Legislative End Games in Play

Every legislative end game boils down to budgets and taxes, but in Washington, the end game may involve furloughs for some state employees, while in Oregon it may mean higher prices for cigar smokers.

Every legislative end game boils down to budgets and taxes, but in Washington, the end game may involve furloughs for some state employees, while in Oregon it may mean higher prices for cigar smokers.

The final countdowns in the Washington and Oregon legislatures have very different characters. Washington's governor is sending out notices to state employees about a partial government shutdown, while Oregon's governor is working across party lines to negotiate a transportation funding measure.

End games in state legislatures can be very similar. Big issues left to the end become magnets for marathon haggling. Lawmakers who have some political leverage in theirs committees or caucuses exert it to bring home a prize for his or her district or salvage a personal legislative priority. Almost always, end games center on budgets and taxes.

The Washington budget hovers around $38 billion, but negotiators are hung up over a difference of about $350 million. Democrats, who control the Washington House, wanted to close the gap with a capital gains tax. Republicans, who control the Senate, wanted to plug the hole with spending cuts.

The compromise, which House Democrats have floated, is to generate some additional revenue by closing "loopholes." One of those loopholes is the sales tax exemption for Oregon residents.

There is little chance in Oregon, where Democrats control the House and Senate by solid margins, of a budget meltdown. Oregon lawmakers much earlier in the session approved the K-12 school budget and continuation of Medicaid funding. Big budgets for the Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority are on their way to passage.

Lawmakers in Oregon are wrestling with how to pass a transportation funding bill, increase the minimum wage and a relatively small tax measure that affects things such as fine cigars and long-term insurance tax credits to pay for extension of low-income tax credits, which will expire.

The tax hike married to extending tax credits has drawn partisan boos from House Republicans who see it as a way to skirt the constitutional requirement for a three-fifths majority to pass tax increases. A key Senate Democratic leader hasn't sounded too thrilled with the idea, either.

Tensions will build and lawmakers will be run through the gauntlet so they are weary enough to bend just enough to vote for what is needed to go home. But the road home in Washington is significantly more dicey, especially for the state employees who will be receiving furlough notices.