The state revenue report and work on COVID-19 liability were as important to schools as the hearings in the Legislature’s education committees last week.
The quarterly revenue forecast presented in a joint House and Senate revenue committees hearing held some surprising good news: State Economist Mark McMullen said the dire COVID-19 projected downturn had largely been forestalled.
"We’re talking about a $2 billion increase in the current biennium resources, which effectively erases what we had in terms of recession in the forecast," said McMullen. "We expect to end the biennium about the same as we did in March."
Although revenues are up significantly from the June 2020 forecast, longer-term forecasts are still lower than pre-COVID-19 numbers. The state is facing future budget shortfalls, although those shortfalls are significantly smaller than projected three months ago. McMullen also indicated that some of the boost was from the federal response to the COVID-19 emergency, which means the state is still likely facing a budget deficit in the 2021-23 biennium.
A review of the forecast also seems to indicate that many Oregonians are struggling. People of color and low-income Oregonians disproportionally bear the impacts. Without a further relief package from Congress to help stabilize the economy, the future is bleak for many Oregon businesses and communities.
“While revenue projections are up for this biennium, the revenue forecast did not balance our upcoming budget, and we must tread lightly,” said Gov. Kate Brown in a statement.
A joint hearing of the Senate and House Judiciary committees heard a proposal for limited liability for COVID-19 damages in the medical arena. Mark Bonanno of the Oregon Medical Association presented a potential new rule that would create a “narrow, but needed, assurance to health care providers that they will not be subjected to liability when following federal and state COVID rules.”
Rep. Karin Power gave the liability update for schools and business. After the June special session, Reps. Power, D-Milwaukie; Christine Drazan, R-Canby; and Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, and Sens. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and Lynn Findley, R-Vale, met as a small workgroup to discuss business and school liability protections.
The workgroup focused on people visiting businesses and not employees because the workers’ compensation system handles the employees, including school employees, who become ill with COVID-19. The group met right up to the Aug. 10 special session with no agreement.
During the committee meeting, legislators with school-aged children echoed the arguments for giving schools protection to bring back students. They expressed the frustration of having to juggle jobs and their students’ classroom work. They shared concerns for the mental health of students who cannot come into schools for their education and the increased challenges the underserved populations are experiencing.
“The committee got stuck on what is considered compliance to ODE guidance” that would allow for liability protections, Powers said in closing.
OSBA will continue to push for liability protection if a third special session forms and bring a bill into the 2021 session if needed.