BY LINDA BAKER // ILLUSTRATIONS BY RYAN LOGHRY
Leaders of Oregon’s business associations are gearing up for what they hope will be another game-changing legislative session on major public policy issues.
During the 2011-12 sessions, Oregon business leaders helped pass ambitious education and health-care reforms designed to improve efficiencies and reduce expenses. In 2013, leaders aim to continue implementing those reforms while also taking on new challenges, such as escalating costs in Oregon’s prison and public employee retirement systems. It’s part of a grand plan to reboot the state’s economy by reining in unsustainable health care, prison and pension costs, then reinvesting the savings in the state’s redesigned but cash-strapped K-20 education institutions.
Business groups have other big issues on their 2013 agenda, including the controversial Columbia River Crossing, which may face its final day of reckoning this winter. The release of Gov. John Kitzhaber’s 10-year energy plan will also spotlight a few clean-energy and efficiency issues. Those issues expose some of the divisions within the business community, with large electrical users and fossil-fuel companies prepared to fight some of the clean energy/fuel bills championed by the renewable energy sector.
The ability of Oregon’s business leaders to pass reform legislation while also finding compromise on energy and natural resource issues will depend on the ability of different interests to work together. Bipartisanship in the Oregon House and Senate will be another key factor. In 2011-12, state legislators were lauded around the country for creating an unprecedented power-sharing agreement between House Democrats and Republicans. But in 2013, the Democrats will have a 34-26 majority in the House and a 16-14 advantage in the Senate.
“The reason the Legislature worked so well is the two speakers set the tone for a collaborative working relationship,” says Dan Jarman, a partner with CFM Strategic Communications in Portland. “The prospect of Tina Kotek [D-Portland] as speaker raises questions about how willing Republicans and Democrats are to have the same level of collegiality.”
Jarman was one of a handful of lobbyists and business associations interviewed about the 2013 business agenda. The state’s business community, of course, is not a monolithic group, and it goes without saying that individual businesses and industries are not always on the same side of a given piece of legislation. But with major initiatives on health, education and pension reform all coming together in the same time frame, most lobbyists agree on one thing: “We are all carrying a pretty heavy load,” says Jay Clemens, president of Associated Oregon Industries (AOI).