TURN OUT THE LIGHTS IN SALEM

August 10, 2003 11:00 pm

The Oregon Legislature set a rather ignoble record Friday. That's the day the 2003 legislative session extended longer than any previous session.

The reason for the long summer session is simple. The state faces a huge revenue deficit. Legislators have about $2 billion less to spend in the 2003-05 biennium than they expected to spend in 2001-03. Legislative leaders so far have been unwilling to sit down and hammer out a solution that will be acceptable to the Republican-controlled House, the party-split Senate or Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

The legislators are divided over classic party lines. Democrats want to protect state services and are willing to try to come up with new sources of revenue to pay for them. Republicans want to spend the money now available to them. They're willing to figure out ways to cut programs and services to accommodate the shortfall.

So now that the record has been set, how long should the 2003 session go? The session might continue until Halloween, but that would be frightful. Having the session continue until Christmas would be no gift to anyone.

Legislators must accept a shorter time-frame. How about tying a ribbon around the 2003-05 budget by Labor Day, Sept. 1? A budget compromise will be necessary. Legislators can have until the end of August to wrap up their business. After that, the lights of the Capitol should go out.

BRING ON PRIZE PATROL

La Grande and other local cities may want to take a tip from another fine Northeast Oregon city. The Hermiston Prize Patrol was recently spotted when a caravan of cars approached the home of the Hermiston Neighbor of the Year as selected by nominating letters and the Hermiston Herald newspaper staff. The Prize Patrol, modeled after the Publishers Clearinghouse model as seen on TV, gave the winning party a gift basket provided by community-spirited businesses.

A Prize Patrol in La Grande could promote even greater community involvement than now exists. The patrol members could get together to hand out various other awards like yard and business beautification, recycling and carpooling, civility, public service, investment in education, anti-crime, anti-drugs and anti-poverty programs and other areas to inspire a generation to a cause greater than their own self-interests.

The patrol could be a centerpiece of a project to increase the number of what Pacific Lutheran University football coach Frosty Westering, one of the 10 winningest coaches in the nation, call "put-ups." These put-ups, as opposed to put-downs, can help build a stronger, more vital community full of can-do individuals.

There are a lot of people from Northeast Oregon who are good at put-ups, and a Prize Patrol could be just the vehicle (or vehicles) to boost these community-enhancing concepts.