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Entries in ways & means (6)


Budget Issues Still Dominate After Session Adjourns

Balancing the budget was the dominant challenge in the 2011 legislative session. It still is an issue today as one Ways and Means leader underlines potentially shaky assumptions that underlie the state's balanced budget for the next two years.

Rep. Dennis Richardson had a hand in crafting the state budget but sees flaws in it.Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, as House co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, was in the back room as budget decisions were made during the session. His recent newsletter says: "To reach a compromise between the Republicans and Democrats of both the House and Senate, so that a budget could be passed, we chose the road of 'assumptions.'"
Richardson rates five of them as risky:

  • Assuming that $239 million of savings will be identified by the Oregon Health Authority’s health transformation initiative.
  • Assuming that $51 million of savings will be identified by the Department of Human Services’ long-term care transformational initiative.
  • Assuming that $28 million will be saved by the Department of Corrections in “unspecified reductions."
  • Assuming that $19 million will be “loaned” from the Common School Fund to the Senior Property Tax Deferral program; the loan will need to be paid back before the end of the 2011-13 biennium, yet there is no source of revenue identified from which to fund the pay-back;
  • Assuming that $310 million from the ending balance will be allocated in the February 2012 session to avoid 7 per cent of additional cuts in agency and program budgets.  
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A Look at 2011 Legislative Leaders

Much has been written about the just-completed 2011 session of the Oregon legislature, but perhaps not enough about the key political personalities who drove the process and will be in charge when legislators reconvene next february.

Here's our take on key leaders:

Legislative leaders 

Sen. Peter Courtney (left) and Reps. Arnie Roblan and Bruce HannaThe three top presiding officers – Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Keizer; Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay; and Rep. Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg – have received a lot of credit for the reasonable conduct of legislative affairs this session.  They deserve it.  Their personalities, very different individually, meshed well and they combined to avoid the acrimony of the 2009 session. No doubt the nearly even split in control – 30 to 30 in the House and 16 to 14 for Democrats in the Senate left no choice but to reach agreement or get nothing done. That left The Oregonian to posit that split control should be the new norm in legislative sessions.

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Disparate Leaders Guide Ways and Means

It would be hard to find three more disparate lawmakers than those who will be at the center of budget debates over the next month as the legislature pushes to adjourn on time.

A lot rides on the outcome for those interested in spending for K-12 schools, higher education, cops and prisons and social services.  So it makes sense to consider the backgrounds of the three co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which when referred to stories by the media, often carries the adjective, "powerful Ways and Means Committee."  The three co-chairs are:

  • Representative Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point
  • Representative Peter Buckley, D-Ashland
  • Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin

In the House, Richardson and Buckley reflect the political divide in a body that is under split control for the first time in history, with 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats. Richardson comes from the right and Buckley from the left. 

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Legislature to Adjourn in a Month

A rumor is circulating around the Capitol that legislators are trying to adjourn by June 17. Hard to tell if this can happen or not.

A Joint Ways and Means Committee leader told CFM this week the goal for the budget-writing panel is to finish its work by June 6 or 7. Then it will take another 10 days or so to process all the floor votes and paperwork.

A complication is that only one major general fund budget – the one for K-12 education – has moved on both the House and Senate floors. In the House, the school budget passed by a 32-28 vote when both caucuses agreed to provide the necessary 16 votes to secure passage. The same could happen for other general fund budgets, including those for higher education, law enforcement, prisons and human services.

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Ways and Means Road Hearings Start Soon

The tradition persists, session after session: The Joint Ways and Means Committee, all 25 members, goes on a road trip. Over the next two weeks, the committee will host public hearings in four locations around the state.

The goal, according to committee leaders, is to get public comment on the state's two-year budget. Because of the down state of the economy, legislators can expect to get an earful from constituents about proposed budget cuts.

Ways and Mean co-chairs released their proposed budget last month.

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The Biggest Issue? No Question, the State Budget

Legislative leaders are stretching every state dollar as far as it will go.The weekend edition of The Oregonian carried a story describing what it called "the menu of options" as everyone in Salem focuses on the tone, character and content of the state budget.  It is the biggest issue facing lawmakers now and in the 2011 regular session of the legislature, when there will be a new governor in office.

Legislators met for three days of committee meetings and, while other committees met, the Legislative Emergency Board was at center stage.  It found "emergency fund" money to cushion the blow of governor-ordered across-the-board budget – $2.5 million for the Oregon Youth Authority, $4.4 million for the State Police and $754,000 for district attorney salaries.  Earlier, money had been given to K-12 education and long-term care for senior citizens.  On tap for December is money to make sure the Corrections Department doesn't have to release prisoners early.

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