Yesterday, the March 2021 Revenue Forecast was presented to the legislature. This is the fourth forecast capturing the impact of COVID-19 on Oregon’s economy and the first of 2021. Even with some business sectors restricted by Oregon’s COVID-19 rules, Oregon’s tax revenue is holding steady.

General Fund and other major revenues are now slightly up from pre-COVID-19 levels. An ending balance of $1,232.5 million above the 2019 close-of-session estimation is projected. 

To date, the revenue losses in the current recession pale in comparison to Oregon’s recent experiences. Job losses over the past year match the worst of the Great Recession, however revenue declines are much less severe. This is contributed to federal aid packages, stronger personal savings heading into the recession and steady business income.

One surprise from the forecast was that healthy revenue collections are putting Oregon’s kicker into play. Following a booming first half of the biennium, Oregon’s General Fund revenue outlook was very close to the kicker threshold when the pandemic hit. After filling all of the recessionary hole, the March 2021 forecast calls for collections to exceed the threshold by $170 million (0.9%), resulting in a kicker credit of $571 million. However, this kicker credit is far from a sure thing. Oregon has the uncertainty of one more tax season left in the biennium.

Lottery revenues have been the hardest hit by state COVID-19 restrictions. The majority of Oregon lottery sales come from video games in Oregon bars and restaurants. As indoor dining has been restricted or closed, lottery revenues have plummeted. However, long-term revenues are expected to rise to improving economic outlook and strong lottery sales in recent weeks. Economist recognize that risks to lottery sales include an over estimate on the pent-up demand for entertainment, competition for entertainment as the economy reopens and future health restrictions due to hot spots.

Although this forecast is a welcome sight, budget writers still face a challenging environment this session. They must balance the increased needs of the state. Recent estimates for Medicare and Medicaid caseload growth have been as high as $400 million. Human services caseload estimates are beginning to show the impact of pandemic-related job losses, and the state continues to face significant expenditure needs associated with the wildfires that occurred in September. 

Long-term revenue growth is expected to remain modest during the 2021-23 budget period. Overall resources expected to be roughly flat over three budget cycles (excluding CAT). While much better than in most recessions, revenue gains are not fast enough to keep up with rising need and cost of public services.

We anticipate the Tri-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means will wait until after a federal relief package reaches the President’s desk to issue their budget framework, a document we will likely see in early April. 

The legislature will receive the next quarterly revenue forecast on May 19th. This will be the baseline that is used to finalize the 21-23 biennial budget.

Thank you to our colleagues at University of Oregon for contributing to this report.

Oregon’s legislative session convened on January 19th. How the legislators conduct their business is heavily impacted by COVID-19. The State Capitol will remain closed until Marion County reaches OHA’s classification of low risk. All committee work will happen virtually through session, and currently, legislators are holding their constituent and lobbyist meetings solely in virtual settings.

Budgetary issues remain OSU’s top priorities for the 2021 legislative session. While several legislators recognize the need for investing in higher education, the legislative process on these budgets will begin later in the session.

The higher education budget hearings have not yet been scheduled, but are expected to take plan in late March/early April. One of the challenges with the Oregon Legislature’s virtual hearings schedule is a limitation on the number of meetings that can take place at one time. This means that the Ways & Means Subcommittees are restricted to about half the meetings they would normally hold, dramatically less time to learn about the vast amount of programing offered by Oregon higher education and specifically at OSU.

The limited time for committees makes it even more important legislators hear from OSU stakeholders and supporters. OSU Statewides Advocacy Day is planned for March 24th and OSU Day is May 6th. These traditional in-person lobby days will be moved to virtual formats. You can register for Statewides Day at this link: https://beav.es/J7c

The legislative policy committees are busy at work to meet their deadline of March 19th for scheduling bills for work sessions in their first chamber policy committees. The following OSU priorities have seen action early in the session:

Credit Transfer: The Statewide Provost Council are pursuing the establishment of common course numbering and a state Transfer Council. These concepts are under discussion in a work group led by Senate Education Chair Michael Dembrow. SB 233 is the likely bill vehicle for this concept moving forward.

Basic Needs Navigators: The House Education Committee has held a hearing on HB 2835 which funds a basic needs a navigator position on every community college and public university campus to help students access the local, state and federal benefits they are eligible for.

Hemp: OSU has been engaging with a coalition to bring back legislation from 2020 that would establish a hemp commodity commission (HB 2284) and update the Oregon state plan on hemp (HB 2281).

Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia: Representative Gomberg has introduced HB 3114 to fund research at OSU addressing ocean acidification and hypoxia. It has recently been assigned to the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and expected for a hearing in late March.

Additionally, our faculty have provided testimony on a multitude of issues including cultural competency standards, textbook affordability, water quality, meat processing and wildfire management.

Last week, the Oregon Legislature held a historic, semi-virtual special session. Convened by the Governor, the session sought to address policy bills related to COVID-19, policing reform and a handful of pressing issues carried over from the February session. The State Capitol remained closed to the general public and most staff as the legislature conducted their business through a mixture of in-person voting sessions and virtual committee meetings.

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Oregon Primary Highlights

Oregon held its primary election on May 19th. Results can be found here. Oregon’s U.S. Senate and Congressional incumbents all won their primary and will continue on to the general election. COVID-19 and social distancing definitely changed how candidates ran their campaigns. The traditional candidate forums and debates moved to web-based platforms, door-to-door canvasing became direct phones calls and digital ads, and opportunities to mingle with voters at community events were canceled.

However, COVID did not impact Oregon voter turnout as was seen in other states. Oregon’s commitment to vote-by-mail paid off with one of the highest state voter turnouts in the national 2020 primary election. This was also Oregon’s first election with prepaid envelopes, making voting so easy that 46% turnout almost seems too low.

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Over the past three months, all of our lives have been impacted in unimaginable ways. The OSU Government Relations team hopes this update finds you and your family healthy and safe.

Since mid-March, OSU has been operating under the Governor’s Higher Education and Stay Home Executive Orders. Our spring term courses moved to remote delivery. This took extraordinary efforts by OSU’s faculty, graduate teaching assistants, advisors and staff to make this switch in just a two-week span. Over 4,000 courses have moved to remote delivery.

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COVID-19 Response

On Sunday, March 8th, Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency in Oregon due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Since the declaration, the Legislature’s Emergency Board has allocated $5 million towards the crisis and a special joint legislative committee on Coronavirus Response has been assembled by legislative leadership.

On Wednesday, March 11th, Oregon State University announced guidelines to protect students and employees from COVID-19 community spread. To facilitate the ongoing sharing of information about the virus, Oregon State University has added a link on the OSU homepage to a new page that provides detailed and up-to-date COVID-19 information; links to OSU, local, state and federal resources; updates on the latest federal travel restrictions; and previous university communications about the virus and other information. The web site includes a memo released this week about plans for remote final exams and remote teaching.

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