The Oregon Legislature has an opportunity to make a significant dent in the state's ongoing fiscal issues, but only if all parties involved in next Monday's special session can set aside their partisan priorities and engage in some long-term thinking.
And that would be no mean feat.
It took some high-wire balancing, some nose-holding and something that's been in short supply lately — trust — to get to the point of a special session. Gov. John Kitzhaber and the leaders of both parties deserve credit for moving forward despite their obvious discomfort with parts of the final package.
The tentative agreement, which is by no means certain, calls for the Legislature to enact several bills, which would:
The measures would save the state billions in the long term, primarily through the PERS changes. For the current budget cycle, it would also allow the Legislature to put $140 million into education, $41 million into senior programs and $20 million into mental health funding.
But the proposals also have raised hackles across the state, from the state employees unions, seniors and, of course, anti-GMO advocates.
In our mind, the anti-GMO advocates have the most to complain about. They were thrown into the mix to gain enough Republican support to move the package forward to a special session. The issue has little to do with the fiscal thrust of the rest of the legislation.
But politics is the art of compromise, an art that has been all but lost in recent years. If that's the compromise Oregonians have to accept to make a real stab at controlling spiralling PERS costs and increasing support for education, we can live with it. The measure does not, by the way, prohibit the Legislature from banning GMO crops on a statewide basis.
The state employees unions say they will go to court to overturn the PERS changes. Even if they do and succeed, the effort by the Legislature to control the pension costs will help take some of the steam out of the anti-public-employee movement.
This is an all-or-nothing deal: Kitzhaber says he will not sign any of the laws unless they all are approved.
There is a lot to like and at least a few things to dislike about the proposals, but we encourage the state's legislators to step away from their own personal fault lines and choose all over nothing.