Asix-month struggle to craft Oregon's $14.8 billion budget has faltered in part because of a falling out by two Jackson County legislators over an $18 million gap for the Department of Corrections.
Reps. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, and Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican, were at an impasse Friday over the last pieces of the budget puzzle as the Legislature gets ready to wrap up the session.
The two legislators, co-chairmen of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, have gained statewide acclaim as they waded through many complicated budget issues while trying to appease their respective caucuses. But the final step to adjournment has proven to be difficult.
Buckley said Richardson and House Republicans have reneged on an agreement reached in March on how to balance the budget.
"We've spent weeks going back and forth trying to agree with what we agreed to previously," he said Friday.
Richardson said the situation has changed and Buckley's plan would result in shorter sentences for some criminals.
"The agreement was based on how facts were then," Richardson said, "but they weren't set in concrete."
Richardson criticized House Democrats for holding the budget process hostage because of disagreements over the how to close an $18 million hole in the $1.4 billion Department of Corrections budget.
Buckley said more than $25 million is available in the budget, which he would prefer to put into programs for seniors and the disabled, which already face cuts under the budget.
The Republicans would prefer to put that money into corrections, he said. Buckley said he agreed to compromise, putting roughly $10 million toward corrections and another $10 million for seniors and the disabled.
Richardson said the compromise would mean that Republicans would have to agree to sentencing reforms, which essentially would allow some prisoners to get out of jail early in order to save money.
"Dennis had already agreed to this bill," Buckley said.
The budget hole for the Department of Corrections started at $21 million but has been reduced to $18 million through negotiations.
Richardson said three public-safety provisions in the co-chairs' budget had changed since last March. He said it's difficult to understand why House Democrats are accusing Republicans of breaking the March agreement when the other changes have taken place.
"What really ticked me off is when there was a suggestion made that Republicans were holding the budget hostage," Richardson said.
He said the rhetoric is political pandering, suggesting that it is actually the House Democrats who are holding up the budget and forcing the Legislature to remain in session.
Despite their differences over this issue, Buckley and Richardson believe they can strike a deal.
"It is a challenge we can work through," Richardson said. "It seems like things regularly come up at the end of the session that become a sticking point.
Buckley said, "I've offered to meet them halfway."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email email@example.com.