Policy

Pierce Dumps Trump as Gubernatorial Debates Loom

 GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce jettisoned his endorsement of Donald Trump on the run-up to this Saturday’s first debate with Governor Kate Brown in Bend. Four more debates will follow into mid-October.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce jettisoned his endorsement of Donald Trump on the run-up to this Saturday’s first debate with Governor Kate Brown in Bend. Four more debates will follow into mid-October.

Few people aside from Donald Trump believe the unconventional GOP presidential candidate can capture Oregon in the November 8 general election. Now Oregon’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce has joined the chorus.

Pierce withdrew his endorsement of Trump this week, claiming the New York real estate magnate isn’t unifying the Republican party and is driving away Hispanic voters. Pierce says Hispanic voters have a natural attraction to political conservatives and he is actively seeking their support to upset Governor Kate Brown.

In an interview last month, Brown urged Pierce to disavow Trump and “do the right thing.” Whatever the right thing might be, Pierce stopped short of pledging to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton. He said he won't cast a ballot for anyone in the presidential race this year.

Jacob Daniels, Trump’s Oregon campaign chairman and perhaps the only person in the state who thinks his man will win here, dismissed Pierce’s dropped endorsement as insignificant.

The most recent public polling shows Brown with a comfortable double-digit lead over Pierce, but some Oregon Democrats have been uneasy over her largely invisible campaign while she hit the campaign fundraising trail. Pierce hit the airwaves with hard-hitting TV ads last month. Brown went up in the last few days with a softer ad that describes her political start as a children’s advocate and her achievement s governor boosting state K-12 school funding.

Brown and Pierce are scheduled to square off in their first face-to-face debate on Saturday in Bend, which may only rate second billing to home football games in Eugene and Corvallis. The gubernatorial candidates debate again September 30 in front of the Portland City Club, October 6 in Eugene, October 13 in Medford and October 20 in Portland.

Pierce has called for fresh thinking in Salem while Brown has touted her leadership as the successor to John Kitzhaber, who resigned at the beginning of his unprecedented fourth term. No seminal issues have created a sharp division in the race, though the Oregon-Oracle $100 million settlement of the Cover Oregon fiasco may have averted a flash point in the race. The settlement that involved six separate legal actions came just before Brown was scheduled to be deposed.

The debates are likely to underscore Pierce’s opposition to and Brown’s endorsement of Measure 97, the initiative that would impose a gross receipts tax on corporations with more than $25 million in annual sales in Oregon. Proponents and opponents of the tax measure are waging a vigorous campaign that pivots on how much of the tax will filter down to small businesses and ultimately Oregon consumers. Early polling indicates the measure has strong support.

The gubernatorial candidates should be pressed on how they would respond if the tax measure passes or fails. Measure 97 is projected to generate $3 billion in new state tax revenue annually, which would more than plug the state’s anticipated $1.5 billion biennial budget hole. However, the state will face severe spending challenges on education and health care spending if the measure fails.

As the debates unfold, a key target for each candidate will be attracting non-affiliated voters. Brown can generally count on the Democratic majority in urban areas from Portland to Eugene. To win, Pierce may need to catch some of the same populist wind that propelled voters in Oregon to support Trump and Bernie Sanders.

What an Effective Lobbyist Really Does

 Good lobbyists do a lot more than schmoozing and handing out campaign cash. Their work to pass or kill bills is strenuous, stressful and sometimes monotonous, and it can span multiple legislative sessions.

Good lobbyists do a lot more than schmoozing and handing out campaign cash. Their work to pass or kill bills is strenuous, stressful and sometimes monotonous, and it can span multiple legislative sessions.

Getting a bill passed is a lot more complicated than you may think. Rarely does legislation follow a straight line from its introduction to the day it lands on the governor's desk for a signature. And big campaign contributions don’t always mean success.

Lobbyists earn their pay by doing much more than drafting legislation, talking it up with the lawmakers on the committee where it will be sent and schmoozing in the lobby to round up enough votes. Lobbyists are worth their weight in gold when they anticipate what could go wrong on the legislative journey and take steps to avoid deadly detours.

To outsiders, lobbyists look like men and women who live the life – golfing, dining and hanging out with people with voting cards and the power to pass or kill a bill. If that’s all a lobbyist did, he or she might not be all that successful.

Anticipation starts before a bill is written or dropped. Lobbyists read the situation to see if the climate is right for a measure to make it. If, for example, Democrats control the legislature, right-to-work legislation has a slim to no chance of seeing the light of day, let alone getting adopted.

Assuming the climate is either conducive, or at least not problematic, the next thing to anticipate is the attitudes toward the bill of the chairs of the House and Senate committees where it would be referred. In the Oregon legislature, committee chairs have the power to “sit” on a bill and never give it a hearing or give it merely a perfunctory hearing.

A lobbyist will talk with committee chairs to see if they support or are at least okay with a bill and to find out what questions they have and background information they want. Some bills can be referred to more than one committee. This can be both a problem and an opportunity for a lobbyist. One way to get around a dissenting committee chair is to seek a referral to another committee with a more welcoming chair. Double committee referrals can be encouraged, which provides a lobbyist who opposes a bill twice the opportunity to erect roadblocks to stop it.

While committee chairs have the power over bills when they arrive in their possession, the presiding officers of the House and Senate are the ones with the power to decide where or where not to send bills. This is the next stop on the lobbyist's path to success to ensure the House Speaker or Senate President doesn’t send a bill to a committee where it will wind up stillborn.

All this activity occurs – or should occur – before a bill is introduced. Then the fun really begins.

Lobbyists need to prepare materials that explain the bill and its purpose. Complex bills require detailed explanations, which have to be clear and crisp or risk having the eyes of lawmakers glaze over.

Lobbyists will meet with legislators, especially the ones who sit on the committees where legislation would be considered. These meetings may involve bringing along a constituent to underscore the bill’s importance. In some cases, lobbyists will arrange tours to “see” the problem the bill seeks to solve. The same approach holds true if the lobbyist opposes a bill.

The preparation and meetings have another critical purpose – to ask for and confirm a legislator’s support for or opposition to the bill. Nailing down a “yes” or “no” may require more than a single meeting. Many legislators are reluctant to commit until they have heard the other side.

Eventually lobbyists develop a vote count, which becomes their real leverage. Even a reticent committee chair may yield to the wishes of his or her committee on a bill. A smart committee chair might use the opportunity to line up votes he or she wants on another, unrelated bill. Lobbyists have to keep track of this horse trading to avoid letting their legislation become manure tossed into the compost bin.

For most bills, lobbyists have to ask for a hearing. If they have the votes lined up in committee, they also ask for a work session, which allows the committee chair to call for a vote on the measure.

Once a hearing has been scheduled, lobbyists coordinate testimony. This can be as complicated as inviting a busload of people to testify or, at the request of a sympathetic chair, giving short-and-sweet testimony so the bill can be quickly moved along. Skilled lobbyists understand how to show the flag and fly under the radar.

An emerging trend is the need for coalitions of support, especially for bills that are contentious. It is not enough for a single lobbyist to tout a measure. Lawmakers want to know who else supports the bill, or at least who doesn’t oppose it.

When a bill makes it out of committee, it heads to the House or Senate floor, unless it has a fiscal impact, which means in most cases it then goes to the Joint Ways and Means Committee. In the Oregon legislative set-up, Ways and Means is an appropriations committee. It's also like a parole board. You have to show up and make a case for the release of your bill. Without approval, your legislation will rot in a fiscal jail.

A good chunk of bills that pass on the House and Senate floors draw minimal comment and debate. More often, even on non-controversial bills, legislators pose questions that the legislator carrying the bill attempts to answer. Lobbyists work with committee staff to anticipate questions and generate responsive, accurate answers. Under their code of ethics, Oregon lobbyists are obliged to correct any misinformation they provide, whether it's inadvertent or intentional.

Passing the House or Senate is just the start. Some House-Senate standoffs inevitably turn innocent bills into hapless hostages. Lobbyists have to use their political GPS to see an impediment coming and do what they can to skirt or manage the detour.

