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And so it begins

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Well, that didn't get off to a hopeful start.

The Oregon Legislature met on Monday for a one-day, quick-and-out session intended to pass emergency pandemic-related legislation which wasn't really all that controversial.

So much for that.

A writer from Portland showed up at the Oregon Statehouse early Monday - "entirely too early to be alive" and reported seeing: "a bunch of far right activists have gathered to protest the state government's decision to close their legislative session to the public today." (The numbers of protesters, estimated at around 100 to 150, were smaller than at many other Statehouse events around the country, but enough to do damage and intimidate.)

The doors to the Statehouse were closed, all right, because of people like them: Or put another way, to avoid turning a legislative session into a mass Covid-19 super-spreader event.

Some of the people outside were carrying high-powered firearms, which was another good reason not to let them in. They also called for arrest of the governor (who, they may not have known, doesn't work out of the Statehouse).

No bullets were filed and, unlike in Idaho, none of the glass doors were broken - the Oregon police succeeded generally in maintaining control of the building - but mace and bear spray was exchanged. Four people were arrested.

Inside, a Republican senator from Roseburg stalked off the floor, tearing off his mask, after declaring he was perfectly willing to wear one but refused to be required to.

Is this the kind of session Oregon has to look forward to in coming months?
 

Oregon’s measure maps

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Those partisan maps we see after election day - showing who prevailed in which jurisdiction (usually state or county) - mesmerizing, and useful - to a point. But seeing several of them in sequence often tells us much more than a single one will.

For example, the map atop this column shows the Oregon results in the presidential race this year. You won't have to strain to quickly grasp that the gray counties were those won by Democrat Joe Biden, who took 56.5% of the vote, and the reddish counties went to Republican Donald Trump. There were no great shocks here and few even modest surprises (the pattern is very similar to recent elections), though someone unfamiliar with Oregon's population patterns might be struck by Biden winning the state decisively but just a quarter of the state's counties. The clued-in would know that the bulk of the state's population lives in those counties.

(Of particular note: The strong Biden vote in Deschutes County - Bend - which has a long-standing Republican tradition but has been shifting blue in recent cycles; it may be completing that transition.)

The pattern is very similar to that for Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who won a similar percentage of the vote but a few more counties. All of those county town halls may have given him a little stronger base in some smaller competitive counties.

But let's move over to the ballot issues, where things look a little different.

They look a lot different in the case of Measure 107, a constitutional amendment aimed at tightening Oregon's awfully loose rules on campaign finance contributions and reporting. It passed overwhelmingly, with 78.3% of the vote, but strikingly also classed in every Oregon county. Nowhere was the vote even close. Apparently we can agree on some things.

Three measures on the ballot concerned the legal status and tax revenues on controlled substances: 108 increased (considerably cigarette taxes and imposed restrictions on vaping; 109 allows medically supervised use of psilocybin ("magic mushrooms"); and 110 greatly reduced penalties for small-quantity possession of most still-illegal drugs (including heroin and meth) and redirection much of the marijuana tax revenue toward drug addiction treatment. All were appeared to be highly controversial and none seemed guaranteed of passage. But all of them did, by decisive margins (a landslide in the case of 108).

On a county level, the votes for the latter two drug measures tracked fairly closely the presidential vote; most of the Biden counties also voted for those measures. But some interesting additions also appeared. Curry County in the far southwest, now a Republican county which went for Trump, voted for all three of the ballot issues. And so did two politically marginal counties - Jackson (Medford) and Wasco (The Dalles) which this time voted narrowly for Trump. These are counties on the borderline.

The comparisons are noteworthy. And then we can get into the precincts ...
 

A simple choice

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NOTE: This piece is about a subject of specific interest in our hometown, with little application in many other places. Residents of Carlton, however, are asked to take heed.

On March 17 the Carlton City Council will have an important choice to make. Important, but not complicated, and not difficult.

It has been made to seem more complicated and even chaotic by the steady accretion of bright, shiny objects strewn around the core issue, which is: Whether to advise the Oregon Department of Transportation to reroute Highway 47 through town along Pine Street north to Monroe (thence to Yamhill Street, and north), or keep it on its current route, along Main Street through the center of downtown. ODOT has said specifically that it will do the work on the Main Street blocks, which will involve massive reconstruction over two years and possibly three or (realistically) four, unless it gets the word that Carlton prefers the reroute, in which case it would expect to take that path.

The discussion of this topic has become crowded with talk about fantasies on one hand and future-tense specifics on the other.

