Push to Adjourn Follows Weekend Off

Legislators came close to adjourning late last week, but decided to take the weekend off and return today for the final push.
Standing in the way is an agreement on the Corrections Department and a way to fill a $20 million budget hole.

Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, left, and Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, are key architects in the final budget deals needed before legislative adjournment this week.Here's the way one legislator, Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, put it in a newsletter to his constituents:

"Two weeks ago, I expected we would have adjourned this legislative session by last Friday, June17th. Last Friday I expected we would be adjourned by Wednesday, June 22nd. Last Wednesday I expected we would be adjourned by today, Friday, June 24th. Today I have no idea how long this session will continue. Constitutionally, it must adjourn by July 10th, the final date allowed for the session without a 2/3 vote.

"There were reasons why the session did not end before today and all of those obstacles have been removed. So, why has this legislature failed to adjourn and stop the daily costs of remaining in session? Are the costly delays of remaining in session justifiable or unnecessary, strategic or political? You decide.

"The only substantial budget remaining is that of the Department of Corrections (DOC). As mentioned in last week’s newsletter, there was a $21 million hole that needs to be filled to balance the DOC Budget. Today, the deficit has been pared down to $18 million.

"The Legislative Fiscal Office has identified more than $25 million in 2011-13 savings resulting from unissued bonding. The House Republicans are ready and willing to conclude this legislative session by balancing the DOC budget using these ample and available general fund savings."

Now, if you were talking to a Democrat, he or she might have a different take on the stalemate.

Meanwhile, legislators completed work late last week on a number of important issues:

  • Agreed ignition locks should be placed on cars driven by persons convicted of drunk driving offenses.  In a nod to technology, the locks require drivers to take and pass a breathalyzer test before the car will start.
  • Approved two new special license plates – one recognizing Oregon "Wine Country" and the othersupporting child abuse prevention programs. For the latter, it took three sessions to approve the plate because some legislators believed there are too many specialty plates.
  • Approved a scaled-down package of tax credits, one of the most contentious subjects of legislative debate all session. In her Senate floor speech, one of the architects of the deal, Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, recited statistics to illustrate what she called the "benefits of the final bill:" The cost of tax credits in 2011-13 will go down from $40 million to $10 million; in 2013-15, the cost will drop from $170 million to $53 million; and in 2015-17, the cost will drop from $294 million to $73 million, an indication, Burdick said, that "all tax credits have tails."
  • Set the stage for final action on the "health care transformation" approach embodied in House Bill 3650. As it heads to the House and Senate floors for final action, legislators will face huge decisions on a new way to provide health care for low-income Oregonians, an approach revolving around what are called "Coordinated Care Organizations" that has not been tried anywhere in the country.  The idea is to get decisions on health care closer to where services are delivered, but the rubber will meet the road in 2012 when the new approach is supposed to save $240 million in state general fund dollars, a prospect many legislators feel is far to optimistic.

Let's hope legislators return to the Capitol Monday rested an ready for the final push. Key issues remain to be resolved, including a deal on the prison budget, a final list of projects to be funded by state bonds, including $40 million for Connect Oregon 4 (an approach to fund freight mobility projects around the state) and the traditional end-of-session "Christmas Tree" bill, which is usually decorated with a number of small ornaments designed to help legislators say they "brought money home to their districts.

Still, with money in short supply, the Christmas tree bill has been a "Christmas Twig" this time.


Footnote:  The author, CFM partner Dave Fiskum, is involved in some of the issues described above, but as usual in this blobg, he has tried to observe and report, not advocate.

Photo caption: Legislative budget leaders Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin (left), and Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Gold Beach, along with Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, had a tough road to hoe this session to match Oregon's two-year budget to a $3.5 billion deficit. The only thing left now is the corrections budget and a $20 million budget hole.