Even with reliable vote counts, nervous lobbyists typically pace outside the House and Senate chambers waiting for their bill to come up in debate and a vote. They also have to be available in case a lawmaker wanders out of the chamber to ask a random question about the bill.

If a bill is on its way through the legislative gauntlet, lobbyists must brief the governor’s staff. Unlike a committee chair who has the power of a pocket veto, the governor is required to sign or veto bills that reach his or her desk. If a bill faced serious opposition in the legislature, governors will usually scrutinize it carefully, seeking advice from their legal counsel and policy staffs. Bills with partisan overtones or ones that pass on largely party-line votes can present special lobbying challenges.

Of course, politics do play a role in legislation. Lobbyists court political relationships by contributing to legislative candidates, House and Senate leadership and Republican and Democratic caucuses, which can make a difference when a lobbyist calls for a meeting. But donating campaign cash doesn’t guarantee a legislative victory. That's why good lobbyists work to build trust by carefully validating their claims and by credibly and fairly telling their opponent’s story. Some lobbyists have even won the day by telling their opposition’s story better than their opponent. But all lobbyists are gauged on their propensity to tell the truth.

Some bills take more than a single session to make it all the way through the process to become law. That means repeating the drill – improving the bill and its support, perhaps with a stronger grassroots network, more powerful testimony or a more persuasive argument.

Bills that pass can be targets for amendments or even repeal in subsequent sessions. So the lobbyist’s job is seemingly never finished.

Lobbying involves hard, persistent and often monotonous work. The best lobbyists aren’t necessarily the ones with the most flash, but the ones with the creativity to see a path to success and the perseverance to follow that path. And it never hurts to have a really good vote count.

A Crack in Public Pension Wall Emerges in California

 Many Oregon political leaders believe reforms are needed to public employee pensions to trim costs and plug a swelling unfunded liability, but few think reforms can pass a court test. Now a crack may be emerging in that impenetrable legal wall.

Many Oregon political leaders believe reforms are needed to public employee pensions to trim costs and plug a swelling unfunded liability, but few think reforms can pass a court test. Now a crack may be emerging in that impenetrable legal wall.

A state appellate court ruling in California will be studied carefully for its implications on whether public employee pension benefits are immutable or can be modified.

While unlikely to generate any immediate political response, the court ruling, if upheld on further appeal, could entice state lawmakers in California and elsewhere to explore public employee pension changes in the face of ballooning unfunded liabilities. Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System unfunded liability has swelled to $21 billion.

The need to allocate more money for state and local public employee pensions has been one of the hardest fought issues in state legislatures around the country. Pension bills that have passed, including in Oregon, have mostly been struck down by courts as unconstitutional.

The Sacramento Bee reported the unanimous ruling by a California state appellate court says there is no absolute bar to modifying public employee pensions. The vested right to a pension “is only to a reasonable pension, not an immutable entitlement to the most optimal formula of calculating the pension,” the court ruling said. “The Legislature may, prior to the employee’s retirement, alter the formula, thereby reducing the anticipated pensions…so long as the …modifications do not deprive the employee of a reasonable pension.”

The effective prohibition of any change to an existing public employee pension provision, called the California Rule, stems from a series of court decisions beating back efforts to trim benefits and reduce costs. You could say there is an Oregon Rule, too.

Oregon’s latest attempt at what legislators called public pension reform was largely thrown out by the state Supreme Court. That’s what makes the new ruling in California intriguing. Does it reflect a crack in the California Rule? If so, how wide is the crack? And, most important, will the crack stand up when appealed to the California Supreme Court?

The genesis of the crack began in the judicial bankruptcy proceedings for the City of Stockton. Federal Judge Christopher Klein said "pension benefits could be reduced  in a bankruptcy action because bankruptcy is nothing by the impairment of contracts,” according to the Sacramento Bee’s reporting.

California’s Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) argued reducing state employee pensions couldn’t be ordered by a federal judge. Klein rejected CalPERS’ claim. However, Stockton never tested Klein’s opinion and emerged from bankruptcy without touching public employee pensions.

The appellate court opinion involved Marin County’s implementation of one of the public employee pension reforms included in the 2012 pension reform legislation enacted by the California Assembly and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. The provision that Marin County adopted prohibits using unused sick leave to “spike” pension benefit calculations.

There is a long road ahead before anyone will know whether the crack in the California Rule is real and just what it might permit in terms of modified pension benefits. That’s little consolation to lawmakers who will face budget holes and rising pension costs when they return to their state capitals early next year. But it does give them something to watch that could open a new conversation down the line.

Trump Tackling the Left Coast

 As Republicans open their national convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump has pledged to put some surprising states in play in November, including Oregon and Washington. What does Trump know that most political observers in the Pacific Northwest fail to see? (Photo Credit:  Christopher Dolan/The Times & Tribune via AP)  

As Republicans open their national convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump has pledged to put some surprising states in play in November, including Oregon and Washington. What does Trump know that most political observers in the Pacific Northwest fail to see? (Photo Credit: Christopher Dolan/The Times & Tribune via AP) 

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump raised eyebrows when he told Republican congressmen that he expects to run competitively in November on the Left Coast, especially in Oregon and Washington.

Trump didn’t give away his secret formula for turning dark blue states into electoral votes for him, but it is interesting to speculate on what is behind his audacious claim.

The Statesman Journal reported what it called a “surprise result” from the latest batch of party affiliation sign-ups from motorists automatically registered to vote under Oregon’s new Motor Voter law – more people registered as Republicans than Democrats. Some 3,455 new voters aligned with the GOP compared to only 3.023 with the Democrats.

Before you get too excited over that news, note that 124,912 Oregonians have been registered to vote under the new law, but only about 8,500 declared a party preference, according to the secretary of state’s elections division. The small gain in voter registration by Republicans hardly makes a dent in the overwhelming Democratic majority in Oregon. Trump carried Oregon with 252,748 votes in the Republican primary, which was fewer votes than Hillary Clinton received (269,846) in soundly losing to Bernie Sanders (360,829).

But primary results and new voter registrations may not be what Trump and his lieutenants are pondering. They see a whole lot of people, including a vast majority of new voters, who don’t align with either party. There are more non-affiliated voters in Oregon than registered Republicans and almost as many as registered Democrats. This pool of voters could represent just the kind of uncharted electoral waters Trump plans to ply this fall.

Trump also may be planning to appeal to Democratic and independent voters in Oregon and Washington who voted for Bernie Sanders and are disenchanted with Hillary Clinton. Despite national polls showing nearly three-quarters of Sanders Democratic primary voters plan to vote for Clinton, that still leaves the other 25 percent for Trump to court.

Sanders did well in more than just Portland, so Trump’s campaign may try to pry away voters who oppose trade deals and still harbor ill feelings toward the Clintons on timber policies that reduced cuts on public forests and forced mills to close. He might even reach out to “Rust Belt” manufacturing workers in Portland and Seattle who feel left behind.

An active Trump campaign in Oregon and Washington, whatever that turns out to be from this unconventional politician, could give a boost to down-ballot Republican candidates. GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce seems disinclined to hook his hope to Trump, but Dennis Richardson, who is running for secretary of state, might find some common cause with the Trumpster.

Even if Pacific Northwest Republicans don’t enthusiastically embrace Trump and his message, they might still be willing to collaborate on campaign basics such as get-out-the-vote efforts, aiming to turn out voters who aren’t exactly in the political mainstream.

Win or lose in November, Trump has given the Republican Party a jolt and potentially set the stage for a larger, longer-term political realignment affecting both major parties. His unpredictability as a candidate has allowed doubt to creep in about the reliability of old political maxims, like red states and blue states.

Voter turnout, and to some degree voter mood, can be influenced in Oregon and Washington by ballot measures. Oregonians will be voting on a major tax increase on large corporations, which Republicans generally oppose, but also may fetch opposition from lower-income voters who fear the tax increase will be passed along to them in higher prices for groceries and gas.