The fantasies are speculations of things that might happen but won’t, certainly not soon and maybe not ever. These include running the truck route along bypasses well to the west or east of the city, or along the old rail line; no planning for such work has been done and there is no money for it, and if it ever happens it could not happen for more than a decade, or more likely two. And there are other fantasies, such as a hotel which some people envision for a spot (why this particular spot is the only possibility is never clarified) along the reroute path, a project which no one has actually proposed, much less made any filing for or put forth any money for. There are fantasies too about how regional businesses might kick in to help downtown Carlton businesses survive during the coming lean years; no one has actually shown anyone that angel money yet, nor are they ever likely to.

Then there are real specific questions about the road work that genuinely must be asked and worked out, but which are secondary to the main routing issue. These include location and type of crosswalks, a new traffic signal, speed of traffic (which as elsewhere can be controlled in a variety of ways), parking elimination (some parking almost certainly will be lost whatever happens) and similar specifics. These are all important subjects, but they’re not what the Carlton City Council will be voting on March 17, which will be limited to the Main Street vs. reroute issue. The people of Carlton and their officials and the affected businesses all should be involved as these specific road construction questions are dealt with, but all of these come after the threshold question is decided. They’re premature now.

Here’s the question on the table:

Should the road work be done on the current highway route through downtown, or on the reroute path? That’s it. Anything else is a distraction, smoke and mirrors of one sort or another.

Any disruption caused by the Pine/Monroe reroute - and some would happen - would affect relatively few people and could easily be mitigated if the project is designed reasonably well. ODOT specialists already have developed mitigation for most of the concerns by businesses along the re-route.

However. If the road work through downtown Main Street proceeds, the city’s center will be ripped up for an absolute minimum of two years, according to ODOT, with a high probability that it will take much longer. Most of us who have watched highway projects elsewhere know these things hardly ever get done faster than scheduled, and often taken longer than expected, especially if something unexpected pops up (such as unexpected things buried under the roadway). We also know from experience in other places that businesses will be lost: About 40 percent of them, according to the rule of thumb, which would be enough to blow up Carlton’s recent prosperous flourishing as a wine-tourist destination spot. Many more businesses face Main Street than face the affected areas of Pine/Monroe, and they are much more sensitive to street traffic. The impact of a massive, multi-year ripup of Main is a serious and obvious enough impact that it gave pause to the state transportation department, which rarely suggests such an alternative to a city. That long-term destruction of Main Street would have the same effect as strewing a dozen sticks of dynamite through Carlton’s downtown and setting them off. Carlton, now a lively and prosperous town, would be at risk of becoming just another declining rural town with a weak economic sector. Recovery would take at least a decade, maybe two.

If that’s what the Carlton City Council chooses to support on March 17, I wouldn’t envy them looking their fellow Carltonians in the face a couple of years from now when the Great Little Town carefully crafted over the last few decades has been wrecked because of what they did.

Or, they can make the right decision.
 

Simpler lines

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Portland is not the only political jurisdiction to be governed the way it is, but it does have an unusual structure, and it can be confusing and hard to describe.

It has a mayor and a council, which run and make policy for the city, which is normal for most cities, but it gets confusing after that. Most cities with a mayor and council have either a "strong mayor" who acts as the chief administrator and manager, or a "weak mayor" who serves ceremonially and helps with policy setting but leaves the day to day management of the city to an appointed city manager.

There's a reason most cities operation along those lines: It works. When our national government was founded the drafted figured out that splitting the administrative and policy-making making functions (and, thirdly, the judicial functions for settling disputes) into mostly cleanly-divided portions of the government was a good idea. The federal executive and congressional divisions to get involved in both functions, but mainly that's intended as a check to keep anyone from getting out of hand. The core idea is that policy is created over here, and executed over there. It works pretty well.

Portland is one of those places (there are some small communities that do it too) that doesn't do it that way. Portland does not have a city administrator as such, or at least not a single one. Instead, in what is called "commission government," the city's sprawling agencies are divided between the mayor and the council members (the mayor gets to make the assignments), and then each of them, in addition to working on city policy and hearing from constituents, is also the top administrator for a gaggle of city agencies. Those assignments periodically get shifted around, too, and often don't match up with the backgrounds of the council members.

It has never seemed like a very well-oiled approach to management. But reconsidering the structure of Portland city government is something that has come up remarkably seldom. It did re-emerged last week, though, in a new advisory report by the Portland City Club.

