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What Did the February Legislative Session Mean for Oregonians?

The February legislative sessions resulted in progress for Oregon families, showing hopeful glimpses of a return to support for middle class priorities.

Legislative leaders were able to prevent more cuts to public schools and senior services, but with split control of the House, many desperately-needed bills were killed by House Republicans before they could even come up for a vote. Much was accomplished, but there is much more to do as Oregon’s economy recovers, including restoring the funds for our schools and critical services that were slashed in the recession.

Foreclosure Protections

Despite weeks of effort by Republican leaders in the House to kill two vital foreclosure protection reforms, the bills passed in the last few minutes of the session. This means that families facing foreclosure will have the right to meet with their banks to try to work out an agreement, and banks will no longer be able to proceed on a foreclosure while in the midst of a loan modification.

In short, these bills level the playing field between struggling families and big banks. It means the banks won’t be able to get away with many of the tricks and traps they’ve used for years.

This was a huge victory for the hundreds of Oregonians who stood up and spoke out, calling on Republican leaders to pass meaningful reforms. This broad public outcry came from every corner of the state, and it’s why GOP leaders were finally forced to side with Oregon families, rather than with lobbyists for the banking industry.

Kudos to Economic Fairness Oregon and other advocacy groups who worked hard during this session to make sure the needs of struggling families were met.

Schools and Services for Seniors, Children, and People with Disabilities

Education

In the last three years, around 15% of jobs in public schools have been lost. Another recent estimate shows a loss of 4,000 teachers statewide. At the same time, class sizes have increased by as much as 19%.

The good news is that legislators held the K12 budget at $5.725 billion for the 2011-13 budget cycle. In theory, at least, that means no further cuts to local schools.

But the budget is down from the 09-11 budget of $5.783, and significantly down from the 07-09 budget of $6.3 billion. And it’s $3 billion down from the funding required to meet the state’s own definition of a “quality education.”

Services for Seniors and People with Disabilities

A range of critical programs have been spared from further reductions, including home-delivered meals and most in-home care. Importantly, legislators restored $53 million in reductions to in-home and long-term care, with $40 million accounted for in the current budget and multiple sources secured for the remaining $13 million.

Legislators also passed a Health Insurance Exchange bill that will help provide affordable health insurance for uninsured Oregonians, particularly small businesses and their employees.

Children and Families

The Employment Related Day Care program—which helps low-income parents find work by subsidizing some childcare costs—has been capped at 8,500 kids.

That means no current families will be denied service, but the projected need for ERDC was estimated at 12,000 in 2010, and there are currently more than 2,900 families on the waiting list. That means that thousands of eligible parents may be forced out of work, which will only increase the need for safety net services like Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF) and food stamps.

Thankfully, there were only limited cuts to foster care or child welfare, as those services are already facing massive workloads and understaffing.

Tax Fairness

We give away more in tax breaks than we spend on our priorities. Thanks to Republicans, nothing was done to address the $31.3 billion in tax breaks the state gives away. At the same time, the state is spending less than $15 billion through the General Fund, which pays for schools, health care, and public safety.

Republican leadership in both the House and Senate blocked all attempts to improved funding for Oregonians’ priorities, refusing to consider increasing taxes on profitable corporations and the rich. In fact, the legislature actually increased the number of tax cuts and breaks for large corporations.

Democratic leadership did, however, manage to block a capital gains tax cut pushed by a few of the big business associations on behalf of wealthy investors

Bottom Line

Many legislators stood up to do the right thing, by fighting for K12 schools, vulnerable Oregonians, and basic consumer protections. Democrats were able to block most of the Republicans’ worst ideas and stood strong on protecting Oregon homeowners over the full force of banking lobbyists.

They went beyond just blocking destructive ideas and holding the line on funding for basic services. And we will need them to continue in that vein. In order to improve our economic health, Oregonians need more legislators who will put middle-class families—not profitable corporations and the rich—at the top of the list.

The legislative session may be over, but the real fight is just beginning. Oregon voters have the power to hold elected leaders accountable at the ballot box, by voting on ballot measures and for candidates who will stand up for the middle class.

What will you do between now and November to fight for Oregon’s priorities?

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