Back-and-forth over budget shortfall

Oregon’s Legislature faces a likely budget shortfall, the Senate president said Monday. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said the Legislature “got a break” because voters last week passed Measure 101, which imposes a tax on hospitals and health insurers to help pay for Medicaid for low-income residents. However, Courtney said “we’ve got a serious budget issue” because of an expected deficit of $200 million to $300 million stemming from changes to federal tax laws that likely will have to be addressed.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said a “one-time hit” on the budget is anticipated from the federal tax overhaul.

But House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said the federal tax changes will increase money coming into state coffers, as well as make Oregon’s economy grow and reduce taxes most Oregonians pay.

“If taxpayers behave in certain way, then it’s possible that in the short run, the state government may have a reduction,” McLane said. “But all projections and the state economists have said the tax plan passed by Congress and signed by the president will increase the amount of money coming into the state government.”

— The Associated Press

SALEM — Senate Democrats signaled Monday that there isn’t enough time in the short legislative session beginning next week to pass a cap-and-invest carbon pollution plan advanced by House Democrats.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said the session should primarily go to fixing any problems with the state budget caused by the new federal tax cuts. He said the long to-do list of his colleagues in the House was unrealistic.

“Expectations are well beyond what is possible,” said Courtney. “This is not a 40-day session; it’s not a 60-day session; it’s not a 90-day session. It’s 35 days.”

During a panel held Monday as part of an annual legislative preview program, House Democrats laid out an aggressive agenda for the session beginning Feb. 5 that includes legislation on the environment, health care, education, government transparency, equal rights and consumer safeguards.

“Session after session, we have proven that progressive victories mean a better Oregon for everyone,” said House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland. “In 2018, we will continue to fight to expand opportunity and level the playing field.”

Democrats outnumber Republicans 35 to 25 in the House and 17 to 13 in the Senate.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said there was enough time to get cap-and-invest and other programs through both chambers before the state constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn on March 11.

“The voters sent us here to work hard,” Kotek said.

Senate Democrats, who appeared in an earlier panel, cast doubt that the House’s quick march on major new laws will meet with much success.

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said the Legislature needed to deal with the carbon pollution issue, and work toward legislation was possible in 2018. But getting a bill to the governor was doubtful.

“My personal opinion is we will most likely not be able to get over the finish line in 35 days,” Burdick said.

The Senate panel includes new Senate Minority Leader Jackie Winters, R-Salem, who said she enjoys a collegial relationship with Burdick and Courtney. She reiterated the widely held Republican position that any cap-and-invest debate was better suited for the long session in 2019.

“My goal is to have a bipartisan atmosphere,” Winters said.

House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, listened to the presentation by Williamson and looked incredulous.

“All I have got to say is, ‘Wow,’” he said. “All in 35 days?”

The final preview was given by Gov. Kate Brown, who reiterated her focus on job programs, reform of the Public Employees Retirement System, opioid addiction, closing gun control loopholes and changing state procurement practices.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Brown said, that the Legislature could act on her initiatives.

The cap-and-invest carbon program favored by House Democrats would create a limit on carbon emissions by the state’s 100-largest polluters — each of which emits more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Beginning in 2021, companies could buy pollution “allowances,” with the money going to anti-pollution programs and aid to communities, primarily in rural areas. Total emissions would decline each year until 2050. The ultimate goal is to have emissions 80 percent below the levels of 1990.

— Reporter: 541-525-5280,