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Protestors line Capitol halls to jeer lawmakers' education budget
SALEM — Members of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means had to walk through crowds of jeering protestors Tuesday, June 6, to vote on a state education budget.
The majority of the 23-member committee voted to approve the $8.2 billion, two-year budget.
Several hundred demonstrators gathered at the Capitol to say the amount was not enough. Before the meeting, they formed a human tunnel leading into the committee's hearing room and chanted, "$8.2 just won't do."
"Members of the Senate came down here before members of the House, and they walked through the entire conflict, not just the short gantlet, … to get here," said Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, co-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. "I respect the people's right to actually protest what action we're taking, but I was disheartened by this, because I don't think the people out there understood all of the difficult decisions each of you who serves on one of our subcommittees has made … to get to $8.2."
Oregon students attend class an average of three weeks per year less than other public school students in the nation, said Rep. David Gomberg, D-Central Coast.
"After 12 years, our kids are suffering a year less time in the classroom than average kids. Certainly, that affects their ability to go out in the world and thrive and succeed," Gomberg said.
Even though the amount is more than 11 percent greater than the existing education budget, some school officials say increases in expenses mean they will have make reductions in spending, including potential cuts in staff, services or hours.
"The budget … does not really address the cost drivers, so it's not going to help us to get more teachers and reduce class sizes," Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, said, referring to increasing costs in pension and health insurance costs.
Whisnant and two other Republicans, House Minority Leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte and John Huffman of The Dalles, voted against the education budget.
'Budget is sound'
Several demonstrators burst into the meeting carrying a banner that said, "No Toxic Budget! People Over Profit." The message was identified on the banner as coming from the Democratic Socialists of America.
Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, later chastised the demonstrators.
"This budget is sound. It is over a $150 million more than current service level. More than current service level," Monroe repeated with emphasis. "It is certainly hundreds of millions of dollars more than the governor recommended."
"We ought to be applauded, not jeered," he added.
After the vote, protestors marched through the main floor of the Capitol chanting slogans such as "Oregon can't wait." Their voices boomed against the interior of the Capitol dome and could be heard in the state building's basement.
"I am going to add my voice to those who are expressing the point that this isn't enough. This is the best we can do as of this week, as of this day," said Rep. Nancy Nathanson, co-chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee.
"I remain committed to looking for additional resources. It's not over 'til it's over."
Less than five weeks remain of the legislative session.