Today marks the first significant deadline of the current legislature. If a bill has not been scheduled for a work session in its originating chamber by the close of business today, it will be considered effectively dead. The revenue, rules and budget-writing committees do not abide by the same deadlines as other policy committees, and therefore, serve as a “life support” mechanism for leadership if they feel the need to keep a bill alive. However, most bills not moved out of their originating chambers will be considered out of play for the rest of session, finally bringing some sense of ease to the building. Do not mistake this to mean that concerns will not continue to run rampant throughout the building—the games have only just begun.
On Monday, the Senate floor featured an extensive debate over the public education budget. Similar to past sessions, the budget has become a major point of contention between the two parties. Oddly enough, the table has flipped as Senate Republicans continue to assert that the proposed $7.255 billion budget is not nearly enough to fund statewide educational priorities. During the floor session, Senate Republicans proposed funding modifications to allow more revenue to be made available. They proposed ending the program that shares revenues with local governments from economic development, a two-year pay freeze on all state employees and allowing the harvest of the Elliot State Forest. Together, these proposals were said to increase available revenue by more than $300 million. After nearly six hours of debate on procedural motions to stall passage of the budget, Senate Democrats mustered the power of their majority to pass the budget.
Interestingly, qualms over the public education budget are not only from Republican members of the legislature. Immediately following the passage of the budget, Democrats ramped up a new line of messaging about how the $7.255 billion appropriation would not adequately fund education priorities, laying the framework for an attempt to either reform the personal income tax kicker or raise taxes, or both.
Alongside the looming debate over new revenues for the state, there are also more political games being played in Salem. Environmental advocates have begun an aggressive effort to create a more stringent regulatory framework for nearly all walks of businesses operating in Oregon. Examples of these proposals include a carbon cap-and-trade program, a tax on carbon emissions and moratoriums on economic activity they argue to be dangerous. While we expect to see more far-reaching proposals appear during session, the environmental lobby yields considerable power this session from their success during the previous election. These proposals will require candidates for high office to stake their ground on environmental policies, and possibly, impugn candidates of the same party.