Despite disappointment about this year's lengthy legislative session, Rep. Betsy Johnson said she plans to seek a third term in the Oregon House of Representatives next year.

Johnson reviewed the Legislature's accomplishments and unfinished work Monday, and warned that the balanced budget hammered out by lawmakers relies on some big unknowns.

The Scappoose Democrat, who first won election to the District 31 seat in 2000, said she's planning a more formal announcement later about her plans for next year.

Next year the Legislature could be grappling with another big hole in the state budget, Johnson said.

"Some of the things we have taken the most credit for are still in the 'to be determined' list," she said.

The biggest of them is the three-year income tax surcharge passed by the Legislature to fill the revenue gap that prompted cuts throughout the state budget. Opponents of the tax are gearing up to challenge it through a statewide referendum, probably early next year.

The tax surcharge would cost the average resident of Clatsop or Columbia counties an extra $3 a month, Johnson said. But, if the referendum makes it to the ballot, she thinks voters will reject the tax hike. If that happens, $800 million will have to be cut out of the current 2003-05 budget that, most lawmakers agree, barely covers the most essential state services, she said.

"Voters need to ask what is Plan B. I never saw a Plan B," she said. "They need to ask how we address the needs of people who, through no fault of their own, can't fend for themselves, and how we keep the bad guys in jail."

The state's financial crisis made lawmakers' work crafting a budget more difficult and helped stretch out the 2003 session, Johnson said. But at the same time there seemed to be little sense of urgency, and she and the other legislators grow more and more exhausted as the session dragged on they grappled with the complex budget issues.

It was the decision of 11 Republicans in the GOP-dominated House to support the tax surcharge that finally helped break the stalemate. That stance may have hurt some of them - one of the 11 was removed from the Emergency Board, the panel that handles unplanned funding requests when the Legislature is not in session. Johnson lost her seat on the board as well.

Johnson said she also learned that pledges of support need to be spelled out specifically, something she found out the hard way when a bill dealing with bonding for community colleges that she championed went nowhere.

"It was a sophomore mistake - I won't do that again," she said.

Bills were often introduced at the last minute with no chance for discussion, Johnson said. That was the reason she voted against the state forestry department budget, which included last-minute additions that changed policy.

"I voted against it more as a protest to a process I felt had broken down," she said.

Johnson also saw some encouraging developments. The budget-writing process in the House was more open than before, with committees laying out their funding priorities, the amount of money available, and clearly identifying what could and couldn't be funded.

Johnson said she was also impressed by some personal acts of integrity by individual lawmakers, including one, a former state trooper, who withdrew a bill providing extra funding for the Oregon State Police when it got caught in the cross-fire of a procedural dispute.

And despite the budget crisis, the Legislature was also able to pass the ambitious $5 billion transportation improvement package, make some changes to the land-use guidelines on development of old mill sites and approve the statewide tourism promotion program. Coverage was also extended to more people under the Oregon Health Plan.

Still on the to-do list is tax reform, which was the subject of two weeks of hearings "that didn't produce much," Johnson said.


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