Ways & Means

What an Effective Lobbyist Really Does

Good lobbyists do a lot more than schmoozing and handing out campaign cash. Their work to pass or kill bills is strenuous, stressful and sometimes monotonous, and it can span multiple legislative sessions.

Good lobbyists do a lot more than schmoozing and handing out campaign cash. Their work to pass or kill bills is strenuous, stressful and sometimes monotonous, and it can span multiple legislative sessions.

Getting a bill passed is a lot more complicated than you may think. Rarely does legislation follow a straight line from its introduction to the day it lands on the governor's desk for a signature. And big campaign contributions don’t always mean success.

Lobbyists earn their pay by doing much more than drafting legislation, talking it up with the lawmakers on the committee where it will be sent and schmoozing in the lobby to round up enough votes. Lobbyists are worth their weight in gold when they anticipate what could go wrong on the legislative journey and take steps to avoid deadly detours.

To outsiders, lobbyists look like men and women who live the life – golfing, dining and hanging out with people with voting cards and the power to pass or kill a bill. If that’s all a lobbyist did, he or she might not be all that successful.

Anticipation starts before a bill is written or dropped. Lobbyists read the situation to see if the climate is right for a measure to make it. If, for example, Democrats control the legislature, right-to-work legislation has a slim to no chance of seeing the light of day, let alone getting adopted.

Assuming the climate is either conducive, or at least not problematic, the next thing to anticipate is the attitudes toward the bill of the chairs of the House and Senate committees where it would be referred. In the Oregon legislature, committee chairs have the power to “sit” on a bill and never give it a hearing or give it merely a perfunctory hearing.

A lobbyist will talk with committee chairs to see if they support or are at least okay with a bill and to find out what questions they have and background information they want. Some bills can be referred to more than one committee. This can be both a problem and an opportunity for a lobbyist. One way to get around a dissenting committee chair is to seek a referral to another committee with a more welcoming chair. Double committee referrals can be encouraged, which provides a lobbyist who opposes a bill twice the opportunity to erect roadblocks to stop it.

While committee chairs have the power over bills when they arrive in their possession, the presiding officers of the House and Senate are the ones with the power to decide where or where not to send bills. This is the next stop on the lobbyist's path to success to ensure the House Speaker or Senate President doesn’t send a bill to a committee where it will wind up stillborn.

All this activity occurs – or should occur – before a bill is introduced. Then the fun really begins.

Lobbyists need to prepare materials that explain the bill and its purpose. Complex bills require detailed explanations, which have to be clear and crisp or risk having the eyes of lawmakers glaze over.

Lobbyists will meet with legislators, especially the ones who sit on the committees where legislation would be considered. These meetings may involve bringing along a constituent to underscore the bill’s importance. In some cases, lobbyists will arrange tours to “see” the problem the bill seeks to solve. The same approach holds true if the lobbyist opposes a bill.

The preparation and meetings have another critical purpose – to ask for and confirm a legislator’s support for or opposition to the bill. Nailing down a “yes” or “no” may require more than a single meeting. Many legislators are reluctant to commit until they have heard the other side.

Eventually lobbyists develop a vote count, which becomes their real leverage. Even a reticent committee chair may yield to the wishes of his or her committee on a bill. A smart committee chair might use the opportunity to line up votes he or she wants on another, unrelated bill. Lobbyists have to keep track of this horse trading to avoid letting their legislation become manure tossed into the compost bin.

For most bills, lobbyists have to ask for a hearing. If they have the votes lined up in committee, they also ask for a work session, which allows the committee chair to call for a vote on the measure.

Once a hearing has been scheduled, lobbyists coordinate testimony. This can be as complicated as inviting a busload of people to testify or, at the request of a sympathetic chair, giving short-and-sweet testimony so the bill can be quickly moved along. Skilled lobbyists understand how to show the flag and fly under the radar.

An emerging trend is the need for coalitions of support, especially for bills that are contentious. It is not enough for a single lobbyist to tout a measure. Lawmakers want to know who else supports the bill, or at least who doesn’t oppose it.

