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Entries in Peter Courtney (14)

Wednesday
Feb122014

State, Local Revenues on the Rise

Legislators have a little more cash in the bank as the short 2014 session nears its mid-point, but maybe not enough to avert some spending cuts. Local school revenue derived from property taxes showed a healthy jump.

Oregon State Economist Mark McMullen delivered today the March economic forecast, which predicts another $14.8 million revenue. The forecast show revenues largely flat for this biennium and into future years, but is more optimistic on job growth than previous forecasts. In the near term, however, stronger job growth projections are offset by disappointing revenue collections.

The Office of Economic Analysis is optimistic about the future. Profitable businesses have been sitting on cash, waiting and building confidence to invest and expand. The state is beginning to see industries get close to production capacity. When combined with lower energy costs, brought on by expanded US oil and gas production, businesses are poised to begin expansion efforts. Labor force expansion follows business expansion creating opportunities for workers who are sitting on sidelines of the economy.

No personal income or corporate kicker is currently predicted for 2015, but the state is edging ever closer to hitting the target. McMullen reported the state is just $100 million away from a personal income kicker. April’s tax returns should give a better indication of the size of capital gains, providing a clearer picture as to whether the kicker will actually kick.

The outlook remains stable and there is evidence that economic recovery is spreading across regions in Oregon. The net changes over time suggest the growth trend will continue at a steady pace around 10 precent.

As lawmakers begin to push to close the short session, they will have a few more resources to dole out to agencies and pay for the costs associated with the passage of new policy bills. The amount is just enough to give budget writers some breathing room without giving other lawmakers a false sense of plenty — thus creating a rush of funding requests that cannot be met.

Even with new resources, the state will struggle to maintain a substantial ending fund balance as the costs associated with budget rebalances, devastating fire seasons and unexpected emergencies create risk for the remainder of the biennium. Lawmakers also face potentially large budget gaps in corrections and human services that will be major challenges in 2015.

A separate forecast showed a $98 million increase in revenue available to Oregon K-12 school districts. While most of the increase is the result of larger property tax collections statewide, the amount also reflects a temporary extension of federal timber payments and proceeds from state lands.

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Wednesday
Jan222014

Large House Turnover Looms for 2015 Session

The 2015 Oregon House will be a substantially different from the one that convened just a year ago. Nearly a quarter of House members who were sworn in during the 2013 session have announced their intention not to seek re-election or are pursuing other electoral opportunities (some in the Oregon Senate).

In a state where relationships are key to legislative victories, the turnover in the House may break Oregon’s recent streak in passing major reforms.

The 14 House members not seeking re-election include nine Republicans and five Democrats. Together, they have served a whopping 117 years as elected members of the Oregon House through 103 regular sessions (and, for some, countless special sessions).

Rep. Bob Jenson (R-Pendleton), the longest serving member of the Oregon House, is among those who will retire this year after serving 18 years as a state representative.

Legislative service is a tough business — long hours, low pay, months away from families and friends, all combined with an election cycle that is increasingly hostile. Yet, the service for many is rewarding, finding ways to pass legislation that is important to their districts, working collaboratively balance budgets and make important reforms.

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Friday
Oct042013

Kitzhaber, Courtney Legacies Grow

The successful five-bill, three-day Oregon special legislative session will enhance John Kitzhaber's legacy as governor. It also signals a constructive working relationship between House Speaker Tina Kotek and GOP Leader Mike McLane. And the session provided campaign platforms for Reps. Dennis Richardson and Jules Bailey.

Almost lost in the shuffle was Senator Peter Courtney's win in establishing a dedicated funding source for expanded community mental health programs, which was his top priority before the start of the 2013 regular legislative session.

News coverage of the conclusion of the special session Wednesday showed a beaming Kitzhaber. For good reason. He took the tatters of a budget deal left on the cutting room floor in the waning hours of the regular session and wove them into a complicated deal that will result in more money going to K-12 schools and higher education. 

Kitzhaber's unwavering confidence he could find common ground among skeptical House Democrats and legislative Republicans stands in sharp contrast to his defeatist views expressed at the end of his second term of governor. His third term has been an unbroken string of negotiating successes that prove Oregon can be governed after all. And he gets much of the credit.

The Oregonian's Friday edition challenged Kitzhaber now to turn his attention and political capital to comprehensive tax reform, a goal that has eluded him as well as many of his predecessors. Hopefully, The Oregonian will forgive Kitzhaber if he takes the weekend off before starting his new quest.

The Kotek-McLane tandem held together well and under extreme political pressure. To make the multiple-bill compromise work, all five bills had to pass for any to survive. Kotek and McLane knew it would take different cross-sections of lawmakers from both party caucuses to pass the most controversial measures dealing with taxation, PERS cuts and a local pre-emption on genetically modified crops.

