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Entries in Ted Wheeler (8)

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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Wednesday
Sep042013

Political Pot Continues to Boil

The September 15 deadline is creeping up for Governor Kitzhaber to decide whether to move forward with a legislative special session to consider further cuts to public employee pensions, business tax cuts and an Oregon-led approach to building a replacement I-5 Columbia River bridge.

The path to all three is littered with political obstacles. One thing is clear, however. If there is a special session, it will be by September 30, the date that Oregon's offer expires to share the state costs on the bridge with Washington.

The Kitzhaber camp isn't saying whether he has lined up the votes for the grand bargain or bridge funding. The pieces may not fall into place – or fall apart – until Treasurer Ted Wheeler releases his financial analysis of the risks involved in Oregon leading the way on replacing the Columbia River bridge. When the Oregon-in-the-lead strategy was unveiled last month, Wheeler questioned whether there was enough time for an analysis before a special session would be called. Now he has until September 15.

Bridge financing is not a new subject for Wheeler, the former Multnomah County chair who pieced together the bucks to replace the aging Sellwood Bridge, which is now under construction. But the timing of the Columbia River bridge financial analysis couldn't have occurred at a stickier time for Wheeler, who might be the odds-on favorite to succeed Kitzhaber as governor if he decides not to seek re-election.

As it turns out, Kitzhaber is fundraising, presumably for his yet-to-be-announced 2014 gubernatorial re-election campaign. The three-term governor also showed his political flag at a Labor Day union function, declaring firm opposition to an initiative that would ban mandatory payments by public employees to public unions. The Oregonian speculated his comments – which caused Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain to quip: 'Damn, Governor, you sounded like the president of the AFL-CIO" – were aimed at politically defusing political opposition caused by his continued support for deeper cuts in public employee pensions.

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Wednesday
Aug142013

The Ungubernatorial Candidates

Two Republicans — Rep. Dennis Richardson and businessman Jon Justesen — have declared for governor and the Democratic incumbent is weighing whether to seek an unprecedented fourth term.

But what's more remarkable is the long list of people who aren’t showing any signs of running in 2014, even though the gubernatorial primary is now just nine months away.

One reason for reticence is the status of Governor Kitzhaber, who remains popular, but hasn’t decided whether to go for another term. Because of his name familiarity, he can afford to wait, keeping challengers cooling their heels.

But indecision often can be all the bait some eager beavers need to step forward as potential candidates and see whether any winds collect in their political sails.

Here is a quick look at who is definitely not running and who might be lurking in the weeds if Kitzhaber decides to focus on his own personal Happiness Index:

Definitely Out

  • Unsuccessful 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley, who has moved out of Oregon.
  • Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, who has risen steadily in the U.S. House leadership ranks and sees no good reason to sacrifice that for a gubernatorial run, at least at this stage of his political career.
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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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Friday
Jan182013

Wheeler Plan to Boost Student Aid

Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler proposes to issue state bonds to create a fund to bolster college student financial aid as tuitions, fees and student debt all rise and average Oregon income lags.To combat rising college tuition and student debt, Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler is proposing to issue $500 million in general obligation bonds to increase available student aid. Voters would have to ratify a constitutional amendment to create the Student Opportunity Fund.

Wheeler unveiled details of what he calls the Opportunity Initiative the day after Governor Kitzhaber delivered his annual State of the State address. The governor proposed public employee retirement system and prison sentencing reforms to squeeze out savings to boost K-12 school funding.

Kitzhaber also reiterated support for higher education investment to help Oregon achieve an ambitious goal of 80 percent of its adult population having a postsecondary degree or certificate to ensure a competitive Oregon workforce in the Information Age. That's where Wheeler's idea joins the conversation. 

Wheeler says Oregon's commitment to student assistance has lagged the national average by 20 percent, while Oregon students attending state universities or community colleges have faced tuition and fees exceeding the national average by 18 percent. 

