Oregon’s legislative walkout in the Senate extended into its third week, with no signs of the parties nearing a deal on bringing back the missing senators. Since May 3, the Senate has been living a Groundhog Day experience of meeting to hear an invocation and give courtesies to constituents and other guests visiting the Capitol. The chamber must call the roll to determine the presence of a quorum before proceeding with the rest of its calendar. And that is the day. Without two-thirds of the members present for the roll call, the business of the day is over and members return to their offices.
The legislature’s constitutional duty during the long session is to craft the biennial budget. In previous walkouts with a budget on the line, the conventional wisdom was that cooler heads would prevail and the partisan leaders would find a pathway out of the crisis. Today, however, the conventional wisdom is exactly the opposite. That is, in part, the legislature’s own doing.
In mid-April, as the House was working through long floor sessions of bill readings and other stall tactics from the minority party, the Ways & Means Committee was advancing its biennial continuing resolution to maintain state government funding after July 1 and through September 15 if the legislature did not adopt a budget before the start of the next biennium. In recent years, the continuing resolution largely falls out of sight because constitutional adjournment now falls before July 1, so budget writing is unlikely to extend into the next budget cycle.
The continuing resolution appeared on the House floor for second reading on April 24, the same day leadership agreed on a ceasefire to the stall tactics. Republicans agreed to suspend the rules to allow an immediate vote and pass the continuing resolution. Then, immediately following that vote, the chamber proceeded to delay a vote on a controversial bill expanding access and privacy protections for minors seeking abortions and gender-affirming care until May 2.
At the time, it seemed like a peculiar deal to strike. Whether the House voted on the controversial bill on April 24 or May 2, there would still be ample time for the Senate to pass it and send it to the governor’s desk. In retrospect, it appears to be a highly coordinated move. The delay provided additional time for the continuing resolution to appear for a vote in the Senate on May 1, two days before the abortion and gender-affirming bill was scheduled for a vote in the Senate, and just before the beginning of the walkout.
The timing of the continuing resolution plays directly into the walkout politics because the state government will not shut down even if the missing members do not return for the session. It is becoming increasingly common to hear lawmakers and lobbyists talk about the likelihood of a summer special session to navigate the state budget. It is anybody’s guess how long the walkout lasts, but it seems the stars aligned to let this one unfold in a way where there is no end in sight, at least for the time being.
One-Third of the Senate Ineligible to Seek Reelection Under Measure 113
As the walkout continues, lawmakers are beginning to rack up enough unexcused absences to trigger the new constitutional provision prohibiting senators and representatives from seeking reelection if they are unaccounted for ten or more floor sessions. On Thursday, the tally of lawmakers passing that threshold is nine Republicans and one Independent, marking a third of the chamber ineligible to run for their seats again, assuming the constitutional provisions survives scrutiny in the courts. Now, three Republicans—Sens. Dick Anderson (R-Lincoln City), David Brock Smith (R-Port Orford), and Fred Girod (R-Stayton)—are the only minority lawmakers not to exceed the new requirement. Although the public employee unions that crafted the constitutional amendment sold the measure to voters as an end to disruptive legislative walkouts, the reality seems quite different. In fact, it seems less likely a deal can be struck after triggering the new rule.
The legislature is almost a tale of two houses. In the House, the floor sessions proceed with normal debates and rarely with the stall tactics that seemed normal earlier in the session. In fact, Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) suggested to members that committees and floor sessions may take a week hiatus after the Memorial Day holiday if the chamber can complete its, albeit long, list of bills on the calendar. If there is anything that motivates lawmakers to hasten the pace of the session, it is the opportunity to spend more time in their districts and with their families.
State Revenues Continue to Defy Gravity
Despite the uncertainty driven by the walkout, the legislature continues to conduct most of its ordinary business. On Wednesday, the legislative revenue committees received the latest revenue forecast from the state’s economists. The forecast marks the last time the legislature can check the pulse of the economy and the revenues it provides before crafting a budget. And the takeaway from the forecast defied gravity.
Over the last several months, lawmakers and interest groups braced for a challenging economic environment in the years ahead. Inflation, supply chain shocks, and the conclusion of pandemic-era financial aid were expected to bring a super-hot economy crashing back down to earth. While the economists believe the economy will slow down in some way, shape, or form, they also removed a recession from the outlook, forecasting positive but slower growth in the years ahead.
Regarding state revenues, lawmakers heard the best news possible—Oregon’s tax collections were stronger than anticipated. The economists told lawmakers the state saw an increase of $2 billion more in revenues than expected three months ago during the March forecast. The positive revisions to the revenue forecast also call for an increasingly high personal and corporate income tax kicker. While it is easy to get lost in the positivity, it is also important to remember that most of the surplus revenues will either be returned to voters through the state’s personal income tax kicker ($5.5 billion) or set aside for public education as part of the corporate kicker ($1.8 billion). Nonetheless, the economists removing a recession from the short-term forecast brings a sigh of relief to lawmakers and interest groups as the legislature heads into the final stretch.
What We're Reading This Week
- The movement to annex large portions of Oregon into “Greater Idaho” faces its first organized opposition as they ask voters to approve nonbinding resolutions seeking to negotiate a land transfer.
- Gov. Tina Kotek (D) signaled this week she does not intend to insist her appointee for Secretary of State serve in a “caretaker” role.
- In Multnomah County, voters resoundingly rejected a ballot measure seeking to impose another capital gains tax to fund legal representation for tenants facing eviction. Notably, the measure would have made the county the only jurisdiction in the world to impose two capital gains taxes on the same dollar.
- New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau say Portland’s population has shrunk by 2.8 percent since July 2020.
- The City of Portland reduced fees and charges in its upcoming budget. The strategy is part of Mayor Wheeler’s strategy to revive the city’s downtown.