Oregon hell-bent on ceding power to Governor

By William MacKenzie

Oregon’s legislature seems to be hell bent on ceding its authority to the governor. That’s a mistake.

Senate Bill 4, passed by the House on March 29, 2022 and by the Senate on April 6, 2022, grants Gov. Tina Kotek a blank check to bring some plots of land into Oregon’s urban growth boundaries, changing land use restrictions at her whim, to entice investment in Oregon’s semiconductor industry. Kotek would be able to designate up to eight sites, including two more than 500 acres in size, for manufacturing facilities.

The usual tension between legislative bodies and executive branches of government is because legislatures insist on jealously guarding their authority in the separation of powers. Separation of powers, coined by the 18th century philosopher Montesquieu, refers to the division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another. The intent is to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances.

Separation of powers issues usually arise at the federal level, where constitutional scholars have long been arguing that Congress has been negligent in ceding powers to the Executive. As Brian McKeon and Caroline Tess have written in Foreign Affairs, “A Congress that delegates its powers or consistently acquiesces in the face of executive action not only ignores that invitation; it abdicates its responsibilities.”

But as the National Conference of State Legislatures has written,”There is an inherent measure of competition and conflict among the branches of government,” so state conflicts can arise as well.

Under Oregon’s innovative statewide land use planning program, created in 1973 with passage of the Oregon Land Use Act (SB 100), each of the state’s cities and metropolitan areas has created an urban growth boundary around its perimeter – a land use planning line to control urban expansion onto farm and forest lands.

“These (land use) regulations have resulted in 50 years of success protecting our farm and forest lands, containing urban sprawl, and protecting natural resources. Senate Bill 4 throws that out the window,” Republican state Rep. Anna Scharf has observed.

Republican state Rep. Ed Diehl has expressed similar concern, saying, “I cannot in good conscience give the governor what is essentially a super-siting authority to take lands and bring them into the urban growth boundary. That is not the Oregon way.”

No, it’s not.

The desire of some of Oregon’s legislators to attract investment and good-paying jobs associated with the semiconductor industry is valid and worth pursuing with wise legislative action. But giving so much power to the governor is an unwise move that legislators will regret.