A remarkable thing happened at the Oregon Capitol on Monday: Legislators finished balancing the state budget, and then they went home.
There will be plenty of time to dissect the pros and cons of what the 77th Legislative Assembly did and did not accomplish since convening in January. But its most important task, one that is simultaneously complex and mundane, should not be overlooked: balancing the state budget for the next two years.
Congress can't seem to do that. A number of states struggle as well.
Oregon has an unusual, if imperfect, tradition of budget collaboration. The Legislature has only one budget committee, composed of senators and representatives, Democrats and Republicans, so most agency budgets are established with bipartisan input.
There were some misses in the 2013-15 budget. A so-called "grand bargain" never came to pass; it would have increased revenue for schools and other programs while getting a better handle on the rising costs of the Public Employees Retirement System. The Legislature also missed a golden opportunity to create a dedicated fund to provide mental health care. Legislative differences on such issues often were as much between the House and Senate as between majority Democrats and minority Republicans.
Among the 2013 Legislature's final actions Monday was approving a host of construction projects, especially in higher education, that will create thousands of construction-related jobs. This year the Legislature also provided more money for preschool through college, enabling school districts to restore some lost instructional days and the Oregon University System to scale back its planned tuition increases.
Yet Monday also brought a sobering reminder of Oregon's continued economic difficulties. The Legislature passed an unprecedented measure to potentially pay for law enforcement in economically distressed counties through a combination of state aid and forced increases in local taxes. Those Southern Oregon counties are suffering because of the long-term decline of the state's wood-products industry, so a solution ultimately must come through a change in federal timber policy.
Meanwhile, 90 part-time legislators finished their budget-balancing and other work five days before their state constitutional deadline.
That is to be expected, yet it also is commendable.