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Mar-02-2006 12:38printcomments

Courtney Says Special Session Should Help Schools

Photo By: Tim King

(Salem – AP) - Courtney says he's not suggesting helping schools by using excess revenue that's due to be refunded to taxpayers next year under Oregon's "kicker" law

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney says state lawmakers should look for ways to help Portland public schools and other struggling districts if a special legislative session is held soon.

The Salem Democrat offered that suggestion Wednesday after the state's new revenue forecast predicted a $700 million-plus windfall for the state, thanks to higher lottery profits and an improving Oregon economy that is bringing in more tax dollars.

The Senate president said that, instead, $45 million in increased lottery revenue that doesn't fall under the "kicker" refund law might be used to aid financially struggling schools in Portland and around the state.

Moreover, Courtney said lawmakers could agree to extend a temporary property tax in Portland to soften the blow of more cuts to the city's schools. A similar proposal failed to win approval in the Legislature's 2005 session.

"We need to have a discussion to see if we can help these districts," he said. "These are all open for discussion."

Courtney has been among those who have been saying the Legislature likely will have to come into a special session to deal with a $172 million hole in the state human services budget caused mainly by rising Medicaid caseloads.

A spokesman for House Speaker Karen Minnis was noncommittal about Courtney's proposal to include school aid as a topic for any special session.

Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, through a spokesman, said it's "becoming increasingly clear" that a special session will be held on the human services budget gap as well as other topics.

"If we get into a special session, education is a legitimate issue," said Pat Egan, the governor's chief of staff.

Egan said Kulongoski already has had discussions with Portland School Superintendent Vicki Phillips about possible help that a special session could offer the district.

Also, Egan said the governor feels that if a special session is held, lawmakers should consider his long-range school finance proposal to devote 61 percent of the state's general fund to all levels, from preschool through the university system, and guaranteeing a budget increase of at least 10 percent every two years.


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