Legislators Prepare for High-Stakes Session
The 2017 Oregon Legislature met for the first time this week during Organizational Days, a pre-session gathering where Legislators officially receive their assignments, bills get a first reading and the Governor gives an inaugural speech. By design, the activities rarely produce surprises, but they do provide a road map to the session, which likely will be dominated by a handful of difficult issues. Here are some of the things for Oregon employers and workers to watch:
Adopting a balanced budget is the most basic function of state government, but that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest task. With a gap of more than $1.7 billion between anticipated revenues and the cost of maintaining existing services, the budget gap and the negotiations necessary to close it will set the tone for the Session.
As has been the case in the past, Democratic Governor Kate Brown offered only vague generalities when discussing how the state should address its budget problem. "Under my direction, my office will work with stakeholders on potential options to generate the revenue we need so badly," Brown said in her inaugural speech.
In contrast to some recent speeches, she did acknowledge the Public Employee Retirement Systems (PERS) role in helping to create the budget imbalance. "We must address the ongoing PERS liability in a way that keeps our promises to retirees and does not put us back on an endless hamster wheel of litigation," she said. She did not offer any suggestions of how that might be accomplished.
The budget process inevitably will force a discussion about ways to increase revenues. Already, public employee unions and Democratic Legislators have floated a variety of potential tax increases, ranging from higher cigarette taxes to elimination of tax credits to a slightly slimmed down version of the Measure 97 tax proposal that voters overwhelmingly rejected.
Beyond the budget, the need for a transportation-funding package might be the point of greatest agreement entering the 2017 Session. But it will be no easier to assemble than the budget, and probably harder. After all, it isn’t constitutionally required, as a balanced budget is.
The joint committee trying to manufacture a deal faces challenges on two fronts: reaching agreement on funding and on which projects to fund. Some Legislators already have started making cases for projects important to their districts. The list of requests is almost certain to be longer than what the state can afford with even an ambitious funding package. Legislators have pledged to keep negotiations public, adding to the potential for drama.
To read more on areas of agreement and disagreement, read this previous Prosperity Project article.
Workplace mandates, including paid sick leave and the new Oregon State Retirement Plan, were a primary focus of the 2015 and 2016 Legislative Sessions. This Session brings more proposed workplace legislation, including paid family leave and possibly equal pay requirements and scheduling restrictions. Prosperity Project will analyze these issues in more detail in a future article.