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$2 billion deficit prompts tough questions at 2018 Oregon Leadership Summit on Monday.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Oregon House Republican Leader Carl WilsonFour state legislators tackled the $2 billion deficit in Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's proposed budget during a Monday afternoon panel discussion at the 2018 Oregon Leadership Summit.

Brown did not mention the need for the 2019 Oregon Legislature to increase taxes that much to fully fund her proposed budget when she addressed the summit early Monday.

But, a few hours later, the legislators said such a large increase was going to be a hard sell, especially if projected government cost increases — like Public Employees Retirement System premiums — are not reined in.

"No doubt, we've got to look at PERS reform," said state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.

The legislators spoke during a panel discussion on the work of the Legislative Committee on Student Success, a 13-member joint committee that has been touring school districts across the state to draft an education reform plan for the next session that includes new spending proposals. State Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, said the additional needs will probably exceed $2 billion when the committee's recommendations are finalized and released next week.

That prompted House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, to say his constituents don't understand why the Legislature needs to raise taxes at all, considering that the state is currently collecting record tax revenues because of Oregon's strong economy.

"The 22 Republicans still in the House for the most part represent 'Red Oregon,' and they know how much $2 billion is. That's a tax increase that's going to grab a lot of Red Oregon's attention," Wilson said.

The fourth panelist, state Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, did not endorse any specific tax increases or cost containment measures, but said Oregon must improve its schools and anything the Legislature does must be bipartisan.

"We need to engage members and set up working groups, including one on cost containment," said Roblan, who co-chaired the school committee that was modeled after one that crafted the successful transportation funding package passed by the 2017 Oregon Legislature.

Roblan said that other work groups will look at potential revenue-raising measures and accountability measures to ensure that any new money is actually spent where the Legislature intends.

The panel was moderated by Sandra McDonough, the former president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, who was recently hired as director of Oregon Business & Industry, a statewide business advocacy organization.

The summit was sponsored by the Oregon Business Council, Oregon Business & Industry and the Portland Business Alliance.

The three organizations also drafted the 2018 Oregon Business Plan at the center of the summit, which calls for more state spending on education.

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