Budget, Social Politics Shape Session
Lawmakers are grappling with a range of issues as they head into the final stretch of the session. In particular, the legislature is spending a lot of time drawing the battle lines over the state budget. This week’s drama focuses on the intraparty conflict between the governor and legislative leadership.
Although the state’s budget-writing process will not begin in earnest until after the May 17 revenue forecast, the Co-Chairs of the Ways & Means Committee are already closing the books on members' requests for funding in their districts. On Tuesday, legislators were required to submit their top funding requests for the end-of-session budgets. These requests serve as a way for leadership to ensure the state budget reflects needs across the state, but, also, to glean the priorities of individual members to aid political efforts to shepherd the legislature’s priorities.
Typically, Democratic political leadership handles their conflicts privately to present a unified voice on strategies to tackle the state's pressing issues. However, this week, there were two instances where legislative leaders and the governor openly disagreed on their spending plans for addressing their policy priorities. During the 2021 session, the legislature dedicated one-time federal funding to increase access to summer school programs and regain some of the learning loss resulting from pandemic-era school closures. However, those funds ran out and budget writers are bracing for an uncertain revenue outlook, creating tension between legislative leadership and school funding advocates.
On Wednesday, Gov. Tina Kotek (D) marked her first 100 days at a press conference by doubling down on her request for lawmakers to redirect nearly $770 million otherwise dedicated to the state’s reserve accounts to fund pressing priorities, such as affordable housing, literacy programs, and behavioral health. Oregon’s legislative leadership quickly responded with skepticism over the plan and believes the state needs to approach the budget in a fiscally conservative manner. The legislature created the reserve accounts as a budgetary cushion to stabilize state spending during economic recessions. Many lawmakers are wary of using the state budget’s safety net without the economy in recession. Considering she is doubling down on the request, the governor seems ready to make the dispute over the rainy day money a defining moment of her first session.
Also on Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers introduced a constitutional amendment that would enshrine protections for abortion, same-sex marriages, and gender-affirming care in the state's constitution. Although Oregon already has some of the strongest protections for these activities and groups, advocates say the constitutional amendment would create a stronger guarantee, especially considering federal uncertainties on these social issues.
Finally, House Republicans have temporarily allowed the chamber to move forward with passing measures without the obstacles of bill readings and other delay tactics. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans continue to slow down the progression of bills, resulting in long and slow floor sessions barely making a dent in the list of bills waiting their turn. With social issues, especially gun control and abortion, consuming much of the national political spotlight, it seems unlikely the parties will be able to break through the politics any time soon.
What We're Reading This Week
- According to a national poll by Morning Consult, Gov. Kotek has the lowest approval rating of any governor, at only 42 percent.
- As the legislature's budget battles heat up, Gov. Kotek balks at an initial plan of using $1 billion in state bonding authority to construct the Interstate 5 bridge connecting Portland and Vancouver.
- With Sen. Chris Gorsek (D-Gresham) out of the Capitol for open heart surgery, Senate President Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) appointed an interim chair of the high-profile committee tasked with developing a transportation funding package.
- The Joint Committee on Semiconductors is convening again to consider a research and development tax credit to lure investments from chip manufacturers. Reaching an accord on the credit's scope and eligibility may prove to be one of the session's most challenging tasks.
- Oregon extended its tax filing deadline until midnight tonight (Friday) due to a website outage preventing taxpayers from filing on the original deadline on Tuesday.