State agencies are once again preparing for cuts to services in the event Measure 30 fails on Feb. 3.
Nearly 1,000 Lincoln County residents would lose state health care coverage if the measure is defeated, and an additonal 4,800 would lose dental, vision, alcohol and drug treatment and mental health coverage.
According to Oregon Department of Human Services spokesperson Jim Sellers, the Oregon Health Plan will be forced to trim 48,000 Oregonians from the rolls of its standard health plan if the budget-balancing measure is not approved by voters. A defeat would also mean the loss for about 300,000 people state-wide on the OHP’s plus benefit package. In all, more than $207 million would be cut from the DHS budget, with $182 million of the total coming from the OHP.
For every dollar cut from the OHP budget, the state will lose $1.50 in matching federal funds, so the total loss of funds that would have gone to Oregon health care providers is almost one-half billion dollars.
Currently, 400,000 people statewide
have no health care coverage.
“People still pay the bill for these folks because they end up going to the emergency rooms, and by that time whatever condition they have is in a more aggravated stage,” said Sellers.
But it does get paid for. If these people have a primary care physician, they can be seen early and we save money.”
Sellers said his department is making every effort to preserve alcohol and drug treatment and mental health treatment programs.
“Those problems lead to chronic unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence and crime in addition to increased medical costs,” said Sellers.
Ballots for the Feb. 3 special election are in the mail and Oregon voters will soon decide whether or not to allow the three-year, budget-balancing tax surcharge to take effect.
Crafted by the 2003 Oregon State Legislature, the $800 million tax increase was referred to voters in December by a petition drive organized by the Oregon branch of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a Washington, D.C.-based group that espouses lower taxes and smaller government.
According to the Legislative Revenue Office, failure of Measure 30 would trigger $544 million in across-the-board budget cuts – unless a special session of the Legislature was called to re-balance the budget.
Voters failed to approve a $313 million tax package in January 2003, triggering a round of cuts that affected state law enforcement, health care and education programs.
The cuts to the health care system resulted in the revocation of prescription benefits for many at-risk people, directly causing the deaths of some people to whom the medications were essential needs. In addition, 49,000 people lost long-term care services, some of whom are currently being tracked by the DHS to see what the long-term effects of the cuts will be.
In anticipation of the referral and defeat of the tax increase, the Legislature enacted House Bill 5077, which in some cases mandates where cuts are to be made. The Oregon State Police would lose $3.9 million if Measure 30 is not approved, and in accord with HB 5077, all of that amount would be cut from the OSP’s forensics division to avoid another round of firing and rehiring state patrolmen. The state police already fields about half of the troopers it did 30 years ago, despite a significant increase in the state’s population.
Lieutenant Glenn Chastain of the OSP said, “What it translates into is 60 people being laid off, or 56 percent of the workforce for that division. People have to understand that not having the crime lab to process will have a significanr effect on our ability to prosecute cases.”
Those cuts would also affect local law enforcement agencies, which make up 80 to 90 percent of the cases processed by the state forensics division.
Failure of Measure 30 would also force almost $24 million in cuts to state courts, forcing courts to close early and slowing the prosecution of some cases.
Failure of the tax increase would also eliminate $338 million – or 9 percent – of the 2004-05 funding for K-12 education.
Opponents of the measure say the state must learn to live within its means and the Legislature should have dealt with the problem in 2003. Many also consider the corporation tax increases bad for business.
“We think raising taxes at this time is a bad idea,” said Steve Buckstein, president of the Cascade Policy Institute, a libertarian think-tank. “While we don’t advocate yes or no on specific measures, we’ve laid out alternatives for 13 years that would have kept us from getting in this situation in the first place.”
Those alternatives, according to Buckstein, include putting many government services out to bid to force government agencies to compete with private firms. Buckstein points to the success the Oregon Health & Science University had in bidding its internal billing department against private firms. The state employees won the bid, but were forced to cut costs considerably.
“We need to find ways to reduce those compensation costs that don’t hurt the employees,” Buckstein said, pointing to health savings accounts as one way employers can reduce health insurance costs without decreasing employee benefits.
The Cascade Policy Institute also advocates the expansion of the charter school law and the decriminalization of non-violent drug crimes as ways to save the state money.
“In the short term, it’s going to be painful,” said Buckstein, “but we don’t think this is the time to make government bigger. We need to change the trend in government to keep more money in the private sector.”
The cuts to state services would take affect on May 1, giving the Legislature time to convene and re-balance the budget if Measure 30 is defeated.
Breakout box: ?
Average Yearly Cost to Income Taxpayers
Total Income – All Returns Average Additional Tax
Less than $10,000 $0
$10,000 to 20,000 $4
$20,000 to 30,000 $20
$30,000 to 40,000 $46
$40,000 to 50,000 $69
$50,000 to 70,000 $118
$70,000 to 100,000 $228
$100,000 to 200,000 $482
$200,000 and over $2,348
State Average $133
Source: Oregon Legislative Revenue Office