Preparing for a Rainy Day: An Exercise in Bipartisanship and Civil Discourse

If you wondered whether bi-partisan government could work, here is a recent example that was introduced at the Capitol on Monday, February 21:

Sen. Frank Morse, R-Albany, and Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, have drafted a plan they say is designed to do what Oregon has failed to do for decades – which is to save money in good times to cushion the blow in bad times.

Here's the way The Oregonian editorialized about the plan last weekend ("Ready for action: Finally, a real savings plan," Feb. 19):

"For decades, legislators have found every excuse to avoid confronting the volatile tax system, the bursts of unsustainable spending or the absurd, only-in-Oregon tax kicker. Rather than that, they repeatedly cast votes that made all these things worse. They are out of excuses. Two recessions and two budget crises in less than a decade have illustrated why this state can't just keep on with schools and other essential services strapped in a yo-yo system of public finance backed by the equivalent of a three-week savings account."

Into the abyss strode the two senators. One, Sen. Morse, is a moderate Republican from Albany, now retired, who made a career out of managing a major construction company. The other, Sen. Burdick, is a former journalist, now a Democrat, who hails from liberal Portland. They joined forces to draft and introduce Senate Joint Resolution 26.

It does the following:

  • Half of the personal income tax kicker would flow into a "rainy day fund" as a hedge against further downturns.
  • The other half half would go back to taxpayers, thus appeasing those who say tax money belongs to taxpayers, not to government.
  • The corporate income tax kicker would go into a reserve fund for the higher education system, which contends it always hard-pressed to cope with a legislature that micro-manages individual institutions in the system.
  • And, once the "rainy day fund" reached 12 per cent of the state's general fund, which the Oregonian says amounts to about $1.8 billion, the kicker law would revert back to the original language.

There's a lot to like in the SJR 26 package.

It is an example of two enlightened, but very different legislators getting together on a bi-partisan, civil basis to propose a thoughtful approach to tax management in a state that is so heavily dependent on income tax revenue.

Here's hoping the bi-partisan spirit holds long enough for SJR 26 to gain genuine consideration.