Legislature: A year in review

With less than 30 days left before the state legislature adjourns for the summer, Republicans want to draw voters’ attention to Oregon’s 12-percent unemployment rate and its $3.8-billion budget deficit, while Democrats argue that both are products of national circumstances.

Michael Gay, communication director for the Senate Republicans, said Democrats have failed to specifically define how to solve Oregon’s economic crisis. Gay also said that instead of doing work for constituents, the Democrats spent this session distracted by special interest groups.

“This session has been fairly light on policy bills and that hasn’t happened in all of the time that I have worked in the legislature,” Gay said. “There are 250,000 Oregonians out of work and the Democrats in the legislature have done little to help them.”

However, Molly Woon, communications director for the Senate Democrats, said she has been impressed by the legislature’s ability to balance policy making with balancing the state budget.

“Considering the limited resources the state had at their disposal this year, I have been amazed with the policy bills that have come out of this session,” she said.

Woon said legislators have done a lot in terms of drafting consumer protection bills. Woon credited Democrats with passing House Bill 2191, which protects citizens from fraudulent debt management services, and Senate Bill 328, which safeguards against predatory debt collectors.

Woon said Democrats worked diligently to create new jobs for those hit hardest by the recession in the state by passing their GO Oregon Project, which included funding construction projects at Lane Community College and the University of Oregon.

Nick Smith, communications director for the House Republicans, said Democrats might have planned a few construction projects, but they let higher education fall by the wayside this year in every other respect.

Smith said Senate and House Republicans proposed alternatives to cutting higher education, but instead the Democrats decided to cut higher education by 16 percent and double the cuts to K-12. Smith said Democrats chose to cut higher education because many believe community colleges and universities can absorb the cuts by increasing tuition.

Smith said University of Oregon students are lucky that tuition increases will be stabilized at about 7 percent because other universities, including Portland State University, are looking at increases of up to 13 percent.

“We feel that higher education is a top priority and that it is key to reversing the state’s economic crisis,” Smith said. “This session our counterparts have made it clear that they don’t feel the same way.”

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