Walkout in Oregon Senate threatens funding for Eugene YMCA, Leaburg Hatchery

Jun 26, 2019

A legislative stalemate at the state Capitol threatens to delay construction of a new facility for the Eugene Family YMCA. The walkout by Republicans in the Oregon Senate is over a carbon emissions bill.

While Democrats conceded this week that the bill probably won’t pass, GOP lawmakers still haven’t returned to the Capitol. It means the Senate can’t vote on bills, since it lacks a quorum.

With the legislature required by the state Constitution to adjourn by the end of the day Sunday, it means that more than 100 unrelated bills are at risk of automatically dying due to lack of Senate action.

Brian Steffen, CEO of the Eugene Family YMCA
Credit Eugene Family YMCA

One of those bills includes $15 million in state funding to help the Eugene Family YMCA replace its crowded 64-year-old facility. Brian Steffen, the C-E-O of the Eugene Y, said the political showdown could have a real impact. “The level of funding request that we have is significant, and not receiving it would delay our project by several years,” he said.

The overall cost for the project is $34 million, so the state portion--funded by lottery proceeds--is nearly half of what the organization needs.

Steffen is diplomatic when talking about the political stalemate in the Oregon Senate, which has drawn international media attention. “We understand that legislative members from both sides of the aisle are under extreme pressure to support their home districts and advocate for what they think is best for Oregon,” he said.

Still, it throws into limbo a project that the YMCA is counting on to serve the nearly 20,000 people who visit it each month. "We don’t know precisely how the session will wrap up," said Steffen. "We’re going to await that conclusion and then make strategic decisions based on conversations we will have with our board, our volunteer leaders and our local (legislative) delegation.”

Another bill that could die as a result of the Senate Republican walkout would keep the Leaburg Fish Hatchery open, at least temporarily. The $1.4 million appropriation would keep the hatchery operating, but doesn't guarantee it would stay open on a long-term basis.

Still, it would have been a dramatic, last-minute success for advocates of the nearly 70-year facility east of Springfield. A budget panel earlier this month declined to include funding for the hatchery in the budget for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. But the hatchery was given a reprieve in a batch of bills that are reserved for projects that just make the cut for legislative funding once the rest of the money is doled out.