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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Kitzhaber Urges Lawmakers To Keep Cooperating, Take Up Tough Issues

Office of the Governor

SALEM, Ore. – Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber is urging state lawmakers to maintain bipartisan cooperation even though Democrats now control both chambers of the legislature. The governor made the comments in his annual State-of-the-State Address to a joint assembly Monday.

He told lawmakers they’ve made progress on a number of issues while the Oregon House has been evenly divided.

“Over the past two years, this body has demonstrated that it is not only possible to disagree agreeably, but to move beyond what divides us and build instead on what unites us.”

Kitzhaber made his case for proposals on job creation, public education and fiscal discipline. He acknowledged his plans to cut costs in public sector pensions are controversial and have generated backlash, even among his fellow Democrats. But Kitzhaber said they are necessary for the health of the retirement system.

Kitzhaber also praised lawmakers for getting Oregon through the worst of the current economic downturn.

"We should celebrate our progress because we did it together and because it didn't come easily. But at the same time we need to recognize that in spite of the progress we've made, there are far too many Oregonians being left behind."

The governor is also calling on state lawmakers to not shy away from some of his more controversial cost-cutting proposals. One of those proposals is aimed at curbing the need for more prison beds. Kitzhaber told lawmakers he knows that will be a tough vote. But he argued corrections spending is taking money out of Oregon classrooms.

"If we are unwilling to act on this issue in this upcoming legislative session, we will by default be choosing prisons over schools, and condemning untold numbers of today's students to a future in our system of corrections, rather than our system of post-secondary education."

Oregon lawmakers were sworn in prior to the governor's address Monday. After some organizational meetings this week, they’ll return to Salem in February to start crafting legislation.

On the Web:

Governor Kitzhaber's State of the State address (Office of the Governor)