Some of the report concluded that the council has not, historically, provided an especially broad representation of types of demographics - most members, over time, have been prosperous white men - though that is changing, and Portland has hardly been unique in that description.

The report also offered a number of other structural points with some useful ideas for Portlanders to consider:

* The current allocation of responsibility to the mayor and the city council appears to result in poor bureaucratic performance.

* Portland has long since outgrown the size of its current city council and would be better served across many different arenas by increasing the number of members.

* Changing to a form of preferential voting for city council members is urgently needed to deliver more equitable representation.

Committee Recommendations
* Executive authority should be centralized in the office of mayor, but delegated in large part to a city manager.

* Portland should have a professional city manager selected by the mayor, subject to council approval. The city manager must be a qualified professional with relevant training and experience.

* The mayor should serve as the permanent chairperson of the city council and cast tie-breaking votes where applicable, although this is a moot point as long as the total number of city council members (“regular” members plus the mayor) is an odd number.

* Portland should stop electing city council members in at-large elections, opting instead for district-based elections, preferably with multiple commissioners per district.

* Portland should further explore alternative systems of voting, using an appropriate equity lens to decide which system is most likely to produce the best results for Portland. While it was beyond the mandate of this committee to develop a definitive recommendation as to voting system, it is clear from our research that traditional “first-past-the-goalpost” voting is not the best system in terms of equity.

* The size of the Portland city council should be increased to at least eight commissioners, plus the mayor.

I could quibble. But the approach outlined here, which would bring Portland closer into line with many other cities locally and regionally (Seattle, say) make a lot of sense. We'll be watching to see if this proposal was a temporary ripple in the pond or actually picks up speed.

Which, to judge by the regular complaints in the city about the nature of municipal government, would make sense. And which Mayor Ted Wheeler, who seems to be more frustrated in his current job than in his previous postings at Multnomah County and the state treasury, might want to embrace.
 

A supermajority session

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One decade ago, following the 2008 general election, something unusual happened at the Oregon Legislative Assembly: One party controlled both chambers with supermajority numbers.

Democrats held 18 of the 30 seats in the Senate, and 36 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives. The numbers were significant, because since 1996 the Oregon Legislature has been required by the state constitution to obtain three-fifths of each chamber to approve "bills for passing revenue." Until 2009, neither party had controlled enough seats in both chambers to meet that requirement.

The 2009 session was ambitious for the Democrats. Its results included the Healthy Kids Act (for children's health care), major transportation projects (including the Newberg-Dundee bypass) - and significant tax increases to pay for it all, changing income and other tax levels.

In the 2010 election, Democrats lost their supermajority control. In the House, they lost enough seats to result in an even split - meaning joint control - with Republicans.

Now, a decade after all that, Democrats again have supermajorities in both chambers - just barely. They control 38 of the 60 House seats, and 18 of the 30 Senate seats. (One of the Democratic senators has been known to split from the caucus on certain votes from time to time.) A question for legislators this session is: How cautious might they be, considering recent history?

Some early indicators say: Not very. Governor Kate Brown, fresh off a campaign in which her opponent argued that schools have been underfunded, has proposed a $2 billion tax increase, intended mainly to boost public school funding.

One of the critical questions surrounding that will call for quick consideration: Exactly where should expanded funding go? Brown's proposal is aimed mainly at public schools. But higher education advocates point to persistent underfunding of the state's colleges and universities. Several organizations, including the Oregon Student Association (which includes college and university students) are pushing for as much as $2 billion more for higher education.

School funding may be getting a brighter spotlight this session than usual, but it is a perennial issue, and other perennials will sprout as well.

The high cost of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) will come in for another examination, as in many past sessions. The scaling down of costs urged by its critics won't necessarily get a lot farther than it usually does (which is not very), but some new ideas are being broached. Among them, coming from at least one Democrat: Developing a new system of retirement planning for new public employees along the lines of a 401K system.

Greenhouse gas control, which was a hot topic in the last couple of sessions but did not get far, will be back. A planned "cap and invest" bill has been in development for weeks, and may be one of the hottest debate topics early in the session. Brown's proposed budget could provide some added impetus this year on the subject, since she is proposing creating a new Oregon Climate Authority which would help govern a state carbon marketplace.

The coming months will also, however, see a large collection of new, or at least newer, legislative proposals.

Affordable housing, the subject of the only constitutional amendment approved by voters on last year's general election ballot, will be the focus of several bills. What form the proposals may take is not clear yet, but an evident voter concern about the issue is likely to result in a strong push. One option mentioned by many legislators (and pushed by a group called the Community Alliance of Tenants): A statewide plan to set limits on rent prices.