Portland-area voters will be asked to approve a major a $750 million bond for Portland Public School renovations, a City of Portland gas tax increase and renewal of a Metro levy to fund regional natural areas. The cumulative impact of tax measures on the ballot could make Portland voters poutier than usual and more open to the kind of messages Trump traffics in.

Washington voters will decide on measures that would impose a carbon emission tax and urge a constitutional amendment that limits constitutional rights to people, not corporations. A gun control measure also may qualify for the fall ballot.

A Republican hasn’t won the governorship of Washington since the 1980s, but the last three elections have been tight. Governor Jay Inslee is seeking re-election, but with sagging approval ratings. He only won in 2012 by a whisker over his Republican rival, former state attorney general Rob McKenna. Pundits predict a vigorous battle for legislative control in the House, where Democrats hold a thin two-seat majority, and the Senate, where Republicans cling to an even thinner one-seat advantage.

If you were betting, you would be smart to keep your chips on blue in Oregon and Washington. But you might not want to lift your finger off the chips just quite yet.

Summer IP 28 Polls May Not Mean Much

 IP 28 would substantially raise taxes on corporations with large sales in Oregon to fund schools and other public services. Polling so far shows the high-profile, big-stakes initiative winning easily and losing miserably. Stay tuned because summer polls aren’t very telling.

IP 28 would substantially raise taxes on corporations with large sales in Oregon to fund schools and other public services. Polling so far shows the high-profile, big-stakes initiative winning easily and losing miserably. Stay tuned because summer polls aren’t very telling.

According to the polls, IP 28, which would raise taxes for large corporations with more than $25 million in annual sales in Oregon, either has strong support, withering support or a large bunch of undecided voters. Who knows at this point?

So it is with high-profile, big-stakes initiatives in mid-summer. Voters may be vaguely aware of them, but a good chunk of the electorate has postponed thinking too much about them until closer to the November election. They have vacations to take and lawns to mow.

Reading too much into summer poll results on initiatives is like depending on the Farmer’s Almanac to tell you whether it will rain next weekend. The polls regarding IP 28 hardly tell any story at all.

The latest public poll, conducted online in late June by iCitizen, shows 65 percent of Oregonians favor IP 28, while 19 percent oppose and 16 percent are undecided.

A poll done by DHM Research in May found 51 percent in favor, 32 percent opposed and 18 percent undecided. Action Solutions released a poll early in June showing only 41 percent support IP 28, while 32 percent oppose and 35 percent are undecided.

Differing questions and polling techniques can account for some of the variation among the polls, but the differences are pretty stark and most likely reflect that a lot of people really haven’t made up their minds yet.

In addition, the campaigns for and against IP 28 are just ramping up. Most competent opposition campaigns erode initial initiative support, sometimes dramatically.

The battle lines on IP 28 are pretty clear, however. Proponents argue big corporations pay too little tax in Oregon, which results in inadequate funding for schools and other public services. Opponents will contend IP 28 is really a gigantic sales tax that will raise consumer prices and cost Oregonians jobs. Both arguments have relatively broad appeal in Oregon, which also may account for some lingering voter indecision.

The iCitizen poll showed support for IP 28 drops, especially among Republican voters, when the the “sales tax” label is applied to it. But DHM Research found strong residual support, even among Republicans, with the claim that corporations pay too little in taxes in Oregon.

Pollsters agreed that views on the controversial measure are fluid. They may fluctuate in the course of the next few months as campaigns mount their best arguments in the most places. The 2016 election has already revealed itself as out of the ordinary, with populist surges on both the political left and right.

The IP 28 campaign will be worth watching. But don’t count on the polls, at least quite yet, as much of a guide for what the eventual outcome.

Payers Fret Over ‘Lowballed' EPA Cleanup Cost for Portland Harbor

 The business and public agencies criticized an earlier EPA cost estimate to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund site as too high. Now they worry a revised estimate is too low, while environmental activists think the EPA plan doesn’t go far enough. (Photo courtesy: The Oregonian/Oregonlive)

The business and public agencies criticized an earlier EPA cost estimate to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund site as too high. Now they worry a revised estimate is too low, while environmental activists think the EPA plan doesn’t go far enough. (Photo courtesy: The Oregonian/Oregonlive)

Businesses and public agencies that will foot the bill for cleaning up Portland Harbor find themselves in the awkward position of questioning whether the Environmental Protection Agency lowballed a cost estimate in its plan released in June.

Some 150 potentially responsible parties who are on the hook to pay for pollution remediation earlier complained the price tag was too high. EPA officials say they agreed and lowered the Superfund cleanup cost estimate from $1.4 billion to  $746 million. An even earlier EPA estimate was pegged at $2 billion.

Payers worry because they say the EPA didn’t alter its cleanup recommendations that much to justify cutting the cost in half. The Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group, which advises the EPA, has a similar concern, as the Portland Tribune's Steve Law reported this week.

“We asked them how can costs suddenly be so much less,” said Barbara Quinn, a member of the advisory group who lives near Portland Harbor, “and we really didn’t get any good answers.” EPA officials say they have refined the cost estimate for the cleanup, which is expected to take seven years to complete, after making adjustments to their recommendations.

Meanwhile, environmental activists have chastised the EPA plan as a “capitulation to industrial polluters,” a violation of tribal fishing rights and something far short of what is needed to clean up the Willamette River.

Environmental discontent with the EPA plan stems largely from its reliance on natural recovery, rather than dredging, to cleanse a significant portion of the Superfund site. The EPA defended natural recovery as “the most cost-effective approach” to cleaning up 1,900 acres of the 2,200-acre site. Activists want the EPA to require dredging for half or more of the site.

The EPA is accepting comments on its plan and cost estimate. The 30-day window for comments also irked environmental activists who complained it was foolish to rush public input after the EPA took 16 years to study the problem and come up with its recommendation.

While business and public sector payers aren’t rooting for higher costs, they also don’t want to sign on to a plan only to discover later that the actual cost is much higher, plus the cost of litigation to settle who pays what.

Based on other Superfund cleanups, initial cost estimates have been off by as much as 100 percent, according to Michael Jordan, the director of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services. Jessica Hamilton, who manages the Port of Portland’s harbor environmental activities, said the new price tag appears “artificially too low.”

The challenge for any major project like this is to find the sweet spot where investments generate the maximum benefits. At some point, additional investment only drives diminished benefits. By way of example, Jordan said Portland spent $1.44 billion on the Big Pipe project to keep 96 percent of city sewage from spilling into the Willamette River. He said it would have cost $4.5 billion to achieve a 100 percent reduction.

Voters May Decide 'Fake Emergencies Act'

 Opponents say “emergency clauses” are added to bills by lawmakers who want to thwart voter referrals. Others say the Oregon Constitution shouldn’t be cluttered with provisions to hamstring the legislature and enshrine bad policy.

Opponents say “emergency clauses” are added to bills by lawmakers who want to thwart voter referrals. Others say the Oregon Constitution shouldn’t be cluttered with provisions to hamstring the legislature and enshrine bad policy.

In addition to deciding on a major corporate tax hike, Oregonians may have a chance this fall to cast a vote on the “No More Fake Emergencies Act.”

Wilsonville attorney Eric Winters is the chief petitioner for IP 49, a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder for Oregon lawmakers to slap “emergency clauses” on legislation. Winters says lawmakers use emergency clauses to deny opponents a 90-day window to refer controversial legislation, such as a measure to extend the life of the low-carbon fuel standard.

 This is campaign literature from NoFakeEmergencies.org in support of IP 49, which seeks to limit use of emergency clauses on legislation in the Oregon legislature.

This is campaign literature from NoFakeEmergencies.org in support of IP 49, which seeks to limit use of emergency clauses on legislation in the Oregon legislature.

Supporters are still collecting signatures on IP 49, which must top 117,578 to qualify for the November election ballot.

There is a case that legislators use emergency clauses liberally for what you might describe as non-emergencies. The Oregonian editorial about IP 49 poked fun at emergency clauses attached in the 2016 session to innocuous bills expanding the Travel Information Council, creating a Trail Blazers license plate and authorizing an ODOT study to boost ridership on passenger rail.

