Oregon lawmakers push toward adjournment
SALEM, Ore. (AP) Pushing to close down the 2013 Legislative session, the Oregon Senate met in a rare Saturday session but did not vote on hotly contested measures to increase tax revenue and cut benefits for retired government workers.
The Senate backed about two dozen largely non-contentious bills, and a committee advanced a bill legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries actions that get lawmakers closer to adjourning for the year.
Senators are expected to vote Monday or Tuesday on a bill that would raise about $215 million in taxes from corporations and higher-income taxpayers over the next two years. Passage would require support from at least two Republicans, and senators would then vote on a separate bill cutting benefits in the Public Employees Retirement System.
The tax-increase bill is a priority for Democratic leaders, but its success is far from certain. Bills that increase state revenue require support from a supermajority of lawmakers, which would require at least two Republican votes and more if centrist Democrats oppose it.
"I think the tax bill's in trouble," Sen. Ted Ferrioli of John Day, the Republican leader, said Saturday.
If the pension-cutting bill gets a vote, there would probably be Republican votes for it, Ferrioli said. Some GOP support would be needed to make up for opposition from liberal Democrats who oppose cutting into retirement benefits promised to public employees.
Sen. Diane Rosenbaum of Portland, the Democratic leader, said she intends to vote against the pension bill if it comes up on the Senate floor.
"I do have some concerns about some pretty deep cuts to retirees," Rosenbaum said.
The combination of tax increases and pension cuts picked up pivotal support from a coalition of education and business groups that's led a charge to lower the long-term cost of pensions for teachers and other government workers. The "Fix PERS Now Coalition" issued a statement Friday night backing the combination.
"Now both parties must step up and deliver a bipartisan vote in both chambers on behalf of Oregon's kids and schools," the statement said.
Resolving the impasse is not required for lawmakers to balance the budget, but it would add extra dollars to lower college tuition rates, provide more funding for local school districts, boost funding for senior services and beef up mental health care.
The Senate Rules Committee heard testimony but took no action on a bill that would end land-use appeals for a plot of land in Hillsboro. Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, said an unidentified technology company is considering the site for a significant expansion, but a legal challenge has cast doubt on whether the land would be eligible for industrial development.
The land-use advocacy group 1,000 Friends of Oregon said the measure would override land-use appeals process and citizens' right to be involved. The organization is urging lawmakers to at least add stronger protections for an adjacent agricultural area.
The committee also advanced measures that would legalize marijuana dispensaries and require an external audit of TriMet, the Portland-area's transit district.