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Special session: An exercise in bipartisanship

When the Oregon Legislature assembled on Sept. 30 in Salem at the request of Gov. John Kitzhaber, the gathering was advertised as a one-day special session.

We would be considering a package of five bills that had earlier been approved by our bipartisan legislative leadership.

The bills were designed to address the growing unfunded liability of the Public Employees Retirement System, raise targeted revenues that would be earmarked for specific public sector investments, provide tax relief for many small businesses, and provide certainty for our agricultural industry that decisions about most farming practices would remain at the state level.

It soon became obvious this would be no one-day session.

Although our leaders had agreed on the framework of the package of legislation, discussions were continuing about the details within the bills even after we arrived in Salem ready to go to work. Because the package included some revenue raising measures, passage of the bills would require bipartisan support.

The Oregon Constitution requires a three-fifths majority to support any legislation that increases revenue. Although Democrats enjoy majorities in the Legislature, they can’t raise taxes unilaterally. My House Republican caucus insisted on having enough time to fully review all of the bills before they came to the floor for a vote. None of us wanted to be in the situation of having to “pass the bill before we could understand what was in it.”

In the end, it was Wednesday, Oct. 2, before we voted on the package. All the bills passed, some with the slimmest of majorities. Even though I disagreed with some of the components of the package, I supported all of the bills because I believe the sum total of the legislation will be beneficial to Oregon.

Even though there was a modest increase in tax rates for large corporations we were able to secure one of the largest tax cuts for small business in the state in a long time. The increases in revenue will be specifically targeted to help school districts reduce class sizes, keep college tuition from increasing, provide additional resources for seniors, and dedicate sustainable investments in mental health services.

By making modifications to the cost of living allowance for current and future PERS beneficiaries (while protecting lower income recipients), employer rates will be reduced which will allow schools, counties and cities to keep more of the resources in their budgets to invest as they choose.

And now, across Oregon, family farms now have the certainty of knowing that they will have a level playing field regarding the types of crops they plant and harvest.

In the end, I think it’s more accurate to refer to the package of bills that was passed as an “exchange” rather than a “bargain.”

Each party had to give something in order to get something. It was a true exercise in bipartisanship — something I think is very important as leaders in Oregon during a time where we have a gridlock at our nation’s capitol.