A leading state politician sometimes referred to as Oregon’s “shadow governor” offered a budget-balancing plan Monday to replace the $1.2 billion tax package he hopes voters will overturn in a Feb. 3 referendum.
Kevin Mannix, the Salem lawyer who narrowly lost the 2002 governor’s race but remains in the limelight as Oregon Republican Party chairman, proposed a $1 billion list of ideas, mostly borrowing from past proposals.
Topping his list: withdrawing wage and benefits increases won by state workers and school employees for 2003-05, effective this month.
“It’s a workable plan of real reforms which does not force a shorter school year and force schools to lay off teachers,” Mannix said. It avoids the “draconian cuts” required by lawmakers if their tax measure is overturned, he said, without “breaking the backs of Oregon taxpayers.”
Supporters praised Mannix for supplying an alternative to the tax package but said he didn’t go far enough to cut state spending.
Critics said Mannix’s plan provided few new ideas and would cut schools as much as the Legislature’s backup plan.
Chuck Sheketoff, who runs a Silverton public policy institute focusing on low-income Oregonians, called Mannix’s plan “$1 billion worth of funny money.”
Mannix’s plan to spend the state’s $135 million ending balance would destroy the state’s credit rating by draining all its reserves, Sheketoff said. “It’s fiscally irresponsible.”
Many of the other ideas are “dead horses” that never made it past either chamber of the Legislature during its record-long session this year, Sheketoff said.
Rep. Lane Shetterly, R-Dallas, was more charitable but equally skeptical.
Mannix’s plan to save $300 million by reversing employee wage and benefits gains would open the state and school districts to endless lawsuits, said Shetterly, a lawyer who supported the $1.2 billion tax plan.
He also panned Mannix’s proposal to save money by taking $150 million in state school aid, on the grounds that districts will save that much from 2003 pension reforms.
“What it really amounts to is a $150 million reduction in state school support,” said Shetterly, who served as chairman of the House Revenue Committee.
“There’s not much new,” Shetterly said. Most of the ideas were thoroughly studied by the 2003 Legislature and discarded, he said.
Two other Mannix proposals are money-saving plans already being advanced by Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Those are projects to consolidate state supply purchases and computer services.
Violet Wilson, president of the Salem Education Association, doubted that Salem-area teachers would willingly reopen their collective bargaining deal. They already agreed to a wage freeze in that deal, she said, but wouldn’t want to part with added district spending on their health benefits.
Wilson also questioned Mannix’s plan to save $20 million by dropping the state’s Certificate of Initial Mastery, a key element of the 1991 state school reform law. Much of that money needs to be spent anyway on testing required by President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, she said.
Mannix said his plan was a personal “work in progress” and did not represent the Oregon Republican Party. The longtime former lawmaker said he felt obliged to propose an alternative after crusading against the $1.2 billion tax increase passed by the Legislature.
Though Mannix campaigned in 2002 on a “no new taxes” platform, he often has made conflicting statements suggesting that he is open to some taxes.
Early in the governor’s race, Mannix endorsed higher cigarette taxes. Kulongoski and others say he made comments during the 2003 session supportive of the tax-increase package.
On Monday, Mannix sounded amenable to lawmakers resuscitating two more-popular tax increases in the $1.2 billion package: a 10 cents-per-pack cigarette tax extension and raising the corporate minimum tax from $10 to $250 or more.
“I think you could have a reasonable discussion about that as part of this debate,” Mannix said.
Rep. Jeff Kropf, R-Sublimity, hailed Mannix’s effort, especially the call for a constitutional spending cap.
“If we don’t have a constitutional spending limit, Republicans and Democrats will spend all the money that the taxpayers give them and won’t save a penny,” Kropf said.
But he faulted the Mannix plan for not requiring more spending cuts. Without more cuts, tax increases again will surface to balance the 2005-07 budget, Kropf said.
The Sublimity lawmaker has assembled a group of conservative organizations into the New Budget Coalition to frame their own alternative to the $1.2 billion tax package. That group includes Libertarians, members of the Constitution Party, the Cascade Policy Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy and others, Kropf said.
The coalition expects to unveil its budget-balancing plan by late January, after ballots go out for the Feb. 3 tax referendum.
Kevin Mannix proposed a list of “Oregon Budget Reform Options” on Monday. Here are highlights of his proposal, which he called a “work in progress.” Click here to download the complete list of his money-saving ideas. It is a Microsoft Word document.
# Reverse pay and benefits increases granted in 2003-05 to state workers and school district employees, effective this month: $300 million-plus
# Reduce state aid to school districts to reflect their savings from state pension reforms: $150 million
# Spend the ending balance left by lawmakers as a reserve in the 2003-05 budget: $135 million
# Adopt Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s plan to have more-efficient purchases of supplies and services: $100 million
# Take remaining money left in agencies from 2001-03 budget: $50 million
# Take public purpose money derived from energy bill tax and use it for general fund: $50 million
# Eliminate economic development spending except for lottery bond payments: $40 million
# Take more agency reserves derived from federal and other non-general fund money sources: $32 million
# Sell state motor pool: $24 million
# Eliminate Certificate of Initial Mastery and Certificate of Advanced Mastery, replacing them with standardized tests: $20 million
# Count on governor’s plan to consolidate state computer servers and other technology: $20 million
# Sell Mill Creek property in Salem: $10 million
# Reduce funding for indigent legal defense: $10 million
# Garner more payment of back taxes by instituting no-penalty grace period: $10 million
# Roll back bonuses and health benefit increases granted to non-union managers and union members: $9 million
# Squeeze more savings from Oregon Health Plan: $8 million
# Freeze membership in Oregon Health Plan: $7 million
# Allow more-intensive logging in Tillamook State Forest: $5 million
# Raise criminal fines: $5 million
# Prune 100 state jobs now held vacant: $4 million
# Cut tobacco-use prevention funds: $3 million
# End Bureau of Labor and Industries apprentice oversight: $2 million
# Take more money from Common School Fund: $1 million
# Put Colorado-style spending limit in Oregon Constitution
# Create Oregon version of President Reagan’s Grace Commission to find more cost savings in state government
# Switch to annual legislative sessions to gain more lawmaker oversight over budget
# Reduce capital gains taxes by 25 percent in 2006 and 50 percent in 2007
# Enact zero-based budgeting audit agencies more aggressively
Questions or comments about Mannix’s list can be sent to email@example.com
Steve Law can be reached at (503) 399-6615.