you can give it a read by clicking here.

But here's the major takeaway: The citizens who came to lobby me in the Capitol, who attended my town hall meetings and coffee shop conversations, and who corresponded with me via email, phone, and my online dialogues, made it clear that losing school days was not an acceptable option.

Largely in response to this outpouring of support all across the state, legislators supported a new proposal that added an additional $51 million from Federal stimulus funds (above and beyond the co-chairs' initial proposal) to help keep schools open for a full school year this spring. It's a policy that strikes a balance between funding a full school year and holding some of the one-time money in reserves.

While tough economic times have forced us to make uncomfortable decisions about the budget, I believe that citizen involvement has played a crucial role in giving legislators the courage to stand up for our core principles, protect Oregon's families in the difficult months ahead, and prepare for better days to come.

Comments

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    I believe that citizen involvement has played a crucial role in giving legislators the courage to stand up for our core principles, protect Oregon's families in the difficult months ahead, and prepare for better days to come.

    A lot of us are tired of this kind of rhetoric. Can you make a policy statement without using the "F" word? I applaud your using the blog for input, so I'll let you get to it and take the meta-points to your Mt. Tabor meeting. I only mention this because I'm sitting in an office of 7 people, all quite supportive of your vote, that won't even read this because of your choice of language. Yeah, we know we're not the 50% + one vote, so we'll go away.

    There's been a number of those issues, since the beer tax posting, and I would urge other readers to not vent those here. The Mt. Tabor meeting is:

    Wednesday, March 18th from 7 to 8 pm, Coffee Shop Conversation at the Touchstone Coffee House in the North Tabor/Center neighborhood.

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    Am I the only one scratching their head at Zarathustra...?

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    I'm confused Zarathustra, are you anti-Family?

    Looking at that passage it's the only "F-word" present...oh and "for", and really, can you be anti-"for"?

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    Thus baffled Zarathustra.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Representative Cannon, thnaks for having the courage to post here. I appreciate your candor.

    Unfortunately I don't quite "get" it. I fail to understand how taking $51MM from a federal package and giving it to schools for the remainder of the existing budget cycle was difficult. The state already has a Public Education Stabilization Fund with almost 10 times that amount of money available.

    A truely courageous legislative representative would have vocally called upon Gov K and the democrat leadership to commit the $51MM from THAT fund over a month ago rather than put school districts across the state through the roller coaster ride.

    Again, thanks for your post, but I disagree with your vote. It seems shallow and self serving to take federal funds for a purpose when the state funds existed and the $51MM cold have been used for other purposes.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)
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    lestatdelc for the win!

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    Posted by: George Anonymuncule Seldes | Mar 6, 2009 11:32:12 AM lestatdelc for the win!

    Thank you, I'll be performing here all weekend.

    Oh, and be sure to tip your wait-staff. :-)

  • Fair and Balanced (unverified)
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    Kurt Chapman:

    There's no issue of "courage" here. Our reps had to develop a strategy based on severely reduced revenues projected over 28 months. Unfortunately 2009-11 looks like even worse cuts than the ones just enacted for the rest of 2007-09. So why would it be "courageous" to call for using more reserves now, when that just means deeper cuts later?

    And where do you come off with that "self-serving" comment? Rep. Cannon, for instance, gives up six months of his "real" job teaching school to commute to Salem and wrestle with these very tough issues, where anything you do is going to make somebody hurt, or mad. We're just lucky to find people with his talent and dedication to make the sacrifice. Snarky remarks aren't helpful.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    F & B; I don't believe for a minute that Gov K, Peter Buckley and the rest of the dems in power really thought twice about "saving" the Education Stability Fund for the next 2 year cycle. They were hoping to use the threat of school closure as a big stick to beat us over the head to raise taxes. Hmmm just like they did in 2003. The only difference is this time there is almost $500MM in reserves that could have been used.

    I didn't intend to be snarky, it just seems self serving to sit on the reserve and then pat onesself and their party on the back for making the "tough decisions" to use federal money instead of our money. I disagree with his choice and I told him so. I'm glad that he chose to write, but based on the dearth of comments it seems the BO faithful could care less.

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    Posted by: Kurt Chapman | Mar 6, 2009 5:07:58 PM I'm glad that he chose to write, but based on the dearth of comments it seems the BO faithful could care less.

    Or perhaps many are still digesting what the budget is shaping out to be, and are not looking to throw brickbats at this point.

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    Rep Cannon, thanks for your work on this. You're in the middle of a mess you didn't create, and there's nothing you can do that won't piss a lot of your constitutents off. That's the nature of leadership in tough times--making choices means making people mad.

    You're doing good work--keep it up!

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Singling out families to promote an issue that affects all equally is pandering. You make my point, about the disgust, that it cannot be questioned without being labeled "anti-family".

    Sorry to be so succinct, for once, Carla, et al., here and elsewhere, but, that what I'm saying is totally foreign and incomprehensible is the point I'm making. I've given up trying to convince. Now, all I can do is point out a commonly held POV, watch the eyes glaze over, and my point is made that you are out of touch with many progressives. Reference mp's comments about the narrowness of the audience/debate, which you find equally perplexing.

    <h2>Jeff has an interesting idea. Rep Cannon didn't create this mess. Personally, my assumption would be that we all have been responsible for this mess. Maybe that calibrates your expectations.</h2>
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