While the COVID-19 pandemic gradually became a politicized issue and fights rage about masks, statistics and death rates, the real issue has faded into the general white noise of the modern American tapestry.

That issue, of course, is the financial impact the pandemic will have on the nation and, most importantly, on individual states.

Drawing battle lines in the sand about who should wear a mask and how deaths related to COVID-19 are fine for a while, but as our attention is diverted, real problems have cropped up with few, if any, answers.

A good example will take place this week when the Oregon Legislature meets for a special session. The special session focus will be on the nearly $2 billion shortfall in state general fund tax revenues. That means many of the programs we all take for granted are going to face the budget axe and one of those on the chopping block — natural resource programs — is especially relevant to rural communities like Wallowa County.

Money for key programs, such as the Oregon State University’s Extension Service and its Forest Research Laboratory are projected to be cut by as much as $7 million. The extension service plays an important role in rural counties and a holdup on agriculture research could create major problems in the future.

The Oregon Farm Bureau, along with the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, the Oregon Association of Nurseries and other groups, recently united to urge lawmakers to not slash funding for the OSU Extension Service and we sincerely hope the state’s elected leaders take heed.

Budget cuts because of the pandemic are inevitable, but how those slashes are made is important. Lawmakers must work hard to ensure the budget axe falls equally, which may be quite a task. Everyone, of course, will wish the other department or program — and not theirs — is cut.

The nation, and portions of the state, have spent a great deal of time bemoaning COVID-19 restrictions. It is the right of Americans to voice their opinions. Yet, as the pandemic has grown stronger and reached more places, the focus should have been on how we weather this storm financially. Now our lawmakers face a historic and drastic course of action with the budget. Those cuts they develop will impact every one of us.

We hope, though, that key agriculture programs are not gutted with little recognition of their importance in rural Eastern Oregon.

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