All the big players in Cowtown have weighed in on what is necessary to reach sine die this legislative session. The outside players - the unions, the various business alliances, the school boards associations, lobbyists for tobacco, liquor, forest fairies, poisonous mushrooms, mountain oysters, etc - have made their wishes (or their demands) known and what we have is, as they say, a “failure to communicate”. The Dems in the House, the Senate, and possibly the Governor’s office are sort of on the same page, while the Rs seem to be on a different page in a different book, and the external players have each offered their input on which books are acceptable to them. The bottom line is that no one seems to have the votes to do much of anything and legislative paralysis looks more and more likely. The unions claim they don’t support SH 1068 - the PERS changes brokered by. of all people, the unions, UNLESS they get revenue reform that includes changes to the ways that corporations are taxed. The other special interest groups want the PERS reform, but without the pesky tax increases the Ds and the Unions want. There are less than 4 weeks left in the Legislative session before the mandatory adjournment date of July 10th rolls around. Without agreement on these issues, the Legislature is doomed to a Special Session in the Fall.
I’m not advocating for PERS reform, but the problem isn’t going to go away without two things happening: 1) more revenue; and 2) some legal fixes to PERS. There are two other options available, neither particularly appealing to legislators. First, there is the problem created by Ballot Measure 5, which probably less than 50% of the current voters were either here for or alive at that time. This problem is the result of saddling the State of Oregon with the responsibility for funding about 80% of public school operating costs, but leaving the control of the schools local. That, to me, was a catastrophic failure of Measure 5, and the Legislature could remedy that in either of two ways: a) taking over complete control of the schools, including hiring, firing, negotiating contracts, and establishing benefit levels; or b) returning total control back to the school districts by removing the obligation for supporting the schools from Measure 5. The first would give what the original intent of Measure 5 was; the second, would destroy Measure 5, but from people I’ve talked to, most don’t even understand the first thing about how schools are funded. The second area of mitigation would be to eliminate the “kicker”, which was created to stave off Measure 5-like effects before Measure 5 was even a gleam in the eyes of its proponents. This wouldn’t solve the funding crisis, but it would eliminate a persistent nuisance in a growing economy. Why should the state be forced to give back money legally collected for income taxes just because the state economist is unable to forecast the final expenditures in a biennium two full years before that biennium’s end? If that requirement is necessary, why not have the reverse requirement, i.e. if the state economist overestimates end of biennium revenue, and the state comes up short, why not impose a tax increase? You can’t expect a tax refund because of an underestimate, while not expecting a tax increase because of an overestimate. My point is that the whole “kicker” is a monumentally stupid way of running a state.
I’m guessing that the status quo is what many want, although I suspect the only people who really are really happy are the swinging dicks with the big balls in cowtown (OBI, OSBA, SEIU, AFSCME, and all the other lobbying groups) who have played the game of fomenting paralysis as a high art form. In in the meantime absolutely nothing of consequence has been achieved by the malingerers in Salem who have been bought by all the special interests lined up in opposition to anything but stasis. What a waste of human capital, and that applies across the aisle. However, as a trained evolutionary biologist, I can state with confidence that long periods of stasis are often followed by explosive adaptive radiations. These can be good, or bad, kind of like the proposed asteroid that brought about the end of the dinosaur reign near the terminus of the Cretaceous period. We can hope for something that catastrophic to wake up those who are asleep at the wheel in Salem.