Business leaders push legislative agenda in Salem

Business leaders push legislative agenda in Salem

Health care and education: Finishing the job

0113 TheRushOnSalem 02In 2011-12, business leaders helped pass landmark education reforms giving public universities more autonomy from the state and creating a new entity, the Oregon Education Investment Board, to make policy and funding decisions for all education levels, from preschool through college.

According to Betsy Earls, AOI’s education legislative representative, the higher-education discussion will focus on new governance structures and financial tools, including institutional governing boards, bonding authority and shared services between institutions. All eyes will also be on Oregon’s new chief education officer, Rudy Crew, whose proposals for boosting K-12 educational outcomes will help inform future discussions about school funding.

Business groups championing structural reforms will encounter opposition from parents and unions who are far more concerned about hiring more teachers and bringing down class sizes in schools decimated by budget cuts. “We are creating a system that has done a lot in the last few years to talk about accountability but is not providing revenue in service of those goals,” says BethAnne Darby, director of public affairs for the Oregon Education Association. The Educational Investment Board, she says, is “working on initiatives that are out of touch with what parents, students and teachers are worried about.”

0113 TheRushOnSalem 03In the health-care arena, one big push involves refining the two health-care models created last session: the health insurance exchange, intended to boost small business access to affordable insurance, and Coordinating Care Organizations (CCOs), which aim to deliver more efficient health-care services to state Medicaid recipients. Funding for CCOs is based on the hospital tax and insurance tax, both of which are set to expire next year. Negotiating renewal of the hospital tax is a top legislative priority, says Andy Van Pelt, chief operating officer for the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

In Oregon a supermajority vote of 60% is required to pass revenue increases. As Jarman points out, the CCO funding mechanism is one of several policy issues that will require a good working relationship between Democrats and Republicans.