Kitzhaber: Progress toward Oregon special session, but no deal

Broad outline in place for plan on taxes, public employee pensions

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As Oregon lawmakers prepare for a possible special session on Sept. 30, the Columbia River Crossing could also land on the agenda.

State leaders have publicly said little about the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement in recent days. But at least two agencies have scrambled to vet the feasibility of a revised plan with Oregon at the helm. The Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Department of Justice last week sent detailed memos and reports to lawmakers characterizing the $2.7 billion plan as feasible, but with significant hurdles and risks for Oregon.

Washington largely pulled out of the CRC when its Legislature authorized no money for the project this year. For Oregon to keep its earlier financial commitment to the CRC in place, lawmakers in Salem must act by Sept. 30 to reauthorize it. The money would otherwise expire due to a trigger written into the original bill requiring Washington to put up money of its own.

The revised Oregon-sponsored CRC would remove any freeway work north of state Highway 14 in Washington, but still include a light-rail extension to Clark College and tolls on the I-5 Bridge.

-- Eric Florip, Columbian staff writer

As Oregon lawmakers prepare for a possible special session on Sept. 30, the Columbia River Crossing could also land on the agenda.

State leaders have publicly said little about the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement in recent days. But at least two agencies have scrambled to vet the feasibility of a revised plan with Oregon at the helm. The Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Department of Justice last week sent detailed memos and reports to lawmakers characterizing the $2.7 billion plan as feasible, but with significant hurdles and risks for Oregon.

Washington largely pulled out of the CRC when its Legislature authorized no money for the project this year. For Oregon to keep its earlier financial commitment to the CRC in place, lawmakers in Salem must act by Sept. 30 to reauthorize it. The money would otherwise expire due to a trigger written into the original bill requiring Washington to put up money of its own.

The revised Oregon-sponsored CRC would remove any freeway work north of state Highway 14 in Washington, but still include a light-rail extension to Clark College and tolls on the I-5 Bridge.

— Eric Florip, Columbian staff writer

SALEM, Ore. — Gov. John Kitzhaber said Tuesday that he and legislative leaders have agreed to a broad outline for a deal on taxes and public employee pensions, but details remained a sticking point as the group returned to the governor’s mansion for a second day of talks.

Kitzhaber hopes he can find middle ground with House and Senate leaders from both parties in time to call the Legislature into special session on Sept. 30.

He and other proponents of a deal say schools desperately need more money to spend in the classroom through lower retirement costs for employees and additional state funding.

“They agreed on a framework that, I think we believe, contains a solution space,” Kitzhaber said. “But there are some not insignificant details that still have to be worked out.”

The governor spoke following a news conference about an agreement to allow dredging of Southern Oregon ports.

He declined to describe the details that remain sticking points, saying that he and lawmakers agreed not to discuss it publicly.

Senior lawmakers have been talking with Kitzhaber for months, sometimes coming close to a deal, but have failed to reach a consensus that could win support in the full house and Senate.

The talks include Kitzhaber, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, all Democrats, along with Rep. Mike McLane and Sen. Ted Ferrioli, the top Republicans in the House and Senate.

Lawmakers voted earlier this year to scale back inflation increases for retirees in the Public Employee Pension system — a decision that labor unions and retirees and challenging in the Oregon Supreme Court. Critics say the changes renege on a promise to public employees.

Kitzhaber, Republican lawmakers, education advocacy groups and other proponents say those changes didn’t go far enough, and they’re pushing for steeper savings to avoid years of scheduled increases in pension contributions for state and local governments.