So much for bipartisanship.
Oregon lawmakers opened the 2011 session with the House divided 30-30 for the first time in history. Co-speakers led the chamber, and committees were headed by two chairpersons and two vice-chairs. Despite that — or perhaps because of it — neither party could force anything on the other, and cooperation was required to conduct any business at all.
For the most part, a collaborative atmosphere prevailed, with the exception of the Education Committee, whose co-chairs could not manage to work together. Lawmakers even managed to agree on redrawing legislative district boundaries, which they hadn't accomplished in decades.
Then, last week, with the Legislature steaming toward an early adjournment, the wheels fell off as Democrats and Republicans fell to squabbling over crumbs.
The Department of Corrections budget — the last piece of the budget puzzle — is about $18 million out of balance. Republicans want to plug the hole with money from bonds that were never sold. Democrats want to adjust some criminal sentences, releasing some inmates early to save money that they want to spend on senior citizens.
The Democrats accuse the GOP of backing out of a deal struck between the parties at the beginning of the budget process. Republicans say they never agreed to anything.
The House adjourned Thursday with no floor session scheduled until Monday.
At the center of this dispute are Southern Oregon lawmakers Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, and Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, the House co-chairmen of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee. When the two released the Co-Chairs Budget in March, it referred to "potential" savings from sentencing reforms that would be hammered out by a work group of lawmakers.
Republicans were unwilling to sign on to the work group's recommendations.
Buckley says the GOP is not negotiating in good faith. Richardson says the sentencing reforms are a policy issue that should be addressed at another time, and lawmakers should balance the budget with the bond savings and go home.
You can read Richardson's and Buckley's versions of the dispute on Page 6B of this section.
Maybe it was too good to last — that unprecedented air of bipartisan cooperation that pervaded the Capitol all session long.
Under the constitutional time limits approved by voters, the Legislature could stay in session until July 10 — but lawmakers budgeted only enough money to keep working through June 30. Meanwhile, every day they stay in Salem costs taxpayers about $31,000.
It's hard to see that either side stands to gain anything politically by prolonging the standoff. Voters will remember only that lawmakers from both parties couldn't agree on an $18 million fix to a $1.4 billion agency budget.
Just get it done, gentlemen.
Just get it done
So much for bipartisanship.