Oregon legislative special session update


by NW Spotlight

UPDATE (10/2 5:10 PM): 

All five bills of the “Grand Bargain” package have been passed by the Oregon House and the Oregon Senate.

HOUSE: Tax bill (HB 3601) passed 36-22 – Dems had been 3 votes short – 10 Republicans voted YES. House passed HB 5101 (where to spend the new taxes) by a vote of 52-3. House passed the PERS reform bills: SB 861 by a vote of 30-24, and SB 862 by a vote of 55-0. House passed the GMO bill, SB 863 by a vote of 32-21.

SENATE: Senate passed PERS reform bills SB 861 (vote of 22-7) and SB 862 (vote of 27-2). Senate also passed the GMO bill, SB 863 (vote of 17-12). Senate passed the tax bill, HB 3601 by a vote of 18-10. Senate passed HB 5101 (where to spend the new taxes) by a vote of 27-1.


During the regular session of the 77th Oregon Legislative Assembly that ran from January 14, 2013 to July 8, 2013, the Democrat-controlled legislature failed to seriously address the largest issue facing Oregon – PERS reform. They passed what critics referred to as “PERS Lite.” Democratic Gov. Kitzhaber failed to provide leadership during the regular session. Instead, he chose to travel to Bhutan to attend a conference on “Gross National Happiness”.

Recognizing that the Democrat-controlled legislature and Democratic governor had only passed “PERS Lite,” Gov. Kitzhaber spent time over the summer travelling the state to drum up support for iterations of his “Grand Bargain.”

The main feature of the “Grand Bargain” was a more serious attempt to pass meaningful PERS reforms – reforms that the Governor believed could shave $5 billion off of the $14 billion PERS unfunded liability. The “Grand Bargain” included sweeteners to secure support from fellow Democrats wary of the wrath of public employee unions – and sweeteners for Republicans to secure their support for the sweeteners for the Democrats.

On September 23, 2013, Gov. Kitzhaber issued a proclamation calling the Legislature into special session on Monday, September 30, 2013, to consider his “Grand Bargain”.

Republicans were excluded from leadership in the special session committees.

Critics of the planning leading up to the special session complained about the “behind closed doors” deal-making.

Special Session Days 1 & 2 (Mon/Tue): Hurry up and wait

Gov. Kitzhaber had initially intended for the special session to last just one day; then legislators were preparing themselves for it to last through Friday, but some progress very late Tuesday night raised the possibility of the special session ending today. It has taken longer than expected to find the right shade of lipstick for this “special session” pig.

Special session leadership has been in “closed-door negotiations over the bills,” trying to craft a deal that will get the support needed from an “ever-changing, mix of Republican and Democratic votes.”

Summarizing the first two days, Yuxing Zheng at The Oregonian wrote “For two days, rank-and-file legislators have been called to the Capitol first thing in the morning only to see hearings and floor session delayed until late in the day, if they’re held at all. Many have had to take leaves from work, while others canceled or came home early from vacations.”

Several legislators questioned the governor’s judgment in calling the special session, including Sen. Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland) who is quoted in the Statesman Journal saying “I’m not really sure why we needed a special session; I don’t see any emergency here.”

Special Session Day 3 (Wed): “Grand Bargain” ready for a vote

Harry Esteve at The Oregonian reported late Tuesday night that the 5-bill “Grand Bargain” package moved out of the select committee and “Now it’s up to the full Legislature to decide the bills on the floors of the House and Senate. Votes are scheduled to begin [Weds] at 8:30 a.m. in the House, 10 a.m. in the Senate.”

What’s in the “Grand Bargain”?

Here’s a table of what’s in the “Grand Bargain” 5-bill package, using the description’s from Harry Esteve’s 10/1 article:

PERS reforms SB 861 & 862 – put strict limits on cost of living increases to save more than $400 million a year meat of the special session
Tax rule changes – net $200 million tax increase HB 3601 – raises cigarette taxes, raises taxes on some corporations & high income earners. Reduces medical tax deductions for some higher income seniors. Gives tax breaks to a range of business owners that pay individual income tax rates on their profits. Net effect: $200 million additional revenue for next 2 years, less after that. Sweeteners (tax increases for Democrats, tax breaks for Republicans)
Where to spend the new taxes HB 5101 – appropriates the money to spend on schools and other programs Sweetener – it’s for the kids
Buying select legislators’ votes SB 863 – limits local government regulation of genetically modified plants (GMO) Sweetener – for Republicans (and a few Dems)

Note on need for additional revenue (taxes) for “education and mental health programs”: as noted previously in Oregon Catalyst, “in the legislative session that just ended, the state general & lottery funds’ budget increased by a staggering $2 billion. It went from $14.7 billion for the last biennium to $16.7 billion in the current 2-year budget cycle. That $2 billion increase was accomplished without a tax increase – it just took an improving economic outlook.”

More reasons to oppose the “Grand Bargain”:

Why I oppose the grand bargain (Jeff Kropf)

Front page: Special session “Behind closed doors” taxes (Taxpayer Association of Oregon)

Dems’ PERS Lite was farcical, Kitz trying to provide political cover on next attempt (Sen. Doug Whitsett)

Oregon Senate Republicans ready to pass stand-alone PERS reforms in a special session