Other hot-button topics may generate bills which have a rougher ride. Guns will be back for discussion with a proposal to increase penalties for owners who fail to secure their weapons. One bill summary suggests the new law could impose fines of $500 for a simple offense and up to four times as much if a child gains improper access to the gun. Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem is proposing Oregon toughen its driving under the influence legal limit, dropping the allowable level from a blood alcohol level of .08 now to .05. Only Utah has a limit that low.

Senator Floyd Prozanski, who in 2017 proposed an unsucessful measure which might lead to interstate commerce in cannabis, has said he may be back with a similar idea this session. A business group called the Craft Cannabis Alliance is proposing to do something similar. (The trade would apply only, of course, to states which like Oregon have legalized marijuana.)

How to pay for all the many ideas circulating? That's where much of the heat - and the critical nature of a Democratic supermajority - come into play. Plenty of tax proposals have surfaced, ranging from increases in minimum business taxes, to changes in kicker tax rebates, to changes in how property assessments (for tax purposes) are calculated. In most recent years passing these tax plans has been, if not impossible, then very difficult. They may be easier with supermajority Democratic control.

At least up to a point. Some Democrats may hit the caution button along the line, recognizing that Oregonian tolerance for tax increases, especially very many at any one time, is distinctly limited. The latter weeks and months of this year's session may hinge on that calculus of the desire to make improvements and advance services around the state, against the cost of paying for them.

The formal session begins in January 22, and runs to mid-summer. A short organizational session will run from January 14 to 17 and include formal swearing in, committee organization and bill introductions.
 

Why how you do it matters

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For all the many ways Oregon has organized itself governmentally in better and more advanced ways - mail voting, for example - ahead of lots of other states, it remains behind the curve in one important respect: Redistricting.

Legislative and congressional reapportionment is still done in Oregon by the state legislature - the old-fashioned, partisan and messy way. Three of the states around Oregon - California, Idaho and Washington - offloaded the job to redistricting commissions, set up to give the parties balance and avoid the prospect of a gerrymandered map being shoved down the throat of a minority, something that has happened (as we know) in a number of states.

The situation in Oregon has not been quite that unhappy, yet. In 2011 the legislature completed a redistricting map which passed with a strong bipartisan vote. That happened in large part because the districts were drawn so that incumbents of both parties would be relatively protected, so few lawmakers had much basis for personal grievance. It worked, politically, but the map was far from optimal on any basis other than incumbent protection. And it probably was an improvement over a decade earlier when the legislature did not get a map passed into law and the map was drawn by a court.

The commission approach, simply, is better. But how a commission works is important.

One approach, a proposed statewide ballot issue, is being floated by Kevin Mannix, a Republican and a former legislator and candidate for governor. It would set up a redistricting commission made up of 11 members. Fine so far, but there's a catch: The members would be chosen by county commissioners, who would get to fill seats based in part on whether the local commission is partisan or not - and that varies among the counties.

It also would have two other effects. It would give tremendous clout, well in excess of their actual population, to the rural counties, which much outnumber the urban. It also would have a clear effective partisan effect: There are a lot more Republican counties in Oregon than urban; in most elections elections, Democrats win because they sweep a relative handful of the largest counties. The Mannix proposal would turn that situation on its head. (It also would affect only legislative, not congressional, remapping.)

You probably can figure his proposal won't fare well at the polls.

There's another proposal out there too, backed by the League of Women Voters. The one - which the group plans to submit to the legislature for action there - would try creating a relatively neutral commission selection process. They would be, as one news story said, "applicants would be screened for conflicts of interest and randomly selected," and be chosen from a pool of politically uninvolved people.

Hmm. While the idea of redistricting sheltered from political self-dealing has some appeal, so does the idea of redistricting done by a group of people who know what they're doing. Anyone who really has no opinion about how such a map should look may be someone who doesn't know much about the state or state politics, and that's probably not a great place to start either.

Most state redistricting commissions start with the presumption that maps will favor this side or that in various places, but also with the assumption that the advantages can be balanced out if you have a balance of power, a commission split deeply enough between the parties, and maybe with some outside interests thrown in, that the overall result will be roughly fair. That approach has more or less worked in Washington, Idaho and California, which have had experienced political hands from both parties involved in the process but also, under the rules, forced to more or less compromise.

It's not perfect, and can be a little messy and argumentative at times, but it does get the job done in a sensible way that doesn;t put too many people at too much disadvantage.

