Oregon Legislature pushes to last days

Bills on a tax hike, cuts to pensions are still hotly debated

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SALEM, Ore. -- Pushing to close down the 2013 Legislative session, the Oregon Senate met in a rare Saturday session but did not vote on hotly contested measures to increase tax revenue and cut benefits for retired government workers.

The Senate backed about two dozen largely noncontentious bills, and a committee advanced a bill legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries -- actions that get lawmakers closer to adjourning for the year.

Senators are expected to vote Monday or Tuesday on a bill that would raise about $215 million in taxes from corporations and higher-income taxpayers over the next two years. Senators would then vote on a separate bill cutting benefits in the Public Employees Retirement System.

The tax-increase bill is a priority for Democratic leaders, but is far from certain. Bills to increase state revenue require support from a supermajority of lawmakers, which means at least two Republican votes -- and more, if centrist Democrats oppose it.

"I think the tax bill's in trouble," Sen. Ted Ferrioli of John Day, the Republican leader, said Saturday.

If the pension-cutting bill gets a vote, there would probably be Republican votes for it, Ferrioli said.

Sen. Diane Rosenbaum of Portland, the Democratic leader, said she intends to vote against the pension bill if it comes up.

The combination of tax hikes and pension cuts is not required to balance the budget, but it would help lower college tuition, fund school districts, boost senior services and beef up mental health care.