2010 Legislature adjourned Sine Die yesterday at about
2:00P.M. The Democrat majority alleged the legislative session
would be all about job creation. Their action did not match
their rhetoric. Mercifully, this ill advised and quasi-legal
session has ended before any more harm can be done to the
Oregon business community and the state economy.
The session was filled
with bills that will further regulate the businesses that
create and sustain Oregon jobs. It was filled with measures
that provide for more spending, including the establishment of
several new and enlarged programs that will increase the
number of public employees. It provided at least two new
methods to make it easier to borrow money and to grow Oregon’s
already over-extended debt. It simply failed to address the
promised private sector job growth that is the key to economic
recovery and to sustainable state revenue.
bills that were passed on the last day of the session are
symptomatic of what was so especially wrong with this very
special emergency special session.
Currently the Oregon Constitution requires that the
Legislature meet every two years. House Joint Resolution 41
resolves to refer a proposal to the voters to amend the Oregon
Constitution to require the Legislature to meet annually. The
bill proposes that the legislature should meet for 160 days in
odd numbered years and for 35 days in even numbered years. It
allows for the extension of each legislative session by five
days with the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of
each chamber. The five day extensions may be sequential. It
also allows the Legislature to hold pre-session organizational
meetings that are not subject to limits or calendar days.
41 lost virtually all of its bipartisan support as the result
of a last minute melt down between Senate and House Democrat
leadership. That major spat among the Democrats created
amendments to SJR 41 that were simply unacceptable to most
Republicans. The final vote had only one House Republican and
two Senate Republicans voting in favor of the resolution.
Five years ago I was firmly in favor of annual legislative
sessions. I have changed my mind after experiencing five
sessions in the Oregon Capitol. More specifically, my
observations of the many shortcomings and the palpable
partisan control experienced during the 2008 and 2010 short
sessions convinced me that a constitutionally mandated 35 day
session in even numbered years would be an ongoing disaster.
Public input in the law making process during those two short
sessions was virtually eliminated. The opportunity to be heard
in public hearings was minimized. Too often we “simply did not
have enough time” to even hold a public hearing on a bill in
the second chamber. In my opinion, the integrity of the
legislative process was routinely breached.
session began with 24 hour posting schedule meaning that a
hearing could be held on the day following notice of the
hearing. At the beginning of the third session week that
notice was advanced to one hour. Members of the public who
live and work outside of the immediate area of the capitol had
virtually no chance of having their ideas and concerns either
heard or incorporated in the law making process.
Major amendments were routinely made to bills without a public
hearing. In fact, major amendments were routinely made that
minority party committee members had no chance to read, or
even see, prior to the committee meeting where they were
introduced and adopted. These amendments too often completely
replaced the text of the original bill.
grievous example of such an amendment was when HB 3698 was
amended to include the ballot titles, summaries and the
arguments in favor of the several ballot measures that are to
be referred to the people to decide. No public hearing was
held on these major amendments. These amendments were adopted
without opportunity for either public or minority party input
or debate. Not surprisingly, the ballot titles actually
represent advocacy statements. The wording encourages the
people to pass the referrals that the majority party wants
enacted into the constitution.
instance, the ballot title for SJR 48 states:
AMENDS CONSTITUTION: AUTHORIZES
LOWEST COST BORROWING FOR STATE’S REAL AND PERSONAL PROPERTY
What SJR 48 really does is to create a new constitutional
bonding authority by adding a new Article XI-P mechanism to
guarantee the full faith and credit of the state of Oregon.
Money could be borrowed through XI-P bonds to acquire,
construct, remodel, repair, equip, or furnish real or personal
property that is or will be owned or operated by the State of
Series XI-P bonds are designed to
replace the quasi-legal Certificates of Deposits. The COP’s
were created through statute to circumvent the constitutional
requirement that the people of Oregon must vote to amend the
constitution before the state can borrow money for new or
different purposes. COP’s allow the state to borrow money long
term for just about any capitol project without pledging the
full faith and credit of the state. The debt service on COP’s
is to be paid out of current revenue and must be reauthorized
by each Legislature. COP’s are structured more like a
corporate bond that establishes a lien on whatever is
financed. That lien can be foreclosed by the lender if the
state fails to pay the debt obligation. It is callable after a
certain period of time allowing the state to refinance the
debt. For these reasons COP’s are usually sold paying higher
rates of interest.
Currently the state is obligated to pay debt service on more
$1, 350,000,000 in COP debt.
Moreover, the Legislature has already authorized the state to
sell about $200,000,000 more COP debt.
Replacing the COP’s with full faith and credit Series XI-P
bonds may save the state as much as $5 million in total debt
service for each $100 million in long term debt. It also may
encourage the state to borrow even more money.
However, the language of the ballot title does not explain any
of this to the voting public. In my opinion, both the ballot
title and ballot summary are blatant advocacy statements for
The ballot title for HJR 101
AMENDS CONSTITUTION: CONTINUES
AND MODERNIZES AUTHROTIY FOR LOWEST COST BORROWING FOR
COMMUNITY COLLEGES AND PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES.
What HJR 101 actually
does is to expand the current Constitutional
Series XI-g bonding authority to
borrow money to “acquire, construct, improve, repair, equip,
and furnish buildings, structures, land, and other projects
that the legislative Assembly determines will benefit higher
education institutions or activities or community colleges
authorized by law to receive state aid”. It will allow Oregon
universities and community colleges to build or purchase
structures like parking garages, apartment buildings, and
office buildings that may compete with the private sector if
it “benefits” higher education.
Once again, thoughtful
arguments can be made for or against this proposal. However,
the ballot title and the ballot summary do not address what
HJR 101 actually asks the people to authorize. In my opinion,
they are nothing more than advocacy statements for HJR 101.
It is my firm belief
that both of these ballot titles should be challenged in the
Supreme Court where they should be disallowed. That action
would allow the Attorney General to follow current law and
compose germane ballot titles that fairly describe the intent
of the resolutions.
Please remember, if we do not
stand up for rural Oregon no one will.