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Legislature's Budget Plan Offers Slightly Better School

SALEM -- The budget framework revealed by the Oregon Legislature last week slightly improves on the proposal the governor put forth in February.

SALEM -- The budget framework revealed by the Oregon Legislature last week slightly improves on the proposal the governor put forth in February.

It will still spend less, however, than what public schools are seeking to meet current service levels.

The Senate and House Joint Committee on Ways and Means have crafted a $14.7 billion general fund for 2011-13, roughly equivalent to the current fiscal cycle.

The co-chair budget is merely "the starting point" for creating a balanced budget for next biennium, said State Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point.

"The real work is being done in the subcommittees, and if all goes well, a balanced budget will be completed by the end of May," Richardson said in a news release.

That co-chair budget includes a $460 million ending fund balance that will be used as reserves should shortfalls manifest.

The size of the reserve fund has raised eyebrows, though Richardson said that if Oregon's revenue forecasts improve, up to $310 million of it could be reallocated.

State agencies would receive 100 percent of their appropriation during the first year and 93 percent during the second.

Education in Oregon would receive $5.7 billion, compared to the $5.56 billion proposed in Gov. John Kitzhaber's budget in February.

The $5.7 billion includes $123 million from the state's education stability and common school funds. The legislature's proposal would also distribute school funds evenly during the first and second year.

School districts will be able to receive part of this amount through grants, though increases in salaries and benefit payments to school district employees aren't eligible uses.

"Anything additional they send our way will be appreciated and will save jobs in our community," said Tami Montague, business manager for Dallas School District, which is bracing for a $2.2 million shortfall next year.

Other appropriations in the co-chairs' 2011-13 budget:

* Colleges, universities and other education -- $1.67 billion

* Human services -- $3.7 billion

* Public safety/judicial branch -- $2.4 billion

* Natural resources -- $305 million

* Transportation and economic development -- $287 million

* General government -- $264 million

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