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.

In the latter case, the increased state tax revenue estimated in the forecast last week already has had what Democrat members of the Ways and Means Human Services Subcommittee label as a "beneficial effect."  Some of the "new money" has been proposed for allocation to the Department of Human Services to avoid the difficult tentative decisions to limit welfare recipients to 18 months of benefits for their lifetimes.  hat is now gone, as are proposals for early release of juvenile offenders from such facilities as MacLaren School in Woodburn.

The human services budget is still delicately balanced, with huge cuts in store for the state's Medicaid programs that could ripple out to affect all Oregonians. Proposals call for hospitals, doctors and others to take as much as a 19 percent cut in reimbursements to care for Medicaid recipients, which would put overall reimbursement rates at about half of the cost of services. In response, the fear is that some doctors may just stop seeing Medicaid recipients, which would put added pressure on hospital emergency rooms that under federal law always must stay open to all-comers.

Two tax issues could be part of the final budget decisions. One is a proposal to increase hospital taxes, using new money to garner federal matching funds and thus cushioning the blow of Medicaid cuts. Negotiations are under way with Oregon hospitals to determine if they will accept a tax increase  imposed by administrative action. The other tax relates to insurance premium taxes, which so far have generated more revenue than needed to cover expanded children's health insurance coverage. Some legislators want to re-direct the money to other purposes related to children, Negotiations are under way there as well.

The Ways and Means leader who spoke to CFM said the budget decisions will not hold up the legislature.  "If we are here past June 17," he said, "for the first time in history, the reason will be that policy bills are still under consideration."

Note:  The writer of this blog, CFM Partner Dave Fiskum, has been a lobbyist in Salem for more than 20 years and represents health care clients.