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2011 Legislative Session Will Require Compromise, Creativity

Oregon Senators and Representatives will descend on Salem Feb. 1 in the wake of November’s election with a new Governor, an evenly split House of Representatives and ever-present challenges of high unemployment and estimated $3.5 billion budget deficit. More than ever before, we need Oregon’s leaders to find common ground that will shape Oregon’s economic future and quality of life both short- and long-term.

"Voters strongly want their elected officials to look for good ideas from both political parties and be willing to compromise to move the state forward,” said Adam Davis, partner at Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall, an independent, non-partisan public opinion research and consultation firm based in Portland. “They are hurting in their households and in their businesses; they want their elected officials to put aside the gamesmanship and jockeying for political advantage."

A Need for Bipartisanship

With the House facing an even 30/30 split of Republican and Democrat representatives and no defined majority, compromise is imperative. According to the current Speaker of the House, Rep. Dave Hunt (D-Clackamas County), the House has been busy since the election gathering best practices and getting organized in order to have a firm plan and leadership in place when the Legislature convenes for swearing in Jan. 10-12.

This is considered a “power-sharing” model, which means both parties will agree on a method of joint governance and leadership. For example, in other states this has included two Speakers of the House sharing duties.

The Senate is currently at 16-14 with Democrats retaining the slim majority. It appears a recount may be ordered in one or two tight races, though a shift in outcome is unlikely, according to political watchers.

“When the Senate was tied in 2003, we came together in a remarkable way. We shocked the world and proved that a tied chamber can govern,” said Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem).

House Republican leader Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) said, “I am optimistic the next House will set aside divisive issues in order to pass a balanced budget and focus on the most important issues facing Oregonians.”

Key Challenges for Oregon

"The two biggest challenges are the global economy and the state’s budget, which are two sides of the same coin that directly impact revenue and unemployment," said Rep. Hunt. Since Oregon is constitutionally obligated to operate on a balanced budget, tough choices abound.

“The Legislature will never be able to balance the budget without more working Oregonians and successful businesses,” said Rep. Hanna.

There is debate about how to lower Oregon’s high unemployment, one of the highest in the nation and currently stuck at 10.5 percent, with positive outcomes for both public and private sectors.

According to Republican Senate leader Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day), the Legislature must find a solution that doesn’t only focus on government employment and cause a double jeopardy for small businesses.

“We made $2 billion in cuts in 2009 and have taken another $1 billion in cuts this year,” noted Sen. Courtney. “It's going to be tough, but we will balance the budget and protect the vital services Oregonians value most like education, public safety, health care and supports for our senior citizens.”

Finding a Better Way, Balanced Approach Key

AARP Oregon’s Director of Government Relations, Rick Bennett, noted that Oregon’s political leaders seem to essentially agree their mission for the 2011 session is to balance the budget and curb unemployment, but that begs the question of how.

“We know that tough and lingering economic conditions require a hard look and difficult choices, especially as Oregon faces revenue shortfalls, now and in the future. Creativity and compromise have always been essential ingredients to progress,” Bennett said. “The real challenge is for Oregon to continue its legacy of innovation through long-term vision, instead of opting for band-aids that may save money in the short-term but that end up costing so much more in the long-term. We’ve simply got to find a way to preserve essential services that reflect who we are as Oregonians and that are key to our economic prosperity and quality of life.”

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Top Priorities

Everyone has their opinion about what the key priorities are for the upcoming legislative session. Here are the House and Senate leaders’ thoughts. What do you think? Take our online poll and let us know! AARP will publish the highlights on our web site or and Facebook page, so be sure to “fan” us and stay tuned.

Oregon House Leadership
Democrat Rep. Hunt:

  • Create jobs and stabilize the economy
  • Balance the budget while protecting vulnerable Oregonians
  • Establish a fair power-sharing environment

Republican Rep. Hanna:

  • Create new family wage jobs for Oregonians
  • Develop a sustainable 2011-13 budget that protects essential services
  • Reform state government to make agencies and services more efficient and effective

Oregon Senate Leadership

Democrat Sen. Courtney:

  • Balance the budget
  • Complete redistricting
  • Conduct an orderly, productive session within the new deadlines

Republican Sen. Ferrioli:

  • Cut spending to a level where only necessary services are preserved
  • Cut taxes to attract job creating investment and grow small business
  • Repeal administrative rules for state agency programs that are no longer affordable

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