Nobody likes all the pieces in the evolving “grand bargain” to send more money to Oregon schools. It can pass only if a variety of coalitions can be formed around specific bills, or if enough lawmakers will vote for things they don’t like in order to get things they do like.
The Legislature starts hearings today on a package that includes retirement system cuts and changes, new taxes, a small-business tax cut, an expansion of the earned income tax credit, limits on local governmental regulation of genetically modified foods, and dedicated recipients for the new revenue. A special session is scheduled for Monday to consider passing the five bills that would implement the changes.
It’s the latest stage of Gov. John Kitzhaber’s quest for an agreement to reform the Public Employees Retirement System and provide more money for education. The 2013 Legislature failed to agree on a grand bargain, and the governor has spent months traveling the state and talking to legislators. The package grew more and more complicated as additional provisions were added in the search for legislators’ votes.
There’s broad agreement that schools need more money, but less agreement on other provisions in the proposed legislation.
There’s also the worry about what happens if one bill passes and another fails. The governor has said he will veto bills that pass unless the whole package is approved.
Tougher to solve is the wild card of court rulings. Opponents have already sued to try to block smaller retirement system cuts approved by the Legislature earlier this year. If the Legislature approves a package of bills but courts reject one part, the bargain doesn’t work.
We are big supporters of the effort to reform PERS and hike education funding, but the increasing complexity of the bargain is troubling. It isn’t clear that the gains for education are sufficient to justify the complex new web of provisions, especially the tax increases.
It’s also critical that legislators find a way to protect from the possibility that tax increases take effect and PERS reforms don’t.