Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Compromise is a necessary ingredient in the messy business of making laws, but too often, it seems, legislators act as though that word is a synonym for capitulation.

This misses the reality of a true compromise, which is that each side gives up something, in exchange for gaining something else.

The Oregon Legislature has a chance to forge just such a compromise, but the opportunity seems to be slipping away in Salem.

This deal, which Gov. John Kitzhaber proposed this month, has the potential to achieve two goals vital to the state's future.

First, it would reign in the cost of Oregon's Public Employees Retirement System, which is straining the budgets of cities, counties and school districts.

The Legislature has passed one set of PERS reforms - Senate Bill 822 - but Kitzhaber's plan would nearly double the savings, from $460 million to $900 million over the next two years.

Second, the proposal would boost Oregon's K-12 schools budget to a record-high of $7 billion for the two-year budget cycle that starts July 1.

Although Baker schools are in an enviable position financially, the additional money would prevent teacher layoffs and other cuts in many other districts.

There is, as you've probably guessed, more to this story.

Tax increases, to be specific.

Kitzhaber's plan calls for $275 million, more than half of which would come from limiting two tax deductions: $110 million from Oregon's unique medical deduction for people 62 and older, and $45 million from the state's $183 tax credit known as the "personal exemption."

The new taxes are relatively minor: $65 million from higher corporate tax rates, and $55 million from higher taxes on beer, wine or cigarettes.

Republicans in the Legislature like PERS cuts, but they don't think much of tax hikes.

A K-12 budget bill failed to pass the Senate when one Democrat, Chris Edwards of Eugene, joined the 14 Republicans in voting against the bill, which didn't include the deeper cuts in PERS that the GOP favors.

Republicans can get those cuts, and more money for K-12 schools, by backing Kitzhaber's proposal, including the tax hikes.

We appreciate the GOP's disdain for higher taxes. But the ones Kitzhaber proposes are modest, and more than offset by the PERS reductions.

The risk here is that some aspects of the PERS cuts could be overturned in the courts, which would tilt this compromise toward tax hikes.

Nonetheless, this looks to be the best chance that Republicans will have to pass the meaningful PERS reform the party has promoted.

They should take that chance - which could come up Friday at the Capitol.

We don't like raising taxes. But we also don't like letting the opportunity go by to address PERS reductions and education funding in a bill that we believe finds a middle ground.