Oregon has lost a greater share of revenue than most states due to COVID-19

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Aug. 3, 2020 8:02 p.m.

During the coronavirus pandemic, states have struggled with staggering revenue losses and budget shortfalls. Here's what is happening in Oregon.

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This story is part of an NPR nationwide analysis of states’ revenue and budgets during the pandemic.

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Oregon lawmakers had speculated for months about just how large a hole the coronavirus pandemic would blast into the state's budget. The news came in May, and it was as grim as many had feared: The state is expecting $2.7 billion less in the current budget than legislators were planning for a few short months ago — with even larger shortfalls predicted for future budgets.

The blow is largely the result of controls the state put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus. With many businesses closed for months and unemployment soaring, Oregon's income tax receipts are projected to nose-dive.

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The good news is that the state has record reserves on hand to help it paper over the budget chasm. But there is more bad news. There's no certainty what cuts are going to look like. One potential framework released in July proposes closing two of the state's 16 prisons.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has required many agencies to propose 17% cuts, but until last week had refused to call lawmakers into session to take up the budget, preferring to find out if more aid is coming from Congress.

"I think it's a mistake," state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, one of the Oregon State Legislature's key budget writers, has said of that calculus. "We cannot count on the feds to do anything in a timely fashion."

Brown has finally yielded to that pressure. Lawmakers will meet Aug. 10, budget knives in hand.

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB.

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