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Oregon Democrats propose $100 million for rural GOP districts

Oregon Democrat lawmakers are proposing to give Republican legislators $100 million to spend essentially as they see fit in their rural Oregon districts. 123rf.com photo

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Democrats who control the Oregon Legislature are proposing to give Republicans $100 million to spend essentially as they see fit in their rural Oregon districts.

With two weeks to go in the special session, the money would give the Republican minority more control as Democrats seeks to put an unexpected revenue windfall toward priorities such as housing, climate change, mental health and job training, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Monday.

The offer could help ease growing tension between the parties as they hash out what to do with the more than $2.5 billion revenue that wasn’t taken into account when the state budget was passed last year.

House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, alerted Republican leaders last week that Democrats were prepared to cede some of the money to GOP priorities.

“I’ve seen both parties be pretty contentious with one another,” said state Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, one of four lawmakers tasked with creating a plan for the money, told OPB. “I believe the speaker of the House is saying, ‘Let’s see if there’s a better approach to public policy, one where we can all communicate together.’ It’s refreshing.”

Smith said his fellow Republicans at first suspected the proposal was a Democratic ploy. The party is still furious that former House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, broke a deal to grant Republicans an equal say on new congressional maps last year.

“Initially, there was a perception that this was some sort of buy off,” Smith said of a meeting last week in which House and Senate Republicans discussed the idea. “After initial conversations and once folks had a chance to better understand what this approach was about, I think more folks came along.”

GOP members and one rural Democrat have made a list of the highest-priority projects in their districts stretching from Eastern Oregon to the coast. Smith, for instance, said he would request $1 million to improve each of the seven fairgrounds located in his northeastern Oregon district. A full list of proposed projects had not been released as of Monday morning, OPB reported.

State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, one of the state’s top budget writers, said of the package: “We’re all committed to make sure that rural Oregon has the things it needs to progress.”

The proposal is a pragmatic one because the GOP minority has become adept at creating hurdles for the Democratic majority.

Once again this year, Republicans in both chambers are reserving their right to require that bills be read in full before a final vote. That reading requirement is laid out in the state Constitution, but the parties routinely agreed to waive it in the interest of efficiency until it became a popular bargaining chip for Republicans in 2016.

The House hasn’t even attempted a vote to waive the rule this year, meaning each bill is read before a vote, eating up time in a session that must adjourn by March 7.