Only 22 out of 90 lawmakers voted for all five measures. Kotek and McLane were two of them. More important, they showed they could deliver key votes when it counted. The tax measure, a combination of increases and cuts, began in the House and came up three votes short. Kotek delayed declaring the final vote until she mustered three votes — all from her Democratic caucus.

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Wednesday
Sep112013

The Might-Be, Could-Be Special Session

The September 30 legislative special session is the picture of conjecture. It might happen. Then again, it might not. If it does, we know when. If it doesn't, we may never completely know why.

Governor Kitzhaber and Senate President Peter Courtney appear to be in roughly the same position as President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Kitzhaber and Courtney see a grand budget deal as tantalizingly close, but face reticence or outright opposition from the political right and political left. 

Obama and Reid got a sprinkle of fairy dust on the Syrian issue with a possible diplomatic breakthrough by Russia convincing its ally to surrender chemical weapons to international authorities. Kitzhaber and Courtney might not be so lucky.

Republicans aren't eager to support a tax hike, which some business supporters see as the best antidote to a divisive ballot measure on taxation next year. House Democrats aren't thrilled about another round of benefit cuts to public employee retirees.

And the special session has another major component — the plan for Oregon to forge ahead alone on a new I-5 Columbia River bridge. Kitzhaber strongly supports this idea, but some of his allies aren't quite so firm. Courtney doesn't want to act unilaterally and offend Washington. Portland-area Democrats want assurance Tri-Met won't be on the hook to pay for operations and maintenance of light rail once it is extended into Clark County.

A Portland Democrat said he attended a fundraiser this week where half his colleagues were confident there would be a special session and the other half were equally confident there wouldn't be.

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Monday
Jul082013

Legislature Adjourns, Post-Mortems Commence

Before you could say Sine Die, emails started flying describing the 2013 Oregon legislative session successes and disappointments.

Some rued the lack of a "Grand Bargain" on increased tax revenue and deeper cuts in the Public Employees Retirement System. Others pointed out individual successes, such as Rep. Brent Barton, D-Clackamas, who touted legislative approval of a $5 million investment for the Willamette Falls redevelopment "located at the heart of my district." A few deplored specific bills, such as Senator Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, who bewailed a bill dealing with tenants using Section 8 housing vouchers.

Oregon Pubic Broadcasting's Chris Lehman posted a story about a session of "missed opportunities." Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli was blunter, saying the 2013 session held promise for historic decision-making that didn't pan out. Treasurer Ted Wheeler applauded the legislature for sending his Opportunity Initiative to generate more money for college student aid to the November 2014 election ballot. 

Pretty much everybody, except Senator Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, took bows for increasing K-12 school funding by a $1 billion. Edwards thought it should have been more to avoid teacher layoffs and shrunken school schedules that will still face some districts around the state.

And there was something for almost everybody in the $1 billion lottery bonding measure, affectionately known around the Capitol as the Christmas tree bill. It contained $79.4 million for a new state hospital in Junction City, $15 million for Multnomah County Courthouse improvements, $10 million for the proposed convention center hotel and $618 million in assorted investments at public universities and community colleges. 

Lawmakers approved $34.5 million to undertake a major remodeling and seismic upgrade for the Oregon Capitol, which will involve a temporary home for the legislature while the building is jacked up and put on huge springs.

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Wednesday
Feb062013

Courtney Urges Mental Health Spending Boost 

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, called today for a "game-changing" investment in Oregon community mental health programs, but stopped short of specific recommendations on how to pay for $331 million in additional spending. Courtney noted that a number of funding options were under consideration — including a dedicated beer and wine tax increase.

The champion of replacing the state mental hospital nearly a decade ago, Courtney has maintained a passionate interest in treating the one in eight children and one in 18 adults in Oregon who suffer from mental illness.

He cited "recent tragedies," including the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as a reason to act now to bolster mental health treatment programs.

Courtney's early-session pitch for mental health funding increases follows a tradition in Oregon of an issue quickly rising to the surface and changing the complexion of an entire session. In the 2011 session, an opinion from Legislative Counsel about federal tax reconnect legislation put pressure on the evenly divided Oregon House and its unique power-sharing agreement, which produced a solution without a political meltdown.

The longest serving Oregon legislator, Courtney said, "Nearly two-thirds of young Oregonians who need mental health services aren't getting them. We have to do better. Before we can fill their minds with knowledge, we need to make sure their minds are healthy."

A press release issued by Courtney said $285 million is needed for crisis services, case management, outpatient programs and housing for mentally ill adults. Another $46 million is need for programs for children and young adults.

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Monday
Jan142013

Kitzhaber Emphasizes Education Investment

Saying Oregon cannot settle for an "uneven, unequal and hesitant recovery," Governor Kitzhaber, wearing his trademark jeans, called for investment in education from pre-school through college by easing "serious fiscal constraints" that keep money from classrooms.

