I am here in Indianapolis, Indiana to attend a graduation. Indiana has a colorful political history. In fact, Oregon’s founders used Indiana’s Constitution 150 years ago as a model for drafting our own State Constitution. Today, Indiana is embroiled in a controversy over Governor Mitch Daniels’ toll road sale decision. Governor Daniels sold for nearly $4 Billion Indiana’s rights to operate and collect tolls on 175 miles of Indiana highways. Opponents to the deal fear the $4 Billion will quickly be spent on feel-good projects that will provide no long-term benefit to the state. They have good reason to fear. In all likelihood, the money will quickly be spent and Indiana residents will feel the loss of their toll road revenues for the next 75 years. Here in Indiana I am reminded, every state has its issues.
Back in Oregon, the key issue continues to be the budget. Weeks keep passing and the Session’s June 29th ending date is fast approaching. Surprisingly, there is no indication as to when the Ways and Means Co-Chairs will publish a comprehensive, detailed budget for Oregon’s next biennium. Each week a steady stream of budget bills are brought to the House Floor, and each week they are passed over the top of Republican objections. Top priority issues, such as assuring Oregon highways get 24/7 coverage with the addition of 139 new Oregon State Troopers, remain unfunded. The Republicans continue to demand a comprehensive budget document setting forth the total amount of revenue and expenditures under consideration. Those demands have fallen on deaf ears.
So far this session both the Governor’s Recommended Budget and the Co-Chair’s Budget have proposed expenditures costing far more than the forecasted revenues, unless the forecasted revenues are augmented by additional taxes. Five House Republican votes are required to reach the constitutionally required super-majority for a tax increase. The Governor and the Democrat leaders have yet to show Republican leaders why additional taxes would be justified, and voters from 29 Legislative districts elected Republicans to protect them from unnecessary expansion of government programs and expense.
The Governor and Democrat leaders must quickly decide whether or not they can live within the revenues forecast for the next biennium. If that is their budgeting strategy, it can be implemented without House Republican votes. If staying within current revenue forecasts is not feasible, the Governor and Democrat leaders must show Republican leaders how five House Republican votes for tax increases will benefit all of Oregon, including the 29 districts represented by Republicans in the House and Senate.
There are only seven weeks remaining in this legislative session. Seven weeks is not long to conclude discussions on exactly how much revenue is going to constitute the 2007-09 adopted budget, finalize the budget strategy and budget bills, and determine the session’s “end game” — i.e., which pending legislation will languish and die in committee, and which will be allowed to pass through both the House and the Senate and go forward to the Governor for his final analysis and signature. From my viewpoint, the next 10 days will determine this session’s final budgeting strategy. Politics requires negotiations and compromise, and for Oregon’s 74th Legislative session, time is running out.