Editorial: Education bill defection opens door for leadership

Published Jun 19, 2013 at 05:00AM

One defecting Democratic senator gave pension reform and education funding another chance Monday.

Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, said he voted against the K-12 school budget because it leaves his district short, facing more teacher layoffs and fewer school days. He broke the party-line vote and joined Senate Republicans to defeat the measure.

Although some districts are in better shape than Edwards’ and can partially restore days and teaching positions with this budget, they all face the ongoing problem of increasing obligations for the Public Employees Retirement Fund.

And it’s not just schools, but all government institutions in Oregon that face this large and growing burden. It’s likely the biggest financial issue facing the state’s finances for years to come.

Gov. John Kitzhaber accused Edwards of “D.C.-like gamesmanship” and said “Oregonians expect more from a Legislature that overcame partisanship in the last biennium.”

But in fact, Edwards’ vote gives legislators another chance to forge compromise along the lines the governor proposed just a short time ago. Instead of criticizing Edwards, the governor should seize the opportunity.

The K-12 budget rejected Monday provides $6.55 billion plus an assumed $200 million in already-approved PERS reforms. It’s an increase over the current biennium, but there’s plenty of support for the idea that $7 billion is the right level. The governor’s extensive education reforms won’t go far without further investment.

Republicans want further PERS reform. Democrats want tax increases. The K-12 schools budget — and the state’s financial future — hang in the balance.

It’s time for some serious leadership around a long-term vision for Oregon.