Under IP 49, lawmakers would need a two-thirds majority to approve a bill with an emergency clause, which Winters thinks would be a deterrent to frivolous use of the technique. IP 49 creates exceptions for biennial spending measures and bills passed during emergency legislative sessions called to address actual disasters.

Tax-raising measures are already off limits for emergency clauses, and they have been referred to voters fairly often. Tax measures also require a three-fifths majority to pass in the Oregon House and Senate, which translates into 36 House votes and 18 Senate votes.

IP 49 follows criticism about the 2016 session that critics complained went far beyond the bounds of a short 35-day legislative session. Annual sessions were sold as a way to give lawmakers a chance to tweak the state’s biennial budget, make technical corrections to legislation passed in the longer regular session and address emergencies. As they have evolved, annual sessions have become a vastly expedited miniature of regular sessions, dealing with substantive and often controversial topics.

In fairness, some of the controversial measures, such as a higher minimum wage, were aimed at heading off costly, divisive ballot measures. That may or may not constitute a true emergency, but timing was important.

Oregon has had mixed experience with cluttering the state Constitution with requirements like this, which may prompt some political observers to oppose the ballot measure, while urging lawmakers to exhibit more discipline in the use of emergency clauses.

Liberal-leaning Blue Oregon notes the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times in more than 200 years, but the Oregon Constitution has been routinely tinkered with, turning it into “an ugly, lengthy, wide-ranging and ridiculous document.” Amendments, the group says, have been “shamelessly used to hamstring the legislature, enshrine poor policy and indict differences of opinion.”

EPA Superfund Plan Pleases Business, Irks Enviros

 The EPA’s “balanced” Portland Harbor cleanup plan, combining ideas from multiple sources, has to please business groups while irking environmental activists who pressed for a more aggressive cleanup before President Obama leaves office.

The EPA’s “balanced” Portland Harbor cleanup plan, combining ideas from multiple sources, has to please business groups while irking environmental activists who pressed for a more aggressive cleanup before President Obama leaves office.

The Environmental Protection Agency just issued a long awaited plan to clean up the Portland Harbor, which pleased business interests, but irked tribes and environmental activists.

Even so, the plan isn’t a walk-over, nor is it cheap, with a $746 million price tag that will be paid by more than 150 companies and public agencies and take at least seven years. However, it is much more modest than the $2 billion estimate the EPA floated a while back, which galvanized business interests to push for alternative approaches.

The alternative EPA promulgated would rely on "natural recovery” to cleanse 1,900 acres of the 2,200-acre Superfund site. The 291-acre balance of the site would be dredged, capped and seeded to remove, isolate or speed the dilution of pollutants trapped in riverbed soils. 

EPA officials called their alternative “balanced” and a hybrid of approaches recommended in substantial testimony. The federal agency expects a lot more advice in the 60-day comment period that extends into August.

Environmental activists view the EPA plan somewhere between disappointing and a disaster. They felt they had the regulatory momentum for a more aggressive plan, which would be put into effect while President Obama remains in office. Now they face a challenge to stiffen the plan in a shrinking political time frame. Some community groups say the 60-day comment period is too short for them to absorb what has been proposed and make meaningful suggestions.

The Lower Columbia Group, the coalition of potentially responsible parties that congealed when it appeared a more draconian and expensive plan would come from EPA, assumed a reserved posture in its reaction to the plan. Privately, they had to be smiling and popping corks on champagne.

The Portland Harbor Superfund issue has swum around for more than 16 years, and it probably isn’t over.

Oregon Floodplain Regulations to Become More Restrictive

 Development in Oregon floodplains will be restricted under a federal court ruling pushing tougher building criteria that a state agency and local jurisdictions will be required to implement.

Development in Oregon floodplains will be restricted under a federal court ruling pushing tougher building criteria that a state agency and local jurisdictions will be required to implement.

Few people would conflate floodplain insurance with endangered species. But that conflation is about to rewrite the rules of development in Oregon floodplains, with the help of an unlikely agent, the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

Whoa, how did flood insurance, fish facing extinction and LCDC get in the same sentence, let alone the same policy discussion? It’s an interesting story, with a potentially devastating punchline.

In 1990, environmental groups sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failure to consult under a section of the Endangered Species Act. Environmentalists asserted FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program involved “discretionary agency actions” that subjected it to consultation on its impacts on endangered species. A similar lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington in 2003.

Federal judges in both cases found FEMA must consult. The Washington decision resulted in the 2008 Biological Opinion (BiOp) issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that included “reasonable and prudent alternatives” for implementing the flood insurance program in Puget Sound. Environmental groups filed suit in 2011 alleging FEMA wasn’t following through. 

A similar pattern occurred in Oregon. Environmentalists sued FEMA in 2009. FEMA settled and began consultation with NMFS, which issued its BiOp for Oregon on April 14. It has been a slow-motion bombshell.

The 400-page BiOp concludes that implementation of the national flood insurance program in Oregon could jeopardize the habitat for 16 listed anadromous fish species and adversely affect Southern Resident killer whales. The “jeopardy determination” triggers a need for interim and permanent “reasonable and prudent alternatives” that will be enforced by a local jurisdiction. In Oregon’s case, that means the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) and cities and counties.

FEMA and DLCD are required to conduct an “education and outreach” effort to affected jurisdictions, which includes “all river sub-basins in Oregon that contain ESA-listed anadromous fish” cited in the BiOp. That applies to all of Western Oregon and central and eastern parts of the state with streams that eventually feed into the Columbia or Snake rivers.

FEMA must revise its regulatory floodplain management criteria, relying on updated mapping, as early as January 1, 2019, with the goal of avoiding, minimizing and mitigating adverse effects of floodplain development.

DLCD has two years to implement its “interim” measures, which include a “no-touch” zone extending 170 feet horizontally from the ordinary high-water mark of perennial or intermittent streams. There also is a broad definition of development, which includes vegetation removal. Repairs or remodeling of existing structures within that zone would be okay, as long as there is footprint expansion. 

Lots of questions remain. How to do you calculate the 170-feet when there is a slope? Do restrictions apply to subterranean development, such as water intakes and pipes? How far up mountains and into remote valleys will mapping of flood-prone areas be required? What kind of data will be required to monitor FEMA’s compliance and who will collect it and pay for it? Will projects underway or in the permitting pipeline be affected?

DLCD’s role will include workshops, technical assistance and a model ordinance. The workshops are scheduled to begin this summer. But it also will be ground zero for landowner reaction, which can be expected to be huge, perhaps rivaling the reaction to Measure 37, which entitled landowners to compensation for regulatory takings under Oregon’s land-use laws.

So far, the NMFS BiOp has received little public notice, despite its far-ranging impact. Expect that to change fairly soon when people realize what’s afoot and what it could mean.

(Information in this blog was taken from a Stoel Rives presentation entitled “Oregon Floodplain Regulation in Flux,” featuring comments by attorneys Steve Abel, Sarah Stauffer Curtiss and Greg Corbin)

IP 28 Would Boost Taxes and May Dampen Economy

 The Legislative Revenue Office released its long-awaited analysis of an initiative to impose a gross receipts tax on large corporations selling in Oregon. It says taxes would definitely go up and the overall economy might take a hit.

The Legislative Revenue Office released its long-awaited analysis of an initiative to impose a gross receipts tax on large corporations selling in Oregon. It says taxes would definitely go up and the overall economy might take a hit.

The initiative to impose a gross receipts tax on larger corporations selling in Oregon would raise $6.1 billion in revenue in the next biennium, while pushing up consumer prices and dampening income, employment and population growth in the next five years.

The Legislative Revenue Office (LRO) shared its findings today on IP 28, which will simultaneously cheer its public sector supporters and send shudders down the backs of its business opponents. Lawmakers and others have been clamoring for weeks for the findings, which will confirm fears and hopes, depending on your point of view.

The $6 billion in new tax revenue would fortify the state’s ability to boost funding for education, health care and senior services and make Oregon’s corporate tax system less volatile in down economic cycles, according to LRO.

