By editorial board • 

Budget, PERS and transportation demand plan with broad buy-in

The Oregon Legislature is facing a general fund shortfall of $1.4 billion, a Public Employees Retirement System shortfall of $21 billion and a transportation system deficit, harder to estimate with any great degree of precision, of at least $10 billion.

A surging economy is producing much more revenue than projected, but Oregon’s peculiar and pernicious kicker law, now enshrined in the constitution, figures to return $480 million to taxpayer pockets. Easy come, easy go — much too easy, truth be told.

Given all the constituencies that have to be mollified, plugging any one of these gaps poses a daunting challenge. Plugging all three simultaneously poses a truly tall order.

Revenue measures require 60 percent support. What’s more, when the stakes are high, they must be capable of passing electoral and judicial approval as well as legislative muster.

That being the case, the roster of necessary constituencies includes the Democratic and Republican caucuses in both chambers, our strangely distant and detached governor, a decidedly less distant and detached electorate, the big business and big labor interests capable of funding an electoral referendum, and the Oregon Supreme Court, ultimate stop for judicial challenges. That’s quite a gauntlet to run.

The Legislature is treating these as three separate problems, so has three different sets of inside players trying to fashion workable solutions. But they are, in fact, intricately intertwined. If any one falls, it’s likely to bring the others down with it.

The keys are striking the right balance between competing interests and holding the ultimate tab to a manageable level — both easier said than done.

The Legislature created this hydra-headed monster by shirking year after year on meaningful tax reform, PERS adjustment and transportation investment. For much too long, it appears to have been following the mantra, “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”

Unfortunately, the challenges we share have grown all the greater with the passage of time. We’re at a point now where they demand immediate, aggressive and bi-partisan action.

The GOP is committed to countering general fund tax increases with spending cuts, new PERS infusions with long-term cost-cutting, and urban infrastructure investment with rural. While Democrats may feel that strategy is an impediment, we see it as an incentive — an incentive to come up with something palatable to a broad cross-section of interests, not just those favored by the party currently holding power in Salem.


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