Whatever the outcome of his push for a “grand bargain,” Gov. John Kitzhaber deserves praise for the effort. He has put his political capital on the line, criss-crossing the state in search of agreement on a package of taxes and retirement system reform.
His travels have taken him to Hermiston, Pendleton, La Grande, Hood River, North Clackamas, Portland, Hillsboro and Salem, where he has listened to the public in a series of roundtable discussions. Those sessions gave the governor an added sense of urgency about the need for more funds in this school year, according to his spokesman Tim Raphael. He also heard a sense of hope about improving school financing, and support for modest retirement reforms.
On Wednesday, Kitzhaber alerted legislators that Sept. 30 would be the day for a special session, but only if he is convinced he has the votes. He framed the discussion in terms of the urgent need for more investment in schools. He said a deal would “add up to 84 teachers in Beaverton, 45 teachers in Bend-La Pine and 36 teachers and counselors in Salem-Keizer. In John Day, students would see electives restored and Portland could add key support and enrichment staff, including librarians, counselors and PE teachers. From Banks to Eugene to Coquille, districts could buy back school days lost to furloughs, and — most importantly — do it this year.”
Today he is scheduled to meet in Prineville with GOP leaders Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, and Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day.
The governor launched his latest effort after the Legislature adjourned in July without agreeing to a package of retirement system reforms supported by Republicans and additional taxes favored by Democrats. The GOP has also insisted that the package include tax relief for small businesses.
We’ve long argued for the critical need to reform the Public Employees Retirement System, given the unforgiving projections going forward. Political necessity may require an accompanying tax increase, but the details matter in determining whether the balance is right.
We’ve also criticized the governor in the past for failing to put the full force of his office behind PERS reform. It’s reassuring to see his current drive to find a path forward.