September 4, 2013
The House and Senate approved the final half-dozen bills, including a budget reconciliation measure that normally coincides with the close of a session. All bills that did not pass out of committee officially died and must be reintroduced in a future session. As with tradition, the chambers adjourned simultaneously with Senate President Peter Courtney and the Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, gaveling the close of the session at the same time. The Oregon Legislature will convene next February for a short, 35 day session.
President Courtney and the Senate Democrats maintained a 16-14 majority in the Senate, while the Democrats regained control of the Oregon House with a strong 34-26 majority. With Governor Kitzhaber’s leadership, Democrats in Oregon would have the numbers to pass priority legislation. Top among the Legislature’s accomplishments, Courtney said, was the largest increase in funding for K-12 schools in state history. Lawmakers approved a $6.55 billion budget for the State Schools Fund in the 2013-15 biennium. Combined with $200 million in savings in Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) costs, K-12 schools across the state will have resources of $6.75 billion—a $1 billion increase in funding over the last biennium. The Legislature also passed PERS reforms that will save $460 million over the next two-year budget cycle and reduce the unfunded liability of the system by $2.6 billion.
The major story of the 2013 session was debate on PERS reform. Gov. John Kitzhaber challenged lawmakers last year to wring substantial savings from the retirement system this session, primarily by reducing annual cost of living increases enjoyed by beneficiaries. So, how’d the Legislature do? The Oregon Legislature responded by passing SB822, however, many argue the bill did not go far enough. SB822 begins with about $460 million in savings system-wide during the 2013-2015 bienniums. Coupled with deferred payments, SB822 will nearly offset roughly $900 million in PERS rate hikes that had been scheduled to occur this year. That means a lot of money that would have been spent on pensions will now be used to preserve service levels—and public sector jobs.
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