Governor Kate Brown’s budget proposes closing and reducing the prison to health care providers

Kate Brown, the governor of Oregon.

Kate Brown, the governor of Oregon.

Cathy Cheney / AP

Governor Kate Brown will close three Oregon prisons over the next two years while trying to keep the line in health care and expand access to housing and education for the color community, according to a $ 25.6 billion spending plan announced Tuesday.

Brown’s review of his proposed budget for 2021-23 — narrative rather than hard numbers — paints a picture of a state facing extreme challenges due to wildfire, COVID-19, and ongoing calls for racial justice. And while he relies heavily on the hope that Congress will help with billions of dollars to help some of these problems, the governor’s budget proposal is far from as severe as some might have expected at the beginning of the year.

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“Oregon is recovering from epidemics and fires, and as we do, our budgets, policy agendas, and priorities must reflect, support, and respect the communities affected by the devastation,” reads the 54-page summary of the Governor’s proposed budget, a a document that places great emphasis on emphasizing the need to involve and prioritize people of color in all areas of public services.

Brown also suggests a sacrifice will be needed as lawmakers begin working out the state’s official budget for the next two years. The proposal, published on Tuesday, reflects the governor’s priorities for the budget, but is likely to be significantly different from the document that will actually arrive on his desk next year.

“The epidemic has led to a backlog of public finances, which requires not only the elimination of long-needed investment plans, but also a small but difficult reduction in services and programs that affect Oregonian daily lives,” the budget document said.

Broadly speaking, Brown’s budget would keep the state’s main school base relatively static at $ 9.1 billion, while striking a new school business tax on schools and encouraging lawmakers to spend $ 215 million in emergency money to fund various priorities, such as expanded kindergarten. access and enhanced learning in science, mathematics, engineering and technology.

Jim Greenberg, executive director of the Oregon School Board Association, called the proposal a “starting point” in a statement Tuesday, with a particular focus on equity and meeting the needs of underachieving students. But Oregon still has a long way to go to repair our students during the pandemic.

Brown’s budget also makes housing and homelessness a priority, proposing an increase in spending on affordable housing and creating a program to help blacks, natives and other people of color pay home advances.

But Brown said the state faces funding challenges – particularly in health care, where an epidemic has joined an additional 150,000 Oregonians in the Oregon health plan, which is the state version of Medicaid. Even with the entry into force of a new tobacco tax increase, the governor said the increased enrollment created a $ 718 million gap. Some of this difference requires “cost savings and asking our already stressed health care system to participate in the victim,” for example, through lower-than-expected compensation from health care providers.

The proposed cut in state reimbursement was a harsh welcome to hospitals, saying they were informed of the proposal on Tuesday morning. Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said the timing was inadequate.

“He decided to propose direct cuts to hospitals amid the biggest public health crisis of the century,” Hultberg said. “Such reductions could force hospitals to reduce services to Oregonians during an epidemic.”

Medical Assistant Melissa Morisette walks down the aisle of cars at the OHSU COVID-19 drive-through site at the Oregon Convention Center on November 20, 2020 in Portland, Ore.  COVID-19 has burdened hospitals in Oregon, the rest of which is Governor Kate Brown’s budget proposal.

Medical Assistant Melissa Morisette walks down the aisle of cars at the OHSU COVID-19 drive-through site at the Oregon Convention Center on November 20, 2020 in Portland, Ore. COVID-19 has burdened hospitals in Oregon, the rest of which is Governor Kate Brown’s budget proposal.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB /

Hospital systems have even quantified what potential reductions could mean, Hultberg said.

However, when Brown considers the cuts, the governor said he wants to lay the political foundation for a public health option that “can increase choice while reducing costs for Oregon consumers.” It proposes extending a state program that extends health care for undocumented children to adults.

The governor is moving further than expected to change Oregon’s prison. He proposes three closures of the state’s 16 prisons: the Shutter Creek Correctional Facility in North Bend, the Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview, and the Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem. Together, the three facilities can accommodate nearly 1,100 inmates. Brown said prisons no longer need the support of the state’s imprisoned population.

“Oregon no longer has to maintain costly prison capacity and can now go further by reducing beds while maintaining proper supervision of detained adults and keeping Oregonians safe,” the governor said in his budget document. Closing the prison between July 2021 and July 2023 would be intermittent and result in continued savings and deferred maintenance of nearly $ 50 million.

It has long been expected that Brown will float the prison closure after the legislature rejected the demolition of two of the prisons now listed this year. But the proposal is likely to generate heat – especially from North Bend and Lakeview, whose residents have said they trust prisons for economic recovery.

It is not entirely clear from Brown’s budget summary what impact the state will have if Congress does not present another aid package to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus epidemic. The governor said new federal support will be needed to test Oregon, support businesses, and allow the state to forgive up to $ 350 million in unpaid rent, but it’s not at all clear that Congress will approve a plan, which meets all governor’s goals.

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Nor is it clear how many further cuts public authorities may face. Oregon’s tax revenues were not as badly affected by the pandemic as they were originally thought to be, and in fact are expected to grow over the next two years. However, these increases are offset by increases in the cost of services, meaning the State Department of Corrections is probably not the only agency struggling with cuts.

Other notable elements of Brown’s proposal:

  • $ 73.7 million in extra money to light a fire, and nearly $ 360 million to clean up and rebuild communities affected by this year’s fires.
  • $ 20 million to close the pay gap between prosecutors and state defenders, a long-standing issue for the state.
  • Brown promises to introduce a law next year to implement bail reform so that low-income defendants are not kept in jail while those with money go free.
  • Brown also said he would urge lawmakers to allow voters to register that day and allow ballots to be accepted if they were stamped on election day.
  • $ 146.4 million for the complete modernization of the employment department transportation system and the implementation of the paid family leave insurance system. In 2009, the state received more than $ 80 million to upgrade its unemployment system.
  • $ 118 million for broadband expansion in both urban and rural communities.