When a bill makes it out of committee, it heads to the House or Senate floor, unless it has a fiscal impact, which means in most cases it then goes to the Joint Ways and Means Committee. In the Oregon legislative set-up, Ways and Means is an appropriations committee. It's also like a parole board. You have to show up and make a case for the release of your bill. Without approval, your legislation will rot in a fiscal jail.

A good chunk of bills that pass on the House and Senate floors draw minimal comment and debate. More often, even on non-controversial bills, legislators pose questions that the legislator carrying the bill attempts to answer. Lobbyists work with committee staff to anticipate questions and generate responsive, accurate answers. Under their code of ethics, Oregon lobbyists are obliged to correct any misinformation they provide, whether it's inadvertent or intentional.

Passing the House or Senate is just the start. Some House-Senate standoffs inevitably turn innocent bills into hapless hostages. Lobbyists have to use their political GPS to see an impediment coming and do what they can to skirt or manage the detour.

Even with reliable vote counts, nervous lobbyists typically pace outside the House and Senate chambers waiting for their bill to come up in debate and a vote. They also have to be available in case a lawmaker wanders out of the chamber to ask a random question about the bill.

If a bill is on its way through the legislative gauntlet, lobbyists must brief the governor’s staff. Unlike a committee chair who has the power of a pocket veto, the governor is required to sign or veto bills that reach his or her desk. If a bill faced serious opposition in the legislature, governors will usually scrutinize it carefully, seeking advice from their legal counsel and policy staffs. Bills with partisan overtones or ones that pass on largely party-line votes can present special lobbying challenges.

Of course, politics do play a role in legislation. Lobbyists court political relationships by contributing to legislative candidates, House and Senate leadership and Republican and Democratic caucuses, which can make a difference when a lobbyist calls for a meeting. But donating campaign cash doesn’t guarantee a legislative victory. That's why good lobbyists work to build trust by carefully validating their claims and by credibly and fairly telling their opponent’s story. Some lobbyists have even won the day by telling their opposition’s story better than their opponent. But all lobbyists are gauged on their propensity to tell the truth.

Some bills take more than a single session to make it all the way through the process to become law. That means repeating the drill – improving the bill and its support, perhaps with a stronger grassroots network, more powerful testimony or a more persuasive argument.

Bills that pass can be targets for amendments or even repeal in subsequent sessions. So the lobbyist’s job is seemingly never finished.

Lobbying involves hard, persistent and often monotonous work. The best lobbyists aren’t necessarily the ones with the most flash, but the ones with the creativity to see a path to success and the perseverance to follow that path. And it never hurts to have a really good vote count.

The Legislative Trail from Salem to Olympia

Passing bills in the Oregon and Washington legislatures is similar, but markedly different in key ways, such as a power Rules Committee and permitting floor amendments in Washington. But Oregon knows how to adjourn on time; Washington not so much.

Passing bills in the Oregon and Washington legislatures is similar, but markedly different in key ways, such as a power Rules Committee and permitting floor amendments in Washington. But Oregon knows how to adjourn on time; Washington not so much.

Early adjournment of Oregon's short 2016 legislative session provided an opportunity to hop on a train and see the waning days of the Washington Legislature in Olympia. I was looking for similarities and differences, and I found plenty of both. 

Generally, Oregon's and Washington’s legislatures are similar. They are both “citizen” legislatures. They meet annually, with longer sessions in odd-numbered years and shorter ones in even-numbered years. They also tend to wait until the last minute to pass major bills, after extended periods of political jockeying and horse-trading.

Now, here are are some key differences I noticed. 

Washington's Rules Committee wields real power: All Washington policy bills must go to through the Rules Committee before reaching the floor. This gives the Rules Committee significant authority, ultimately deciding, on almost all of the bills, whether they die or go to the floor for a vote. Oregon also has a politically driven Rules Committee, but leadership only sends select bills there for review – or to wait until a political compromise is worked out behind closed doors. 

