SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's latest state revenue forecast far exceeded expectations Wednesday, giving lawmakers more money for a two-year budget that's due in June, but a walkout by Senate Republicans has jeopardized the process and they show no signs of planning to return to the chamber.
Senate Democratic leaders, who hold the majority in both the Senate and House, urged Republicans to end their boycott and take advantage of additional money in the budget to help Oregonians. The boycott has left the Senate short of a quorum, which requires at least two-thirds of members to be present.
“This is an incredible opportunity, but if we’re going to take advantage of it, be responsible stewards of our tax dollars, and deliver the solutions Oregonians are counting on, every lawmaker needs to be doing their job,” said Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber.
The walkout began May 3 with Republican Minority Leader Sen. Tim Knopp complaining about Democrats' “extreme” bills, including a sweeping measure on abortion rights and gender-affirming care, and insisting that bill summaries be written at an eighth-grade level. He and other Republicans are also citing a long forgotten 1979 “readability” law that a GOP Senate staffer discovered in the archives in April.
Under a new constitutional amendment — created after Oregon voters approved a ballot measure in November aimed at ending chronic walkouts — three Republicans and an Independent Party senator are disqualified from reelection because they accumulated 10 unexcused absences. Six more Republicans, including Knopp, will reach that 10-day mark on Thursday if they still fail to appear.
State economists said Wednesday that they were increasing earlier revenue estimates owing to an unexpected surge in tax payments. A lot of the money will be returned to Oregon taxpayers through credits on next year’s tax returns, but Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that lawmakers have about $2 billion more to spend over the next two years than expected.
Democratic Senate President Rob Wagner implored the 12 Republicans and lone Independent participating in the walkout to return to the chamber to “seize this momentous opportunity.” But Knopp accused the Democrats in a statement Wednesday of having an “uncompromising, unlawful, unconstitutional agenda.”
Wagner has said the bill on abortion and trans-affirming care is not negotiable. Republicans object, in particular, to a provision that would allow doctors to provide an abortion to anyone regardless of age, and would bar them in certain cases from disclosing that to parents.
Gov. Tina Kotek, a Democrat and former long-serving House speaker, said she was optimistic when asked at a news conference Wednesday if she was concerned that the walkout could affect passage of the two-year state budget.
“If we listen to each other and really think about what our communities need, we can get back at the table and solve this problem,” she said. If the Legislature fails to produce a budget by the time it's due at the end of June, Kotek said she "will take whatever tools I have to make sure we can get the budgets done."
Among those tools is calling a special summer legislative session.
Kotek signed a bill on Tuesday which would keep funds flowing to state agencies until Sept. 15 if the Legislature can’t agree on a new budget.