Oregon politicians spar as walkout delays recovery funds for areas hit by flooding

The current gridlock in the legislature caused by a Republican walkout in defiance of cap-and-trade has left most of an $11 million recovery package in limbo.

Posted: Feb 26, 2020 11:59 AM
Updated: Feb 26, 2020 5:07 PM

SALEM, Ore. — Recovery funding for areas of northeastern Oregon hit hard by flooding earlier this month has now become a charged political issue as it languishes in the gridlocked state legislature.

Republican lawmakers shunned the capitol this week to deny a vote on the divisive cap-and-trade bill, but the act of protest has likewise ground all other legislative business to a halt.

Among the bills now stalled in the legislature is an $11.65 million recovery funding proposal for the Umatilla Basin as people continue to sift through the aftermath of widespread flooding.

On Wednesday, Governor Kate Brown announced that the state had secured a $1.8 million loan for the town of Pendleton in lieu of the funding package — a "no-interest, no-payment, medium-term loan" borrowed from Business Oregon, the state's economic development agency.

"This levee funding is a stopgap measure to make sure that residents in the Umatilla Basin don't have to worry that the coming spring will add insult to injury," said Governor Brown.

RELATED: Oregon House Republicans join senators in boycotting the legislature

The Governor's office said that this contribution was the only part of the more than $11 million funding package that could be eligible for a short-term loan, saying that everything else would require approval from lawmakers.

Governor Brown took a swipe at Republicans over the funding, saying that they had walked away from their jobs and from the needs of the Umatilla Basin community.

"When legislators deny quorum and shut down government, it puts critical state funding in jeopardy — and not just for flooding relief. This is important work; Oregonians are counting on us," Brown said.

Republicans were quick to fire back, accusing Brown of "backtracking" from previous statements that she could not send recovery funding to the Umatilla Basin without legislative approval.

“I’m not sure why the Governor withheld this funding for two weeks. But no matter what the politics are in the building, it’s the right thing to do,” said Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass.

Funds to pay off the loan to Pendleton will have to be approved by lawmakers when they return to conducting business.

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