In a short legislative session dominated by budget concerns and Governor Kitzhaber's ambitious reform efforts in health care, education and early learning, jobs bills have taken a back seat. But that doesn't mean they won't make it to the finish line.
There are major bills to coordinate the state's economic development activity, create more enterprise zones and reduce temporarily Oregon's capital gains tax rate. And there is legislation to clarify how and when to tax data centers such as Facebook's that were prize catches by previous economic development recruitment.
Here is a quick overview of some of the significant jobs-related legislation in Salem:
House Bill 4040: Drafted by two influential legislators — Reps. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, and Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, along with State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, the Oregon Investment Act seeks to align state economic development programs and incentives to make them more inviting to private sector companies. The measure has passed out of the House Transportation Committee, so remains alive.
Read, Bentz and Wheeler co-authored an op-ed in The Oregonian explaining their intentions:
"Oregon spends significant Oregon Lottery profits and other funds today to enhance business development. Yet those tools are scattered across multiple agencies and have little strategic connection, and sometimes have little accountability to measure results.
"The Oregon Investment Act responds to the common themes we heard. It will require that we allocate state funds in nimble and effective ways, and it will help ensure that Oregonians get value for their money. The multifaceted approach could include thoughtful participation in bank loans, focused attraction of venture capital, targeted tax credits and small-business assistance.
"The overriding goal: better help for communities across the state to build their own economic futures. Government is in the economic development arena because taxpayers directed it. At the same time, taxpayers rightly expect that the state will invest our limited resources in a coordinated way that will maximize job creation and retention."
In talking with Read, he has a solid rationale for the bill, plus an understanding that, on occasion, the most important activities for government are to organize itself in a way that a) helps private companies that want to locate or expand in Oregon, but need government help and b) gets government out of the way when it is obstacle to private sector job expansion. The objective, Read says, is for the private sector to create jobs that Oregon needs to continue recovering from the down economy.
- House Bill 4093: House Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, is leading House Republicans in advocating that economic activity bills should be high on the agenda for the February legislative session. House Bill 4093 would allow local governments to create up to eight new "enterprise zones" and 10 new "e-commerce zones," areas designated to provide economic development incentives to attract businesses across the state.
No one is sure how the Hanna bill will fare or whether the legislature will adopt parts of the House Republican caucus' "jobs agenda" — a group of 10 bills promoted as a way to create as many as 50,000 jobs in Oregon. Not surprisingly, Democrats are skeptical.
- House Bill 4067: Facebook appears on the road to success this session in making sure data centers in local enterprise zones aren't "centrally assessed" by the state for tax purposes. The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, says the clarification in the law fulfills the promise that Crook County officials made to Facebook when it recruited the company to Central Oregon several years ago. The larger question of what is a "communications" company related to the state's ability to centrally assess is a bigger question, and one for a later day.
- House Bill 4076: Rep. Matt Wand, R-Troutdale, has introduced what he calls the ‘Invest in Oregon Act’ to reduce temporarily Oregon’s capital gains tax rate as a means to encourage new investment and job creation in the state. “The Invest in Oregon Act is an immediate and effective way to incentivize investment in Oregon companies and create jobs for Oregonians,” says Wand, a House Revenue Committee member. “By reducing the tax rate for investments made in Oregon companies during a brief period of time, this bill will encourage investors to bring their capital to Oregon to fund ingenuity, invention and enterprise.”
If past experience is any indication, his bill stands little chance of being enacted in the short February legislative session if only because of the always controversial capital gains tax provisions.
All of this is occurring against the backdrop of a new revenue and economic forecast announced in Salem at mid-week. The state economist reported that the economy continues to recover slowly, but that the recovery is uneven as metro areas drive improving statistics. Rural Oregon is still suffering.
The forecast projected another $35.1 million revenue drop, which wasn't good news, but drew sighs of relief that the decline wasn't greater. Lawmakers face a revenue gap of around $340 million less than what they counted on when they wrapped up the state's 2-year budget last June. Leaders are signaling they can find ways to work around a revenue loss of that amount, especially amid hopeful signs the economy is beginning to rebound.