A symbol, as Webster’s describes it, is an object used to represent something abstract.
So, here is a symbol for Oregon.
Take the letter “V.” Lay it on its side with the bottom line inclining slightly. Now, extend the bottom and top line.
What do you see?
You see a widening gap between the two.
So, what does that symbolize?
The bottom line is the trajectory of Oregon’s state revenue. It’s the money available to the Legislature and governor to spend on public services. It is projected to increase this year.
The top line represents the costs of the government. It is increasing as well, but at a rate that outstrips the amount of money available to it.
And, as symbols go, this represents in two lines what the Legislature, the governor, state agencies and public employee unions have to confront as the annual session of our lawmakers gets under way.
How do they get those two lines to come together?
That is the essential problem — highly simplified, of course — confronting our state.
This new session of the Legislature is particularly important. The state faces a historic budget deficit of $3.5 billion and a requirement to balance the budget. There is a long, long list of state services and investments that will be affected by the budget cuts that are almost certainly headed our way.
That said, the process, and particularly the personalities involved, is very important. The legislators are critical, but so are the governor, the various department leaders and state workers.
To give them their due, one good question for those who draw public salaries and benefits would be, “How would you propose to make spending match revenue forecasts?”
The answer is important.
The future of the state is at stake.
— John Costa is editor-in-chief of The (Bend) Bulletin.