By Paul Fattig
The Oregon Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee got an earful when 64 witnesses beseeched, pleaded and urged the lawmakers to consider their fiscal concerns during a hearing in Ashland Saturday.
Covering everything from student tuition to retirement programs, each witness had two minutes to make their case to the state’s budget-writing body.
And most took advantage of every second during the hearing held in the Music Recital Hall at Southern Oregon University.
“The proposed budget starts to reinvest in schools, but it is not enough,” said Jacksonville area resident Karen Starchvick. “We must do better than 27 kids in kindergarten at Washington and four grades of 36 at Mae Richardson.”
She urged the committee to place education on the highest priority, noting it is a wise long-term investment.
“Please, Oregon children are counting on you, all of you, to put their interests first,” she stressed.
Some witnesses called for more funding for programs that help support victims of abuse and sexual violence. Several witnesses, identifying themselves as victims of abuse, tearfully stressed it was essential to provide support for programs such as Women’s Crises Support Team in Josephine County.
“My life has change because of this program,” one young woman said. “We get education and we get compassion and we have a voice now.”
Speaking for many concerned about education at the hearing, Rogue Community College President Peter Angstadt, noting he is the father of two Southern Oregon University students and one RCC student, said money spent on education is well spent.
“It is not an expense — it is an investment that is paying off,” he stressed.
The seven-member committee is co-chaired by Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, and Sen. Richard Devlin, a Tualatin Democrat. The hearing was the second of six that are being held around the state to receive input during the budget-building process.
The broad spectrum covered by the witnesses reflected the variety of statewide needs, Buckley said after the two-hour session.
“We have until June 30 to balance the budget, and we are determined to do that,” he said. “But it is a very difficult thing to do.”
When the committee held a similar budgetary roadshow two years ago, the educational concerns were not as apparent, he said.
“The information from students, what it means on a personal basis, was stronger here today than I heard previously,” he said. “That sticks in your head a little more.”
Students from both SOU and RCC testified in support of a budget that includes $850 million for state universities and $510 million for the state’s community colleges, higher than the proposed amount.
“I applied for scholarships continually, and I’m graduating this year $29,000 in debt,” said Joshua Danielson, student body president at SOU. “A lot of students have had to drop out because of rising tuition costs.
“We are going to reach a breaking point where students won’t be able to go to college,” he warned.
Former SOU student Jason Pennell, who was director of governmental affairs for SOU’s student government, told the committee he had to drop out because of increased costs.
Others stressed the importance of Rogue Community College’s impact on the region.
“There is a misperception by many that all expenditures of taxes is money wasted,” said Medford resident Robert Graham. “I’m here to tell you the expenditures for community colleges is not wasted tax dollars. It is a short-term investment that results in long-term gain in the form of economic growth and development, which in turn increases tax revenue.”
For every dollar spent on community colleges, $3 is returned in regional economic development, he said.
Sandra Slattery, executive direction of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, noted that SOU is the largest employer in the city, with an annual revenue that tops $100 million.
“Students, faculty and staff contribute to the economy, culture, educational and intellectual development of Ashland and the region,” she said. “We urge you to increase investment beyond the proposed budget for 2013-15.”
Just as legislators should not forget about education, they must also remember those who are retired or have disabilities, said Medford resident Don Bruland, a member of the AARP Oregon Executive Council.
“The greatest need for long-term care is among the years 85 plus,” he said. “Their numbers in Oregon will grow from approximately 81,000 in 2010 to over 121,000 in 2022.”
“As you look at these tough issues, don’t forget the services for seniors and disabled people,” added another witness.
Nancy Ames, a small-woodlands owner with acreage in the mountains east of Ashland, reminded the committee of the importance of the local Oregon State University Extension Service. Experts there have helped guide her and countless other small-woodlands owners when it comes to managing their acreage, she said.
“Please do everything you can to support the work and outreach at OSU Extension,” she said.
A local rancher echoed similar remarks when it came to finding local ranch and farm expertise.
Several business owners urged legislators to continue funding for the Small Business Development Center, citing the center’s support and guidance as a reason for their success.
Adam Peterson, a deputy district attorney for Jackson County, testifying on behalf of the Oregon State Bar, advocated for more funding for the state’s judicial branch.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.