Politics, the state budget and taxes had all been thoroughly discussed before someone finally got around to asking State Sen. Ted Ferrioli the question he'd been waiting for: What do you think about Senate Bill 30?
"It's an affront to the integrity of the commissioners of Jefferson County," Ferrioli, R-John Day, told an audience of about 30 county residents at last Saturday's Town Hall at the Madras Elks.
Senate Bill 30, introduced last month by Sen. Ben Westlund, D-Tumalo, would prohibit destination resorts within three miles of the Metolius River Basin. The bill was introduced after the county passed a new comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance on Dec. 27, 2006, that designates two areas in the southwestern portion of the county as suitable for destination resorts.
Westlund and other backers of the bill, including Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who owns property in the Camp Sherman area, hope to prevent the county from allowing resorts in either area. Johnson and four other petitioners have already notified the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals that they intend to appeal the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance.
The SB30 would effectively halt plans by two developers -- Ponderosa Land and Cattle Co., and Dutch Pacific Resources -- for two very different destination resorts.
Senate minority leader Ferrioli, who represents Jefferson County -- the target of the bill -- didn't even hear about the bill until after it was introduced.
He was disturbed by the fact that the bill would circumvent the county's ability to set its own policy on destination resorts, as allowed under state law.
"It was an open, public process," Ferrioli commented on the year and a half the county spent on public hearings and modifications to the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance. "Citizens here had two opportunities to address this -- through testimony or a recall."
"I'm a great respecter of the separation of powers doctrine in our Constitution," he said, referring to the comp plan and zoning ordinance -- written on the county level and under appeal to the judicial system -- which could be undermined by the Legislature. "This hasn't run its course. It's possible that it could be overturned or remanded."
Whether or not LUBA upholds the county's plan, "This bill has no place," he said. "It shouldn't even have gotten here. This bill should never leave committee."
To Ferrioli, every place in his 34,000-square-mile district is special -- from the Painted Hills to Frenchglen to the Metolius Basin, which already has "a tremendous amount of protection."
Ferrioli said he hopes wisdom will prevail in the House of Representatives. "The buffer idea is just a stupid idea," he said, noting that it almost touches several existing communities.
"This particular issue shouldn't come before the Legislature because it's a local issue," he said. "You have your own elected officials."
After what he termed "a bloodbath" in the 2003-2005 budget when the state lost $1.2 billion in revenue, Ferrioli said that this session there was unanticipated revenue of over $2 billion.
Nevertheless, he's surprised by the talk at the Legislature. "All I'm hearing is it's not enough," he said, noting that legislators want to get services back to former levels.
While the governor's proposed budget of $6.245 billion looks good to Ferrioli, he isn't pleased with proposed tax increases. Among the increases are taxes on the recording of documents, cigarette taxes, and beer and wine taxes.
In the governor's budget, the increased cigarette tax is tied to providing health coverage for 117,000 Oregon children who are uninsured.
"Sixty percent are already covered under the Oregon Health Plan -- they're just not signed up," he said, suggesting that the state use existing programs, including safety net clinics and school clinics to cover the children.
Ferrioli was ashamed by the Legislature's appropriation of the corporate kicker for a rainy day fund. When the state collected an extra 2 percent in corporate taxes, under the Oregon Constitution, he said, it was to be returned to businesses.
Instead, the Legislature used its ability to suspend the Constitution in an emergency. "The emergency was that the Legislature put the emergency clause at the end of the bill," Ferrioli said.
About $350 million was put away in the rainy day fund.
Ferrioli hopes the Legislature will reach a compromise on the Measure 37 issue, which has sharply divided Oregonians. The land-use measure allows longtime landowners to seek compensation -- or a waiver -- when government regulations reduce the value of their property.
In Jefferson County, over 130 claims have been filed. "If they're all approved, I imagine it will significantly change the character of Jefferson County," he said.
He applauds efforts by a group of senators, including one who helped draft Measure 37, to reach an agreement on transferability and maximum number of lots in an area, based on the median size of existing lots, to "keep the character of the rural land."
Ferrioli, 56, grew up in Portland, and graduated from the University of Oregon in 1973, with a degree in English. He has lived in John Day since 1994, and was elected to the Oregon Senate in 1996.
Over the past decade, his district was realigned, causing it to double in size -- from 17,000 square miles to 34,000.
More recently, he has watched as both the Senate and House Republicans have lost their majority. "What we have is no Republican in any public office, nor any of the power positions in Legislature," he lamented. "It's pretty tough for us to try to have an agenda."
Rural legislators are always in the minority, Ferrioli explained. "There are only four senators in Eastern Oregon, out of 30, and eight House members out of 60."
"We're used to being outnumbered," he said, "but we're not used to being outfought."