SALEM, Ore. — The state Legislature approved new boundaries for Oregon's five congressional districts on Thursday, successfully completing the task for the first time in decades before lawmakers left Salem for the year.
The House and Senate simultaneously adjourned the 2011 legislative session just before 3 p.m., capping a five-month marathon marked by lower spending along with substantial education and health care overhauls. At 150 days, it was the shortest legislative session since 1969.
Legislators from both parties said they accomplished more this year than anyone expected.
"We pushed it to the limit what we were going to get through this session," said House co-speaker Arnie Roblan.
Legislative leaders applauded the new congressional boundaries and marveled at their ability to reach a bipartisan agreement. The every-10-years redistricting fight is an intensely political process that can shift the partisan balance in Salem and in Washington.
Lawmakers pinned their success on an unprecedented tie in the House between Republicans and Democrats, which forced the parties to share power under co-speakers. They chose Republican Bruce Hanna of Roseburg and Roblan, a Democrat from Coos Bay.
"I do think that my state and her people are extraordinarily fortunate that these two were chosen," said Senate President Peter Courtney, a Salem Democrat who said he was initially skeptical that the House could successfully operate with co-speakers. "I'm not sure anybody else could have done what they've done."
It wasn't just redistricting. The tied House was credited with many of the Legislature's 2011 accomplishments, including a series of education bills that will expand online schools, charter schools and open enrollment while allowing funding for all-day kindergarten in districts that choose to offer it.
In keeping with tradition, the doors to the House and Senate were opened when all legislative business was completed. Courtney slammed the final gavel in the Senate as Hanna and Roblan, wielding a special two-handled gavel, did the same in the House.
Hours earlier, lawmakers approved the handful of bills remaining on their agenda, including budgets for the Department of Corrections and the state police, court fees and traffic fines, and the governor's health care initiative.
Both parties were quick to claim victory, and both have things to brag about. Republicans successfully extended school choice policies and tax breaks for businesses. Democrats got more money for schools and scaled back tax benefits.
Lawmakers opened the 76th Legislature facing a $3.5 billion gap between projected revenue and the estimated cost of continuing business as usual for two more years. They bridged the gap and crafted a $14.7 billion two-year budget that left schools, social safety net programs and just about every other government service far short of their desired levels. They did not raise taxes.
Budget writers said they did the best they could with a bleak outlook, giving schools a stable funding floor that won't be reduced and protecting some services for seniors and the disabled that once looked doomed. They left unspent more than $400 million of projected revenue, but also created a spending plan that relies on ambitious savings goals in health care.
"The economy has to continue to recover," said Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland, chief Democratic budget writer in the House. "We based this budget on the idea that we hit the bottom of the economy."
Lawmakers introduced more than 3,000 bills and passed more than 900 of them. Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber had so-far signed more than 500 and vetoed just one. Leaders from both party praised Kitzhaber for being engaged in the process and working mercilessly to force compromises. It was an entirely different picture from eight years ago, when Kitzhaber, a physician, finished his first term in office derided as "Dr. No" for setting a record for vetoes and sparring regularly with the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Kitzhaber had his own successes. Lawmakers approved his proposed oversight board to recommend education funding and policy from birth through college. They also created a health insurance exchange that would connect individuals and small businesses with more affordable health care, along with his initiative to significantly remake health care delivery under the Oregon Health Plan.
"Something about the governor we have and the 30-30 tie in the House led to a situation where we were able to get more done than I think anyone thought possible," said Rep. Matt Wingard of Wilsonville, the deputy Republican leader.
Other high-profile issues fell apart without. The Legislature made nothing but very minor changes to public employee compensation, a disappointment for Republicans. And they didn't allow some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public universities, which was a priority for some Democrats.Comment on this story
Lawmakers will be back in February for a quick, 35-day legislative session. It'll be the first regular session in an even-numbered year after voters in November approved a shift to annual sessions.
They'll be busy, and will have to pick up the pieces left behind this year. Overhauls to education and health care will require substantial work during the off-season that will require legislative approval in February.
"I think we're leaving today and Oregonians will look back and say, 'This was a good one,'" Hanna said.
Follow Jonathan J. Cooper at http://twitter.com/jjcooper