Oregon Budget Madness: A short-sighted game plan.

It’s the Final Four of Oregon Budget Madness, and the remaining critical services are leaving it all on the House and Senate floor. In the Elite Eight, Cover all Kids with Health Insurance narrowly defeated Expanding Mental Health Care Access in a down-to-the wire fight between two worthy opponents. As predicted, cuts to Employment-Related Daycare won the unwinnable game against Kicking 350,000 Oregonians Off Healthcare — a matchup neither side wanted and both tried to throw.

And so we find ourselves in the Final Four, where legislators again must make tough choices between services that Oregon families need. When important services like schools and healthcare end up fighting for scraps, it’s nearly impossible to root for one over the other. Typically, it comes down to which service faces the greatest crisis — a short-sighted game plan that fails to move Oregon forward.

But without enough funding to go around and Oregon’s dead-last corporate taxes muscling through to the finals yet again, the odds remain stacked against teachers, nurses, parents, students and advocates just trying to build a better Oregon. It’s a familiar storyline, and we’ve seen it play out in the same heartbreaking fashion for the past two decades.

This round, be sure to watch …

Expand mental health care access VS Fully fund the Quality Education Model

The matchup: Two crowd favorites that both deserve a big win are facing off in the Final Four. Fully funding both of these services would help hundreds of thousands, and both make a strong case.

If legislators invest in expanding mental health care access, more Oregonians can lead longer, healthier, more productive lives. A 2016 Mental Health America Study found that Oregon is among the worst states in the country when it comes to how easily adults and children can access needed mental health care. Expanding mental health care access is the right thing to do.

But funding the Quality Education Model makes a strong play, too. Oregon’s class sizes are the third largest in the nation and our graduation rate is the third lowest. Oregon legislators know that if we continue to underfund our schools, our students can’t get ahead. With teacher layoff announcements already starting — which means even larger class sizes — our schools are facing a crisis with the clock running out. If we don’t invest, it’s Oregon kids that lose.

Expanding mental health care access and fully funding the QEM share the same goal: leveling the playing field for Oregon families. It’s anyone’s game, but Oregon schools have a slight historic edge and are likely to eke out the win.

With choices like these, Oregon families just can’t win.

Predicted winner: Fully fund the QEM

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