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Entries in tax reform (9)

Friday
Jan312014

The Weed, Guns and Booze Session

Legislator e-letters to constituents are signaling the 2014 session will take up legislation relating to gun control, pot legalization and liquor privatization. Those issues may make the headlines, but the real work of the session is to refine biennial budgets — yet again, with fewer resources than budget writers expected at the end of the last session. 

The arcane process of state budgeting is hardly the stuff of eye catching headlines — in the paper or in constituent newsletters. Still, it’s true that even-year legislative sessions have inescapably become the second-chance opportunity for legislation that didn’t quite make it through the hoops at the longer, odd-year regular session. It also becomes the last chance to do something legislatively before a major issue shows up on a November general election ballot. And the short session offers an opportunity to pass a bill on a topic that has captured the moment.

Gun background check legislation falls into the second-chance category, while pot legalization and liquor privatization belong to the last-chance category. Faced with the prospect of potentially popular initiatives, lawmakers are considering pot and liquor bills that offer an alternative.

Catch-up legislation to the Cover Oregon website debacle heads the opportunity category.

The Columbia River Crossing commands its own special category — the last-ditch, Hail Mary category. After the Washington legislature failed to approve funding for an I-5 bridge replacement at its regular session last year and is unlikely to do so in its session currently underway in Olympia, Oregon is left with a choice of whether or not to step out on its own. Opponents have stoked fears of the risk to Oregon taxpayers and those trepidations seem to be hitting the nerve in a number of former legislative supporters, including Senate President Peter Courtney. One Capitol wag said the project isn't dead, but is a "walking zombie."

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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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Wednesday
Nov272013

Oregon Finds Itself in Dunce Chair

Oregon finds itself sitting on the unusual and embarrassing dunce chair for shortcomings in healthcare and education reforms.

At times, Oregon under Governor John Kitzhaber has seemed like the prize pupil of the Obama administration. But recent events have plopped Oregon on the dunce chair.

Oregon may be dead last in enrolling zero people online for health insurance under its health exchange, Cover Oregon. And now the U.S. Department of Education is threatening to withdraw the state's waiver from complying with the No Child Left Behind education requirements. 

Neither represents a policy divergence between Oregon's Democratic government and the Obama team. They reflect a bad poker hand.

Like the federal health care website, Oregon's electronic health insurance portal hasn't performed.  Oregon has pushed to enroll people using paper applications. And the state has added significant numbers of Oregonians to the Oregon Health Plan.

Kitzhaber said the state is too far downstream to change computer consultants, but promises a full accounting when the Cover Oregon website is up and running as intended. The governor has enlisted former Providence CEO Greg Van Pelt and Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg to lend their management and medical expertise to unsnarling the IT logjam.

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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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Thursday
May162013

Negotiator-in-Chief Issues Challenge

In a rare pre-May forecast press conference, Governor Kitzhaber challenged lawmakers to agree to a grand bargain on PERS and new tax revenue or face a shriveled budget for education. He also called on lawmakers to take a bipartisan look at tax reform.

In his third term, Kitzhaber has become known for his keen negotiations skills that have helped to ensure bipartisan passage of his major policy initiatives during the last two sessions.

His methods have included bipartisan legislative leadership meetings at Mahonia Hall, weekly meetings with presiding officers, one-on-one diplomacy with key members, attending caucuses of both parties and, when necessary, public pressure to break logjams in negotiations. He clearly resorted to the latter yesterday.

Signaling that the legislature is at a crossroads and faces a “partisan impasse,” the governor used his public “bully pulpit” to call on legislative leadership to take on two major challenges:

 

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Tuesday
Oct162012

Tax Measures and Tax Reform

When Oregon voters receive their ballots this weekend, they will confront three very different tax measures, which could have an impact on the prospects of comprehensive tax reform in the state.

The ballot measures deal with prohibiting more real estate transfer fees, phasing out the estate tax and modifying the corporate income tax kicker. Proponents of comprehensive tax reform in Oregon worry the measures could remove issues from discussion that could sweeten a broader tax measure.

So far, none of the tax ballot measures has stirred much public debate, overshadowed by the higher profile and more costly fight over two measures to allow privately owned casinos in Oregon.