Washington’s Senate operates more like Congress: Washington has a lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate but only can vote in case of a tie, much like the vice president. Washington’s lieutenant governor is elected separately from the governor and serves with no term limit. Oregon doesn’t have a lieutenant governor. The independently elected secretary of state is next in line, as we saw last year when Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned and Secretary of State Kate Brown replaced him. Oregon’s Senate selects its own presiding officer from its membership, who votes on all bills just like his or her colleagues.

Floor amendments are permitted in Washington, but not in Oregon: Washington lawmakers can and often do offer floor amendments. On the day I visited, a public school bill that had been jerked to the House floor without going through the Rules Committee faced a floor debate over 27 separate amendments. After a lengthy debate, eight amendments passed, including one that replaced the entire original bill. Oregon lawmakers can petition to have a bill pulled out of committee, but it rarely happens. Once a bill reaches the Oregon House or Senate floor, it is not subject to amendment. Lawmakers can defeat a bill, vote to send it back to committee or vote for or against a minority report, if one is approved in committee. Most of the time floor votes on “amendments” are stalling tactics in Oregon. Overall, the committees have more sway in the Oregon legislative system. 

Oregon gets out on time, Washington does not: In six of the last seven years, Washington has developed a habit of missing constitutionally established deadlines on the budget, forcing one or more special sessions each time. Again this session, the Washington Legislature fell short of reaching a budget agreement by Thursday at midnight and went into a special session almost immediately. Governor Jay Inslee vetoed 27 bills as punishment for not reaching a budget deal in time. The intention behind his actions is to stop the cycle of consistently late budgets.

In Oregon, experienced legislative leaders have been able to adjourn early, including in the shorter even-year sessions during which Oregon has 35 days compared to Washington’s 60 days to hammer out bills and adjust the budget. Washington, unlike Oregon, has tried to skate around a state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature inadequately funds public schools, which puts knots in the budget process.

Seeing the differences between legislating in Salem and Olympia firsthand was insightful. It was a reminder that the intricacies of how a bill becomes a law can vary from state to state and from bill to bill, but it’s never quite as simple as the Schoolhouse Rock interpretation of how a bill becomes a law.

What Matters Most to You in 2016?

As we head into a new year, CFM wants to know what policy priorities are most important to Oregonians for 2016. Lawmakers will convene a new legislative session in February, but they will only have 35 days to get their work done .

As we head into a new year, CFM wants to know what policy priorities are most important to Oregonians for 2016. Lawmakers will convene a new legislative session in February, but they will only have 35 days to get their work done.

From tackling Portland’s housing crisis to negotiating a plan for an unprecedented minimum wage hike, Oregon lawmakers have their work cut out for them in 2016.  

Education, health care, transportation, human services, consumer protection, environmental preservation, criminal justice, taxation: Those are just some of the priority areas calling for swift action and firm leadership in Salem as we look ahead to the next year. 

The Oregon legislature convenes February 1 for a brisk 35-day session. Soon after, statewide elected positions will be contested in the May primary and November general elections.

In the meantime, CFM wants to know what issues matter most to you. Is it finding more revenue for education and social services? Improving transportation infrastructure? Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

As we ponder the political battles ahead, CFM invites you to share what you believe demands the most attention from Oregon's elected leaders. Here’s what we’re looking for:

•  What are the top two policy priorities facing Oregon? 

•  For each of your two priorities, provide a short explanation of what you think should be done and how it should get done. Is legislation needed? Better enforcement? Bully pulpit leadership? Bipartisan support? Be as specific as you can.

•  In addition to your top two policy priorities, tell us what you expect in terms of leadership from Oregon's governor and from House and Senate leaders. What would you regard as real leadership? How can leadership be manifested so it produces positive results? What would you see as a lack of leadership?

Send us your submissions through Friday, January 8, and we’ll share them shortly after on our Oregon Insider blog.

