Oregon Republicans refused to attend the legislative session on Wednesday, May 8 in order to deny a vote on a $2 billion education bill. They cited opposition to any new spending that doesn’t deal with the state’s public pension system, unmoved by demonstrations taking place across Oregon as teachers walked out in protest over smaller classes and more resources.
Legislative bodies operate on a rule known as “quorum,” meaning at least a certain portion of all its members need to be present for business to go on.
The Democrats hold a wide majority in the Senate, but only 18 of the 20 seats they would need to establish a quorum. Republican Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger (R-Grants Pass) took full advantage of this gap by making sure he and the 11 other Republican Senators stayed home on Wednesday.
“Republicans are taking this dramatic stance because it is the only tool we have, being in the super minority, to draw attention to the injustices of this type of legislation,” Sen. Baertschiger told reporters Tuesday morning.
Baertschiger said he was “appalled” that the Democrats would try to time their vote to a protest, referring to the “Day of Action” on May 8, when teachers in dozens of school district staged walkouts to protest for smaller class sizes and additional school resources.
Compared to other states, Oregon’s education system has been more dependent on state funds since the 1990s, when Oregonians voted to change the formula by which schools are funded in order to limit their property taxes.
Republicans maintain they walked out on the vote in protest, as they believe that the new bill would raise consumer prices, and does not address the $25 billion in debt related to the public employee retirement system (PERS), which they believe should be dealt with before any new money is spent.
By Ian MacRonald