The election is over and we are now preparing for the legislative session which begins in February. Each session develops its own “personality” and direction over time, and it is not always in the directions one would assume on the front end.
With the Democrats once more having the majority in both chambers, one can assume the governor’s agenda will be front and center. When one combines that with the fact Governor Kitzhaber will be running for re-election in two years, we can assume there will be a significant political flavor to the proceedings.
The issues I assume will be front and center will be the budget, health care reform, education reform, PERS reform, prison reform and energy policy. I will be directly involved in three of those areas as I will be on the health care, education and judiciary committees.
In the area of health care there is a general feeling we should let the new community-based structures have a chance to gain some traction before we do any more changes.
The area of contention will be the Medicaid expansion population proposed in the federal act. The real issue here would be how we would pay for it three years out when the reimbursement rate would drop to standard.
The potential of having to take money from schools (for example) would be very real and we need to be taking a longer look at the implications. This could be another example of blindly chasing federal dollars without looking at the long term implications, as we did with No Child Left Behind, for example.
In the area of education the governor’s plan is to consolidate all command and control of education at all levels in the governor’s office. I personally think this is moving in the wrong direction and will be proposing alternatives, although with his control of the majority party it could be difficult to have these discussions.
In the area of public safety the focus has been on sentencing reform and I have yet to see any proposals that would significantly reduce the costs. This leads directly into an area I won’t be as directly involved in, and that is PERS reform.
The issue of the unfunded liability in the system, both at the state and local level is one we can no longer afford to ignore. In fact the governor has assumed significant savings from reform in the creation of his budget. The problem is none of the reforms he has identified would come anywhere close to the savings he is assuming.
When you add this to the fact the incoming Speaker of the House, Tina Kotek, has shown reluctance to even deal with this issue in significant ways it is possible this issue could be a major sticking point.
In the area of energy the governor will be proposing a 10-year plan. At this point a lot of the details are not known, but it seems clear he would like to see the elimination of carbon-based energy in Oregon.
As fully 40 percent of the electricity currently used here is carbon-based I am not sure how he intends to accomplish this without the potential of significant increases in the cost of electricity. This could have the potential of creating another drag on our economy, which is already sluggish at best.
Ultimately the one thing the Legislature is constitutionally required to do is present a balanced budget. Under the current way we do budgets, called current service level budgeting, we assume everything government is doing is good and we just factor in the roll-up costs.
The problem with this model is we never take a real critical look at programs and therefor don’t give ourselves the real chance to eliminate or streamline taxpayer-funded programs to make sure essential services are appropriately covered.
In this model we assume we have a revenue problem and not a spending problem. This leaves us with having to increase taxes or fees to balance the budget rather than reducing expenditures.
It is clear we are going to have some significant challenges ahead of us. By April we should have a pretty good idea of what the outcome will be. I would encourage everyone to keep an eye on what we are doing and I would hope you would be willing to share your views with me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I would welcome your thoughts.
Jeff Kruse of Roseburg is a Republican member of the Oregon Senate, representing the 1st District since 2005. Previously he was a member of the Oregon House of Representatives from 1996 through 2004. He was re-elected in November for another four-year term.