This isn't a contest or a survey. Our intention is to reflect the range of thoughts and concerns that everyone shares with us. We will point out areas where a number of people's priorities overlap, but we also will include priorities that may generate only a single recommendation.

Please send your submissions to Justin Runquist, CFM’s communications counsel, at justinr@cfmpdx.com.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

7 Things to Watch for in the 2013 Legislature

Oregon lawmakers are trekking to Salem for the start of the 2013 legislative session next week, which will feature heavy-duty issues such as education funding, higher education restructuring, health care transformation, prison sentencing, PERS reform, gun control and funding for a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River.

Here are seven things to look for as the new session unfolds:

1. Leadership – New versus old 

The three key leaders in the House — Speaker-Elect Tina Kotek, Majority Leader Val Hoyle and Minority Leader Mike McLane — are all new to their posts. They worked together during the historic 2011-2012 power-sharing sessions, but how they relate to each other in this new environment with Democrats in control will be worth watching — and may very well determine whether some big issues will move or stall.

Across the building, Senator Peter Courtney will be sworn in for a historic 6th term as Senate President. Joined by Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum and Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, this team has worked together and knows how to negotiate in the tight corners of narrow Democratic control. 

2. Pace of the Session 

The budget has always set the pace of legislative sessions in Oregon. With one of the most experienced Joint Ways and Means co-chair teams in decades, the budget-writing committee possesses the know-how to make early decisions and move the session along quickly.

The Battle for the Gavel

As legislative candidates hit the hustings, some are plotting who will hold key leadership positions when the Oregon legislature convenes in 2013.The general election is a month away, but the plot is already thickening over who will be in control in the Oregon legislature after all the votes are counted. What's happening out of public sight is a combination of inside baseball and roller derby.

If Democrats regain control of the Oregon House, there appears little doubt Portland Rep. Tina Kotek will ascend to become House Speaker. Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, who served as co-speaker in the 2011 and 2012 sessions, is running for an open Senate seat.

The bigger question is who takes over for Kotek as Democratic leader. Rep. Val Hoyle, D-Eugene, is the only declared candidate, but rumors have circulated that Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, is considering a bid for the post, which is complicated by his departure from Nike and search for a new job. 

A Happy Tale of Two Cities

It may seem strange to write about disparate developments in two Oregon communities in the same blog post, but what happened illustrates the solidarity of Oregon citizens when they face challenges.

In one case, hundreds of citizens, accompanied by a host of public officials, turned out in Vernonia this week to dedicate a new school building that replaces a former school ravaged by the disastrous floods of 2007 — which left many people homeless and resulted in a state and federal disaster declaration.  

The new school is a beautiful facility on higher ground that will help 600 Vernonia students from kindergarten through high school learn in a modern, quality environment. But it also is a tribute to the resilience of citizens who after the flood raised almost $50 million to finance, design and construct the new school. The last piece of the funding puzzle came in the waning hours of the 2011 legislature when Joint Ways and Means Committee leaders finally made good a session-long pledge to provide the last $3.9 million in bonding authority.

Citizens who ate the first meal in the cafeteria of a school that should last well into the 22nd century cheered as Reps. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, and Debbie Boone, D-Cannon Beach, and Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, complimented them for pulling up their own bootstraps in the aftermath of the worst flood in the history in this small Columbia County community.

The phrase "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps" reminded me of a time many years ago when, as deputy director of the Oregon Economic Development Department, I spoke to a graduate school class in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Leaders there wanted to hear about how Oregon had diversified its economy after the decline in its forest industry. They reasoned Oregon's experience could help them identify a strategy to diversify beyond making Michelin tires.

My French translator that evening had difficulty communicating the meaning of "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps." He ended up gesturing as he grabbed the seat of his pants and stood up.

That's what went through my head as I watched citizens in the small town of Vernonia celebrate their own success in lifting themselves up by the seat of their pants.

When Your Word Is Your Bond

In church yesterday, there was an interesting illustration in the lead pastor's sermon.  

