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Budget compromise opens Patridge to party retaliation

Rep. Rob Patridge stuck his political neck out to help end the Oregon Legislature's budget battle, but many of his colleagues fear he might have stuck it out too far.

I think Rob is going to have a lot of explaining to do when he gets back, said Republican Rep. Dennis Richardson of Central Point.

I don't think his constituents think we should have raised taxes so high and in this manner, said Sen. Steve Harper of Klamath Falls, who also represents a portion of Jackson County.

Amid the furor over a compromise plan that will raise taxes for Oregonians, Harper, Richardson and others concede it's difficult to second-guess the negotiations Patridge and the so-called Rat Bastard Caucus members brokered to close the budget deal.

— The compromise will raise &

36;800 million through a three-year income tax surcharge, saving further cuts to education, public safety and social services. The plan broke a political stalemate that led to the longest legislative session in Oregon's history.

In apparent retaliation by the conservative House leadership for his budget compromise role, Patridge failed to get a coveted spot on the Legislature's Emergency Board Friday.

I don't envy him, said Harper. He was right in the middle.

Patridge, of Medford, said that he was elected to represent his conservative district, but he added he was also elected to lend perspective and work with others in the Legislature.

There was no other solution, said the moderate Republican. There are very few people who can reach across the aisle and reach consensus.

While the spotlight shines on Patridge, he said others, including some arch-conservatives, share some of the responsibility for what happened.

It was Jason Atkinson, Roger Beyer and Steven Harper who negotiated a deal that was even higher than our numbers, he said.

Patridge refers to a compromise plan by these Republican senators that increased education funding from &

36;5 billion to &

36;5.2 billion, then refused to give it their vote.

Despite this back-room wheeling and dealing among his more conservative colleagues, Patridge said, We're the moderates who get branded for this.

Patridge said he is ready to respond head-on to any criticisms.

Conservatives always will argue for more government efficiencies, and Patridge is the first to agree with them.

However, he said these same conservatives were unwilling to come up with any proposals that would further hurt schools, health services or public safety, which make up the bulk of the two-year &

36;11.6 billion budget.

There is not enough money to provide basic services at the level that people demand, he said.

Harper confirmed he played a role in negotiations that led to the compromise plan, but said he couldn't support it because that thing just went down a road and then suddenly you went too far.

His own constituents probably will not be happy with his inability to rein in government spending, he said. They're going to say how's things in Washington (D.C.)? he said.

Atkinson, of Jacksonville, said he and others were given clear direction by the Republican caucus to continue bipartisan negotiations over the budget compromise even though it might go against their principles.

The deputy Senate Republican leader said he told his caucus that he didn't like the idea of negotiating for something he didn't believe in. I told them if you do that you need to know you're rolling us, he said.

Democratic Rep. Alan Bates of Ashland, who helped broker the budget deal with Patridge, doesn't think his colleague will suffer long-term political damage.

He is more concerned about the dine and dash legislators who want to maintain programs, but still don't want to raise revenues to pay for them.

A lot of people are guilty of that, said Bates, specifically citing Harper and House Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, as examples. They cut a deal and then they walk away from it.

The budget compromise won't please everybody, but that is part of the process legislators must learn to live with, said Bates.

He predicts the new tax stands a 50/50 chance of being overturned by voters.

Bates realizes the decisions he made this session will not please all of his constituents. Half of my district will hate me, he said. Ashland will probably be happy.

Despite disagreeing with the outcome, Richardson said he understands it was probably a difficult compromise for Patridge to negotiate.

If I were in those committees, maybe I would have done the same thing, said Richardson. I don't know.

But he added, I am disappointed that the moderates in our caucus went contrary to the leadership and negotiated their own deal.

He believes there was an effort to drag on the process and wear down legislators to the point where they would support a tax increase.

It was a negotiated compromise by those Republicans who wanted to go home the most, said Richardson. The movement around here is to increase the capacity to borrow and increase the capacity to tax.

Republican Rep. George Gilman of Medford agreed that Patridge will have some explaining to do when he gets home. But Gilman gave Patridge credit for being one of the architects of the compromise budget plan.

He is not sure if Patridge's role will hurt his political future. I don't think so, but time will tell, said Gilman.

Rep. Rob Patridge, R-Medford, walks back to his desk on the House floor earlier this week. Patridge helped negotiate a revenue package that prevented further cuts to state programs and ended a political deadlock. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell