Members of Congress weren’t the only ones working late into evening Monday. State lawmakers in Oregon stayed late as they tried to keep a deal on taxes and public pensions alive. A special session that was planned to last one day is instead going to resume Tuesday morning.
The first day of the session was full of one delay after another. Rumors flew around the building that the deal worked out between Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and four top legislative leaders was on again, off again. Lobbyists and interest groups milled around trying to get a sense of what was actually going on.
Jim Glass was one of a number of public workers who visited the capitol in a last-ditch effort to block cuts to their retirement pensions. Glass has worked at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for 35 years.
“If I could afford to get out I would,” Glass said.
Glass says he’s done the math. He says it wouldn’t be so bad if his cost of living increases were reduced for a couple of years. But he says it’s the compound effect over many years of retirement that has him worried.
“It isn’t very many years before it starts to fall off to where I can no longer afford to be retired or to get by after retirement,” Glass said.
By late afternoon, the pendulum seemed to swing back in favor of getting the deal through. Lawmakers took public testimony into the evening. Many expressed opposition to the measures. Others voiced support. Portland attorney Lisa Naito praised lawmakers for including a cigarette tax increase that would generate tens of millions of dollars for mental health programs. She says her mentally ill brother would benefit.
“I want to thank you for coming together in a bipartisan manner to make a substantial step forward to fund adequately mental health services so that people like my brother may lead a dignified life,” Naito told lawmakers.
The package includes other targeted tax hikes as well as a few tax cuts for certain businesses. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has said that he won’t sign any of the special session bills unless lawmakers pass all of them.