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Entries in Our Oregon (3)

Tuesday
Apr302013

Finding Budget Happiness

When Governor Kitzhaber returns from his Bhutan sojourn to find the secrets to happiness, he will discover unhappiness engulfs his homeland.

A Democratic plan to raise taxes on wealthy Oregonians and corporations evaporated on the House floor for that pesky constitutional problem of too few votes. Two days later, labor-backed Our Oregon responded by filing six proposed ballot measures to hike corporate taxes from as little as $185 million to as much as $1 billion per year. All that has business groups howling about a reprise of the divisive Measure 66 and 67 tax battles.

The purpose behind raising revenue is to prevent more K-12 school cuts. Nervous about the legislature's ability to boost spending on schools, droves of parents in the beleaguered Beaverton School District took to knocking on doors to drum up votes for a special levy.

The governor stepped back to let rookie House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, have a go at the $275 million bill, which never even came to a vote. Now it may be time for Kitzhaber to invite legislative leaders to Mahonia Hall to find common ground.

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, told reporters the failed House tax vote last week created an opportunity to find solutions in the political center. In his first two years of this term, Kitzhaber was adept at finding bipartisan support for major initiatives, in part because he spent time meeting with both Democrats and Republicans. That same skill set will be called on this session.

In reality, the 2013 Oregon legislative session has not been overly partisan. Going into the session, observers said it would be necessary for Democrats to recruit Republicans to support budget and revenue packages — as well as wise to sustain the bipartisan esprit that developed as a result of the unique power-sharing agreement in the 2011 and 2012 sessions.

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Monday
Aug132012

Time Short to Launch Tax Reform Debate

Governor Kitzhaber is talking privately about tax reform, but the time has come when conversations about what reform looks like must go public.Democratic Senator Ginny Burdick surprised many political observers when she came out against Our Oregon's proposed 2012 ballot measure directing all corporate kicker refunds to K-12 education. Our Oregon, the political arm of Oregon public employee unions, proceeded and successfully placed its initiative on the November ballot.

What was surprising is that Burdick had supported past Our Oregon proposals, such as Ballot Measures 66 and 67 in 2009 that raised income taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. Burdick didn't criticize the substance of what Our Oregon was doing. She was unhappy because it wasn't a more comprehensive tax reform proposal. Burdick told Willamette Week, “All I can hope is, it doesn’t make the ballot. It will throw a monkey wrench into real financial reform.”

Burdick and other leaders believe only dealing with the corporate kicker will take the wind of out the sails of a larger discussion on restructuring Oregon's tax system, which relies heavily on income taxes that can sag when the economy tanks.

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Tuesday
Aug072012

Oregonians to Decide Nine Measures

Oregon voters will decide in November on three tax measures, two measures to allow privately owned casinos, legalization of marijuana and a ban on commercial gillnet fishing.  They also will get a chance to give the governor additional powers in the event of a catastrophic disaster.

None of the measures, at least so far, has touched a public nerve. But that could change after Labor Day and voters begin to pay attention to who and what is on the ballot.

A tight, well-funded presidential race should ensure good voter turnout, even though Oregon is usually lumped in with fairly certain blue states voting for President Obama. Some of the ballot measures that qualified for the Oregon ballot also could stir the political pot.

Legalizing personal cultivation and use of marijuana and hemp (Measure 80) will draw attention from the expected quarters. Oregonians have voted on marijuana and medical marijuana measures before, but this measure has a new twist — a government role in regulating commercial marijuana cultivation and sale. Think of the commission that would be created as a mini-Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

The pair of measures to legalize privately owned casinos and a casino in a former greyhound racetrack in Wood Village will get plenty of airplay. The Lake Oswego-based casino advocates have invested a lot of money to get Measures 82 and 83 on the ballot and can be expected to fund a robust campaign in their support. Indian casino operators, who worry that a Portland-area casino will siphon off their clientele, will mount strong opposition. The Oregon Lottery and its retailers have a similar fear. Also expect voices of concern from those who worry about making casino gambling even more accessible in the metropolitan area. Oregon voters rejected a similar measure in 2010.

By comparison, the proposed ban on commercial gillnet fishing (Measure 81) seems like inside baseball. If passed, it would disallow use of gillnets to catch salmon by non-tribal persons on the Columbia River, with exceptions in the Lower Columbia River. Commercial fishing interests aren't well-heeled and may be unable to tell its story to voters. Then again, the same may be true for the sponsors of the measure.

Tax measures can be headliners on any ballot, but maybe not so much this time. Measure 79, pushed by Oregon's real estate sector, would ban any new real estate transfer taxes or fees. Measure 84 would phase out the state's inheritance tax on large estates and all taxes imposed on intra-family property transfers. Measure 85, sponsored by Our Oregon, would redirect corporate income tax kicker refunds to support K-12 education.

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