There is a growing probability that Gov. Kate Brown will call a special session of the Oregon Legislature within the next few weeks to deal with expected budget shortfalls created by the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
Brown should call the special session and shouldn’t wait very long to do so.
That’s because the state is beginning to stagger after weeks of closed businesses and high unemployment. Already, Brown has asked state agencies to create a plan to slash their budgets by 17%. We will all find out more May 20 when the latest report from the Office of Economic Analysis is revealed, but not even the most optimistic pundit should expect anything other than very bad news.
Oregon faces another challenge — the state constitution demands a balanced budget.
Unlike the federal government, Oregon can’t put everything on a virtual credit card and let the future take care of itself.
That creates steep challenges for lawmakers and their jobs during the special session will be crucial. What simply cannot happen is a divergence away from the budget woes and how to deal with COVID-19 into yet another series of legislative battles over issues tied to party dogma.
We don’t have the time now to watch the special session descend into chaos because a group of lawmakers suddenly decide to resurrect some flashpoint issue from the past. The only goal must be to face the budget shortfall and balance the budget, and then get back to dealing with the virus outbreak.
Anything less will be a betrayal of voters. Party leaders and the governor need to meet before the special session and craft an agreement that narrowly defines what the special session will tackle. That agreement must be clear and precise and include provisions that there will be no deviation from the pressing matter — the state budget — at hand. Oregon lawmakers no longer have the privilege of wasting away days on the legislative time clock fighting over pie-in-the-sky, New Age political initiatives. Lawmakers can do that later. Policy issues that are not related to the state budget and the COVID-19 outbreak should be jettisoned.
As is always the case, elected leaders from both parties will have an opportunity to do some good work if a special session is called. They will be presented with an opportunity to face a serious set of problems, work on them together and solve them.
Wasting time in any other fashion is simply that — wasting time. Time the state does not have.