Portland 'Sustainability Center' hits a wall at the Oregon Legislature
Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2012, 6:09 PM Updated: Tuesday, February 28, 2012, 8:46 PM
By Harry Esteve, The Oregonian
SALEM -- As the Oregon Legislature struggled toward the finish line, the big issues of the day weren't jobs and health care. Instead guns and the ill-fated Oregon Sustainability Center took center stage.
Lawmakers appeared ready to block funding for what was supposed to become the state's most environmentally advanced building, which supporters -- including Portland Mayor Sam Adams -- hoped to erect at Portland State University.
"I don't expect it will be part of the package," said Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin. Devlin, a key player in budget negotiations at the Capitol and an ardent supporter of the building, said House Republicans have dug in against state bonding for it, effectively killing it.
"I think it's unfortunate, but it's the system we actually have," Devlin said.
His statement came after rumors circulated around the Capitol that Republican House Co-speaker Bruce Hanna, of Roseburg, was adamantly opposed to authorizing bonds for the center, touted as a worldwide model of green engineering and architecture. Nothing moves forward in the House unless it has the blessing of both Hanna and Democratic Co-speaker Arnie Roblan, of Coos Bay.
Hanna, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, reportedly has issues not only with the building itself, but also with incurring more state debt in general.
The $67 million building was supposed to be a partnership of the state, the city and the university. But the state was on the hook for the biggest chunk of funding -- $32 million. Without that money, it's unlikely the building would go forward.
In 2009, the Legislature, which was controlled by Democrats, approved money for the Sustainability Center. Two years later, after Republicans won a 30-30 split in the House, they put state funding for the center on hold after questioning the building's cost and it future use.
In Portland, project supporters remained optimistic.
“Our team is still working hard,” said Amy Ruiz, Adams’ spokeswoman. “At this point, it’s too soon to tell. There’s no indication one way or another, as far as we an tell, about where the OSC funding is going to land.”
Last fall, the Sustainability Center barely made it out of City Hall on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Randy Leonard and Dan Saltzman siding with Adams’ project. But Adams and Leonard leave office in December, leaving questions about future political support by the Portland City Council, let alone the Legislature.
Told of Devlin’s comments Tuesday, Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman said it would be “unfortunate” if lawmakers don’t authorize funding. “It’s never over until it’s over,” he said. “Who knows what can happen in the last whirl?”
But even if the Sustainability Center doesn’t survive this year, Saltzman isn’t ready to write off the project altogether, saying new members of the City Council in 2013 could push the Legislature for money.
“It’s still a good project for Portland,” he said. “But there’s a certain window to these things.”
Lawmakers may vote as soon as today on a smaller bonding package that includes money for three new buildings at Oregon State University and one at Western Oregon University.
Meanwhile, it seems the Legislature won't get out of town without a gunfight. Or, at least a fight over gun bills.
At a hastily called meeting, the Senate Rules Committee resurrected two bills that had been previously declared dead for the year. The first shields the names of Oregonians who hold concealed weapons permits. The second would prohibit guns at schools and public college or university campuses.
The concealed weapons permits proposal, House Bill 4045, passed the House by a wide margin but was declared kaput in the Senate. Nonetheless, the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, kept working with Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, to change the bill so it would be more palatable to the Senate.
The amended version of the bill would give public agencies some discretion to reveal the name, age and county of residence of a permit holder or applicant under certain circumstances. That includes disclosing the name to those who have written proof that they are crime victims or if there's a "compelling public interest."
Prozanski said he wanted to seize an opportunity. "This was a time to get it done, instead of waiting until January 2013 to start over," he said, noting that there are pending public records requests for the information from The Oregonian and The New York Times and that he believes the 148,000 permit-holders deserve their privacy protected.
Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, was the lone vote against sending the concealed weapons bill out for a floor vote. The committee next turned to a proposal she wanted which would prohibit people from bringing guns onto school grounds. Senate Bill 1594 would still allow a school district, college or university to adopt a policy authorizing people who are licensed to carry a gun to bring it on campus.
Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said the idea missed its target. It will keep law-abiding people from having their weapons but won't do anything to deter criminals, he said. "This bill fails the logic test."
Both bills could get a floor vote as early as today. The school guns bill will likely have a harder time becoming law because it has not had any House hearings or votes.
Legislative leaders are looking to wrap up business either late Thursday or Friday, Devlin said. Once the bonding bill gets a final OK from the House speakers and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, all the final budget bills can be sewn up and sent to the chamber floors within hours, he said.
-- Harry Esteve
-- Michelle Cole
-- Brad Schmidt