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East County leaders listen to concerns at town hall session

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Gresham, Troutdale legislators share possible solutions to budget crisis at town hall.

OUTLOOK PHOTO - A poster from the event. It's all about the money.

With a state budget shortfall estimated at $1.8 billion, cuts to Oregon schools and other social services have become plausible, if not inevitable.

This weekend, legislators opened their ears — not their mouths — during a town hall-style listening session. Petitioners spoke for about two hours on Saturday, March 4, at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization building on Northeast Glisan Street in Portland. Whether it was a superintendent or a football player at the mic, almost everyone said they needed more funding, not less.

The Outlook caught up with three East Multnomah County legislators after the event. Read on to learn about their takeaways, roadblocks and possible solutions.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Rep. Chris GorsekRep. Chris Gorsek

Representing: District 49 spans Troutdale, Wood Village, Fairview and portions of east Gresham.

What he heard: "We heard very loud and clear the impact of proposed budgets on education, and working in education myself, I've seen this all the time. Mt. Hood (Community College) has some serious problems, and this will only exacerbate that."

How it got this bad: Rep. Gorsek places part of the blame on Measure 5, a citizen initiative that capped property taxes for school funding at $5 per $1,000. It was approved by voters in 1990.

"Measure 5 had a very good goal, (and) that was to stop property taxes from pushing people out of their housing," he explained. "The problem was Measure 5 was designed to start a discussion about how we could generate different revenue. Instead, we've never done that."

Possible solutions: "Current corporate taxes are like nine or 10 percent. There are a couple of different proposals that would bring it down to one percent, but change it by spreading it out."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Rep. Carla PilusoRep. Carla Piluso

Representing: District 50 covers most Gresham residents south of Burnside Road.

What she heard: "The need to do something about corporate taxes is what I heard most," she said. "People are really concerned and really frightened."

Possible Solutions: "We have to focus on the revenue, and how we generate that revenue," Piluso explained. She mentioned a focus on income tax or a sales tax as two possible solutions.

Are cuts coming?: "I don't have the answer to that question until we continue to do the process," Piluso noted. "We're still starting, but we're moving pretty darn fast."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Rep. Diego HernandezRep. Diego Hernandez

Representing: District 47 primarily serves East Portland and Rockwood. Rep. Hernandez also sits on the Reynolds School Board.

What he heard: "I think a clear message (was) that, in Oregon, big business (isn't) contributing at the level of individual taxpayers," he said. "(As legislators), we shouldn't pit social services against higher education against K-12 education, or against housing and other vital services."

What Republicans want: "They want taxes that won't discourage corporations from coming here and investing in this state and creating more jobs," he said. "They are interested in making sure we get spending under control, but there hasn't been (many) proposals about what we should cut."

Possible solutions: "We have really high income taxes and a broken property tax system," Hernandez said. "I'm very optimistic that we can come up with a solution on a business tax, potentially some property tax reform."