Column: Committee work integral to how state government spends money

New two-year budgets for the state of Oregon are voted on during the long session in odd-numbered years and go into effect July 1 of the same year.

State agencies submit budgets identifying their priorities to the   assembly. The Ways and Means subcommittees hold public hearings, during which the agencies present their individual budgets and answer questions from the committee members.

The budgets are frequently amended before being approved by the sub committee.

Once the budget passes out of the subcommittee it goes to the full Ways and Means Committee, before being moved to the House and Senate chambers for a vote.

There are currently seven subcommittees that specialize in a particular area of government, such as: agriculture and natural resources, education, public safety and others.

The Full Ways and Means committee, like the subs, is a joint committee, meaning they have senators and representatives as voting members. The subs typically have eight members while the full has 23 members.

These committees are primarily run by the Senate President, Speaker of the House, and the senate and house cochairs of the full committee.

I served on the Education Subcommittee for several years. Last year I asked to be removed.

The reality is agendas and budgets are primarily determined by the presiding officers. I find members of the committee have very little influence at that level. Even though I serve in the minority, I realize the majority party members don’t have much more influence than I.

The state budget is financed by four main sources: the general fund – which comes mostly from personal and corporate income taxes, lottery revenue, federal funds and other funds. The latter are primarily fees – for example, hunting and angling licenses or drivers license and vehicle registration fees.

I am always very careful to point out the state doesn’t “make money.”  All state dollars ultimately come from taxpayers.

Let me be clear, I am not against all taxes. I like to safely drive across the covered bridge just down the road from me, not to mention the road itself. When I call 911, I want the fire department or Sheriff’s department to respond.

My husband and I have voted to support the bond measures for the veteran’s home and the Lebanon School District. All taxes are not bad.

However, I do believe there is waste and, frankly, perhaps some programs that don’t need to be funded.

An area where I disagree with how the state budget is prepared is in regards to the Current Service Level (CSL) rollup costs.

Approximately 6 percent is built into the budget each biennium. The assumption is that the cost of doing business goes up every two years.

I know Kyle’s and my personal expenses never seem to go down.

To give a personal example, when Kyle and I work on our budget, we don’t start by deciding what we want to spend money on. Rather, we determine how much we have in our monthly budget and then allocate it to our most important expenses. After our responsibilities are met then we can allocate the rest based on our priorities.

Satellite TV is not a priority, so we don’t have it. However, having a little fun is a priority so we set money aside for things like fishing.

We don’t get to have it all and neither does state government.

I have advocated for years that we not focus on the CSL, but rather evaluate a program’s effectiveness.

Some programs are very good and extremely important, some are not, in my opinion. Sometimes simply tightening the rules on a program realizes savings without impacting quality to those that need the service.

State government offers some good services and programs to be sure. I am not advocating for cutting public safety, education, or other services most of us see value in.

I do think the legislature has a responsibility to be a good steward of taxpayers’ money.

– Sherrie Sprenger represents most of Linn County, including Lebanon, as part of her 17th District of the Oregon House of Representatives, where she has served since 2008.  Prior to her service in the legislature, she chaired the Lebanon School Board.