Friday, February 24, 2012

Good Thing He Wasn't Honoring The Fire Marshal

Governor Kitzhaber surrounded himself with advocates, teachers, parents and schoolchildren at the capitol today in an effort to dislodge a pair of education bills that are currently stuck in committee. And when I say "surrounded himself," I mean that he was literally boxed in on every side during the press conference in his ceremonial office.

In my five years of covering gubernatorial press conferences at the capitol, I've never seen so many people packed into that room at once. According to the state capitol's Facility Services division, the maximum occupancy for the 770 square foot room should be 49 people. In the photo I snapped during the press conference, I was able to count more than 40 people, and that's just the part of the room I was able to capture in that shot. I'd estimate there were close to 100 people in the room all told. Oh well, at least it wasn't a ceremony honoring the state Fire Marshal.

Democrats Take Credit For Stopping Cuts They Helped Propose

After a budget rebalance agreement was released late yesterday, House Democrats quickly issued a press release touting themselves for "standing up for Oregonians' Priorities." The press release included a headline stating: "Democrats Stop Proposed Cuts To Schools, Senior Services, Prisons."

Of course, it was the Democrats themselves--who control two of the three chairs of the Ways & Means Committee--who were instrumental in proposing those cuts in the first place. In fact, closing the 440-bed Santiam Correctional Institution remained part of the plan until Governor John Kitzhaber spoke out against it last week.

UPDATE:  House Democrats Communications Director Jared Mason-Gere takes issue with my characterization of the sequence of events surrounding the original budget framework and the newly issued update to that agreement. In an email, Mason-Gere writes:

"This is a negotiation.  Just because there were multiple parties involved in the negotiation, not everyone will take credit for everything in a budget.  The elements we are claiming credit for are things Co-Chair Buckley has been negotiating for quite some time.   It was through his efforts and the efforts of House Democrats that they were included in the budget.

I think it’s entirely consistent for the caucus to come in to a negotiation with some desired outcomes, leave with a general framework that is agreed upon but say if they can they’ll try to find a way to make the framework even better, then talk about their victories in the instances where they’ve succeeded."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Revenue Forecast: First Look

Lawmakers and lobbyists packed into a capitol hearing room this morning to get the latest prognostications on where the state's revenue is heading. The whispers around the building the last few weeks indicated that the forecast would be mostly flat. Of course, "flat" could be slightly up or slightly down.

With the release of the latest numbers, the answer is here:  state economists are predicting a $35 million decline in revenues during the current budget cycle. "Down" is never welcome news, but $35 million does indeed qualify as basically "flat," meaning budget-writers won't have to do much more tweaking to the budget settlement they've already reached. The rebalance agreement was in response to a combined $300 million drop in revenues since the close of the 2011 legislative session.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Republicans Open May Primary To Non-Affiliated Voters

The Oregon Republican Party says it will allow non-affiliated voters to cast a ballot in the party's May 2012 primary, but only in certain races. The decision applies only to three races on the ballot: Secretary of State, Treasurer and Attorney General. (So, anyone hoping to cast a ballot on behalf of any of the Republican presidential candidates will still have to register as a Republican.)

What's not clear at this point is how much this gesture will really mean. With just one month to go before the deadline, not a single Republican has filed to run for Attorney General or Treasurer. There will be a choice in the GOP primary for Secretary of State, but only one candidate--Knute Buehler--is actively fundraising in support of his candidacy, suggesting that even that primary race won't be terribly competitive.

So while the GOP move will give non-affiliated voters a rare chance to vote in a partisan primary, those voters--for now--won't need to spend much time weighing their options. It's worth noting that all registered voters statewide will receive a ballot in May, since the non-partisan position of Labor Commissioner is up for grabs. So far, that race pits incumbent (and former Democratic state lawmaker) Brad Avakian against challenger (and current GOP state lawmaker) Bruce Starr.

The More Things Change...

While removing some old walls in my basement this weekend, I came across a wall of old newspapers from the mid-1930's. Shielded, as they were, for more than 75 years from the elements (such as they exist in a drafty old basement), the papers held up remarkably well. What was even more striking is that two of the lead articles on this February 23, 1936 edition of the Oregon Journal come with headlines that could just as easily have been in today's paper:  "Campaign Guns Boom Over U.S." and "Legislative Seats Hold Interest." The latter article is sub-headlined "Democratic Leaders View Situation That May Primary Creates, Oregon Republicans Active." Of course, these headlines are so generic they could probably appear in a February paper during every election year.