To illustrate the importance of "your word is your bond," the pastor described the situation in 1988 when then presidential candidate George H. W. Bush beat the Democrat, Michael Dukakis, at least in part, because he uttered the words, "Read my lips... no new taxes." Then four years later, those words came back to haunt President Bush when his challenger, Bill Clinton, pointed out that he hadn't lived up to his promise.

The pastor drew spiritual lessons revolving around honesty, integrity and trust, but after hearing the sermon, my thoughts went to the application of the "your word is your bond" ethic at the Capitol in Salem where I have spent the last 30 years lobbying legislators.

On the basis of that experience, I would say that living up to the phrase was what set apart legislators and lobbyists alike. If their word was their bond, you could trust them. If not, trust broke down and it was more difficult to find middle ground on tough public policy issues.  

I have known a number of legislators over the years who have practiced that level of integrity in Salem, perhaps more in the past than currently. Here are just four examples of legislators you can count on today.

Three Down – Only 26 to Go

As legislators headed home Friday to gear up for a second week in Salem, it was difficult for anyone accurately to describe the activities of the first three days because things moved much faster than normal at the Capitol — especially for opening days of a legislative session.

There was a crush of business as committees posted hearings on a large number of bills that probably will go nowhere. It prompted a lot of scurrying around, as lobbyists tried to figure what had a chance of passage and what didn't.

Three major "reforms" proposed by Governor Kitzhaber — education, health care and early learning — began moving down paths toward probable approval later this month. If you were betting, you would say the governor would win, but not without push-back by some Republicans who believe change is moving too fast for anyone to accommodate.

A so-called "budget deal" announced on the second day of the session last Thursday produced a bit of buzz, plus a couple headlines, but no one was sure about the real scope or impact of the deal. It turned out to be a "budget re-balance" plan, which means it represented an attempt by Joint Ways and Means Committee leaders to solve internal problems in the budget that had emerged in the last six months since adjournment last June.

The re-balance plan didn't address the current shortfall in state tax revenue, which has been pegged at about $305 million. Nor did the plan address any new revenue shortfall, which could be announced Wednesday when the state economist releases the latest revenue forecast at a joint meeting of the House and Senate Revenue Committees. It also prompted criticism of the Ways and Means co-chairs who took some of a recent Phillip Morris tobacco tax court-ordered payment — about $56 million — and applied most of it to the general budget deficit, not, as proposed, to funding for crime victims. Such is the stuff of Ways and Means.  Money ostensibly for one purpose is swept for another purpose.

Legislature to Lose Two Veterans

Two veteran moderate Republican legislators have announced they won't run for re-election. Their retirements will be a loss for the legislature.

Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, who owned radio stations, served three terms in the House after a stint as a county commissioner — where he became the first Klamath County commissioner to win re-election in more than 100 years. Senator Dave Nelson, R-Pendleton, came to the legislature in 1996 with a background as a wheat rancher with a law degree.

From geographical extremes — Southern and Eastern Oregon — Garrard and Nelson carved out moderate reputations in Salem. They accomplished the tough feat of representing conservative districts while finding a way to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including more liberal colleagues from urban Oregon. Their ability to find middle ground on tough policy is a hallmark of their legislative service.

Garrard and Nelson found status in Salem as members of the Joint Ways and Means Committee where they worked across party lines to craft compromises on thorny budget issues.  

Garrard was best known for his work on land-use during controversy over ballot measures dealing with property rights. His experience running a radio station in a rural area made him sympathetic to the plight of other small business operators — and underdogs in general.

Nelson battled to build electronic infrastructure, not only in Eastern Oregon but throughout the state.  One of his accomplishments — the "Nelson Technology and Opportunity Partnership” —rightfully bears his name. On Ways and Means, he led efforts to pinpoint appropriate investments for the State Radio Project, a major effort to provide interoperable public safety communications capabilities throughout the state.  

