Moderates going with an unworkable budget.
BY TONY CORCORAN
R-G Reporter David Steves: "Sen. Morrisette, aren't legislators embarrassed by their lack of a budget deal during the longest session in Oregon history?"
Sen. Morrisette: "I know the public perception is that we are doing the state a disservice by not solving the problem. I think just the opposite: We would do a great disservice to the people who sent us here if we folded our tents and went home just for the sake of public perception."*
*Actually, Bill, most Oregonians don't even know or care that we are still in session.
I often tell people that timing is everything in politics. I, for example, was stupid enough to run for the Oregon House in 1994, the first time in 40 years that Republicans took control over both chambers of the Legislature. Now I'm part of the longest session in 144 years! But we may be ending the session by the time you read this. And if you accept the beatitude that the meek shall inherit the Earth, then Salem's moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans are in great shape to pick up a lot of land.
I'm gonna get spelunker hats for some of our Democratic leaders because they are such excellent cavers. In Democratic politics these days leaders are determined by their ability to raise money: Their personal political philosophy, their ability to stick to principles while negotiating, are not requirements for the job.
For example, we sent our Senate Democrat negotiators into a room after giving them our bottom line on the K-12 education budget — all 15 members of our caucus said — $5.3 billion in real money ... no bonding, no tricky accounting, no triggers ... $5.3 billion firm. They came back from the table with only $5.1 billion and more tricks than an Enron hooker. And now they're trying to peel off our members to support it. Why? Because Republicans know that they can always out-wait us, we always cave eventually, because we're always in a hurry to get out. Our leaders measure leadership by the standard that a quick bad deal is preferable to a slow, fair deal.
Even in a session like this, when we had the Republicans on the run. Last week we actually had the minimum of 16 Senate votes needed for $5.3 billion! And we let it slip away. Why? Because it's more important to our leaders to not let things get too partisan — and hold hands with unreasonable leadership in both chambers — than to do the obvious: Vote for $5.3 billion for K-12 and send it over to the House.
The budget package our leaders accepted only gets to $5.3 billion if the following events happen:
-- The governor or the Legislature expands the lottery by adding video poker machines, expanding to slot machine line games, or cutting the tavern owners' commission (Republicans will never allow this to happen).
-- The Legislature must steal $48 million in PERS savings from agencies not funded by the General Fund — probably illegal.
-- And schools only get from $5.22 billion to $5.3 if the economy improves and revenue increases $64 million over projection.
I couldn't believe our negotiators actually came back with this proposal. The budget also lacks sufficient money for community colleges, higher ed, and — surprise, surprise — for seniors and disabled; and we still don't know what the Oregon Health Plan looks like. The proposal also forces agencies to eat the expense — $18 million — of state labor settlement costs. Even though state workers got no pay raise, they did get some additional help with spiraling health insurance costs. That $18 million provides services, so that means more cuts.
Republican leaders like Randy Miller keep insisting there just isn't enough money. But their negotiators absolutely refused to discuss mortgage interest income tax deductions for second homes and yachts. And they refused to look at delaying Dubya's federal income tax cut for the rich (Oregon's richest 1 percent get 30 percent of the cut, the poor don't get squat). If we'd just delay half of that tax break, that alone would put $1.4 billion on the table!
After reading about the goings-on at this legislative session, I have an idea that might help to narrow the state's budget gap for the coming fiscal year. Consider putting a swear jar in the Capitol.
Best, Andrew Ross, a constituent
Sen. Tony Corcoran of Cottage Grove represents portions of Lane and Douglas counties in Senate District 4, which includes the UO area. He can be reached at email@example.com