Abortion and land-use pale next to Oregon's fiscal crisisGov. Ted Kulongoski offered a useful admonition during his Inaugural Address. "There will be no more business as usual in state government."

Surprisingly, it was business as usual in the state House of Representatives last week. A vote along party lines passed bills that would eviscerate Oregon's land-use planning law and put a dent in the state's abortion procedures. The two measures face an uncertain future in the closely divided Senate. Gov. Kulongoski will assuredly veto both bills.

So why did House leadership waste time? Why did the leaders consume valuable time and emotion and force members to fall on their swords for measures that are going nowhere?

The easy answer to that question is that House leadership owes something to the real estate development lobby and the religious right. Both groups help pay the campaign bills for Republican candidates. The religious right is the soul of the Oregon Republican Party, and abortion is its litmus test.

The deeper answer to why time and energy was spent on these measures is that leadership sees something the rest of us do not. For most Oregonians, these emotionally charged, highly ideological questions of abortion and land use pale in significance when juxtaposed with the frightening fiscal picture. When seen against the budget wreckage, this stuff just doesn't matter.

Give the real estate developers credit for creativity in seeing opportunity to exploit during an economic crisis. The developers are peddling a crass notion that opening farm land to industrial development will get us out of this recession. Like any economic cycle, the forces are huge and systemic. The land use law doesn't need fixing.

The main show in Salem is not this stuff. It is PERS reform. If legislators can't pull that off, they will have failed at their main task. To succeed, leadership will need all the goodwill it can generate in both legislative chambers.

The most dispiriting thing about our legislative leadership is its inability to talk about generating more revenue. The GOP leaders even shy away from beer and wine tax increases. Why? The beverage lobby has its hooks into too many legislators.

A tour of Oregon would demonstrate to our legislative leaders that their state has turned a dangerous corner. The fact that they spent a day with dead-end legislation to please two narrowly focused lobbies tells you who has their ear, and who does not.


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