With seemingly nothing but lint in its pockets, the State of Oregon is facing a budget shortfall of $880 million. To bring expenses back in line with available funds, the Governor's office released a report Monday announcing cuts to agencies throughout the state. The agencies hardest hit--the Oregon Health Plan, Department of Corrections, and the state's universities--will have the next few weeks to assess the potential damage, try to regain their footing, and respond with whatever last-minute sympathy pleas they are going to make.
Coupled with plans by the City of Portland to cut roughly $14 million from its budget over the next three years, the potential budget reductions hit Portland's social services like a simultaneous cardiac arrest and cerebral stroke.
"We're bleeding out our staff," explains Phyllis Burkhurst, who coordinates sexual assault programs for the state. According to social service advocates, safehouses for domestic violence victims, like the Bradley Angel House and Rafael House in Portland, rotate staff members about every two years; barely enough time to provide sufficient training. Burkhurst had hoped that the $2.5 million originally granted by the state would have helped solve that problem by providing better pay and benefits for workers.
But with the proposed cuts, the loss of that money will barely maintain a status quo equivalent to treading water. Last year, for example, the Women's Crisis Hotline was shut down for several months due to a lack of funding. In part, state funds pay for that service.
In addition to cuts in domestic violence programs, social services to Oregon's poor and elderly will also most likely be scaled back from providing assistance to the needy to only those on their last legs. Currently, pregnant women who earn 80 percent more than the federal poverty line are eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, the state-sponsored insurance program that helps thousands with medical bills. In an effort to trim 9 million dollars from the budget, Governor Kitzhaber recommended changing these standards to an income level only 30 percent above the poverty line--or, roughly $11,000. This change would take away health services from hundreds of pregnant women in Portland alone.
Another likely candidate for budget cuts is the Oregon University System, which stands to lose roughly ten percent of its budget. George Pernsteiner, the Vice President of Finance and Administration at Portland State University, predicted that PSU may lose as much as $12 million over the next two years.
Although the cuts recommended by the Governor singled out services like the college radio station, Pernsteiner pointed out this program is largely funded through students fees--and not from money from the state. An increase in enrollment at PSU translates to a plumper budget for the student radio station. (The student body at PSU has grown by approximately seven percent over the past two terms.) Even so, other student services are vulnerable.
"We are hoping to not affect instruction," says Pernsteiner, indicating that budget cuts will be made to offices rather than academic departments. It is likely that services like the offices of admissions and public safety will be scaled back.
"Students will see longer lines and may also see diminished hours of services," says Pernsteiner.
Portland Community College also faces an appropriate eight-percent, or four million-dollar annual reduction in funding. A spokesperson for PCC explained that it will take a combination of tuition hikes and program reduction to satisfy that smaller budget.
Within the next few weeks, the state legislature plans to hold a special session to determine exactly what budget cuts will be made. Until then, those programs at risk are in a holding pattern.
Where'd the Money Go?