I’m back from the far side of the world. It was a fabulous trip that not only provided endless photographic opportunities, but literally closed me off from any useful news during the week before the election and for nearly two weeks after. Only limited news got through and I enjoyed the freedom to relax and let my inner Anthropologist emerge with new people, new situations, and an endless vista of new, gorgeous scenery. (BTW, without prompting, we were offered opinions from our Tanzanian hosts about our current occupant of the White House. Needless to say, it wasn’t favorable, and I had the opportunity to buy a T-shirt that acknowledged I had visited one of those sh*thole countries. I demurred).
Back to the present. The election is over. My own state representative, the not-lamented Julie Parrish, is gone, to be replaced by someone I like and trust more, Rachel Pruzak. That surprised and pleased me. Kate Brown has finally been elected to her OWN term as Governor, and the Ds now control both Legislative bodies with supermajorities. That means that they can pass any revenue bills without support from a single R. Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen. On one hand, the fear of draconian anti-PERS legislation has diminished considerably, but that does not mean PERS is entirely out of the Legislative crosshairs. The media, the employers, the Oregon Business Alliance, Nike, and others continue to agitate for PERS reform, while progressives continue to agitate for revenue reform, particularly an increase in the Corporate Income Tax. This is going to set up a classic battle in the Legislature as business lobbyists square off against labor lobbyists, education lobbyists, School Boards to balance those conflicting interests. There is nothing in Kate Brown’s proposed 2019-21 budget that suggests she grasps the magnitude of the issues that the Legislature will have to confront. At first blush, it seems like the Legislature would be easy-peasy. Pass tax increases without R support. Governor signs bill. Legislature distributes revenue to starving agencies. Sine die. But, and this is a big one that people sometimes forget. Whatever the Legislature does can be undone with an initiative, referendum, or constitutional amendment. And trust me, those groups are already starting to organize, and the Legislature is well-aware of their existence. Any tax increase, except maybe on cigarettes or liquor or marijuana, WILL BE referred to the voters, and the likely outcome is defeat. In the past, this has had some serious consequences. The earliest any such measure could be on the ballot would be May 2020 or November 2020. That is more than halfway through the next biennium. Thus, any budget increases seen by agencies will disappear shortly after the vote, and this will be more havoc-producing than not having the money in the first place. What all this means is that the Ds have complete control of the entire legislative and executive branches of State Government, but they will have to exercise that control with more caution than their progressive supporters would like.
So, at this juncture after the election, the only thing I can conclude about the 2019 Legislative Session is that “it is too soon to tell” anything. There probably won’t be massive PERS reform; there also won’t be massive tax increases either. Revenue will be tight; agencies will be squeezed, and the various issues in play will probably, yet again, be pushed down the road to 2021 or later.