And that may just be good enough.
 

And in Oregon . . .

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The big Oregon political news on a really hyperlocal level on Tuesday was the election of Linda Watkins of Ridenbaugh Press to the Carlton (Oregon) City Council. It wasn't totally unexpected, since she was one of three candidates for three positions, but it was local landmark nonetheless.

Beyond that, looking out across the expanse of America's ninth largest (geographically) state, there weren't exactly a lot of landmarks.

I could point to this: The expansion of Democratic control of the state legislature to the point of passing the three-fifths mark.

That's significant, because passage of several types of financial measures, taxes mostly, require a three-fifths majority. And up to now, Democrats, who have controlled the legislature at least mostly for a generation, have been short of that, requiring at least some cooperation with the Republicans.

So far as I can tell (someone please correct me if I'm wrong) Democrats have hot hit that high level in both chambers since 1983. Regardless, it's been many years.

That puts more onus of responsibility on the Democrats, so a cautionary note is warranted: Don't get too eager. Overreach is often the mother of blowback elections a couple of years hence. And remember that Oregon has not had a more productive session in a generation than it did in 2010, the last time power was split between the parties (they were tied in the House).

That said, and assuming the Democrats keep their head, the 2018 election did seem to solidify ever more the blueness of the state. The new legislative peaks do not seem to represent a ceiling: They could go still higher. In the single biggest unforced political error of the year in the state, Democrats threw away a probable win in the Deschutes County area with a seriously flawed candidate; that same seat probably could be in 2020 with a better one.

This cycle saw a genuinely serious race for governor; the Republican challenger was the strongest the party has fielded in a long time, and probably the best available, period. He did respectably, keeping the race reasonably close, but still not well enough.

The federal races all wound up, as expected, with incumbents winning easily. But note this: While all the Democratic incumbents won with normal numbers, 2nd District Representative Greg Walden, a Republican in a deep red district, was down to 56.5% of the vote. That was enough for a decisive win, but compare it to his earlier percentages: 71.9% in 2016, 70.6% in 2014, 68.7% in 2012, and 74.1% in 2010. That's a steep drop, and Republicans in the district would be remiss not to look into it. (So would Democrats.)

Not so long ago, Oregon was a closely competitive state where both parties had a shot at election, and the margins were found toward the middle. No longer. More Idaho races are moving into the same kind of competitiveness the Carlton City Council saw this week.
 

The winter coast

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Truth is, I wouldn't choose to live on the Oregon coast in the winter.

But that's only as a matter of calculation, not immediate impressions. I sure am glad to live close by (an hour or less, traffic willing, in my case).

The Oregonian has posted a good reminder of reasons why the coast has such appeal in the winter.

This can seem counter-intuitive. In the winter, the coast is typically not terribly icy or snowy, but the mountains that abut it often are, and roadways inland can become a little tricky. Goods and services are sometimes limited on the coast - people I've known have remarked about the number of times they've had to go to larger cities over the mountains for what they need - despite the large number and broad variety of retailers there. The wind is almost always always a reality, and often roars. The skies usually are overcast. The beaches can be treacherous; the waves often run high.

You don't spend a lot of time out of doors, as a rule, in the winter out on the coast.

But it can be a delightful place. We've often headed there for two or three days (many a New Year's holiday) to hang out at some oceanfront spot. The atmosphere is wonderful.

And that's what the Oregonian piece focuses on. When the weather is relatively good, walks and hikes are available in all sorts of places, minus the crowds of summer. There are rainforests in easy reach (where "a drizzly day on the coast can be magical"). The rainy months can be great for exploring many of the area's waterfalls. Many tourist draws, like aquariums, are as good in the winter. Chowder seems especially tasty in the winter.

And you get to beat the crowds, which are the biggest problem with going there in summer. The tourist town of Seaside, for example, draws the reaction, "come winter, the town is practically empty, allowing for peaceful walks on the promenade, quiet evenings in the local restaurants and less competition at the Fascination tables."

Seems like time to cross the mountains again . . .

ALSO Columnist Barrett Rainey, who until recently did live on the Oregon coast, argues that I insufficiently pointed out the downsides of doing so: "You, Sir, have not lived full time on the Oregon Coast. It may be wonderful to come over for a day or two of storms. But try it daily for a year. Or three. Not so much fun. Your planting areas washed out. Your trees uprooted. Repainting the South and West walls every 2-3 years. Asphalt shingles to replace - maybe annually - maybe monthly. The bridge on 101 between you and the next town disappears. Near daily reminders that the "big one" is coming. Bear and cougar pop up in the damndest places - like your backyard."
 

