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Oregon's budget, and last minute "emergency bills"

 

Senator Doug Whitsett
R- Klamath Falls, District 28

Phone: 503-986-1728 900 Court St. NE, S-303, Salem, Oregon 97301
Email: sen.dougwhitsett@state.or.us
Website: http://www.leg.state.or.us/whitsett
State Seal
E-Newsletter 3/5/12
 

The first constitutional annual session of the Oregon Legislative Assembly will adjourn sine die early this week. The thirty five day session was fast paced, rushed and too often disconnected from public participation.

It was my understanding that the primary purpose of the annual Legislative sessions are to make needed adjustments in state budgets, and to enact pressing legislation. Bills that are more complex and that make major policy changes were to wait for the longer sessions scheduled in odd-numbered years. The first purpose was achieved. Unfortunately, major policy changes were attempted and enacted.

Budget adjustments were needed due to continued reductions in projected state revenue. Those changes were made in order to maintain balanced budgets. Once again, the adjustments were accomplished without levying any new taxes, and with only a few very modest fee increases.

Fortunately, new borrowing was kept to a minimum because Oregonís credit is about maxed out. The cost of paying current debt is already using about five percent of the General Fund revenue and nearly twenty five percent of the lottery revenue. Every dollar that must be spent on debt service is a dollar that cannot be spent on schools, public safety, health care and other needed services.

Since the 2010 elections, Oregon spending growth has stopped. As a matter of fact, the current budgets actually call for spending a total of about $4 billion less than in the previous two-year budgets. Those reductions are not enough but they are a start. The state is still spending about $15,000 for every man, women and child residing in Oregon. We must keep in mind that every dollar that the state spends is ultimately a dollar taken out of someoneís pocket.

Normal legislative procedures that ensure the checks and balances needed to avoid unintended consequences were routinely ignored during the short session. Tight schedules functionally excluded most opportunities for public participation in hearings. A number of the major policy bills were limited to hearings in only one chamber. The reason repeatedly given for these contraventions in normal legislative procedures was the lack of enough time.

From my perspective, too much was attempted in too short a period of time. Well more than 100 bills, resolutions and memorials were introduced in the Senate and nearly 200 more in the House. Nearly one hundred twenty of those bills were enacted into law.

Without a doubt, some good work was accomplished. Other good bills fell by the wayside due to lack of agreement or insufficient time. Notably, virtually all of the bills introduced by Republicans designed specifically to address state government barriers to private sector job growth were blocked.

One very troubling trend continued to emerge. Seventy one percent of the bills enacted into law during the 2012 session had an emergency clause attached that makes them effective immediately upon their passage and approval by the Governor.

I am aware of only two purposes for attaching an emergency clause to a bill. The first is a pressing need to fix a previous legislative error or to enact a law to address a new issue that needs immediate resolution. The second is to block the constitutionally guaranteed right of the people to refer the new law to a vote of the people to decide.

The main purpose of delayed implementation of a new law is to provide adequate time for the public to gather sufficient signatures on petitions to refer a measure for the people to decide. Once the adequate signatures are collected, the new law is held in abeyance until the people have the opportunity to vote to decide whether or not to adopt the law. In the event that the people vote to reject the law the Legislative approval is null and void.

Bills were enacted during this session that make sweeping changes in the governance, design and delivery of education from kindergarten to graduate school. Another series of bills serve to consolidate all early learning and prevention programs under a single authority. Other bills were enacted that are designed to change the entire paradigm of how health care is provided in Oregon. From my perspective, too much authority that currently is under Legislative control, and that should remain under Legislative control, is being transferred to the Executive power of the Governor.

Virtually all of these bills that make significant policy changes enacted during the 2012 Assembly contain an emergency clause. In my opinion, limiting the peoplesí constitutional right to refer these sweeping policy changes to a vote of the public to decide is simply wrong.

Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.

Best regards,

Doug

 

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              Page Updated: Wednesday March 07, 2012 02:58 AM  Pacific


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