Because the tax change falls heaviest on as few as 274 larger corporations with more than $25 million in annual sales in Oregon, LRO says they may find it worthwhile to restructure their businesses here to avoid high taxes. The retail and wholesale trade sectors would be hit the hardest by the tax increase, which could put upward pressure on consumer prices, shrink job creation and possibly even discourage some people from moving here, LRO projects.

There are other variables that complicate the analysis. One is the definition of a sale in Oregon. Another is the exemption of S-corporations, partnerships, proprietorships and benefit corporations, known as B-corps.

Then there are anomalies that arise in the interaction between existing corporate income tax rates and a corporate minimum tax in the form of a gross receipts tax. LRO provides an example of two hypothetical companies, each with $60 million in Oregon sales. For Corporation A with only $3 million of net income apportioned to Oregon, its tax would rise from $218,000 to $905,001 under IP 28. For Corporation B with $18 million of net income apportioned to Oregon, its current tax of $1.358 million would be the same under IP 28. 

It appears certain Oregonians will vote on IP 28 this fall after backers submitted far more signatures to the Secretary of State than required to qualify for the general election ballot. The specter of IP 28 and a boisterous political showdown between labor and business has caused others to back off potential initiatives, citing a lack of support and campaign cash, which is being sucked into the IP 28 vortex.

The LRO report doesn’t contain a smoking gun data point. Oregon tax revenue would rise as a result of IP 28, moving up the state’s per capita rate of taxation from 28th to 20th nationwide. The ratio of taxes to income would climb from 10.1 percent to 11.6 percent, with Oregon jumping from 26th to 9th nationally in that category.

LRO predicts the marginal impact of IP 28 will be to make Oregon’s tax system more regressive, but not by that much. Income, employment and population growth would be dampened, but only slightly. Larger negative impacts would be offset by higher public sector expenditures that tend to circulate in local economies.

LRO projects a net loss of 20,000 Oregon jobs – 37,000 in the private sector and reduced by a gain of 17,000 public sector jobs. Employment would decrease most sharply in the retail and wholesale sectors. Income would decrease $430 million, with income dropping 0.8 percent for households earning less than $100,000 annually.

The biggest “if” in the LRO report is now affected corporations will respond. “Both the large size of IP 28’s revenue impact and its concentrated impact on a small group of large corporations adds considerable uncertainty to the estimates,” LRO concludes.

Oregon Liquor Privatization Shaken, Not Stirred Again

 For the second election cycle in a row, a grocer coalition has backed away from an initiative to privatize Oregon liquor sales. Grocers say they will focus on defeating a gross receipts ballot measure, but opponents say they ditched their initiative because polling showed it would fail.

For the second election cycle in a row, a grocer coalition has backed away from an initiative to privatize Oregon liquor sales. Grocers say they will focus on defeating a gross receipts ballot measure, but opponents say they ditched their initiative because polling showed it would fail.

The grocer coalition, pushing for liquor privatization in Oregon, has withdrawn its initiative and says it will focus instead on defeating a labor-backed initiative to impose a gross receipts tax on corporations with large revenues. 

Opponents of the liquor privatization measure say the real reason Initiative Petition 71 was pulled is because it didn’t poll well enough to win in this November’s general election.

This is the second consecutive election cycle that Oregon liquor privatization boosters have backed off initiatives after Washington voters approved a similar measure in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has expanded its pilot program by allowing liquor sales in 14 additional Portland-area grocery stores. The OLCC said the 14 retail licenses it issued represent the largest liquor expansion in Oregon since Prohibition.

For those unfamiliar with liquor regulation, Oregon is considered a “control” state. The OLCC, which is a state agency, buys and distributes distilled spirits through state-licensed liquor stores. The arrangement dates back to post-Prohibition and is rooted in a policy mindset that liquor consumption can be moderated through limited access and higher prices. Those higher prices feed generous amounts of cash into the state General Fund and city and county budgets and fund mental health and substance abuse services. 

As you might imagine, liquor sales is big business. In the 2013-2015 biennium, distilled spirit sales in Oregon totaled $1.06 billion. After paying for inventory and compensating state liquor store agents, there were net revenues of $435 million. The lion’s share ($247 million) went to state coffers, $77 million went to cities and $39 million went to counties. More than $17 million went directly to community mental health and substance abuse service providers.

Those revenue numbers explain the reticence of public officials to surrender control of the liquor supply chain. They don’t explain why Oregonians are ambivalent about moving liquor sales in part or totally over to private enterprise.

Nigel Jaquiss of Willamette Week reports that Oregonians for Competition dropped IP 71 because after spending $1 million it still didn’t poll well enough to win in the fall election. Jaquiss obtained four relatively recent polls, all funded by opponents of liquor privatization, that showed support for privatization ranging between 32 and 41 percent. The most recent poll, which surveyed 800 Oregonians last month, showed 54 percent opposed IP 71, while only 41 percent favored it.

Dan Lavey, who is advising privatization opponents, said grocers should be concerned about the gross receipts tax, but added, “There are two reasons why people abandon or never start campaigns – lack of money or you don’t believe you have a path to victory. The grocers don’t lack for money.”

Pat McCormick, spokesman for the coalition that pushed for IP 71, said its polling showed “voters are ready to allow Oregonians to buy liquor in grocery stores, alongside beer and wine, like consumers in most states.”

Grocers can be expected to take another run at legislation in the 2017 session. But it does seem clear the landscape for privatizing liquor in Oregon is different than it was in Washington. First off, the Washington initiative passed – opponents would say rammed through – because of a $20 million contribution to the campaign from Seattle-based Costco. Second, privatization in the Evergreen State has been met with mixed reviews. Liquor is available in more places, but at higher prices.

Another factor is the flexibility being shown by OLCC, under the leadership of Chair Rob Partridge, to experiment with different approaches to enhance consumer convenience, including permitting the state’s craft distillers to operate tasting rooms.

“I don’t think Oregonians want a liquor store on every corner. I don’t think they want every gas station and convenience store to have bottles of liquor – that’s not what I hear from Oregonians,” Partridge told KATU News.

He said Walmart, which received four of the 14 new retail licenses, says it plans to offer a limited variety of liquor in its stores compared to what is available in state liquor stores. “Sometimes you buy things for convenience,” Partridge said. “Other times, you’re shopping for that great unique specialty product. So, there’s room in the market for both.”

The Long Shadow of IP28

 An initiative to raise the tax in Oregon on corporations with large sales is destined to spark a sharp argument over business paying its fair share and taxes that lead to higher consumer prices.

An initiative to raise the tax in Oregon on corporations with large sales is destined to spark a sharp argument over business paying its fair share and taxes that lead to higher consumer prices.

Oregon faces a lot of serious issues, but they all may pale in the shadow of IP28, the proposed initiative that would increase the minimum tax paid by corporations with sales exceeding $25 million per year in Oregon. 

Proponents and opponents will argue about the merits and demerits of IP28, but it is hard to argue with Duncan Wyse, the president of the Oregon Business Council, who says, “IP28 will suck up the money and energy that could go toward other issues.”

Wyse and others worry the debate over IP28 will widen Oregon’s political divides as well as overshadow other important debates ranging from improving rural economies to solving the housing affordability crisis in Portland.

The 2016 Oregon legislative session considered, but failed to pass an alternative to IP28. Backers have until July to collect the needed signatures to place the initiative on the November general election ballot. Few doubt it will make it to the ballot. 

The Oregon Legislative Revenue Office estimates IP28, if approved by voters, could generate as much as $5 billion in new revenue during a biennium. A Better Oregon, the group pushing the initiative, says the additional revenue should go to public education, health care and senior citizen services. 

IP28 would turn Oregon’s corporate minimum tax into a gross receipts tax for larger corporations. Supporters say the measure will force out-of-state corporations that profit from sales in Oregon to pay their fair share of taxes. Opponents claim it would result in higher consumer prices.

Because the initiative exempts other kinds of businesses (S corporations, partnerships, B corporations and limited liability companies), business advisers say corporations may organize differently in Oregon to avoid the higher tax. Critics also note that the initiative can’t bind a future Oregon legislature on how to spend the money it would raise. While lawmakers may feel politically obliged to spend on the purposes proposed by initiative backers, they wouldn’t be constitutionally bound to do so.

