Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Who Cares About Abused Children and Hazardous Waste?

Cross posted at The Next Right

Turns out Oregon's Democratic governor and Democratic led legislature are finding a better use for designated funds than their original intent.

The Oregonian's Harry Esteve reports:
But lawmakers say they faced a crisis and had to look for other sources of money to plug an $855 million hole in the $15 billion 2007-09 budget by June 30. They cut more than $300 million from agency budgets, they agreed to spend more than $400 million in federal stimulus money. For the rest, they looked at any account they could find that still has money.

In all, the new balanced budget proposal contains $72.5 million in what are referred to as "sweep" funds shifted from accounts such as the Cultural Trust, 9-1-1 and more than 40 other sources.
. . .

Among the fund shifts that raised eyebrows: $2 million that goes to counties for economic development; $1.2 million to treat problem gamblers; $4.1 million aimed at cleaning up sites contaminated by hazardous waste; and $900,000 to prevent child abuse.

Problem is that some of those, like the Oregon Cultural Trust, who had their funds, er, reallocated, think it is an abuse of designated giving:
"People are very, very concerned about this," said Christine D'Arcy, executive director of the Oregon Cultural Trust. She said she learned late in the game about the decision by legislative budget writers to shift $1.8 million from the trust's account and apply it to the state's dwindling general fund.

The trust is funded through donations -- mainly by taxpayers who receive tax credits in return -- and by sales of special car license plates. People don't buy those plates because they want the money to go to the state's operating budget, D'Arcy said.

"We believe there is donor intent," she said. "They do so knowing they are going to be benefiting something they care about."

Further, Oregon Democrats may be buying trouble in defying federal regulations.
"It's a potentially serious problem," said Hasina Squires, a lobbyist who represents emergency communication officers that run 9-1-1 systems around the state. She said the state could run afoul of federal rules that prohibit using 9-1-1 money for other purposes.

Republicans urge a rollback of recent state executive raises instead, but Governor Kulongoski isn't buying.
Republicans have said repeatedly that the best way to help balance the budget would be for Gov. Ted Kulongoski to rescind pay raises he gave state executives. Kulongoski has frozen pay for state managers and rescinded a step increase, but he has been unwilling to changes the raises he approved last year.

Neither is Democrat Peter Buckley who co-chairs the budget committee:
"We examined every possible agency," said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, co-chairman of the committee responsible for the budget. If budget-writers determined that taking the money wouldn't disrupt the "core function" of the agency, they took the money.

The real surprise is not that Governor Kulongoski and Democratic legislators don't want to fill the budget gap by rolling back state executive salaries, cutting expenditures or using state savings (which, though miserably small, are more than sufficient for the $72.5 million taken from designated funds).

The real surprise is that only the Cultural Trust and 9-1-1 people are complaining about their funds being swiped. MIA are advocates for Oregon employment opportunity, social welfare and environmental protection programs:

- county economic development (maybe that's why Oregon's unemployment rate is soaring and ranks it among the worst 5 states in the nation)

- treatment of problem gamblers (lottery revenue has declined--so perhaps this isn't as big a need as originally thought)

- cleaning up sites contaminated by hazardous waste (Where are the environmental protection advocates when you need them?)

- prevention of child abuse

Hat tip: Oregon Watchdog

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