The three tax measures have received spotty editorial support. Measure 79, which would place a ban on future real estate transfer fees in the Oregon Constitution, has been called overkill since there already is a statutory ban in effect. Measure 84, which phases out the estate tax, has been questioned because there already is a $1 million estate exemption. Measure 85, which redirects corporate income tax kicker rebates to K-12 schools, has been criticized because it won't automatically mean more money for education.

Local government officials seem resigned that the constitutional ban on real estate transfer fees will pass, with financial backing by the National Association of Realtors. Washington County is the only Oregon municipality with a real estate transfer fee in place. While there weren't any nascent plans to challenge the statutory ban on such fees, some local officials have suggested the tool would be appropriate for capital projects such as restoring and modernizing county courthouses.

Backers of the estate tax repeal have branded their effort as ridding the state of a "death tax" that cripples family-owned small businesses. However, the Legislative Revenue Office estimates the repeal, when fully phased in, would result in an annual tax savings of $120 million, suggesting it would have a fairly limited impact.

Opponents of Measure 84 also have identified a potential flaw, which they say could create an unintended capital gains loophole.

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Friday
Oct052012

Digital Dialogue on Public Issues

Oregonians and their political leaders have some large, looming conversations on education, health care and taxation.  An Internet "uncaucus" could be the answer.

It figures groups in Iowa, which is synonymous with presidential caucus politics, would be the creators of the uncaucus. The Des Moines Register, Reddit and Dwolla have scheduled the Iowa Internet Uncaucus 2012 this Saturday and expect to draw thousands of Iowans in person and online.

The nonpartisan event will feature 15 speakers who each will have five minutes to present an issue of relevance to Iowans. After the talks, in-person and online attendees will have a chance to engage on those issues. The goal, sponsors say, is to "crowdsource a platform for raising awareness on issues that matter most in the Iowa community."

"The Iowa Internet Caucus wasn't meant to draft legislation or advance delegates," explains Jordan Lampe, who works for Dwolla, which offers an online service to transfer money. "It was created to inform our representatives, inspire civil discourse and key in our neighbors on the issues that matter most to us as Iowans."

In the back of the organizers' minds is creation of a new format that can engage a wide swath of citizens in a discussion of public issues. Lampe told Mashable reporter Alex Fitzpatrick, "We're laying the foundation, a pre-packaged structure for somebody that's motivated to go out and create something new. There is no reason why Minnesota or Ohio couldn't have an Internet caucus."

The event is a bit like Technology Unleashed on Public Policy. The speeches will be streaming live and there will be themed video chat rooms, Google hangouts, online voting systems and document sharing on Google Docs and Dropbox. The event also has its own Twitter account (@IowaUncaucus) and hashtag (#uncaucus2012).

Online access and editing tools are part of the organizers' goals of openness and transparency in public discussion. "It's very similar to how the Internet works," explains community organizer Ben Anderson. "I think that's the way it's going to be in the future."

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Monday
Sep172012

Oregon Loses Strong, Moderate Voice

When Frank Morse announced his resignation from the Oregon Senate last week, the 30-member body — and the entire state — lost one of its most competent members. The Senate and the state also lost one of its most dedicated moderates whose hopefulness seems to be flagging.

"I have thought long and hard about this decision and I believe it is time for new energy," Morse told a hushed Senate chamber. "While serving in the legislature, I’ve worked harder than I have ever worked, but there comes a moment in one’s life when energy fades, and you know it is time to go. I love this state and I cherish the many friendships I’ve made in the legislature and throughout the state. While the work is not done, it is time for new energy to carry our state into the future."

In his final speech on the Senate floor, Morse also made a statement that, in retrospect, will characterize his state service. He urged lawmakers, one last time, to solve Oregon's tax and spending problems for "the sake of our children." Failure to do so is "destroying our state," he said. "It's destroying our schools."

Following a career as president and CEO of Morse Bros. Inc., a construction materials firm, Morse won election to the Oregon Senate in 2002. As The Oregonian put it in a story last weekend, he "was fit and well-groomed at 69 and always wore business suits and ties on the Senate floor. All business, he showed little patience for partisan antics or issues he deemed trivial."

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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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