Oregon Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger said Wednesday that another walkout to deny Democrats a quorum on their climate change vote remains a possibility and that he would prefer to see the policy referred to voters.
“I’m still having conversations, but nothing is off the table,” he said. “I would not want to speculate one way or the other at this point because it is such a dynamic situation.”
Baertschiger said the bill, known for now as Legislative Concept 19, is still too similar to House Bill 2020 from the 2019 session, which was criticized by industry leaders and rural Oregonians over concerns it would make fuel unaffordable and punish industries such as trucking, logging and farming.
Some environmental advocates believe LC 19 is an over-correction.
HB 2020 died after Senate Republicans fled the Capitol — and the state — for nine days near the end of the session to deny their Democratic colleagues a quorum. With 18 members, Senate Democrats have a supermajority, but they need two Republican senators to reach the two-thirds quorum needed to do any business.
That dynamic still exists as the Legislature nears the beginning of its 35-day short session.
Baertschiger said Republicans have been kept out of negotiations over LC 19. One of their biggest requests is that the legislation be referred to voters because, as Baertschiger said, the Capitol is too divided to come to an agreement on the bill.
Senate Democratic Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, denied that Republicans have been kept out of conversations over LC 19.
She also said that a referral is not an option Democrats would consider, because each senator was sent to the Capitol with the express purposes of making decisions on complex subjects.
“I expect my Republican colleagues to show up for work,” Burdick said. “When you have a job, you show up for work.”
The threat of a walkout combined with the need for action to combat and respond to climate change has many watching closely how Republicans are responding to the new iteration of the cap-and-trade proposal.
As currently written, LC 19 would place gradually declining limits on statewide emissions and create a marketplace for polluters to buy credits, or allowances, for each ton of emissions they release annually.
Baertschiger said his opposition ultimately boils down to the costs that will be borne by Oregon households. Though disputed by experts, he contends that corporations will pass on the entirety of the new gross receipts tax to individual taxpayers, and that will end up costing the average family of four $1,100 a year. The climate policy, he maintains, will tack on another $650 in annual costs, though he acknowledged that estimate was a rough one and based on last year’s legislation, not the revised policy.
“It always gets passed down to the average working family,” he said. “They don’t have any way to deflect it. So they have to figure out how to pay for it.”
He added that the state has never been more starkly divided on partisan lines and that each party was playing to its base.
“I don’t see that ending, he said. “We see it at the federal level and we’re certainly seeing it in Oregon. As we look at this bill, that’s what has happened over the last two years.”
Because of Oregon’s increasing political polarization, and lawmakers’ inability to come to an agreement on the policy, he mused that the best resolution might be a direct referral of the legislation to voters. He added that there may be Republican votes if Democrats decide to go that direction.
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