As local government budget committees start reviewing their finances for 2009-10, what seems like legitimate needs are everywhere.
The federal support to county government won’t be anywhere near the timber revenues that used to balance the budget. The school districts clearly cannot depend on the Legislature to protect their funding from income taxes. The community college expects more students demanding more classes as a result of the recession. The city faces a bond payment on infrastructure that has not been covered as the building boom disappeared.
It’s not that these local government agencies are on extravagant spending sprees. They are caught in a perfect storm of dwindling revenues, increasing demands and very limited options.
One traditional Oregon option in these situations has been asking local voters for a property tax levy. As neighbors, a community can come together to share the bill for better schools, adequate public safety, more community college classes, or adequate streets, sewers and water lines. The property tax revolts of the 1980s made this method of financing harder, but not impossible. Our community, for example, approved a school improvement bond.
In this budget season, however, the recession has made the property tax option unthinkable. No matter how serious the need, we sense that voters are unwilling, and very probably unable, to pay any additional property taxes.
Budget committees have to enter this round of budgeting with that reality in mind. From our perspective, it is not even worth the election costs of asking for a levy right now. We know that limits the options, and will result in some difficult choices, but it’s the reality of the economic situation.