As Oregon Burns, Legislature Wants to Cut Forestry Funds; Gov. Brown Threatens Veto

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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a is planning to veto upcoming budget proposals that would cut funds to the forestry department as wildfires continue to ravage the state. Brown addressed the planned veto in an open letter sent Monday to State House Speaker Tina Kotek, and Senate President Peter Courtney.

All three are Democrats.

As of Tuesday, the wildfires along northern and western Oregon have burned through over 850,000 acres of land across the state. The three largest fires southeast of Portland account for over half the damage with around 490,000 acres burned.

“Given the advent of the wildfires, which occurred since the adjournment of the Second Special Session, I am writing to you today to outline vetoes that I intend to make to ensure that state agencies fighting wildfires have necessary resources in place to respond to the ongoing statewide wildfires state of emergency,” Brown said in the letter.

The proposed budget would results in cuts around $65 million to the Oregon Forestry Department. Brown said to she would issue other veto spending proposals in the budget to compensate for blocking the cuts.

“In addition to those vetoes, I am also serving notice my intention to veto a small number of single items in these appropriation bills that will ensure that the state budget remains in balance,” Brown said.

“Taken together, these vetoes increase the state’s ending balance by over $65 million of a total of $164.3 million in General Fund and $16.7 million in Lottery Fund.”

Some within the state legislation were apprehensive about the proposed vetoes.

Danny Moran, a spokesman for Kotek, said she was worried about Brown’s proposed veto of funds meant for the agencies overseeing the state’s coronavirus response. 

Oregon hasn’t been hit as hard as other states, but Moran said health officials still struggled with higher caseloads caused by the pandemic and withholding funds could make responding to potential outbreaks harder. The Oregon Health Authority said the wildfires only made it worse because the poor air quality is causing a surge of patients with asthma-related symptoms.

“Even in some places where there may be limited improvement at some times, that means dropping from one bad air category to the next worst category,” OHA Environmental Public Health Section Manager Gabriela Goldfarb told Portland ABC-affiliate KATU. “We’re seeing that play out with health impacts to our community.”

As of Tuesday, Oregon has 29,337 confirmed cases and 509 reported deaths from coronavirus.

Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod was far more critical of the planned veto.

“Governor Brown wants more money for fire suppression and state police, but only with an emergency actively burning down the state’s doorstep,” Girod said in a press release. “After years of cutting these budgets, the action is a day late and a dollar short.”

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