Oregon Poverty

“Emergencies” Top Short Session Docket

Senate President Peter Courtney helped to convince Oregonians to approve annual sessions and now presides over a 35-day session packed with legislative “emergencies."

Senate President Peter Courtney helped to convince Oregonians to approve annual sessions and now presides over a 35-day session packed with legislative “emergencies."

The strains of a short even-year legislative session sprouted on day one as Republicans in the Oregon House and Senate demanded each of the 260 bills introduced be read aloud word by word.

The message sent by GOP lawmakers is that a 35-day session is too short to consider legislation raising the minimum wage, altering corporate taxation, addressing affordable housing and adopting a pair of far-reaching energy bills.

Those measures are on the legislative docket as a last-ditch effort to keep the issues they raise off the November ballot.

Oregon’s election-year annual session has evolved into a different, though perhaps inevitable role from its original conception. Senate President Peter Courtney, who led the push for annual sessions, sold the plan as a way to update the state’s biennial budget, pass minor legislative fixes and deal with emergencies that couldn’t wait.

Emergencies that can’t wait now apparently include blockbuster ballot measures that would raise the minimum wage as high as $15 per hour, slap a gross receipts tax on large corporate taxpayers and force Oregon utilities to ditch coal-generated electricity.

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli tweaked Courtney’s memory of the purpose of the short even-year legislative session by saying, “As I recall, Oregonians were sold on the idea of annual meetings with the promise that the ‘short session' would focus on balancing the budget, making small legislative ‘fixes' and responding to emergencies that need immediate attention.  I'm sorry to report that the 'short session' has become little more than a setting for the majority party to pursue an over-reaching agenda of tax increases, regulation and ideological issues dear to the progressives who rule Portland and to a great extent, the rest of Oregon.”

The last part of Ferrioli’s statement reflects his underlying opposition to all of the heavy-duty legislative proposals that are on the table thanks largely to Democratic-leaning activists. The exception is the coal-to-clean bill that was negotiated by utilities and environmental groups.

Governor Brown has offered an alternative minimum wage proposal and Senator Mark Hass, chair of Senate Finance, is proposing a scaled down corporate tax measure.

While those high-profile issues command attention, other significant legislation has been introduced to address marijuana industry regulation, gun sales, processing of rape kits and a few bills that didn’t make it out of the longer 2015 legislative session.

The racer-fast pace of a short session – if a bill can’t get a hearing, markup and a vote in the first two weeks, it is basically dead – provides plenty of fodder for skeptics. House Republican Leader Mike McLane said one-hour notice for a hearing on a major bill doesn’t allow enough time from someone from Eastern Oregon to show up to testify.

In the end, emergencies are in the eye of the beholder. For many Portland-area legislators, for example, the growing housing affordability problem in the city has elevated to a crisis that requires a legislative response. Their proposed response, which requires construction of affordable housing and puts limits on evictions of renters, may not seem so urgent in other parts of Oregon.

Tax Reform, Affordable Housing Top Readers’ 2016 Policy Priority List

Affordable housing is top of mind for many Oregonians heading into 2016. In September, Mayor Charlie Hales declared Portland had fallen into a housing crisis. The announcement helped set the stage for difficult state-level discussions about how to solve the problem. 

Affordable housing is top of mind for many Oregonians heading into 2016. In September, Mayor Charlie Hales declared Portland had fallen into a housing crisis. The announcement helped set the stage for difficult state-level discussions about how to solve the problem. 

We asked about top 2016 policy priorities, and you answered. The two most mentioned policy priorities were tax reform and affordable housing. A transportation funding plan and changes to the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) also drew mentions.

As expected, when we asked about leadership, most comments zeroed in on Governor Kate Brown and her role in making needed changes, even as she faces election this November to complete the last two year’s of John Kitzhaber’s term.

Here are some highlights from what you told us.

Tax Reform

Jan Lee, a former state representative from Clackamas County and lobbyist, said it’s again time to explore a sales tax in Oregon. “We need a sales tax with some compensating features to reduce income or property tax a bit so that we have a system that fares better in all economic climes,” Lee says. 

While Oregon’s employment figures have shown strong growth over the past year, incomes have largely remained stagnant. But Lee believes changing the state’s tax system while raising the minimum wage could be enough to spur creation of higher paying jobs across the income spectrum.  

“The legislature can raise the minimum wage; if not one of this fall's ballot measures can achieve that result,” she says. “Maybe instead of some of the other tax credits now made available, there could be more tax breaks that businesses can earn by providing higher paying blue collar and white collar jobs to drive our economy and meet families' needs.”

“As always, close coordination with the Governor's office and open communication between the two party caucuses sets up a better opportunity for leadership to bring people together,” Lee explains. “Consensus is not expected, but achieving a little higher majority on important issues makes the system more workable.”

Tom Wilson, vice president of Campbell & Company, said it’s time to put the clean fuels bill approved during the 2015 Oregon legislative session and a proposed 10-cent per gallon gas tax back on the table. That’s just the start of a series of changes Wilson envisions for Oregon’s tax system, which he says will require top-down leadership.

“Governor Brown needs to lead the charge on this by reminding all the Multnomah County Democrats and Tina (Kotek) that there is actually another part of Oregon that needs to be served,” Wilson says. “Start to fix PERs by requiring members to contribute to their retirement like the rest so do. Do not allow the unions to jam through another tax on corporations.”

Affordable Housing

Four months ago, Mayor Charlie Hales declared a housing crisis in Portland, and news stories continue to surface about Oregonians struggling to keep up with skyrocketing rents and day-to-day housing costs. So, it’s no surprise that affordable housing is top of mind.  

Chris Vetter of  the Vetter Group and Don Mazziotti,  the former head of the Portland Development Commission and now a Portland-based management consultant, listed housing as their primary concern for Oregon in 2016.

“We need more affordable apartments and opportunities for urban professionals,” Vetter says.

Mazziotti says Oregon lawmakers should focus on easing the financial burden on homeowners and renters across the state.  

Jim Standring, president of Tigard-based Westland Industries, took another angle, suggesting lawmakers approach the affordable housing crisis with an eye toward improving Oregon’s land-use laws. 

“Oregon's land use system is totally broken and needs significant change,” Standring says. “Concerns about affordability and homeownership will continue to suffer without these changes.”

We hope you will keep talking to us about the priorities you want addresses in Oregon. We’re listening. 

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at justinr@cfmpdx.com and follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist

Business Leaders Tackle Persistent Poverty

Oregon's poverty rate has continued to club even after the end of the last recession. Oregon business leaders will discuss how to meet their goal of reducing poverty sharply in the next six years.Oregon business leaders will gather a week from now and focus on a very untypical business topic — how to reduce Oregon's poverty level.

The Oregon Business Plan calls for reducing the level of poverty in the state from 17.2 percent to less than 10 percent by 2020. Sounds good, but how? And why do business leaders care?

The answer stretches over several subjects — ensuring a trained, available workforce, restoring economic prosperity to rural communities and making Oregon an appealing place for outside investors. After all, who wants to invest in a state that some call the Appalachia of the West?

Leadership summits often hover at the grasstops of problematic issues, but this year the Oregon Business planners are definitely getting into the thick weeds. After the obligatory morning sessions about success stories, the afternoon sessions dive into subjects such how to connect workforce training with actual careers, grow profitable minority and women-owned small businesses, finance public works that make communities ready for new development and tap the natural resources key to returning rural economic health.