Mannix outlines plan to ease budget crisis, saving $1 billion

KING CITY — Oregon could soothe its budget crisis by canceling pay increases for teachers and rescinding one-time bonuses promised to state workers and managers in lieu of raises, Oregon Republican Party Chairman Kevin Mannix said Monday.

Those were among a list of nearly two dozen proposals Mannix offered as a way to save the state $1 billion.

Mannix, who made an unsuccessful bid to become governor last year, said he was being a “good citizen” by designing a plan to balance the budget if voters overturn an $800 million tax increase the Legislature passed in August to plug the state’s budget holes.

“This can be a landmark decision-making opportunity for the state as to whether we are going carry on business as usual or commit ourselves to a path of reform,” he said.

Critics immediately panned the list, calling it a rehash of ideas that were brought up during this year’s eight-month legislative session and discarded as unworkable, unfeasible or unrealistic.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that every one of these proposals was examined in depth during the course of the session,” said Rep. Lane Shetterly, R-Dallas, who was chairman of the House Revenue Committee.

Mannix released his list of money-saving proposals just as campaigns on both sides of the tax issue are gearing up for the Feb. 3 special election. Because of its sweeping scope and broadly defined savings, the plan probably will be viewed more as a political move than as a road map for a new budget.

Mannix was among the first to call for a citizen uprising to refer the tax increase to the ballot. If Measure 30 fails, lawmakers could be forced to reopen the 2003-05 budget or allow cuts to schools, health programs and public safety outlined in legislation passed last fall. Mannix’s plan “doesn’t particularly help,” Shetterly said.

Reaction from Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s office was muted.

“Every citizen has a right to petition their government,” said Kulongoski’s spokeswoman Mary Ellen Glynn. “We’ll look at these suggestions the way we would any other suggestion.”

The strongest statements came from public employee unions, who see Mannix’s proposals as an excuse to do further damage to their members’ paychecks.

“That’s the secret plan, huh?” said Kris Kain, head of the Oregon Education Association, which represents teachers statewide. “I don’t think it’s very realistic.”

The biggest problem, Kain and others said, is that it would require local school districts and the state to break or renegotiate collective bargaining agreements that have been signed and are under way. That invites stalemate or litigation — neither of which the state needs now, they said.

“This is a pundit’s proposal,” said Mary Botkin, who lobbies for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “It’s easy for him because he doesn’t have any responsibility” for the budget, she said.

Even groups that joined Mannix in opposing the tax increase had little praise for his budget ideas.

“We think it falls short,” said Richard Burke, executive director of the Oregon Libertarian Party. “It’s a timid set of proposals that looks at our budget in a piecemeal manner and does nothing to fix the defects in state budgeting.”

The plan contains little that hasn’t already been proposed by conservatives, said Russ Walker, Oregon director of Citizens for a Sound Economy. Walker’s group is leading the campaign to defeat Measure 30.

“At least it illustrates the point that there are lots of options” for balancing the budget, Walker said.

In addition to his proposals to cut state spending, Mannix also called on broader reforms, such as a constitutional spending limit, a commission that would review spending and priorities of all state agencies and annual legislative sessions.

He called on Kulongoski to begin taking steps now to rein in spending in anticipation of voter rejection of the tax increase in February.

Glynn said the governor already has taken many of the steps in Mannix’s plan, such as consolidating the state motor pool, using the state’s purchasing power to lower the cost of equipment and supplies and instituting a wage and hiring freeze.

Mannix called his list “a work in progress,” and acknowledged that many already have been discussed at length. But he said they provide an alternative from the threats of early school closures and cut-off health benefits that have accompanied the tax debate.

“Citizens are sick and tired of that approach,” he said.

Harry Esteve: 503-221-8226;