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OR: Legislature ahead


Are there any state governments not being crunched by economic downturn and diminished revenues? If there are, the Northwest’s aren’t among them – Oregon, Washington and Idaho have that situation in common. Oregon’s legislature does have one advantage over the other two: Longer to work. Not until summer hit hot on the Salem pavement will Oregon’s lawmakers call it quits. So they have a little more time to ponder, reflect, and consider. This doesn’t always improve the lawmaking, but any sense of imminent panic may dissipate by then.

And the concern is running high. Said Representative Bob Jensen, R-Pendleton: “It’s the worst budget prognosis we’ve had since 1930.”

The challenges may be a little different. For the better part of a couple of decades, the governing responsibility in Salem have been split between the parties, at least to some degree; even last term, Republicans held enough seats in the House to block an array of fiscal proposals if they chose. This year, Democrats have full effective control, and also full effective responsibility for whatever happens. A certain giddiness at the prospect of pushing through all sorts of ideas is understandable, but caution will have to be part of the mix too. The voters who make can take as easily.

Some of what they’ll be facing may be easy and even popular. Governor Ted Kulongoski has, for example, a number of proposals which would “green” the state and also encourage green business, and some of these may run through quickly. But legislators will need to step carefully. The shape of economic assistance (what about the resource industries? what about home sales?) will have to be hashed out. Kulongoski’s proposal for a state mileage tax has taken a lot of heat and probably will go down in flames; if it doesn’t, the political fallout will be fierce.

In common with Washington, Oregon has had a big budget runup in the last couple of years, and that may give some indication of where cuts can be found. But only to a point. There’s going to be little appetite for cutting back on children’s health care, or on the recent increase in state police, finally beginning to approach numbers that suggest adequacy.

There are no simple answers here.

Oregon may be well positioned for federal stimulus money, and it doesn’t have the completely critical transportation issues Washington and Idaho do (it’s not quite as front burner). It may be a little better positioned.

It has, at least, the time.

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