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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Senator Doug Whitsett
R- Klamath Falls, District 28

Website: http://www.leg.state.or.us/whitsett
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E-Newsletter 7/17/13

The 77th Legislative Assembly mercifully adjourned Monday, July 8th. The Assembly had two primary tasks; to balance the budgets and to take meaningful action to address an unsustainable Public Employment retirement System. We failed both tests. 

The only action to address PERS that was allowed by the majority party was SB 822. That bill created potential savings that directly addressed less than 25 percent of the unfunded problem. Necessary actions taken by the PERS Board this year, at the direction of their actuaries, will more than wipe out that savings.

The majority party was unable to balance the budgets without sleight of hand accounting. Even though there was $2 billion more to spend in General Fund and Lottery revenue than ever before in history, it did not satisfy their spending addiction. The majority party attempted to raise more than $200 million in additional revenue in HB 2456. When that attempt failed on the Senate floor, they searched all sources for additional money to spend.

For instance, they took $10 million from the Supplemental Employment Department Administrative Fund. The money in this Fund is paid by private employers to the Employment Department to pay the wages of employees who do not receive their wages when a business fails. Any excess in this fund is statutorily directed to be deposited in the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

They pilfered another $10 million from the Department of Administrative Services Risk Management Pool. The state self-insures most of its liabilities. The money in the Risk Management Pool is collected from state agencies and is to be used to pay liability claims. The Fund is now under-capitalized by more than $20 million and will require increased assessments to correct the shortfall.

The Senior Medical Deduction was significantly reduced and the income tax deduction for family members was phased out as family taxable income increases. It seemed that nothing was safe from their addiction to spend.

The past three years have been a tale of two very different legislative processes.

After the 2010 elections, the House of Representatives was evenly split with 30 Republicans 30 Democrats. The Senate was nearly even at 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

For two years we worked together in near bipartisan harmony, because neither party had enough votes to force an issue through the legislative process. Strongly liberal or strongly conservative positions were shelved. We worked toward moderate consensus and the resulting lawmaking was much better for Oregonians.

Most bills that were enacted into law had bipartisan sponsors and enjoyed bipartisan voting support. The strictly Democrat or Republican sponsored bills that were enacted into law were few, nearly even divided, and generally not controversial.

That bipartisan brinksmanship ended after the 2012 election. The House now stands at 34 Democrats and 26 Republicans while the Senate remained unchanged at 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

The recently concluded Legislative Assembly was the most partisan and rancorous that I have experience during my nine years of service in the Oregon Senate. According to the Oregonian newspaper, Senate Democrats voted party line 98.69 percent of the time and House Democrats voted party line 97.58 percent of the time 

By our count, about 93 percent of the 831 bills that were passed, by both legislative chambers, had Democrat chief sponsors, or were either sponsored by Democrat majority committees or by executive branch agencies at the direction of Governor Kitzhaber.

Only 7 percent of the bills that passed both chambers were chief sponsored by only Republicans. A significant number of those were  non-substantive measures such as memorials or resolutions.

In contrast to the Democrat majority, the Republican minority voted more independently. Senate Republicans voted with their party 86.57 percent of the time and House Republicans voted with their party 86.14 percent of the time. I voted with my party just under 80 percent of the time.

This year, many of the most extreme liberal and divisive proposals were taken off the shelf. They were introduced and strongly supported by Democrat Senators and Representatives who believe in those principles.

Little effort was made to garner bipartisan support. Republican proposals and principles were uniformly ignored by the majority party. For instance, not one of the fourteen bills that I introduced to restructure the Public Employee Retirement System received the courtesy of a public hearing.

Most of the more extreme bills passed through the House on    party-line votes. Raw political power was wielded to quash opposition. Threats of repercussion and further abusive legislation were routinely used to dissuade dissent. 

The twenty six House Republicans could only watch helplessly while the majority party passed myriad policy bills that required only a simple majority vote. They were able to prevent passage of bills for raising taxes. They were empowered to stop these measures because the Oregon Constitution requires a 60 percent majority vote on bills that raise revenue.

However, the outcomes in the Oregon Senate were quite different this year. Our Senate Republican caucus found better cohesiveness with newly elected members. We established a list of “bad bills” that we could all agree to oppose. The list was altered and refined as the session progressed.

Our 14 votes were not enough to block legislation. We needed one more vote to reach the magic number of 15 “no” votes that is required to stop a bad bill from passing.

I have worked across the aisle with moderate Senate Democrats for the past six years. We established a bipartisan Senate Caucus in 2007 to discuss and take positions on proposed legislation. Senator Betsy Johnson has been one member of that coalition since its inception. This year our many years of bipartisan trust building really came to fruition.

The list of bills that we believed were bad policy was long. We discussed and compared measures with the members of our bipartisan group. We worked hard to find that magical 15th “no” vote to prevent their passage. Our heroine became Senator Betsy Johnson, the Democrat Senator from Scappoose.

Time after time Senator Johnson rose to the challenge. Time after time she stood up to the pressure from her Senate Democrat Caucus and bravely voted “no”. More important, her courage caused any number of other bills on our “bad bill” list either to die in committee or to be amended into some form of harmless task force or study committee.

Oregonians, especially those in rural communities across the state, owe this courageous Oregon Senator a huge debt of gratitude. Working with our 14 Senate Republican votes, she helped us shut down much of the extreme environmental and labor policies that would have certainly been enacted into Oregon law. Moreover, it was her 15th “no” vote that prevented passage of all of the bills that would have challenged our second amendment rights.

My hat is off to Senator Betsy Johnson!

Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.

Best Regards,




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