PORTLAND — Saying “it’s time to call the question,” Gov. John Kitzhaber told state lawmakers on Wednesday to prepare for a potential special session of the Legislature to deal with tax and pension questions.
The governor said he’ll only call lawmakers back to Salem on Sept. 30 if it’s clear he’ll find success with his push to cut pension costs and increase tax revenue.
“Time is short,” Kitzhaber said in a statement. “Unless we act now, students returning to school this week will continue to face cuts in the classroom.”
Kitzhaber has been trying for months to reach a deal that would raise revenue to boost funding for schools and mental health treatment while lowering the cost of public employee pensions. Kitzhaber said he’s also committed to including support for small businesses — a key demand from Senate Republicans.
Kitzhaber said he’s meeting with House and Senate leaders from both parties this week in hopes of securing a deal that would lower long-term pension costs by $5 billion and secure $200 million in new revenue.
A successful compromise will require support from both parties because the Democratic majority in both chambers doesn’t have enough votes to raise taxes without some support from Republicans.
“There is still a lot of work to be done to determine if the votes are there,” said House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said he’ll work as hard as he can to find a compromise that can win passage.
“There’s a lot at stake. We can have a longer school year and smaller classes. We can have dedicated funding for mental health,” Courtney said in a statement. “We can do this.”
Rep. Mike McLane, the House Republican leader, said Oregon needs leadership on reforming the Public Employees Retirement System, and he hopes Kitzhaber can provide it.
“If he can’t, our schools and public safety will suffer,” McLane said.
Interstate 5 bridge
Kitzhaber told The Associated Press he’s travelling to Washington on Monday to meet with Anthony Foxx, the new U.S. Department of Transportation secretary, about a proposed light-rail and Interstate 5 bridge linking Oregon and Washington across the Columbia River.
The project has been a top priority for Kitzhaber, but it hit a major roadblock when legislators in Washington state failed to approve funding. Kitzhaber is now advocating a separate, scaled-back project that would delay most of the planned freeway improvements in Washington state.