The Oregonian headline tells the story: "Congratulations and complaints." Congratulations for handling the big issues of health, education and early learning reform. Complaints about the failure of a number of jobs bills.
Issues directly related to Oregon's economy tended to take a back seat during the short session in Salem, notwithstanding claims to the contrary in various post-session communications by legislators to their constituents.
In floor speeches on the Health Insurance Exchange (House Bill 4164), achievement compacts for school districts (Senate Bill 1581) and health care transformation (Senate Bill 1580), Democrats painted a picture of those major reforms mattering to small businesses in Oregon. Major business associations supported all of the reforms, but it is not clear that any of the bills will create jobs on their own.
Democratic leaders said as health care costs go down, businesses will have more money to invest in creating jobs. Legislators on both sides of the political aisle and Governor Kitzhaber deserve credit for taking on big issues such as health and education reform.
House Democratic Leader Tina Kotek, D-Portland, continued that theme in a piece in the Statesman-Journal, "We promised to give businesses the tools they need to grow and hire, stand up for middle-class Oregonians and prioritize the essential services Oregonians need most. Now that the dust has settled after last week's adjournment, I am happy to report that we delivered on those promises."
Republicans pointed out what was left on the cutting room floor during the legislative session and pointed the finger at Democratic opposition.
“With 190,000 unemployed Oregonians, the legislature’s inaction on jobs and the economy is inexcusable,” said House Republican Leader Kevin Cameron, R-Salem. “Nonetheless, House Republicans continued to work with the Governor and legislative Democrats to find common ground on other issues. We’ll continue to provide leadership on the economy and we won’t rest until more Oregonians are back to work.”
According to a news release from House Republicans, jobs bills that died included:
* House Bill 4097 to provide tax relief to lower and middle-income Oregonians
* House Bill 4101 to allow use of additional 450,000 acre feet of water from the Columbia River for irritation to boost direct farm and food-processing jobs
* House Bill 4103 to grant an income tax credit for capital improvements to business facilities or homes started before May 2012
* House Bill 4098 to increase sustainable harvest of timber in state-managed forest lands
* House Bill 4076 to reduce capital gains taxes for private property expansion begun before May 2011
* House Bill 4096 to encourage businesses to hire long-term unemployed Oregonians
Some observers and lobbyists found it hard to understand why jobs bills died in the session, given the stubborn recession in Oregon. From a Democratic perspective, why not create jobs to generate more tax revenue? There may have been some concern that the job-creation numbers bandied about — 50,000 over five years — were inflated. Then again, some asked, why not pass the bills even if only a few new jobs would result?
If the economy is driving the presidential nominating process, why isn't the "it's the economy, stupid" mantra driving state politics, both in a legislative session and on the campaign trail? Perhaps that priority will emerge in high-stakes Oregon legislative races between now and the November general election.
If campaigns in Oregon focus on economic issues, then the 2013 legislative session could produce a different result on jobs bills.