The Oregon Legislature convened yesterday for a 1-day special legislative session, where the current budget was balanced and a few technical fixes to unemployment, criminal justice reform, and the Legislature’s harassment policy were passed. Cuts to agency budgets were less than we feared a few months ago when the Governor announced her allotment cuts thanks to the advocacy efforts of SEIU 503 members since the revenue forecast was released in May.
The Legislature took a targeted approach to plug holes in the budget through accounting practices like using money originally allocated for positions that remain vacant and using limited reserves. Cuts were made that will impact our members and we will continue to inform and support those of us who were affected. While harm to public services was limited yesterday, there remains a potential for devastating cuts when the legislature convenes next year.
Oregon has projected a $4.4 billion shortfall in the next budget (2021-23) that will be addressed when the Legislature meets next year. In the absence of federal relief funding, our state will not be able to pass a balanced budget without significant cuts to services, additional revenue, or both. The most important thing we can do right now to avoid those tough decisions is to help secure federal aid.
The unemployment fixes notably excluded a bill that would have removed red tape prohibiting thousands of SEIU 503 higher education workers from receiving unemployment benefits. SB 1702 was passed unanimously by House members of the Joint Committee on the Second Special Session, but failed to pass the Senate side by one vote (2-3). Senator Betsy Johnson joined the two Republican Senators on the Committee to kill the bill, calling the measure an “added benefit for a certain class” referring to SEIU 503 members, despite the fact that SB 1702 would have helped alleviate the backlog in the Employment Department that is denying thousands of Oregonians the benefits they are owed.
While the second special legislative session of 2020 could have gone much worse for SEIU 503 members, there is still work to be done. The federal government must provide COVID-19 relief to state and local governments to avoid painful cuts next year. Here in Oregon, we were reminded that party affiliation doesn’t mean a legislator supports working families. Picking up one additional Senate seat could prevent similar unnecessary attacks on our members in the 2021 budget. There’s a lot on the line for SEIU 503 members in the November 3rd General Election. Let’s get to work, starting with getting one of our own, Deb Patterson, elected to the Senate!