The 2021 Oregon legislative session was destined to be different. Against a backdrop of a global pandemic, a closed economy, and a state reeling from a disastrous 2020 wildfire season, the session kicked off on January 21st – two days after the scheduled start date – due to fear of political violence in the State Capitol area.
It was one oddity after another, whether it was the boarded-up and fenced-off capitol building, the technological growing pains of a session conducted almost entirely virtual, a historic ice storm weather event, the forced resignation of one legislator, and the expulsion of another.
Then there was all the money. By the time the session was underway, there was almost no hint that the state economy had undergone a major recession just months prior. The major budget cuts that necessitated special sessions in 2020 were a distant memory. Deficits turned into surpluses – and not just ordinary surpluses – these were historic surpluses. By the final May Revenue forecast, the state had
$2.6 billion in additional federal money at its disposal along with $2.2 billion in unanticipated General Fund revenues. There was so much money that for the first time in history, each Representative was appropriated $2 million, and each Senator appropriated $4 million, to spend on district projects as they saw fit.
And through it all, the capitol building never opened to the public or to lobbyists. All committee hearings were conducted virtually. Amendments were often drafted behind closed doors and unveiled at the latest possible moment. Communications between lobbyists, constituents, and legislators were significantly disrupted. The flow of information was curtailed, and the fluid and ongoing nature of advocacy were ground to a halt.
From a policy perspective, the legislature remained focused on responding to the major issues brought to the forefront in 2020 – pandemic recovery, wildfire recovery, policing reforms, and racial equity initiatives. Strong Democrat majorities allowed them to deliver some key policy victories for their allied constituencies including gun control legislation, a clean energy mandate, an ambitious recycling program expansion, and a major wildfire recovery bill with significant new requirements on rural residents.
The influx of money into the state’s coffers allowed the legislature a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support policy choices with major investments of money into housing, relief programs for renters and landlords, wildfire-affected community recovery, water infrastructure, mental health programs, and efforts to support business recovery.
The influx of money into state coffers also appeared to dampen the desire to pursue revenue raising and additional regulation on business. For the first time in several sessions, there was relatively little interest in raising taxes or initiating major regulatory expansion on Oregon’s business community.
Through it all – the virtual nature of the legislative session and the inability to be in the capitol – we appreciated the opportunity to serve you and advocate on your behalf. PAC lobbyists worked around the clock to leverage relationships, track the process, and work to influence the best outcomes possible in a unique and difficult political environment.
Public Affairs Counsel will provide a report on more detailed bills that affect real estate investors soon.