SIMMONS DEBATING RUN FOR 4TH TERM

March 05, 2002 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

If Gov. John Kitzhaber calls the Legislature back into another special session in June, as expected, the issue of imposing taxes to make up for the state budget shortfall will still be very much alive.

Taxes are still on the table (for discussion); we havent taken them off. But we just dont need them, said House Speaker Mark Simmons.

The Republican from Elgin said in La Grande Tuesday he is in the process of deciding if he will seek a fourth term in the House.

Simmons said the second special session which ended Saturday was frustrating, but we did the right thing. No matter what we do, the governor was against us. He criticized every option that was not a tax increase. But all tax proposals went down on the House floor last Friday.

The governor has said the Republican-backed budget didnt make up for the $846 million shortfall blamed on the recession and he would veto part of the budget

package.

We didnt need to raise taxes, Simmons said. All national indications are that the recession is a short-term problem, that things will be on an even keel by the time the next Legislature meets.

The House speaker said the Legislature solved the short-term budget problems by cutting $350 million and used $500 million in reserves even though it did not approve any of the tax increases Kitzhaber wanted, such as those on beer and wine.

Republicans also tapped into the huge tobacco settlement account, a portion of the plan the governor will veto.

Simmons said he would take a day or two at home in Elgin to decide if he will run again.

I was waiting to see how the special session went before deciding. It went well for me, he said. Despite the frustrations, it was a positive session.

But the distance and time away from home are getting to him, he said. His youngest daughter, Holly, 17, is a high school junior. His wife, Joni, a nurse, has worked in his Salem office during the regular Legislature sessions and now works part-time at Grande Ronde Hospital.

If I dont run, I would try to find a job that uses the things Ive learned in politics. I have a lot of options.