By CHRISTIAN GASTON
THE OREGONIAN —
A policy staunchly opposed by environmentalists has entered the negotiations over a package of public pension cuts and new tax increases, The Oregonian has learned.
Senate Bill 633 would have prevented local governments from regulating the propagation of genetically modified plants. It passed the Senate in May, but died in the House during the Legislative session under pressure from environmentalists and some farmers.
Now, a modification of that policy is back on the table. In discussions Tuesday on a budget package aimed at boosting funding for schools and public services, legislative leadership included a new version of the policy from SB 633 as a bargaining chip.
What left the plan, which was shown to lawmakers earlier this week, is a reduction in money match benefits for people who left state employment without retiring.
Cutting benefits on so-called “inactive” members of the Public Employees Retirement System is considered legally risky by some lawyers, who think the Oregon Supreme Court is more likely to strike down a policy reducing money match benefits for a certain class of retirees.
Removing the money match portion of the PERS cuts would reduce the long-term savings envisioned by the package from $5 billion to $4.6 billion.
In brokering the deal, Democrats allowed a modified version of SB 633 to be included in the increasingly complex package of legislation.
Under terms of the latest deal shown to rank-and-file lawmakers last night, the rules barring local governments from passing limits on genetically modified crops would exempt Jackson County, where voters will weigh in on a ballot measure banning the crops next year.
Some Democrats are privately scoffing at the new package, which also includes tax cuts for some businesses and new tax revenue that together would raise roughly $200 million in new revenue over the next two years.
Republicans are also unhappy with the reduced PERS savings.
It’s unclear what the deal’s fate will be in the coming days. Lawmakers are in Salem for routine meetings but aren’t in session. But Gov. John Kitzhaber has taken the opportunity of having lawmakers in town to try to broker a deal between the parties on new PERS cuts and increased taxes.
Kitzhaber has said he would call the Legislature into a special session Sept. 30 if lawmakers can reach an agreement.
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