Home arrow COSA Blogs arrow First day of 2013 session: Governor's address, the first 1,100 bills
First day of 2013 session: Governor's address, the first 1,100 bills Print E-mail

chuck-bennett.jpgby Chuck Bennett, Director of Governmental Affairs

The first day of a legislative session has all the pomp you can expect to find in a democratic society. The state Supreme Court justices show up in robes, senators wear matching carnations and House members, often new to elective office, are surrounded by family members who are justifiably proud. And then you get to see the current and former governors, and just for the record, they each look a lot like the portraits of them in the second floor hallway of the Capitol. It’s sort of a Red Carpet event for political junkies without the high fashion commentary. It’s a lot of fun and celebration.

It also masks the seriousness of the situation. Ninety legislators and the governor are about the launch into the most polite cage fight you’ve ever seen. Topping the list of jobs to be done during what is expected to be a five-month-or-so session is balancing the state budget. Gov. Kitzhaber has already laid down the first marker on this one with his budget released in late November. For education the numbers were fairly stark --  $6.15 billion for the state school fund with the possibility of some level of savings if a package of proposed changes to PERS are enacted.

Monday’s opening day in Salem gave the governor another chance to make his case as he looked all 90 members in the eye listening to him deliver his State-of-the-Sate address. He covered a lot of territory but here’s how he framed the education issue for his lawmaking, budget balancing colleagues:

“…our long-term ability to reinvest in public education depends to a large extent on our success in proving up this (health) care model in the next biennium and then to extend it into the private market. If, for example, we could move public school teachers and state employees into the same kind of high quality, low cost care model being developed by our CCOs, the estimated ten year state savings could be as much as $5 billion. This would be a game changer for state finances and could lead to a huge competitive advantage for Oregon businesses both large and small.

“It costs $10,000 a year to keep a child in school but $30,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Our prison forecast predicts the need to build 2,300 new beds over the next decade at a cost of $600 million – and that most of those beds will be occupied by non-violent offenders. And the fact is that this $600 million – if spent on public education – would keep hundreds of people out of the criminal justice system in the first place.

“I recognize that the politics around public safety reform are often difficult – the fear of being labeled ‘soft on crime’ in the next election cycle. But I am asking you to find the courage and the honesty to recognize that if are unwilling act on this issue we will, by default, be choosing prisons over schools and condemning untold numbers of today’s students to a future in our system of corrections rather than in our system of postsecondary education.

“In this next biennium, the cost of primary and secondary education is going to increase by more that $1000 per student. Half of that $1000 – $500 per student – is accounted for by the increased cost of PERS alone; salary and other benefits account for another $430 per student. In short, we are faced with a situation in which we are going to increase our per pupil expenditure by $1000, and yet for this huge investment we will not see a reduction in average class size; we will not see the restoration of lost school days; and we will not be adding back programs like the arts or vocational studies.

"Let me be clear: this is not about the value of our teachers. It is not about the value of our public employees. It is also not about a major overhaul of a retirement system that continues to be one of the best funded in the nation. It is simply about trying to have a conversation that allows us to strike a balance between the cost of our retirement system and our ability to put dollars in the classroom today to ensure that our students are successful tomorrow. “

As the governor completed his remarks, lobbyists began collecting the two and a half boxes of new laws already in the legislative hopper. It was a whopping 1,122 new bills on the first day with the promise of about 3,000 more to come. On the first day, 99 bills directly dealt with some aspect of education from charter and on-line schools to proposed changes in the property tax system. We’ll take a look at those in the next few days.

Today, legislators are being trained in a range of tasks related to their new jobs. After the training sessions they will head home until Feb. 4 when they are scheduled to get down to the actual business of making law.

We’ll be keeping you posted in this column on what to expect, what’s happening and what was accomplished throughout the session. Please let us know if you have any questions by phone or email.

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 .