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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.

Oregon Hospital Tax Becomes Political Bargaining Chip

The Oregon House Tuesday approved a measure to renew a tax paid by hospitals and long-term care facilities. The concept isn't controversial since the institutions that pay it are largely reimbursed by federal Medicaid dollars. But the vote became a skirmish in a larger political battle in Salem.

That battle is whether to raise revenue or cut public pensions further. Early on in the floor debate over the hospital tax, House GOP leader Mike McLane signaled that he and other Republicans would vote to move the bill along. But only to give their GOP counterparts in the Senate a bargaining chip.

"I'm going to vote yes today," McLane said, "so that they can hopefully bring resolution on our budget impasse."

Senate Republicans say they won't approve the hospital tax unless majority Democrats agree to additional cost-cutting for the state's public pension system. House Democrats like Nancy Nathanson said that gambit puts more than $1 billion of federal health care funds at risk.

"We have hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who rely on services that would be in limbo," said Nathanson.

Lawmakers in Olympia are debating whether to extend a similar tax on hospitals during their special legislative session that kicked off this week.

On the Web:

HB 2216: Collection of hospital assessment - Oregon Legislature