Sen. Lieber will lead budget panel, quits as majority leader

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner of Portland is out, and Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber of Beaverton is in, as Senate co-leader of the Oregon Legislature’s joint budget committee.

The panel is officially the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which has an equal number of members from both chambers, writes the two-year state budget and proposes changes.

When the Legislature is between sessions, budget decisions fall to the Emergency Board, which is led by the Senate president and House speaker, the budget co-chairs and usually other (but not all) budget committee members.

Steiner resigned the budget committee position, effective on July 15, after she won the Democratic nomination for state treasurer in the May 21 primary.

Lieber, who is seeking a second term in the Oregon Senate, announced she is resigning as majority leader to take on the budget committee assignment from Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego. If she is re-elected, Lieber will be Senate co-chair for the 2025-27 budget cycle, for which agencies are preparing budget requests right now.

Gov. Tina Kotek must submit her proposed 2025-27 budget by Dec. 2. Unlike that budget, the Legislature approves a series of budgets for agencies and the state school fund, and a single reconciliation measure at the close of the session.

Lieber said that the 17 Senate Democrats will choose a new majority leader later. The current deputy leader is Sen. Janeen Sollman of Hillsboro, who began her Senate service in January 2022 after five years in the House.

Together with Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend — both are lawyers — Lieber completed the politically fraught task of writing legislation that resulted in a partial rollback of the 2020 initiative (Measure 110) dropping criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of specified drugs.

Restored criminal penalties will start Sept. 1, but at least 26 of Oregon’s 36 counties have pledged to set up treatment programs that enable people to shed the charges upon successful completion. House Bill 4002 passed the 2024 session with big bipartisan majorities, though civil liberties and treatment providers opposed it. A companion budget (House Bill 5024) also passed.

Part of Lieber’s statement

“Throughout my time in the Legislature, I have been part of some of the most complex funding negotiations for Oregon’s toughest problems, including securing $1.2 billion in new behavioral health funding during the 2021 session and most recently delivering hundreds of millions of dollars to start to holistically tackle the drug crisis in Oregon.

“As co-chair, I am committed to asking good questions, running an inclusive and open process, and working hard to address our most urgent priorities while keeping our state in strong, stable financial health.”

Steiner has been co-leader of the joint committee since fall 2018. If she wins the general election Nov. 5 against Sen. Brian Boquist of Dallas, the Republican nominee, Steiner’s Senate District 17 seat will be filled by appointment of commissioners in Multnomah and Washington counties. The appointee, who must be a Democrat, will complete the term that runs through 2026.

Steiner, a physician at Oregon Health & Science University, has been a senator since 2012, when she was appointed after Democrat Suzanne Bonamici of Beaverton won a special election for the 1st District U.S. House seat in northwest Oregon.

Steiner’s statement in part

“Through it all my focus has been on finding fiscally responsible ways to help as many Oregonians as possible.

“I’m proud to say that Oregon is in a much more fiscally secure position now than it was when I was appointed co-chair in the fall of 2018. Six years ago, Oregon had about $671 million in the rainy day fund; today, it has an estimated $1.87 billion. That money will be critical when the next economic downturn strikes our state.”

In recent years, Democrat Richard Devlin of Tualatin stepped out as Senate majority leader after the 2010 election to become Senate co-leader of the budget committee, where he had served in previous sessions. He did so for four cycles until after the 2017 session, when then-Gov. Kate Brown appointed him as one of two Oregon members of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

Full statements by Lieber, Steiner and Wagner are posted separately.

The House co-chair of the committee is Rep. Tawna Sanchez of Portland, a Democrat elected in 2016 and co-chair since January 2022.


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