Charlie Hales

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

Low Turnout Marks Primary Voting

Nearly seven of 10 registered Oregon voters saved postage and didn't vote in Tuesday's primary election that booted two legislative incumbents, dismissed the business community's favorite for mayor of Portland and effectively elected a new attorney general. Turnout was low despite a presidential primary in which the major nominees already had been chosen.

Even a spirited Portland mayoral race failed to spark voter interest in Multnomah County, as Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith finished atop a crowded field to fight on in November. New Seasons co-founder and establishment favorite Eileen Brady saw her early lead wilt away in the final days of the campaign.

Clackamas County became the test garden for Tea Party politics in Oregon as former Wilsonville Mayor John Ludlow emerged to challenge sitting Chair Charlotte Lehan this fall. Ludlow swept past previous conservative favorite Paul Savas, who will retain his seat on the Clackamas County Commission, and former House Speaker Dave Hunt, who finished a disappointing fourth. The same political tussle shapes up as Commissioner Jamie Damon faces conservative former House member Tootie Smith. Former Commissioner and state Senator Martha Schrader won her seat in Tuesday's election.

Women activists touted a number of key wins, led by Ellen Rosenblum's comfortable victory in the Democratic primary for attorney general over Dwight Holton. Despite marijuana laws strangely becoming a focal point in the campaign, Rosenblum should face only token Republican opposition in the general election after GOP operatives mounted a write-in campaign for James Buchal. Since Attorney General John Kroger plans to resign by this summer, it is possible Rosenblum will be appointed to fill out the rest of his term and run as the incumbent in November.

Two Legislative Incumbents Face Primary Defeat

Two legislative incumbents could get the boot in Tuesday's primary election, and Democratic voters will effectively decide who will be the next Oregon attorney general. What happens in the tight Portland mayoral race is anyone's guess, including pollsters.

Democratic Rep. Mike Schaufler of Happy Valley and GOP Senator Chris Telfer of Bend face unusually tough challenges in their respective primaries, with some political observers and pollsters predicting both could lose.

Schaufler is being opposed by political newcomer Jeff Reardon, while Telfer faces a challenge from former House Majority Leader Tim Knopp. 

Schaufler's race, which has seen support thrown to Reardon by some of his House Democratic colleagues, is an example of what can happen when a political figure on the philosophical edge of his or her caucus gets entangled in a controversy. Schaufler was accused last year of groping a woman lobbyist at a labor convention, which resulted in him being stripped of his chairmanship of a key House committee.

Telfer's contest is somewhat similar, but aggravated by complaints that she didn't talk regularly to constituents or lobbyists. Knopp certainly offers more red-meat appeal to the conservative Republican base than Telfer. He also may have more statewide political appeal than Telfer, who ran unsuccessfully in 2010 for state treasurer.

In the attorney general's race, two Democrats, Dwight Holton and Ellen Rosenblum, are duking it out over who would be tougher on corporate criminals, deadbeat dads and marijuana users. Both have high-profile campaigns with top-level political endorsements. Whoever wins Tuesday will face only token opposition in the fall. Republicans failed to field a candidate, but are trying to mount a write-in campaign so there is at least somebody on the ballot in November. 

Since Attorney General John Kroger plans to leave office this summer to become president of Reed College, Governor Kitzhaber will be under pressure to appoint the winner of the Democratic primary to complete the rest of Kroger's term, allowing him or her to run this fall as the incumbent.