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Capital Chatter: Dangerous times for the Oregon Legislature

The majority Democrats have been unable to gain the Republican votes needed to pass tax measures.

This is a dangerous time in the Oregon Legislature.

Most legislative committees finished their actual work this week. June 2 is their deadline for action on bills. They still can hold informational sessions. But this leaves half or more of the legislators with little work to do, outside their constituent service. Who knows what political mischief they can get into?

For first-year lawmakers, this is a sobering time. They arrived at the Oregon State Capitol full of idealism, as they should. Then reality hits. Not all their passions will become law. The Legislature typically passes a third or fewer of the measures that are introduced.

That sobering time creates uncertainty at crunch time for negotiations. Will the disappointment and frustration of first-year legislators make them more entrenched in their positions or will they settle for pragmatic compromises — "a partial loaf is better than none."

Baking any loaf may be difficult, as the Legislature has a little more than a month left to complete its work. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, sent his colleagues off for the Memorial Day weekend with a somber warning: The proposed business tax, transportation finance package and health-provider tax all lacked enough votes for passage.

The majority Democrats have been unable to gain the Republican votes needed to pass tax measures.

• Hatching the educational egg: The state's education budget likely will be one of the final decisions reached at the Capitol. That delay is distressing for school employees throughout Oregon, some of whom have received layoff notices due to the state's financial uncertainty.

School districts need to know the size of the state education budget as soon as possible, so they can finalize the yearly budget that takes effect July 1. However, once the education budget is settled, there will be far less — if any — pressure and rationale to increase business taxes. Which will come first … the tax chicken or the educational egg?

• Rent disappears from rent control: Pragmatism wed political reality in the Senate Human Services Committee this week. At the behest of chair Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, the committee took the rent control provision out of the controversial rent control bill – rent stabilization, to its supporters.

As written in the Oregon House, House Bill 2004 allowed cities to pass rent control/stabilization ordinances. The Senate version maintains the statewide ban on such ordinances. However, the Senate committee added a provision that residential landlords could raise rents only once every 12 months. The committee also altered the language dealing with no-cause evictions.

Those changes should be enough to win approval when HB 2004 reaches the Senate floor. It will be intriguing to see whether any Republicans vote for the bill. And what will happen when the bill returns to the House, whose majority Democrats are more liberal than the Senate. Rent stabilization is a priority for House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.

The Senate version will test idealism vs. pragmatism in the House.

• The bill backlog: The House continues to lag the Senate. The House began Thursday's floor session with about 100 bills to consider. Of course, the House membership is twice as large, which partially explains the volume. But more and/or longer floor sessions In the House could overcome that backlog. So could meeting on Fridays.

• Do you have a spare $1 billion? Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day said recently that Republicans would consider tax increases if the Legislature cut $1 billion in state spending. Yet the Legislature has never established fiscal discipline. It has not developed a system for rigorously examining individual agencies' state spending, which is where those savings could occur. The Legislature kept spending regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats were in control, as Ferrioli conceded.

Dick Hughes has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com.

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