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2/9 Editorial

State budget a step in the right direction

Hat's off to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber for unveiling a proposed two-year budget for 2011-13 that acknowledges today's economic reality: the state can ill-afford what many perceive as its long-standing free-spending ways.

Kitzhaber last week revealed his $14.75 billion budget that, wisely, doesn't call for any new tax increases and, for the most part, holds the line on spending.

After years of budget expansion and the ongoing economic woes our state continues to deal with, living within our means rather than trying to squeeze more blood out of a turnip is a refreshing change.

State spending must be brought into line, and Kitzhaber has attempted to do that. He started his budget based on current spending of $13.5 billion for the biennium, which doesn't include the approximately $1.3 billion in one-time federal stimulus funds that won't be available this time around. With state revenues projected at $14.75 billion, that is an increase of $1.25 billion -- basically the amount of the stimulus money.

The proposed budget actually drew initial praise from Republicans and Democrats alike in Salem, but you can be certain numerous groups will be lobbying in the days and weeks ahead for a shift in budget funds as some of Oregon's highest-funded programs, including education, will feel a pinch.

Kitzhaber's plan would allocate $5.56 billion toward K-12 education, less than the $5.8 billion schools say they need to maintain current services and well below the $6.5 billion State Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo sought. Human services and health care spending is $3.8 billion under Kitzhaber's plan, some 40 percent less than what many agencies say is needed to meet demand. And youth corrections demands and mandatory minimum prison sentences for some criminals will have to go unmet.

All of this is a good starting point as Oregon begins the long overdue process of reshaping state government. Many state agencies face real economic hardships -- just like many in the private sector have faced the past several years. At least the governor has recognized that it is time for the state to bring its out-of-control spending habits under control.

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