Gov. Brown after contentious session: 'We must tackle the long-term structural deficit'

Oregon Capitol. (KATU Photo)

The Oregon Legislature has adjourned the 2017 session that saw the passage of record-funding for schools, a long-term transportation package, gun restrictions, cost-free abortions and health care funding for Medicaid and undocumented immigrants.

The 2017 session officially ended Friday afternoon, which was three days ahead of the constitutionally required deadline of July 10. Many lawmakers say it'll be remembered as one of the most challenging sessions in recent history.

It began in early February, but a gridlock between Democrats and Republicans over a tax hike on businesses that ultimately failed stalled the session's progress leading up to the final weeks.

While lawmakers eventually balanced the state's $21 billion operating budget and passed several major policies, changes to the state's pension system, tax structure and health care plans were delayed for another year.

Oregon House Republican leader Mike McLane says lawmakers need to readdress three items: government spending, retirement costs and taxation.

"Let's restructure our spending paradigm," McLane said. "We really have overspent our means. We have spent twice that of inflation, twice that of population growth, it's unsustainable."

Meanwhile, Gov. Kate Brown believes the legislative session was productive, but agrees there's room for more work.

"We must tackle the long-term structural deficit that Oregon faces," Brown told KATU. "That involves cost containment, that involves additional revenue on the table, we have to do it together."

Last month the Democratic-controlled Legislature approved the multi-billion K-12 funding measure -- up 11 percent from the current biennium. For most of the state's 200 or so districts, it's enough money to keep current services going. But others say they needed at least another $200 million to avoid scaling back programs and up to 1,500 staff positions.

And this week the Legislature OK'd a controversial $10 million reproductive health bill expanding funding for abortions, family planning services and post-partum care. In some states such as New York, abortions are cost-free if they're deemed medically necessary. The Oregon bill is unique, however, in that patients would have access to the procedure for virtually any reason, at any time, including sex-selective and late-term abortions.

Brown signed a $5.3 billion plan to modernize Oregon's transportation and public transit systems over the next decade by passing House Bill 2017 with bipartisan support after a final 22-7 vote in the state Senate on Thursday.

Legislators also approved a $670 million health tax package on insurers and providers to sustain coverage for more than 350,000 local Medicaid expansion recipients. However, the measure provoked some late-session controversy when several Republican lawmakers sought to derail the package by sending it to a public vote via a special election.

Republican Reps. Julie Parrish, Cedric Hayden and Sal Esquivel filed initial paperwork with state elections officials Wednesday for a voter referendum on House Bill 2391, which Gov. Kate Brown signed this week. If they can gather almost 59,000 valid signatures before the measure's effective date in 90 days or so, the bill would be placed on hold until voters decide its fate, potentially during a special election in January.

Both Democrats and Republicans in Salem are supportive of Medicaid and the expansion program under the Affordable Care Act. But they disagree how to pay for it as federal matching dollars decline and health care costs overall are rising.

KATU's Chris Liedle contributed to this report.

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