Entering his 11th year as governor, Kitzhaber's State of the State address centered on "difficult choices" that include "reducing the cost of health care and corrections, reducing the cost drivers that are diverting resources from the classroom and undertaking serious review of Oregon tax expenditures."

The former emergency room physician said a new "high-quality, low-cost" care model developed by Coordinated Care Organizations could restrain Medicaid inflation to 3.4 percent in the second year of the coming biennium, saving the state's general fund $100 million. Kitzhaber said shifting public employees, including K-12 teachers, to a similar private health care model could result in a game-changing $5 billion savings over the next decade. 

Stemming the state's rising prison inmate population, the governor said, can avoid spending $30,000 per year per prisoner, compared to the $10,000 per year the state spends on K-12 students.

Kitzhaber repeated his call for changes in the Public Employees Retirement System, which he said is the cause of half of the projected  $1,000 per student increase in the K-12 budget.

Explaining his proposed changes, Kitzhaber said, "This is not about the value of our teachers. It is also not about a major overhaul of the retirement system that continues to be one of the best funded in the nation. It is simply about trying to have a conversation that allows us to strike a balance between the cost of our retirement system and our ability to put dollars in the classroom today to ensure that our students are successful tomorrow."

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Monday
Jan072013

7 Things to Watch for in the 2013 Legislature

Oregon lawmakers are trekking to Salem for the start of the 2013 legislative session next week, which will feature heavy-duty issues such as education funding, higher education restructuring, health care transformation, prison sentencing, PERS reform, gun control and funding for a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River.

Here are seven things to look for as the new session unfolds:

1. Leadership – New versus old 

The three key leaders in the House — Speaker-Elect Tina Kotek, Majority Leader Val Hoyle and Minority Leader Mike McLane — are all new to their posts. They worked together during the historic 2011-2012 power-sharing sessions, but how they relate to each other in this new environment with Democrats in control will be worth watching — and may very well determine whether some big issues will move or stall.

Across the building, Senator Peter Courtney will be sworn in for a historic 6th term as Senate President. Joined by Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum and Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, this team has worked together and knows how to negotiate in the tight corners of narrow Democratic control. 

2. Pace of the Session 

The budget has always set the pace of legislative sessions in Oregon. With one of the most experienced Joint Ways and Means co-chair teams in decades, the budget-writing committee possesses the know-how to make early decisions and move the session along quickly.

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Friday
Nov302012

Governor Rolls Out "Education Budget"

Governor Kitzhaber unveiled a budget proposal today that he called "first and foremost an education budget."  He said his budget "creates space for front-end investments in education and early learning by cutting back-end spending on health care and corrections." 

His 2013-15 budget, which was previewed by The Oregonian and Salem Statesman Journal today, puts controversial changes to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) squarely in the center of an effort to carve out more money for schools. And that could bump into political resistance from the newly Democratically controlled House.

Despite that, the atmosphere in the state Capitol was markedly different than in Washington, DC, where partisan wrangling continues over how to avoid plunging over the so-called fiscal cliff. While there is no looming fiscal cliff here, the governor's budget will only serve as the framework for the 2013 legislature to hash out a final budget with Democrats at the controls in both the House and Senate.

Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, already named to be Senate co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, was charitable toward the governor, as quoted in the Salem Statesman-Journal.  "I appreciate the governor's candor about the specific challenges we face in funding education and the Oregon Health Plan in the next biennium," Devlin said.  "With his recommended budget, Governor Kitzhaber has provided a good starting point for the budget negotiations ahead of us."

New House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, praised Kitzhaber for addressing PERS, but questioned the rosiness of revenue projections and the lack of any fund reserves to cushion the budget in case the economy falters in the next two years.

The governor's plan for more money for K-12 schools rests on the premise that the legislature will accept his recommendations to reform PERS in two ways:

• By limiting cost-of-living increases to the first $24,000 in retirement income; and

• By closing a benefit loophole for out-of-state retirees. 

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Wednesday
Nov212012

Stuck in Low Gear

Oregon's stagnant economic recovery is likely to shift the legislative focus to reforming the Public Employees Retirement System to relieve pressure on the state and local budgets.The latest quarterly revenue forecast drew a sigh of relief from lawmakers who won't face the prospect of immediate spending cuts. But the accompanying economic forecast confirmed what people feel — Oregon's economic recovery is stuck in low gear.

If nothing else, the forecast served as the opening act of the 2013 legislative session.

New House Republican Leader Mike McLane seized the moment to underscore that 160,000 Oregonians are out of work and may have slim prospects if the state economy continues to limp toward recovery. "Without stronger private-sector job growth," he said, "the next legislature will have difficulty funding education and other services at the levels Democrats promised to voters in the recent election."

"As 2012 winds down," said State Economist Mike McMullen, "Oregon's economic expansion persists, but remains stuck in low gear. Growth continues to come in fits and starts — a strong quarter or two followed by a weak quarter or two, with the underlying trend remaining slow and steady." 

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