Legislature Adjourns, Post-Mortems Commence

Tired and worn down, Oregon lawmakers finally adjourn, but Senate President Peter Courtney apparently hasn't given up on a possible budget deal that eluded lawmakers in the 2013 session.Before you could say Sine Die, emails started flying describing the 2013 Oregon legislative session successes and disappointments.

Some rued the lack of a "Grand Bargain" on increased tax revenue and deeper cuts in the Public Employees Retirement System. Others pointed out individual successes, such as Rep. Brent Barton, D-Clackamas, who touted legislative approval of a $5 million investment for the Willamette Falls redevelopment "located at the heart of my district." A few deplored specific bills, such as Senator Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, who bewailed a bill dealing with tenants using Section 8 housing vouchers.

Oregon Pubic Broadcasting's Chris Lehman posted a story about a session of "missed opportunities." Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli was blunter, saying the 2013 session held promise for historic decision-making that didn't pan out. Treasurer Ted Wheeler applauded the legislature for sending his Opportunity Initiative to generate more money for college student aid to the November 2014 election ballot. 

Pretty much everybody, except Senator Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, took bows for increasing K-12 school funding by a $1 billion. Edwards thought it should have been more to avoid teacher layoffs and shrunken school schedules that will still face some districts around the state.

And there was something for almost everybody in the $1 billion lottery bonding measure, affectionately known around the Capitol as the Christmas tree bill. It contained $79.4 million for a new state hospital in Junction City, $15 million for Multnomah County Courthouse improvements, $10 million for the proposed convention center hotel and $618 million in assorted investments at public universities and community colleges. 

Lawmakers approved $34.5 million to undertake a major remodeling and seismic upgrade for the Oregon Capitol, which will involve a temporary home for the legislature while the building is jacked up and put on huge springs.

Lawmakers staved off higher college tuition increases and gave state universities authority to create independent governing bodies, but failed to approve a reorganization of higher education as Governor Kitzhaber proposed. 

Despite the mix of post-mortems, it won't take long for talk to begin on interim legislative activity and for fundraising appeals to hit people's inboxes. 

The most intriguing post-session hint came from Kitzhaber and Senate President Peter Courtney about continued efforts to cut a revenue-PERS deal, which could be considered at a special session later this year. 

Health transformation, aided by extension of a hospital provider tax to sustain the Oregon Health Plan over the next two years, will continue, while education reform suffered a hiccup with the departure of Rudy Crew as Oregon education czar after only a year on the high-profile job. However, lawmakers found money to invest in new teacher preparation and training existing teachers in skill mastery instruction. The University of Oregon is likely to speed formation of its own governing board.

The new state biennium already has started and it's only about a half year until the legislature reconvenes for its shorter, even-year session. It may seem like lawmakers never left town.