By KIM THATCHER
Noted anthropologist Jane Goodall once said “compromise is all right, as long as your values don’t change.”
That’s the way I would sum up much of the 2011 session of the Oregon Legislature. We all gave a little and got a little but in the end we were able to stick to our principles. We managed to craft a difficult state budget, draw new political boundaries for legislative and congressional districts, and adopt significant policy reforms.
This was the first year under the new voter approved annual sessions format and several factors made it one of the shortest in decades. First: the art of compromise. Last fall voters elected eight additional Republican lawmakers giving the House a 30-30 party split and the Senate a 16-14 margin. Those numbers prevented large tax increases and other measures that would have harmed our economy. The political dynamics also lead to many positive changes for state.
The recession left the state with a $3.5 billion shortfall in the estimated cost of keeping things going the way they have been. But fiscal realities pushed Governor John Kitzhaber and legislative leaders to construct a responsible budget using the dollars available, rather than an amount of revenue we wished we had.
The governor also deserves some credit for his role in the legislative process. Unlike his previous term, this time he got more involved with the budget and in initiating wholesale reforms for our education and health care systems.
This was my first time serving on the legislative budget committee. I learned how hard it can be prioritizing state services. Just about every area of state government will see cuts in funding, but in the end we balanced the budget with $15 billion general fund and lottery dollars. Four hundred sixty million dollars was also set aside to supplement critical programs if the economy does not improve.
Many elements of this new budget have yet to materialize. For example, state agencies are expected to reduce spending by 7 percent. We are also counting on the governor’s health care transformation proposal to save $240 million in order to avoid cuts to the 500,000 patients on the Oregon Health Plan. Even though we managed to avoid a huge reduction in K-12 funding, there is ongoing pressure to provide more money to schools. These outstanding issues and others are already on the “to-do” list for the month-long legislative session in February 2012.
This atmosphere of compromise helped me get two new laws passed this year. I worked with Democrat Representative Dave Hunt from Milwaukie on a bill requiring first time DUII offenders to install ignition interlock devices. And I teamed up with Representative Phil Barnhart of Eugene, also a Democrat, on legislation to post information about economic development tax breaks on the state’s transparency website.
Many issues remain unresolved from supporting our second amendment rights to enhancing the integrity of our elections system. I continue to pursue these items and many more that are important to Oregonians and encourage you to send me your ideas.
Kim Thatcher (R) is the state representative for District 25. To reach Rep. Thatcher contact her Capitol Office 503-986-1425 or email firstname.lastname@example.org