Image for Lawmakers to Consider Up to $2 Billion in New Spending

Short, even-year Oregon legislative sessions were originally intended to tweak biennial budgets. The 2022 legislature, which convenes Tuesday, appears on a glidepath to tweak state budgets by approving up to $2 billion in new spending.

State coffers are flush with cash from unspent federal financial relief funds and state tax revenues that far exceeded projections. And that’s after the state sends taxpayers $1.9 billion in kicker refunds this year. The most recent state economic and revenue forecast projected $1.5 billion more revenue than budgeted for 2021-2023. Lawmakers will get an updated forecast February 9, which could project an even higher amount.

Rep. Tawna Sanchez of Portland will co-chair the Ways and Means Committee in the 2022 session.

The Democratic choice to become House Speaker, Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, has served as a co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, so should be well-versed on available state revenue and spending needs. Rayfield’s successor as Ways and Means co-chair is Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-Portland, who was elected in 2016 after narrowly winning a primary to fill an open House seat. She ran unopposed in the 2016, 2018 and 2020 general elections. She sat on Ways and Means during the 2021 session.

One spending idea that has gained traction among legislative Democrats in the House and Senate is giving private sector and government essential workers up to $1,000 in one-time cash payments, if they earn less than $22 per hour. Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, has signaled tentative support for the concept. A similar financial stimulus was proposed during the 2021 session, but didn’t pass.

Other spending proposals have come from Governor Brown and include:

  • $400 million for affordable housing and home ownership support;
  • $200 million for workforce development;
  • $120 million to relocate Harriet Tubman Middle School away from Interstate 5 and car and truck fumes;
  • $121 million to reimburse the State School Fund for lost revenue from the Elliott State Forest;
  • $100 million to expand childcare options and raise provider pay; and
  • $500 million set aside in reserve.

One spending idea that has gained traction among legislative Democrats is giving private sector and government essential workers up to $1,000 in one-time cash payments.

House Minority Leader Vicki Breese Iverson, R-Prineville, voiced concern about spending plans and warned House Republicans might stage another walkout to deny Democrats a quorum. That strategy was employed by former House Minority Leader Christine Drazan to block action on an environmental bill and led to an early, abrupt adjournment that let many bills, including spending measures, die.

Iverson and Knopp indicated support for legislative action to prevent further gubernatorial commutations. Brown has commuted more sentences than any recent governor, which led two Oregon district attorneys to file a lawsuit accusing her of unlawfully commuting nearly 1,000 sentences. Several commutations ordered by Brown were for people sentenced when they were juveniles.