SALEM - Against a backdrop of the worst economy in decades, the Oregon Legislature patched a $4 billion deficit while raising taxes and fees to put thousands of people to work through public works projects.

The Legislature adjourned Monday evening for the rest of the year, beating a self-imposed deadline by a day, and bringing an end to a session that was shaped almost entirely by the recession.

Lawmakers spent most of their six months on two objectives: balancing a budget and creating jobs.

With the session over, Democratic leaders say they made good on both counts.

Weeks into the session, Democrats had their first victory: a $175 million jobs package paid for through bonding. They promised it would create 3,000 jobs by April. Though it was slow going, recent reports show it's been successful in saving and creating jobs throughout the state.

They expanded health care coverage to 100,000 uninsured people by increasing provider taxes on hospitals and instituting a new tax on health insurers.

Through increases in the gas tax along with registration, title and license plate fees, lawmakers established a $300 million-per-year transportation package.

Just before adjournment, the legislators capped their effort by passing a $1.3 billion capital construction package, which they say will put an additional 12,000 people back to work.

"It really is a very comprehensive job-creation approach, which we said from the very beginning of the session was going to our priority," said House Speaker Dave Hunt.

House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna looks at the session a bit differently. Instead of jobs, he sees taxes.

"I think ultimately it will be known as $2 billion in new taxes and fees," he said. "That's probably going to be the big title.

"I think the taxation issues are really what people are going to come away with."

With the economy crumbling around them and revenues shrinking faster and further than anyone anticipated, lawmakers spent much of the session figuring out how to craft a budget for the next two years.

To keep all state programs running as usual, lawmaker estimated they would need about $17 billion. But the most they could muster was $15 billion, and even that was hard to come by.

To get to $15 billion, lawmakers had to dip into state reserves, make use of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus dollars and raise about $733 million in new taxes on corporations and upper-income individuals.

Even so, they had to make about $1.8 billion worth of cuts.

Those cuts came primarily from education, social services and public safety - the three areas of government that make up the bulk of the budget.

Hundreds of teachers will be laid off, school years will grow shorter, post-secondary students will pay more in tuition, education and treatment programs in the correctional system will be cut and state-provided health and dental care will be pared for some recipients.

But by and large, critical programs were spared. Day care assistance for needy families and in-home care for the elderly and disabled made it through. Courts will remain open, and around-the-clock state trooper coverage should be reinstated before the end of the two-year budget period.

Universities and community colleges are slated to get $600 million to modernize their campuses.

"I look at the end result as we faced a crisis and have met our goal of keeping the state intact," said Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat and co-chairman of the Legislature's budget-writing panel.

All in all, Senate President Peter Courtney called the session "harder than hard."

Navigating the state through this recession is sort of like making an emergency airplane landing, he said.

"I don't think it's going to be a smooth landing. It's going to be bumpy," he said. But "I don't think we're going to crash land."

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.