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Thursday
Apr262012

Making State Jobs Programs Do the Job

Legislators of both political parties and from all parts of Oregon agreed the state can play a more significant role in job creation by making its far-flung economic development efforts more agile and coordinated.

With nearly unanimous support in their short 2012 session, lawmakers approved House 4040, which the Eugene Register-Guard said "could prove to be the most far-reaching jobs bill that emerged from the legislative session."

The genesis of the Oregon Investment Act stands in stark contrast to the bickering and posturing in Congress as it debates how to stimulate the still-sluggish U.S. economy.  The act also provided a way for legislators here to surmount their usual differences over the appropriate government role in economic development.

To get behind the scenes, I asked Rep. Tobias Read to recount how the measure came about. Here's what he said:

"After he was elected, Governor Kitzhaber and his team asked Treasurer Ted Wheeler, Business Development Commission Chair Wally Van Valkenburg and me to serve as something of an economic development transition team. We had a lot of help from Scott Nelson (Governor's office), Tim McCabe (Business Oregon director), Paul Grove (Business Oregon legislative coordinator) and others as we worked quickly to put together some recommendations. We also recognized that there was far more work than could be done in the short time between his election and his inauguration, so, as we delivered our recommendations, we asked for the opportunity to continue working.  

"We got permission, and spent some time learning about strategies from other states and countries, and then went on the road to talk with people about what businesses in Oregon needed to expand and hire.

"We heard different versions of the same story around the state. The consistent theme was that businesses couldn't get access to the capital they needed to expand.  Furthermore, people felt that Oregon's programs are scattered across agencies, difficult to find, and too rigid.

"We recognized that we couldn't solve all these problems in the short session, or in the time that led up to it, so the Investment Act (House Bill 4040) is really enabling legislation that creates the Growth Board to build a plan to address all these issues — and to make policy recommendations to set the stage for substantive changes next session.  We made clear that we were interested in establishing priorities, promoting flexibility, achieving coordination, and gaining the leverage that comes from attracting new private-sector dollars into the Oregon economy.  

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Thursday
Feb092012

Jobs Bills in the Mix

In a short legislative session dominated by budget concerns and Governor Kitzhaber's ambitious reform efforts in health care, education and early learning, jobs bills have taken a back seat. But that doesn't mean they won't make it to the finish line.

There are major bills to coordinate the state's economic development activity, create more enterprise zones and reduce temporarily Oregon's capital gains tax rate. And there is legislation to clarify how and when to tax data centers such as Facebook's that were prize catches by previous economic development recruitment.

Here is a quick overview of some of the significant jobs-related legislation in Salem:

House Bill 4040: Drafted by two influential legislators — Reps. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, and Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, along with State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, the Oregon Investment Act seeks to align state economic development programs and incentives to make them more inviting to private sector companies. The measure has passed out of the House Transportation Committee, so remains alive.

Read, Bentz and Wheeler co-authored an op-ed in The Oregonian explaining their intentions:

"Oregon spends significant Oregon Lottery profits and other funds today to enhance business development. Yet those tools are scattered across multiple agencies and have little strategic connection, and sometimes have little accountability to measure results.

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Thursday
Feb242011

A Major Issue Just Around the Corner: How Much State Bonding is Too Much?

Several months ago, while he was running for re-election, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler advised the legislature to be very careful about the level of bonding it approved in the 2011 legislative session. To some, his admonition was even stronger – don't do any more bonding.

Whether he meant "no more" or a "caution," the State Bond Advisory Committee went on record last Friday with similar advice. 

A news release issued by the Treasurer's Office said this:

"Oregon policymakers should be judicious and strategic about the use of scarce state debt capacity in the upcoming budget cycle, the State Debt Policy Advisory Commission recommended today (Friday, February 18). The Commission advises the Legislature and Governor about the prudent level of state debt that is repaid from two sources: The General Fund and Oregon Lottery revenues. Bonds that are repaid with dedicated sources of revenue, such as gas taxes, tuition, and loan repayments, are not part of the commission’s debt capacity calculus. 

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