Backers say the measure will make up for Oregon’s low overall taxation on business.

There is no doubt or disagreement the initiative will spark a vigorous, if not rancorous debate. The 2010 special election campaigns over Measures 66 and 67 – which raised the corporate minimum tax and increased the tax rate for higher-income Oregonians to raise $733 million – degenerated into name-calling and fractured political relationships, especially between business and organized labor. IP28 would impose a bigger tax change, which former state economist Tom Potiowsky has called a “sales tax on steroids.”

While there is plenty of time for arguments over IP28, its shadow already may have a chilling effect on other campaigns. What shaped up a bombshell election season in Oregon has turned out to be more of a dud. The gubernatorial race is flying under the media radar. The rumored challenge-from-the-left to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden never materialized. The race for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state, which features three candidates with credentials, has drawn little attention.

The 2016 legislature managed to pass a minimum wage bill that will avoid having that issue on the November ballot. But the session itself was marred by partisan wrangling and arguments over the purpose of an even-year, 35-day legislative session. The rancor also has led to a recall effort against Senate President Peter Courtney.

If IP28 casts a long shadow on Oregon politics, the raucous presidential primary is the big elephant in the room. It is the dominant topic of political conversation on news outlets and across kitchen tables. The “Final Five” candidates in the running for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations are expected to campaign in Oregon prior to the May 17 primary, drowning out pretty much everyone else.

The November general election could be a different matter as the GOP and Democratic frontrunners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both have unusually high negative ratings according to national polls. Assuming they capture their respective party nominations, they would mount vigorous campaigns aimed at stimulating voter turnout, with Trump appealing to alienated white blue-collar workers and Clinton trying to recruit younger voters activated by Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric about a rigged economy and establishment politics.

Those appeals for radical change could complicate the efforts of IP28 opponents, who already acknowledge the initiative starts with a majority in support.

Session Anger Sparks Courtney Recall Drive

 [Photo Credit: The Oregonian] Despite brokering the bipartisan deal that allowed the rancorous 2016 Oregon legislative session to end smoothly and early, Senate President Peter Courtney faces a recall drive led by a Woodburn Republican who says the longest serving Senate president in state history is “out of touch.”

[Photo Credit: The Oregonian] Despite brokering the bipartisan deal that allowed the rancorous 2016 Oregon legislative session to end smoothly and early, Senate President Peter Courtney faces a recall drive led by a Woodburn Republican who says the longest serving Senate president in state history is “out of touch.”

Senator Peter Courtney, the longest serving Oregon Senate president, is facing a recall attempt for the third time in a long political career that stretches back to 1980. The drive, which started collecting signatures over the weekend, may represent spillover hard feelings from the 2016 legislative session.

Courtney's critics are perturbed about successful Democratic legislation in the short 2016 session to phase out coal power and raise the minimum wage. They also are upset that Courtney didn’t push through the resolution to ask voters to approve setting aside 2 percent of Oregon Lottery proceeds to help veterans.

The coal-to-clean bill, which was hammered out as a compromise between electric utilities and environmentalists to avoid a more aggressive ballot measure this fall, created political tension during the short session. House and Senate Republicans demanded that bills be read aloud in their entirety, which slowed down session progress and jeopardized passage of several major bills, including the coal-to-clean legislation.

Some of the venom of the short session landed on Courtney, who played a lead role in convincing Oregonians to amend the state Constitution and permit annual sessions. Skeptics said it was unlikely lawmakers would stick to minor housekeeping legislation and budget tweaks in the 35-day, even-year session. The 2016 session was packed with high-profile bills, including multiple minimum wage bills, several marijuana industry measures and significant energy and environmental legislation.

Matt Geiger, a Woodburn business leader who ran unsuccessfully for a House seat in 2014, is spearheading the Courtney recall. Geiger was planning to make another run for the House, this time as an Independent, but dropped his plans to pursue the recall.

Geiger said the higher minimum wage will harm the agricultural and small business sectors. The utility-environmental compromise on coal, Geiger said, would drive up electricity rates without real environmental benefits in Oregon. He also questioned a bill introduced by Courtney that would allow mass transit districts to impose a payroll tax. That bill never made it out of committee during the 2016 session, largely because Courtney let it sit in deference to the bill’s critics. 

“It’s time we remove from office someone who is clearly out of touch with the needs of his community and who only seems to care about which special interest is writing him a check,” Geiger said in a press release.

However, Dick Hughes, editorial page editor for the Statesman Journal, wondered aloud in a weekend column why Courtney is being targeted. The recall pecks at the coal-to-clean bill that passed, but it fails to mention the California-styled cap-and-trade energy bill that Courtney blocked, to the frustration of many Democrats.

“Peter Courtney is an odd target,” Hughes wrote. “I’m befuddled. The liberalist liberal among legislative leadership is House Speaker Tina Kotek, not Courtney.” It was Courtney who brokered the deal between Republicans and Democrats that allowed the rancorous session to end smoothly and early.

Courtney became Senate president in the 2003 session when there were 15 Democrats and 15 Republicans. He was the only Senate Democrat who Republicans trusted enough to hand him the gavel. He has held the post since then.

Courtney won re-election in 2014 and hasn’t given any firm indications of whether he will run again in 2018 when he will turn 75. The two previous recall efforts against him failed to gather enough signatures. In Oregon, the last 10 recall petitions have failed to receive enough valid signatures. The last successful recall election occurred eight years ago with the ouster of a Wheeler County district attorney. 

The Legislative Trail from Salem to Olympia

 Passing bills in the Oregon and Washington legislatures is similar, but markedly different in key ways, such as a power Rules Committee and permitting floor amendments in Washington. But Oregon knows how to adjourn on time; Washington not so much.

Passing bills in the Oregon and Washington legislatures is similar, but markedly different in key ways, such as a power Rules Committee and permitting floor amendments in Washington. But Oregon knows how to adjourn on time; Washington not so much.

Early adjournment of Oregon's short 2016 legislative session provided an opportunity to hop on a train and see the waning days of the Washington Legislature in Olympia. I was looking for similarities and differences, and I found plenty of both. 

Generally, Oregon's and Washington’s legislatures are similar. They are both “citizen” legislatures. They meet annually, with longer sessions in odd-numbered years and shorter ones in even-numbered years. They also tend to wait until the last minute to pass major bills, after extended periods of political jockeying and horse-trading.

Now, here are are some key differences I noticed. 

Washington's Rules Committee wields real power: All Washington policy bills must go to through the Rules Committee before reaching the floor. This gives the Rules Committee significant authority, ultimately deciding, on almost all of the bills, whether they die or go to the floor for a vote. Oregon also has a politically driven Rules Committee, but leadership only sends select bills there for review – or to wait until a political compromise is worked out behind closed doors. 

Washington’s Senate operates more like Congress: Washington has a lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate but only can vote in case of a tie, much like the vice president. Washington’s lieutenant governor is elected separately from the governor and serves with no term limit. Oregon doesn’t have a lieutenant governor. The independently elected secretary of state is next in line, as we saw last year when Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned and Secretary of State Kate Brown replaced him. Oregon’s Senate selects its own presiding officer from its membership, who votes on all bills just like his or her colleagues.

Floor amendments are permitted in Washington, but not in Oregon: Washington lawmakers can and often do offer floor amendments. On the day I visited, a public school bill that had been jerked to the House floor without going through the Rules Committee faced a floor debate over 27 separate amendments. After a lengthy debate, eight amendments passed, including one that replaced the entire original bill. Oregon lawmakers can petition to have a bill pulled out of committee, but it rarely happens. Once a bill reaches the Oregon House or Senate floor, it is not subject to amendment. Lawmakers can defeat a bill, vote to send it back to committee or vote for or against a minority report, if one is approved in committee. Most of the time floor votes on “amendments” are stalling tactics in Oregon. Overall, the committees have more sway in the Oregon legislative system. 

