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Editorial: Inexperienced in the art of compromise

(Salem) Statesman Journal, June 17, on Senate rejection of proposed statewide school budget:

The Oregon Senate on Monday defeated the proposed 2013-15 statewide school budget. That is disappointing for political reasons but not for educational ones.

It seems clear that the Legislature eventually will approve the education budget that lost on a 15-15 tie vote. Lawmakers might even expand that $6.55 billion budget.

All the Legislature accomplished Monday was to further erode its good image from past sessions when the Democrats and Republicans were almost evenly in control. Back then, unless it had solid bipartisan support, nothing moved through the House, which was split 30-30 between the parties, or through the Senate.

Democrats now control the House, and it hasn’t gone as well. Compared with the Democratic-controlled Senate, the House has inexperienced leadership among the Democrats and Republicans, making reasonable compromise more elusive.

Yet politics is the art of compromise, which is built on a foundation of relationships. In Oregon government, Democrats and Republicans need each other. The Senate and House need each other.

If true leadership existed — in reality, not just in legislative titles — the two Democratic presiding officers and two Republican caucus leaders would have reached a budget and PERS deal in talks convened by Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.

In fact, here’s a tip for legislators: It’s a distinct honor, and a huge responsibility, to be asked by a governor to overcome your political differences and to develop a fair compromise that is in Oregon’s best interests. You dare not fail.

It’s shameful, and irresponsible, that those talks failed.

Now that the Senate also has failed, maybe legislators will come to their senses and collaborate on a compromise that will pass muster in the House, Senate and the governor’s office. That path to that compromise should include:

• Limited revenue increases, in order to get House Speaker Tina Kotek to budge on allowing PERS reforms.

• Long-term reforms that make PERS financially sustainable, slash costs for public employers, treat employees and retirees fairly, and go far enough that the reforms end PERS’ status as a perennial political football.

• A school budget that builds on the proposed $6.55 billion school fund and on the previous legislative action to reduce school districts’ accelerating PERS costs by $200 million.

Legislators issued dueling press releases, full of finger-pointing, in the aftermath of Monday’s education budget defeat. If the Legislature wants to avoid finger-pointing from Oregonians, it had best invest in collaboration and compromise instead of blame.

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