Sausage-Making in Full View

Watching a special legislative session is unavoidably like watching sausage being made, with all the ingredients spilled on the political table in full view.As the saying goes, it may be best not to see either laws or sausages being made. But that is hard to avoid when contemplating a legislative special session.

Governor Kitzhaber has hosted Oregon legislative leaders at Mahonia Hall this week to barter a deal to make deeper cuts in public employee retirement spending and raise taxes on large corporations and wealthier Oregonians to pump more money into K-12 education, higher education and mental health care. 

The so-called grand bargain Kitzhaber seeks isn't new. It was debated in the regular legislative session but never quite got enough political traction. 

Gaining political traction often requires introducing new components into the policy machinery. Senate Republicans, for example, want to include a tax cut for businesses that file as S corporations. The idea goes in the opposite direction of raising money, but at least it involves taxation.

Now, The Oregonian is reporting a more tangential topic has entered the picture — a proposal to ban local communities, except Jackson County, from placing a limit on genetically modified plants. Jackson County is exempted because it already has a ballot measure on the subject slated for a vote next year.

The local ban on genetically modified plant restrictions was debated in the regular session and failed to pass because of opposition from environmentalists and some farm groups. People close to the negotiations called this a "bargaining chip." It might just as well be called a foreign ingredient in a special session sausage.

As lawmakers wrap up their three-day Legislative Days in Salem, the wheeling and dealing to corral the votes for the grand bargain — and for an Oregon-led approach to the new I-5 Columbia River Bridge — is expected to intensify. Political caucuses met late Tuesday to review the emerging outlines of an agreement. But no one has jumped in front of microphone to declare the sausage is all sewed up. 

That still could happen today or maybe even next week, as long as it occurs before September 30, when Kitzhaber says he will call legislators into special session to roll out the final sausage.

Otto von Bismarck, who sometimes is credited for the "laws are like sausages" quote, did observe, "A statesman cannot create anything himself. He must wait and listen until he hears the steps of God sounding through events, then step up and grasp the hem of his garment." That would certainly be more fun to watch than sausage-making.