SALEM - With just days left until the Legislature adjourns, lawmakers pushed through a $5.8 billion school funding bill, overriding Gov. Ted Kulongoski's two vetoes.
For nearly two weeks Kulongoski and legislative leaders have been at odds over how to organize the school budget. Tuesday the governor vetoed the state school budget and Senate Bill 5520, which pulls $225 million out of Oregon's 2-year-old rainy day fund to pay for schools.
Despite a confused Wednesday in which the funding bill got tied up in the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans joined Thursday to beat back Gov. Ted Kulongoski's veto.
Democratic legislators allocated $5.8 billion, leaving $200 million for next year if the economy improves. Kulongoski wanted an allocation of $5.6 billion with $400 million in reserve.
The governor said the Legislature's plan leaves the state without adequate reserves should the economy continue to weaken.
"With record unemployment and state revenues at risk of declining over the course of the biennium, I remain concerned that today's decision puts the state's long-term financial stability at great risk," Kulongoski said in a statement. "I hope that I am wrong. I hope that in February 2010 when the legislature reconvenes that state revenues have held strong, and we are in the position to invest more into K-12 education, not cut it."
This is the first and only override of Kulongoski's seven-year stint in office.
Before the override vote went through, Rep. David Edwards, D-Hillsboro, restated lawmakers' belief that their version of the budget was prudent, while giving schools more security.
"Budget are bound to disappoint more people than they please," Edwards said.
Overriding the governor's veto became a legislative sideshow this week. Though both chambers originally passed the funding plan with enough support to withstand a veto, the second trip through proved much more difficult.
Though the Senate passed the school budget, Senate Republicans held up the override on SB 5520 for much of Wednesday. However, later that evening Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli revived the measure, saying simply that passing the budget plan would "advance the calendar."
Upon reconsideration, the Senate passed the override easily. Ferrioli, in spite of bringing back the bill, still voted "no."
In the House, though, both bills stalled along party lines. Discussions continued well into Wednesday evening. By Thursday afternoon, several House Republicans had reversed course yet again - including House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna.
"The day before's vote was a pretty good indication we wanted to be included in the conversation," Hanna said. "We got to have a conversation ... I think the vote today shows our members were satisfied."
Democrats promised the Republicans nothing in return for their votes, Hanna said. But his caucus was able to promote some bills, including a film tax credit, and air their concerns about others, including one that restricts field burning that ended up passing regardless Thursday in the Senate.