PORTLAND (AP) — Democrats have picked up seats in the Oregon House and maintained their edge in the state Senate, putting them in firm control of the legislative agenda next year in tandem with the Democratic governor.
After two years sharing power with Republicans in an evenly divided House, Democratic lawmakers will be especially eager to push forward their ideas. And it appears they'll have the members to make it happen — with most votes counted Democrats were leading incumbent Republicans in four suburban Portland districts.
That means Democrats will carry a 34-26 majority into the 2013 legislative session.
Democrats also held onto their 16-14 majority in the state Senate after Laurie Monnes-Anderson of Gresham survived an intense challenge from Republican Scott Hansen.
Republicans had promised to roll back pension benefits for public employees and create jobs through tax changes and promoting development of natural resources. Democrats said they'll promote jobs by funding infrastructure improvements and job training.
They will face some daunting challenges, however: A sluggish economy and costs that are growing faster than revenue. Despite years of tough budget cuts, there will almost certainly be more trimming. Decisions about what to keep and what to protect will only get harder.
At the same time, state and local governments will have to sharply increase their employee retirement contributions to make up for a steep shortfall in state pension funds.
The Oregon School Boards Association has said it'll push vigorously for changes to the Public Employee Retirement System, but the Democratic victories — achieved with substantial contributions from public-employee unions — will put hurdles in the path for those changes.
Kitzhaber has convened meetings with unions and business leaders to discuss wholesale changes to the state tax system. Another Kitzhaber panel is studying changes to sentencing laws.
Both initiatives could fizzle or result in politically perilous votes for the Legislature.