Mixed Reaction to Latest Revenue Projection

Members of the Joint House and Senate Revenue Committee sat around at the Capitol last week listening to what has been a customary quarterly episode — hearing projections that state general funds and lottery dollars are dropping as Oregon continues to tumble along near the bottom of a recession.

Acting State Economist Mark McMullen told legislators revenue had dropped another $106 million. That puts the total projected revenue loss since the end of the 2011 legislative session at about $300 million.

Reaction to the latest revenue forecast was mixed. Here is a sampler:

House Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay:  The budget choices in February 2012 are even more difficult after today’s forecast, but our priority must be protecting the middle class while being mindful that further job losses will only cause additional economic harm. We must be creative, compassionate and smart to achieve outcomes that protect services Oregonians depend on in this tough budget environment.

Lawmakers Anticipate Busy February Session

Anticipating a busy 2012 session, lawmakers will hold three more sets of "legislative committee days" before February to tee up issues as they nervously await two more revenue forecasts that could determine whether budget-cutting will be a focus of their attention.

Here are three examples of what we already know will be on the agenda:

Ways and Means leaders Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, and Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, may need to make budget adjustments in February.STATE REVENUE: Taking stock of a volatile state budget is an obvious reason for annual sessions. This time, the stakes will be very high as the state struggles to emerge from a stubborn recession.

August's forecast, released two weeks ago, showed state tax revenue declined by almost $200 million from projections at the end of the legislative session last June. While new State Economist Mike McMullen did not predict an "echo recession," he noted a loss of consumer confidence following congressional wrangling over the federal deficit.

The $200 million drop in revenue can be managed with the reserve legislators wrote into the budget, but deeper declines could mean more cuts.

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.  

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.

Grading The Legislative Session: Probably B

At the risk of sounding like a teacher, I would give the legislature about a B grade this session.

Last Thursday at about 2:45 p.m. — a reasonable hour by past standards — the session closed to the normal huzzahs for a job well done. To be sure, the legislature can take credit for accomplishments in the areas of education, health care and redistricting.

In a House marked by split control for the first time in Oregon's history, it would be normal to count the accomplishments; each side was equally in charge, so each would get the credit or the debit.

In the Senate, Republicans, who were in the minority by one vote, came across as more critical, especially in regard to their session-long complaint that there was not enough focus on job creation.

Here are a few perceptions about the legislative session beyond the education, health care and redistricting subjects:

Standing in the Way of Adjournment

As legislators continue to push for adjournment, which could come as early as June 17 or 18, several issues stand in the way.

  • GENERAL FUND BUDGETS:  So far, only one major general fund budget – the K-12 schools budget – has cleared the legislature. And, even there, House Democrats are pushing for more school funding out of the Education Stability Fund to cushion the blow of teacher layoffs and school closures.  Budgets for human services, higher education and public safety should begin moving through Ways and Means subcommittees this week to meet the  leadership-imposed deadline of June 7 to act on all state budgets.
  • HEALTH CARE FUNDING CONTROVERSIES:  The health care budget has been particularly controversial. Four legislators – Senator Al Bates, D-Ashland, Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Rep. Tim Freeman, R-Roseburg – have been negotiating with leaders of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS) to increase the hospital tax, reducing deeper cuts in the state's Medicaid budget. They agreed to impose a tax increase, which can be implemented without legislative action by the Oregon Health Authority.

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. 

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.

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.

How Significant is the Ways and Means Committee? Very

Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, was a strong leader of the budget process as the co-chair of Ways and Means in 2009. Will he reprise his role in 2011?There will be no more important committee than the Joint Ways and Means Committee this legislative session.

Put the word "powerful" in front of the committee title, as often is done, and it would be especially appropriate in 2011.

Legislators there will have to try to find a way to reach agreement on balancing the state budget for 2011-13 in the face of at least a $3.5 billion general fund revenue shortfall – and one that could grow as new forecasts are produced every quarter.

Even as negotiations over power-sharing arrangements continue between Republicans and Democrats in an evenly-divided House, it is interesting to speculate about which legislators might play key roles on the Ways and Means Committee.