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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
past three years have been a tale of two very different
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
is off to Senator Betsy Johnson!
remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one