The state legislature opened Monday morning with an extra touch of optimism 퀌� la Louis Armstrong’s "What A Wonderful World." However appropriate the cheerful tone may be for an opening ceremony, the newly opened session is expected to hold drawn-out battles over basic issues such as the budget, gay rights and tweaks to land-use law.
The legislature is no stranger to extended arguments. Disagreements over budgets kept legislators in Salem through August 2003 in a record-setting five special sessions, so Monday’s pledges to keep partisan fights to a minimum are a welcome if empty promise.
Central to the legislators’ concerns is the 2005-07 budget proposed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
The largest criticism of the way the $11.9 billion is divided comes from education advocates, who say the $5 billion allotment isn’t enough to maintain current quality of public education.
The governor said his proposed $5 billion for state aid to schools is not adequate but "is all we can afford given our current revenues."
In his State of the State Address, Kulongoski reiterated his commitment to stay within the limited budget while improving Oregon’s economy by funding education.
While acknowledging that the current budget is inadequate for virtually every program, he echoed his December speech outlining the budget with his now-familiar line, "This is what you get with the money we have."
Prior to the session, both Democrats and Republicans widely pledged to not raise taxes.
The governor said he no longer viewed higher taxes as an option for stretching the budget since voters have voted down two proposed hikes in two years.
Kulongoski touched on several other points that legislators will deal with this session. The governor proposed a bill to end discrimination against gays in housing and employment.
"We also face a great moral challenge: to make sure that opportunity is an open door through which every citizen can pass – not a revolving door that turns for some and doesn’t budge for others," Kulongoski said.
On a related note, legislators are gearing up for a vote on civil unions, which would afford some of the rights of marriage to same-sex couples.
Legislators must also come to a consensus on any changes to Measure 37, the recently introduced law that would compensate landowners when land-use laws decrease the value of property.
Democrats hold the Senate 18-12. Republicans control the House with 33 of the 50 members.