Oregon lawmakers adjourned their five-week “short” session today, 32 days into their 35-day session. The legislature spent most of the week enduring long floor sessions to work through an extensive list of bills passed by committees and left many unfinished proposals for another session. Unlike most sessions, the delays caused by the bill readings persisted until nearly the end, requiring legislators to listen to a computer read the contents of each measure before making speeches and taking votes. Despite the long days and nights, the legislature accomplished a significant amount of work in only a short amount of time, most of which occurred in the final week.
On Monday, the Ways & Means Committee advanced its hallmark package of budget bills for the session. Among those bills was the annual budget reconciliation measure, which rebalances state agency budgets and dispenses money for the odds-and-ends spending that does not squarely fit in other legislation. However, this year, the legislature received news that surging revenues coupled with leftover federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act would boost its spending capacity by billions of dollars. Lawmakers wasted no time finding ways to spend that money, committing nearly $6 billion in new state spending.
Oregon’s strong revenue position deflated any need for tax increases, but the legislature was not without tax controversy before it adjourned. Since the legislature limits the number of measures individual lawmakers and most committees can introduce in the short session, the Senate’s tax-writing committee spent much of the session crafting an omnibus tax bill. Usually, these bills contain the more mundane and technical side of tax policy but can quickly evolve into something more substantial and controversial. Such was the balance the tax-writing committees navigated throughout the session, causing delays that, on occasion, seemed to risk torpedoing the entire bill. After postponing committee action on the omnibus for more than two weeks, the measure arrived in the House on Monday and was met by a frustrated committee needing to address the controversy in the session’s eleventh hour. Ultimately, the House scaled back the omnibus tax legislation—returning it to its more mundane and technical beginnings—and the legislature sent it to the governor. The drama around the omnibus, which largely fell outside the radar of most spectators, sets the stage for interim politics as the legislature readies for robust tax discussions in 2023.
Although the die was already cast on the policy and political fights early into the week, Republicans continued to require the chambers to read the contents of each measure before moving on to floor speeches and final votes. These bill readings led most legislators, lobbyists, and spectators to believe the session was likely to run up to its constitutional adjournment deadline on Monday. Once the last major controversy of the session—the legislation requiring agricultural employers to pay overtime to farmworkers—was passed out of both chambers on Thursday, Republicans lowered their swords on bill readings jettisoning the legislature to adjournment.
The political community shifts its attention to the tumultuous and unpredictable campaign season as the legislature closes the chapter of this short session. Candidates have until Tuesday, March 8, at 5 p.m. to file their candidacy for the primary election on May 22. As of this morning, only 35 (of 60) state representatives and nine (of 16) senators have filed for re-election, signaling substantial turnover and uncertainty of the personalities at the center of the legislature. Additionally, Oregon will see its first open gubernatorial race in a dozen years, at least two competitive congressional campaigns, and a robust competition over legislative control. These campaigns are superimposed on a high-stakes national election and increasingly growing divisions between, and within, the political parties. The only certainty in our politics is that change is coming.