The Oregon Legislature finished our very first annual session on March 5. It went very quickly and we accomplished a great deal for the people of Oregon.
What a difference a month makes. The Oregon Legislature convened on Feb. 1, for its first constitutionally required annual session, and adjourned 33 days later on March 5. We hit the ground running, and did not catch our collective breaths until the final gavel came down at 8:48 pm on that last day.
In that month, 90 legislators from around Oregon accomplished what many legislatures around the country have found difficult to do: prioritize the citizens of their state over partisan politics. Here's a snap shot of some of the legislation that passed:
• Adjusted a budget in light of over $300 million in revenue shortfalls.
• Changed the conversation in education from solely about funding to establishing outcomes for our students.
• Reformed the delivery of healthcare to our low-income citizens for a more improved and integrated model.
• Provided greater portability of health insurance.
• Reduced the size of government.
• Increased penalties for elder abuse and provided law enforcement with additional tools for crimes against senior citizens.
• Allowed veterans applying for certain licensing occupations to substitute their military training or experience for what is normally required by the licensing agencies.
• Increased the number of enterprise zones aimed at job creation.
• Provided several new protections for distressed homeowners facing foreclosure.
I have highlighted the above as they perhaps have the most sweeping effect on Oregonians. Let's discuss a couple of these in greater detail.
Oregon's total budget is just over $55 billion of which $40 billion comes from federal sources and various excise taxes such as Oregon's gas tax. The remaining general fund of $14.6 billion comes primarily from income taxes and lottery funds.
While all of these financial sources are declining, the legislature was faced with over a $300 million shortfall in our general fund revenue. Unless the legislature made judicious cuts, the governor would have had to make straight across the board cuts to all agencies, irrespective of any prioritization of the services provided by those agencies.
It is my opinion that leaving Oregonians to suffer across-the-board cuts would have been tantamount to legislative malpractice. Fortunately, the Legislature overwhelmingly supported a budget agreement. To be sure, this revised budget will be uncomfortable for some, but we emphasized providing the necessary services to our citizens more efficiently rather than cutting programs altogether.
The Legislature also continued its work on education reform. The data showed that improvements were needed in Oregon's education system. Are our students receiving a quality education? What about education gaps between differing economic levels and races? Are our education dollars actually being used to educate our students?
The Legislature drew a clearer connection between the level of funding provided to school districts and the positive outcomes of their students. Districts will enter into 'achievement compacts' with the state, where the districts provide specific achievement goals.
It is revolutionary for Oregon to draw this connection of achievement and funding. Time will tell if this will actually result in better educated Oregonians, but maintaining the status quo was not an option for our students or our state.
I would have liked to see much more done to improve our economic conditions here in Oregon. Chester Bowles said 'There can be no real individual freedom in the presence of economic insecurity.'
Oregonians continue to hurt financially, yet the Legislature did very little to assist in job creation and financial growth.
Oregon needs a determined hand in our own economic destiny, and not simply be reactionary to outside economic forces.
While the Legislature accomplished much in one quick month, we have so much more to do.