Legislative preview

A pair of Oregon lobbyists weigh in on the 2017 legislative session.

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Dan Jarman, founder of Crosswater Strategies, says all eyes are on the state budget deficit and Gov. Brown’s leadership. Dale Penn, senior public affairs associate with CFM Strategic Communications, emphasizes the need for bipartisanship.

Responses have been edited for clarity.

OB: What issue will dominate the 2017 session?

Jarman: The state budget, with most other big policy issues connected to it. With a budget shortfall that could reach $2 billion, Democratic leaders will need some Republican support for revenues raisers to balance the books. There will have to be negotiations on modest PERS reform, transportation funding and other state spending. The legislature won’t be able to adjourn next summer without some level of bipartisanship.

Penn: The results of the election, especially around M97, will continue to impact the political environment and the atmosphere in the building next year. Both sides may have a difficult time finding compromise on issues that need to be addressed — transportation package, filling a $1.4 billion budget hole, housing/rent control issues, revenue reform, etc. 

Some of those issues require 36/18 votes and with SD 3 [Ashland/Medford — the seat of late Senator Dr. Alan Bates] going from Democrat to Republican control, both sides will need to work together to make those votes happen.

OB: During the December Leadership Summit, business leaders indicated they may be willing to raise taxes to fill the state’s $1.7 billion budget deficit.

Jarman:  Many business leaders have said they are willing to look at new taxes, but only coupled with spending controls, such as reasonable PERS reform that can pass muster with the courts. The question is whether all business leaders will be on board with possible new taxes, especially after a big Ballot Measure 97 win. The Oregon business community has never been more unified. Will this continue when business taxes enter the conversation about balancing the budget?

OB: What impact will Trump have on Oregon’s legislative agenda?

Penn: I think one of the largest impacts Trump’s election will have on Oregon is in health care.  We do not know what the ACA will look like in another year.  How will it change? Oregon has made amazing investments in health care delivery over the past few years and all stakeholders are concerned about what will happen at the federal level.

With the newly elected leadership still figuring out what they can and want to do with ACA reform, I’ve informed my clients that the only thing we know for certain regarding health care reform on the federal level is “we know nothing.” Campaign promises and expectations are shifting almost daily.

We have to be comfortable living in a realm of uncertainty right now. I think Oregon’s Medicaid health care delivery system is focusing on serving vulnerable populations the best they can and preparing to pivot to address future changes at the federal level.

Jarman: How a Trump presidency affects the states is the great unknown, especially related to budgets. The legislature can’t wait for DC decisions to flesh out. We likely will see the legislature put its head down and get to work, without focusing on the Trump effect. But it will be an issue of fascination, especially when you consider a significant portion of the state’s budget shortfall is due to covering the expanded Medicaid population, which the federal government has a large stake.

OB: Oregon’s executive leadership, or lack thereof, has also become a hot topic.

Jarman: All eyes will be on Governor Kate Brown’s leadership. She is fresh off an election victory, but will be running again in less than two years. Some notable Republicans and even some Democrats are considering a gubernatorial run. How Gov. Brown brings together Democrats and Republicans to forge a budget compromise is the biggest political story to watch next session.

OB: The Clean Fuels bill derailed a transportation package last session. What will it take for Republicans and Democrats to craft a bipartisan transportation bill in 2017?

Penn: A comprehensive transportation package that takes into account the varied needs of different transit districts (small and large) while also providing investment dollars for roads and bridges and ensuring Oregon is better prepared for a regional seismic event is going to be difficult and require extensive compromise by lawmakers.

The Governor’s office has been leading efforts around a broad coalition of stakeholders to strengthen support for a transportation package. They launched a website a few weeks back and have been gathering signatures at a steady clip. Additionally, a bipartisan joint legislative committee has been meeting diligently over the summer to identify the necessary components of a package and they will be shepherding the idea through the legislative process. Those lawmakers will need to advocate within their own caucuses and work together to gather the necessary 36/18 votes to pass any such package.