Devlin briefs West Linn council on 2017 Legislature
As he prepared to speak before the West Linn City Council Monday, March 13, to provide an update on the 2017 Legislature, Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) asked the council how long his presentation should be.
The question was prudent, as there was really no limit to how much Devlin could discuss. Such is the case when you're in the midst of a session that has produced thousands of bills.
"We're in the 40th day of the session," Devlin said in a presentation that would last about 30 minutes. "Most of the bills that will be introduced have been, although you'll see a few hundred more. Usually about three or three-and-a-half thousand are submitted. Ultimately, about 700 or 750 become law."
More than half — between 400 and 500 — of those bills are considered to be routine actions that simply keep things moving, according to Devlin. Partisan fights, then, are fewer than citizens might imagine.
"Bills that actually come down to really partisan discussions or fights in the Legislature are probably less than 20 or 30," Devlin said. "Many sessions, it's fewer than 10."
In the big picture, Devlin — who is co-chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said that a state budget deficit looms over almost all else in the 2017 session.
"Our current budget is just under $1.7 billion in deficit from what … it would cost to do next year what we are doing this year," Devlin said. "Our economy is improving, but our change in terms of net revenue in the state is at one of the lowest I've seen in several sessions."
Rising healthcare costs play a big part in the deficit, Devlin said, as does an 18 percent increase in overall costs for the Department of Human Services.
Meanwhile, the Legislature continues to discuss other statewide issues like transportation and the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).
"The transportation package, those discussions are going sometimes well and sometimes not so well," Devlin said. "The reality is the numbers there are so high to actually address the issues. But it has been highlighted as one of the most important issues in the session to address."
PERS, he said, is just as difficult.
"Given previous Supreme Court decisions, the options are very limited," Devlin said. "There's nothing additional that can be done to limit any benefits already being received …. so to what degree are you going to diminish current employees and future employees' (benefits)? I think that is a very difficult issue."
In response to Devlin's presentation, Mayor Russ Axelrod noted, "It's good to see the bills narrowing finally."
"Council and staff have been pretty active (in Salem)," Axelrod said. "For the most part, things are going pretty well."
He urged Devlin to continue to press on transportation.
"We'd really like you to think big on transportation," Axelrod said. "I think we need a billion just to get things started."
The 2017 Legislature runs through July 10.