Jackson County lawmakers' deal stops fiscal fight

Two Jackson County legislators helped broker a deal Monday night, overcoming one of the last big stumbling blocks before wrapping up Oregon's $14.8 billion budget.

Reps. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, and Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican, expect the legislative session will end this week after resolving a disagreement over plugging an $18 million gap in the Department of Corrections budget.

Buckley said the agreement roughly mirrors a compromise he offered earlier to put $10 million toward corrections and another $10 million toward programs for seniors and the disabled.

"I think that basically it became clear at the end of session that the compromise is a reasonable one," Buckley said.

Richardson said, "It's about reaching a compromise so we can end the session. Politics is the art of the doable."

Buckley and Richardson have steered through many complicated budget issues over the past six months while trying to appease their respective caucuses. But the final step had proved elusive.

"This work is tremendously challenging," Buckley said.

Richardson said, "This has been one negotiation after another for the past six months. But, it has worked."

The deal likely will mean passage of Senate Bill 730, which continues to impose a 60-day limit on jail time for violating probation rather than 10 months. The limit, adopted by the 2009 Legislature, was set to expire on July 1, but continuing it saves the Department of Corrections $9.8 million.

Richardson didn't support the Senate bill initially, but said it's now part of the compromise. In exchange, he said he's received agreement to endorse House Bill 5028, which limits fee increases by state agencies.

Richardson said he feels progress has been made in upholding his conservative principles for government this session while making sure the needs of the most vulnerable members of society are served.

But, he said, if the economy doesn't improve, the budget pushes into next year some potentially major cuts to programs such as long-term care for the disabled.

"We've moved off some hard decisions," Richardson said.

Buckley said he's particularly happy to get more money into a transportation program for disabled seniors.

He said his biggest disappointment was not providing enough funding for the K-12 budget.

Buckley said that six months ago he never expected to avoid extreme cuts to human services that would have wiped out programs for seniors and day care for children. "I would have thought it would be impossible," he said.

The Legislature could adjourn as early as Thursday. Legislators worked through a number of procedural issues Tuesday and will continue to work over the final language in bills.

"We tied up most of the loose ends this morning," Buckley said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email dmann@mailtribune.com.

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