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Cooperation in the capitol

Before the partisan daggers re-emerge for the 2012 elections, it's appropriate to take note of the positive advantage that legislative cooperation is bringing to state government.

The Oregon Legislature, which recently concluded a 36-day annual session, has for the second session in a row turned in a performance that was impressive, not only for its relative lack of rancor but also for its productivity.

These legislative successes, in our view, are proof that a House divided - at least in this case - can lead to improved decision-making.

The Oregon House is exactly split between Democrats and Republicans. And in the Senate, the Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities.

The result of this balance of power - which, by the way, fairly reflects the Oregon electorate - has been a forced cooperation between the two parties. Neither party can accomplish anything without support from the other side, which means every topic of importance is subject to negotiation.

In this session - the first voter-mandated annual session in Oregon history - those negotiations led to some significant legislative advances. Among them were:

•A mid-biennium adjustment to the 2011-2013 budget that closed a projected shortfall but left all-important K-12 school funding mostly intact.

•A foreclosure reform bill that could help some homeowners keep their houses.

•An expansion of enterprise zones that offer tax incentives to new or expanding companies and have proven to be an effective economic-development tool in Oregon.

•Agreement on a health care transformation bill proposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber that promises to save the state bundles of money while also delivering better care for people on the Oregon Health Plan.

•Passage of state Treasurer Ted Wheeler's Oregon Investment Act, which is intended to improve how the state spends the limited dollars it has available for economic development.

•Approval of Kitzhaber's request to require school districts to sign achievement compacts with the state - compacts that could help free districts from the counterproductive effects of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

These accomplishments were important ones, but the Legislature also left some business unfinished. In one respect, that's a good thing, because the short legislative sessions that voters approved for even-numbered years weren't intended to be forums for heavy matters of policy.

Rather, the short sessions should be an opportunity to tweak the budget in the middle of the biennium and take care of any pressing matters that arise in the interim between sessions.

When the legislative deck is reshuffled in November, the House could fall to one party or another.

But even if that's the case, whoever is in charge must make sure matters of concern to all of Oregon get more complete consideration when the Legislature meets in less than a year from now.




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