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Lawmakers make trip home, talk schools

 April 17, 2005


As it is in Salem, so it is in Klamath Falls when it comes to the state budget: Questions about school finance are paramount.

The area's three legislators came home for a town hall meeting on Saturday afternoon at the Klamath County Government Center.

The talk turned quickly to the debate about how much the state will supply to local school districts over the next two years.

The legislators said that, even at best, aid to schools will not meet all of the needs, and the Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature have not reached an agreement on how much to give elementary and secondary education.

"We're about $150 million apart," said Rep. Bill Garrard, one of the three Republican legislators from the area.

Garrard said the Democrats want to give education about $150 million more than the Republicans, who are unwilling to reduce funding for other programs to that extent.

"We're facing the same old questions and the same old problems so far as funding education is concerned," he said.

The primary difficulty legislators face is the increase in costs for employee benefits, said Sen. Doug Whitsett.

"The escalation in health care costs; that's unbelievable," said Rep. George Gilman, who represents northern Klamath County as part of his central Oregon district.

"We're not going to raise taxes," he said. "We're just not going to do it. We know the people of Oregon are not in the mood to pay more taxes."

Even when the topic was appropriations for something else, schools got into the act.

Mike O'Brien, executive director of Klamath Basin Senior Citizens, said state funding for senior citizens has been cut for the last four years, and there's not enough money to meet all of the requests for the Meals on Wheels program.

When education gets more, the senior citizens get less, he said.

"I love kids - I've got six of them. But this is a heck of a way to treat the senior population," O'Brien said. "This has got to stop."

On a non-finance issue, Gilman said the Legislature made a mistake in the new laws related to vehicle speed limits in school zones that went into effect last year.

He said the Legislature will change them this time around. The main change will be 20 mph limit from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday unless there's a flashing light. In that instance, the flashing light will take precedence, he said.

The new speed limit will not be in effect during the summer when regular classes are not held, he said.

Klamath Falls City Council member Bud Hart contended that a statement in a Herald and News editorial on Wednesday was inaccurate. The statement was "The Legislature passed a bill several years ago that allows the city to keep secret its agreement with PPM."

Hart said the agreement with PPM Energy is available to been seen at Klamath Falls City Hall upon request and copies of it are available for a fee.





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