Oregon gets out on time, Washington does not: In six of the last seven years, Washington has developed a habit of missing constitutionally established deadlines on the budget, forcing one or more special sessions each time. Again this session, the Washington Legislature fell short of reaching a budget agreement by Thursday at midnight and went into a special session almost immediately. Governor Jay Inslee vetoed 27 bills as punishment for not reaching a budget deal in time. The intention behind his actions is to stop the cycle of consistently late budgets.

In Oregon, experienced legislative leaders have been able to adjourn early, including in the shorter even-year sessions during which Oregon has 35 days compared to Washington’s 60 days to hammer out bills and adjust the budget. Washington, unlike Oregon, has tried to skate around a state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature inadequately funds public schools, which puts knots in the budget process.

Seeing the differences between legislating in Salem and Olympia firsthand was insightful. It was a reminder that the intricacies of how a bill becomes a law can vary from state to state and from bill to bill, but it’s never quite as simple as the Schoolhouse Rock interpretation of how a bill becomes a law.

“Emergencies” Top Short Session Docket

 Senate President Peter Courtney helped to convince Oregonians to approve annual sessions and now presides over a 35-day session packed with legislative “emergencies."

Senate President Peter Courtney helped to convince Oregonians to approve annual sessions and now presides over a 35-day session packed with legislative “emergencies."

The strains of a short even-year legislative session sprouted on day one as Republicans in the Oregon House and Senate demanded each of the 260 bills introduced be read aloud word by word.

The message sent by GOP lawmakers is that a 35-day session is too short to consider legislation raising the minimum wage, altering corporate taxation, addressing affordable housing and adopting a pair of far-reaching energy bills.

Those measures are on the legislative docket as a last-ditch effort to keep the issues they raise off the November ballot.

Oregon’s election-year annual session has evolved into a different, though perhaps inevitable role from its original conception. Senate President Peter Courtney, who led the push for annual sessions, sold the plan as a way to update the state’s biennial budget, pass minor legislative fixes and deal with emergencies that couldn’t wait.

Emergencies that can’t wait now apparently include blockbuster ballot measures that would raise the minimum wage as high as $15 per hour, slap a gross receipts tax on large corporate taxpayers and force Oregon utilities to ditch coal-generated electricity.

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli tweaked Courtney’s memory of the purpose of the short even-year legislative session by saying, “As I recall, Oregonians were sold on the idea of annual meetings with the promise that the ‘short session' would focus on balancing the budget, making small legislative ‘fixes' and responding to emergencies that need immediate attention.  I'm sorry to report that the 'short session' has become little more than a setting for the majority party to pursue an over-reaching agenda of tax increases, regulation and ideological issues dear to the progressives who rule Portland and to a great extent, the rest of Oregon.”

The last part of Ferrioli’s statement reflects his underlying opposition to all of the heavy-duty legislative proposals that are on the table thanks largely to Democratic-leaning activists. The exception is the coal-to-clean bill that was negotiated by utilities and environmental groups.

Governor Brown has offered an alternative minimum wage proposal and Senator Mark Hass, chair of Senate Finance, is proposing a scaled down corporate tax measure.

While those high-profile issues command attention, other significant legislation has been introduced to address marijuana industry regulation, gun sales, processing of rape kits and a few bills that didn’t make it out of the longer 2015 legislative session.

The racer-fast pace of a short session – if a bill can’t get a hearing, markup and a vote in the first two weeks, it is basically dead – provides plenty of fodder for skeptics. House Republican Leader Mike McLane said one-hour notice for a hearing on a major bill doesn’t allow enough time from someone from Eastern Oregon to show up to testify.

In the end, emergencies are in the eye of the beholder. For many Portland-area legislators, for example, the growing housing affordability problem in the city has elevated to a crisis that requires a legislative response. Their proposed response, which requires construction of affordable housing and puts limits on evictions of renters, may not seem so urgent in other parts of Oregon.

Tax Reform, Affordable Housing Top Readers’ 2016 Policy Priority List

 Affordable housing is top of mind for many Oregonians heading into 2016. In September, Mayor Charlie Hales declared Portland had fallen into a housing crisis. The announcement helped set the stage for difficult state-level discussions about how to solve the problem. 

Affordable housing is top of mind for many Oregonians heading into 2016. In September, Mayor Charlie Hales declared Portland had fallen into a housing crisis. The announcement helped set the stage for difficult state-level discussions about how to solve the problem. 

We asked about top 2016 policy priorities, and you answered. The two most mentioned policy priorities were tax reform and affordable housing. A transportation funding plan and changes to the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) also drew mentions.

As expected, when we asked about leadership, most comments zeroed in on Governor Kate Brown and her role in making needed changes, even as she faces election this November to complete the last two year’s of John Kitzhaber’s term.

Here are some highlights from what you told us.

Tax Reform

Jan Lee, a former state representative from Clackamas County and lobbyist, said it’s again time to explore a sales tax in Oregon. “We need a sales tax with some compensating features to reduce income or property tax a bit so that we have a system that fares better in all economic climes,” Lee says. 

While Oregon’s employment figures have shown strong growth over the past year, incomes have largely remained stagnant. But Lee believes changing the state’s tax system while raising the minimum wage could be enough to spur creation of higher paying jobs across the income spectrum.  

“The legislature can raise the minimum wage; if not one of this fall's ballot measures can achieve that result,” she says. “Maybe instead of some of the other tax credits now made available, there could be more tax breaks that businesses can earn by providing higher paying blue collar and white collar jobs to drive our economy and meet families' needs.”

“As always, close coordination with the Governor's office and open communication between the two party caucuses sets up a better opportunity for leadership to bring people together,” Lee explains. “Consensus is not expected, but achieving a little higher majority on important issues makes the system more workable.”

Tom Wilson, vice president of Campbell & Company, said it’s time to put the clean fuels bill approved during the 2015 Oregon legislative session and a proposed 10-cent per gallon gas tax back on the table. That’s just the start of a series of changes Wilson envisions for Oregon’s tax system, which he says will require top-down leadership.

“Governor Brown needs to lead the charge on this by reminding all the Multnomah County Democrats and Tina (Kotek) that there is actually another part of Oregon that needs to be served,” Wilson says. “Start to fix PERs by requiring members to contribute to their retirement like the rest so do. Do not allow the unions to jam through another tax on corporations.”

Affordable Housing

Four months ago, Mayor Charlie Hales declared a housing crisis in Portland, and news stories continue to surface about Oregonians struggling to keep up with skyrocketing rents and day-to-day housing costs. So, it’s no surprise that affordable housing is top of mind.  

Chris Vetter of  the Vetter Group and Don Mazziotti,  the former head of the Portland Development Commission and now a Portland-based management consultant, listed housing as their primary concern for Oregon in 2016.

“We need more affordable apartments and opportunities for urban professionals,” Vetter says.

Mazziotti says Oregon lawmakers should focus on easing the financial burden on homeowners and renters across the state.  

Jim Standring, president of Tigard-based Westland Industries, took another angle, suggesting lawmakers approach the affordable housing crisis with an eye toward improving Oregon’s land-use laws. 

“Oregon's land use system is totally broken and needs significant change,” Standring says. “Concerns about affordability and homeownership will continue to suffer without these changes.”

We hope you will keep talking to us about the priorities you want addresses in Oregon. We’re listening. 

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at justinr@cfmpdx.com and follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist

What Matters Most to You in 2016?

 As we head into a new year, CFM wants to know what policy priorities are most important to Oregonians for 2016. Lawmakers will convene a new legislative session in February, but they will only have 35 days to get their work done .

As we head into a new year, CFM wants to know what policy priorities are most important to Oregonians for 2016. Lawmakers will convene a new legislative session in February, but they will only have 35 days to get their work done.

From tackling Portland’s housing crisis to negotiating a plan for an unprecedented minimum wage hike, Oregon lawmakers have their work cut out for them in 2016.  

Education, health care, transportation, human services, consumer protection, environmental preservation, criminal justice, taxation: Those are just some of the priority areas calling for swift action and firm leadership in Salem as we look ahead to the next year. 

The Oregon legislature convenes February 1 for a brisk 35-day session. Soon after, statewide elected positions will be contested in the May primary and November general elections.

