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Oregon Editors Say Time to reclaim the state we love

The Legislature has earned its national reputation for ineptitude

The (Salem) Statesman Journal

Cue the orchestra, please. Give us a moving rendition of Haydn's Farewell Symphony.

Maybe the Oregon Legislature will take the hint: Wrap up the work. Turn off the lights. Say farewell to the Capitol and head home.

Frankly, these legislators need more than a nudge. They need a reality check: No matter how long they stay in session, the decisions won't get easier.

Lawmakers talked right through the start of summer harvests. They passed the Fourth of July. They threatened to cooperate less. They threw schools and colleges into a new academic year with no realistic idea of how many teachers must be hired or laid off.

— And they descended to the level of Congress. They couldn't agree on what to spend or where to find the money. So they passed a temporary budget extension.

Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney and Republican House Speaker Karen Minnis talked budget for seven hours during the holiday weekend, and met again Tuesday. Good for them. But the proof is in the results.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations don't do much to build public confidence in open government. But neither does a Legislature that has been in session for six months, with no end in sight.

Disregarding history, this week the Republican-run House established its own budget committee ' a step toward severing the traditional House-Senate joint budget panel. Ten years ago, legislators abandoned the joint budget committee. The result was the longest legislative session in Oregon history.

This year's Legislature could break that mark, with long-lasting repercussions.

State after state ' Nevada is the latest ' now points to Oregon as the example of what not to do. They recoil at the Oregon Legislature's ineptitude in going through five special sessions last year, then playing more budget games this year. They know the story of how Hillsboro hacked 17 days off its school year to make ends meet.

Oregon used to have a progressive, although quirky, image around the country. Oregonians were folks who cared about jobs but championed their environment, too. They led the nation in preserving public beaches, they created the Bottle Bill ' and they refused to pump their own gas.

Those treasured perceptions of Oregon don't matter anymore. We've become the poster child for the state that can't get it done. We are turned into a comic-strip joke, a state that has found a way to sacrifice both its schoolkids and its seniors.

Against this background, it is past time for the Legislature to act ' as Oregonians, not partisans.

It is time to reclaim the Oregon we love.