The fork already taken

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This column originally appeared in the News-Register of McMinnville, Oregon, on February 2.

This year’s Oregon legislative session, which begins today, took its biggest fork in the road well before it even convened, on January 23.

That was when voters across the state passed, by a landslide, Measure 101, upholding the taxes approved last year which helped underwrite a big chunk of Oregon Medicaid costs. The measure was a tax increase, of .7 percent on large hospitals and 1.5 percent on most health insurance policies. This plan was supported by the health industry in the state, which recognized that the income from matching federal payments would amount to more than would be paid in taxes (much of which could be passed on to consumers).

If the measure had lost, a huge revenue gap would have opened, along with the risk of health insurance loss for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians, and dealing with that immediately would have become the major and almost only topic for the short session. As it is, an opening for more subjects has appeared. [[referred portions of the law account for between $210 million and $320 million in state revenue, the loss of which could have resulted in possible reduction of federal funds by between $630 million and $960 million. ]]

Not that the cost of health care will vanish from the lawmaking scene. Complaints about last year’s Medicaid funding bill focused more on the tax structure than the need to pay, so adjustments to the formula might still be proposed. Voters almost surely were expressing more a desire to keep the insurance system alive than they were the specific tax plan.

And House Minority Leader Mike McLane said in a statement after the vote, “We must now shift our focus to improving efficiencies within the Oregon Health Authority and in the administration of the Oregon Health Plan. I hope legislators on both sides of the aisle will make it a priority to safeguard and protect the investment in our state government that Oregon taxpayers have affirmed.” That will likely become a subject for discussion.

As will the next Medicaid-related shortfall, which is expected in another couple of years, and many legislators may want to begin planning for that this year.

Short sessions usually have a lot to do with budget numbers, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, was quoted as saying, “Our budget focus must now shift to the February forecast and the effects federal tax changes will have on state revenue.”

Some participants in the session may try to take another crack at long-running budget issues. Mark Johnson, until last year a state representative and now the new president of the Oregon Business and Industry group, noted in one commentary that, “the costs associated with funding the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) will continue to consume ever-larger chunks of the state budget until action is taken, and that means less money for classrooms and vital services.” He indicated that may be a focus for his group, though it has proven a stubborn issue for years on end, including in longer sessions.

More than budgeting will come up this session.

A good bet for the top non-budget issue, which already has lots of lobbying to back it up, is talk about a state “cap and trade” (or “cap and invest”) system.

Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, already have been prepared and released as “legislative concepts”. The whole of the system is complex, but the core of it would involve a limit on greenhouse gas emissions with mandates that large producers buy “allowances” - in a sense, a kind of greenhouse gas marketplace. Payments would be involved, and those would be used to cover efficiencies, help with consumer costs and shore up communities hit by global warming. The hope is that over the years, emissions would be reduced gradually through a system of incentives.

The concept at least has backing from Governor Kate Brown and House Speaker Tina Kotek.

A good deal of money could be at stake, so the basis for intense lobbying is clear. And strongly-worded arguments on both sides already are shaping the debate.

There will be more. Affordable housing has become an increasingly heated subject, especially in the Portland area but elsewhere too, and some effort to deal with it may come up.

In education several legislators (including Democratic Representatives Brian Clem of Salem and Margaret Doherty of Tigard) are suggesting requiring that class sizes be included in labor contract negotiations.

One lobbyist noted that as coordinated care organizations (for regional health care) look ahead to negotiating new service contracts, they may look to the legislature for adjustments in how they are financed.

The recent federal action on solar panel tariffs could lead to some state response on that subject, in a state where solar energy has become increasingly important.

All of this will be happening in a context of something institutionalized - by calendar - and something unusual:

The normal and unavoidable part is that the 2018 session will happen quickly - it will last only about a month - and in an election year. That normally is a prescription for dealing with necessities and emergencies, mainly of a financial nature, and not a lot else.

And there’s an unusual factor: the large number of new people involved, or people who have been around the statehouse but are moving to new positions. An especially large number of legislative personnel changes happened in recent months, including a new Senate minority leader and a new Senate chair on budget.

On top of that, the legislature’s revenue officer, who has held the job for two decades, retired last year.

Sometimes those personnel shifts kick loose legislation that doesn’t ordinarily see the light of day. The odds are this will be a mostly quiet session, with one or two big policy subjects. But then, 2018 may be an unusual political year.