In the meantime, CFM wants to know what issues matter most to you. Is it finding more revenue for education and social services? Improving transportation infrastructure? Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

As we ponder the political battles ahead, CFM invites you to share what you believe demands the most attention from Oregon's elected leaders. Here’s what we’re looking for:

•  What are the top two policy priorities facing Oregon? 

•  For each of your two priorities, provide a short explanation of what you think should be done and how it should get done. Is legislation needed? Better enforcement? Bully pulpit leadership? Bipartisan support? Be as specific as you can.

•  In addition to your top two policy priorities, tell us what you expect in terms of leadership from Oregon's governor and from House and Senate leaders. What would you regard as real leadership? How can leadership be manifested so it produces positive results? What would you see as a lack of leadership?

Send us your submissions through Friday, January 8, and we’ll share them shortly after on our Oregon Insider blog.

This isn't a contest or a survey. Our intention is to reflect the range of thoughts and concerns that everyone shares with us. We will point out areas where a number of people's priorities overlap, but we also will include priorities that may generate only a single recommendation.

Please send your submissions to Justin Runquist, CFM’s communications counsel, at justinr@cfmpdx.com.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

The Risky Business of Government Risk-Taking

 Risk-taking in government can be risky, as the authors of the Cover Oregon fiasco discovered.

Risk-taking in government can be risky, as the authors of the Cover Oregon fiasco discovered.

Government risk-taking is risky business. If government officials take a policy or program risk and it flops, they are criticized for wasting taxpayer money. If officials avoid taking a risk and a problem festers, they also get criticized for wasting taxpayer money.

Dick Hughes, editorial page editor for the Statesman Journal, says risk-taking is a good idea for government. "If we want government to succeed at a higher level, we must be willing to tolerate failures," Hughes said. "That sounds counter-intuitive, but most great leaders also have a string of failures – ones from which they learned.” 

That sounds good in theory, but maybe less so in practice. In many ways, the deck is stacked against government risk-taking. My 15 years in government service says no risk-taking, however successful, goes unpunished.

It is hard to quarrel with brickbats aimed at foolish risk-taking such as Cover Oregon's over-reaching attempt to build a health insurance exchange website. Other risk-taking, especially the kind that might take a while to prove out, still earns "gotcha" reporting in the media. Many public managers, who are no fools, quickly grasp the odds are low for risk-taking in government that earns kudos.

There is room for reasonable risk-taking in government, but it requires planning, strategy and discipline, not taking a spin on a roulette wheel. Here are some suggestions based on my experience:

•  The risk should result from a consensus. Even good ideas get better when a diverse team vets them and frontline people have a chance to suggest them. When I worked as part of the Executive Department's management team under Fred Miller, we launched the "Good Ideas Program" (we couldn't think of a better name), which encouraged fresh thinking and responsible risk-taking. None of the ideas were revolutionary, but many were very good and made a noticeable difference in program efficiency and effectiveness.

•  Risk-taking must be able to pass what I call the "front-page test." You should be able to make a cogent defense of the risk that would stand up in the light of front-page exposure. If an idea couldn't withstand that kind of public scrutiny, it probably isn't worth trying.

•  Reduce a bright idea to writing. The idea may sound good until you start laying it out on paper. When you write about an idea, you will think it through more clearly –  the rationale, the methods, the answers to tough questions and the results you can realistically achieve. If you can fill in those blanks, you probably have an idea worth considering and implementing.

•  Make sure someone is accountable for the good or bad. There will be plenty of people eager to crowd into the picture of a ribbon-cutting, but few willing to be seen on the podium explaining a failure. Make sure the risk has a clear chief risk-taker. Also make sure he or she won't be tossed to the wolves if there is a failure.

If lawmakers want public managers to take reasonable risks, they need to give them the elbow room to succeed or fail and not pounce on them if they fail. They need to accept some of Dick Hughes' advice and regard failure as a step toward ultimate success.

That may be harder to do for the news media, but at least reporters and editors can provide a context for risk-taking and explore lessons learned, not just scapegoats to blame.

Risk-taking will always be risky. That's why you need to do everything possible to make sure the benefits outweigh the risk and responsible risk-takers aren't skewered for taking risks.

[This blog was based on a post written by CFM Senior Partner Dave Fiskum for his personal blog, Perspective from the 19th Hole, and it draws on his extensive experience working for state government and as an Oregon lobbyist.]

 

A Closer Look at Oregon's Public Records Law

 Gov. Kate Brown is seizing on an opportunity to explore public records law improvements. 

Gov. Kate Brown is seizing on an opportunity to explore public records law improvements. 

It's strange to imagine anyone feeling a sense of gratitude in pondering John Kitzhaber's tarnished legacy.

But somewhere down the line – after many years of healing and fading memories – Oregonians may actually thank the former governor for making one particular lasting difference for the better. At least that's the hope after Gov. Kate Brown recently commissioned a task force of lawmakers, lobbyists and an accomplished investigative reporter from The Oregonian to take a closer look at Oregon's public records law.

It was, after all, Kitzhaber's questionable dealings with his ever-puzzling fiancée Cylvia Hayes that served as the impetus for revisiting the law. Without the famous scandal that ultimately pushed him out of office amid a criminal investigation – and Kitzhaber’s attempts to block and delay the release of many telling emails – we honestly wouldn’t be at this point.

The crux of the issue is the question of where the balance lies between the public’s right to know what’s going on inside the government and our elected officials’ right to privacy.   

Of course, the whole situation is actually driven by the media. If Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss hadn’t dug into what was going on behind the scenes, the Kitzhaber stories may have never seen the light of day.

The task force is also getting started in a critical era for the media. As news organizations continue to struggle with dwindling staffs and shrinking ad revenue, the future of watchdog journalism looks less and less certain. With an ailing press, the propensity for undetected government corruption only grows, leaving the public out of touch with what their elected officials are doing.  

Kitzhaber’s story aside, maybe it was just time to take another look at the rules anyway. The Oregon Association of Broadcasters and the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association argue we need to bring order to all of Oregon’s public and private record statutes.  

A report released this week from the Center for Public Integrity ranks the quality of Oregon’s ethics and public records laws 44th in the nation. Overall, that report handed Oregon an “F” in government accountability, directly referencing the Oregon Government Ethics Commission’s slow response to the Kitzhaber scandal.

It sounds bad, but the picture actually isn’t that simple.

Oregon has a basic public records law with an assumption that everything is public. In the strongest possible terms, all attorneys general in recent memory have advised state officials that they should assume all records are public and that they can be protected only if they qualify under one of the exemptions.

The law was created in 1973, and today it has more than a few dozen exemptions. Many of those are justified, of course, so don’t expect all of them to be stricken from the books. Trade secrets, records pertaining to pending litigation, evidence compiled in an open criminal investigation. All of that is exempt from disclosure under the law, and for good reason.  

But then one also has to wonder whether the law as it stands is to blame for why Kitzhaber and Hayes were able to keep their scandal under the radar so long.

If government officials want to keep records private, even in contravention of Oregon law, they can do so in a couple ways. They can stall on making records available, contending that it’s too time consuming to produce them. Or, they can charge too much for the task of retrieving the documents.

Charging a minor fee is legal under the law, but the size of the fee can become an obstacle. Metro, for instance, demanded KOIN pay about $17,000 for records in an investigation of the Oregon Zoo’s elephant facility. In some newsrooms, such a cost can be a deterrent to pursuing a story. 

The increased use of email systems in recent years has made public records issues far more complex since the law’s genesis 42 years ago. In fact, that hits at the central question of the investigation into Kitzhaber and Hayes: Did they use private email systems to conduct public business and then shield the emails from public scrutiny?  

As it turns out, news organizations have also played a role in complicating the public records issue. Occasionally, reporters make blanket requests for access to email records over a long period of time, which only adds to the government’s difficulty in complying.

Those are some of the biggest questions the task force will have to tackle in the coming year.

But of course, no matter where you stand on the question of the effectiveness of the law, there’s no denying that without a solid system of public access to government records, democracy suffers.

CFM Partner Emeritus Dave Fiskum contributed to this post.