There will be no more important committee than the Joint Ways and Means Committee this legislative session.
Put the word "powerful" in front of the committee title, as often is done, and it would be especially appropriate in 2011.
Legislators there will have to try to find a way to reach agreement on balancing the state budget for 2011-13 in the face of at least a $3.5 billion general fund revenue shortfall – and one that could grow as new forecasts are produced every quarter.
Even as negotiations over power-sharing arrangements continue between Republicans and Democrats in an evenly-divided House, it is interesting to speculate about which legislators might play key roles on the Ways and Means Committee.
The House co-chair of the Joint Committee, Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, will return to the legislature next year, but no one knows yet where he will land. He demonstrated last session an ability to be accessible and transparent in his leadership on the 2009-11 budget, and he is rumored to be getting a key Ways and Means role again.
On the Republican side, some observers are speculating that Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, could play a key role. A couple of weeks ago, he wrote an in-my-opinion piece for The Oregonian in which he discussed the extremity of the state's budget circumstances.
Other Democrats and Republicans with Ways and Means experience:
- Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, a key player in the past on human services issues;
- Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, who has served in the past as vice co-chair of the full committee; and,
- Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, who survived a primary challenge last May and will return to a position as the longest-serving member of the House.
On the Senate side, things are a bit clearer. Senate President-Elect Peter Courtney, D-Keizer, has nominated Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, to serve as Senate co-chair of the committee and Devlin has said he wants to take the position. In fact, Sen. Devlin told us last week, with a laugh in his voice, that he is the only legislator in Salem so far who has been given a specific committee assignment. On Ways and Means, he would use his previous experience on state budget issues to find a way to cut back, including in areas that are traditional political hot buttons.
There is a fairly deep bench of senators ready to continue serving on Ways and Means, including:
- Sen. Dave Nelson, R-Pendleton
- Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls
- Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem
- Sen. Al Bates, D-Ashland
- Sen. Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay