Kate Brown

Deal Ends Senate Walkout, Lets Student Success Act Pass

After massive demonstrations and a Senate Republican walkout, Governor Brown stepped in to cut a deal that allowed Senate passage of the Student Success Act at the expense of two other high-profile bills – eliminating non-medical exemptions for vaccinations and strengthening gun laws. The deal annoyed some and didn’t produce any Republican votes for the education funding measure. (Photo Credit: AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

After massive demonstrations and a Senate Republican walkout, Governor Brown stepped in to cut a deal that allowed Senate passage of the Student Success Act at the expense of two other high-profile bills – eliminating non-medical exemptions for vaccinations and strengthening gun laws. The deal annoyed some and didn’t produce any Republican votes for the education funding measure. (Photo Credit: AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

The Oregon Senate, on a party-line vote, finally approved the $1 billion per year Student Success Act after Governor Brown negotiated a deal that scuttled high-profile vaccination and gun control legislation.

Senate Republicans ended their walkout that denied Democrats a quorum to conduct business on the Senate floor, delaying the approval of the education funding measure that was a top priority for the 2019 legislative session. But it wasn’t the only top priority and Democratic champions of the sacrificed measures expressed anger and frustration publicly. 

Republicans weren’t celebrating a victory. House Democrats were irate. Democratic Senator Betsy Johnson, the 18th vote to ensure passage of the Student Success Act, declared her vote was conditioned on leadership promises to approve substantial PERS reform legislation. If PERS reform legislation doesn’t pass, Johnson vowed to support and campaign for a voter referral of the business tax that will pay for Student Success education investments.

The deal reportedly only scuttles the vaccination and gun control bills for this session. They are expected to return – and most likely pass – in the 2020 legislative session, which begs the question of what was actually won and lost as a result of the deal.

The Student Success Act was destined to pass, despite the Republican walkout, as even GOP senators conceded. Senators couldn’t remain absent for the rest of the session. Senate Democratic leaders could have outlasted the walkout. They might have won public sympathy by ordering the State Police to round up at least two senators to reach a quorum, an action that was seriously considered.

Commanding the State Police to corral senators would have required permission of Governor Brown. She had other ideas and took the lead on Sunday evening to cut the deal that ended the walkout and put a stake into the vaccination and gun control bills. Democratic lawmakers weren’t active participants in the negotiations, based on their reactions in media interviews.

Speculation in Salem is that a robust quarterly economic forecast due out on Wednesday may have prompted Brown’s move to take over the negotiations. Increasing state tax revenues – and a larger personal income tax kicker – may have complicated the narrative around the need for a new tax incorporated in the Student Success Act.

If Senate Republicans couldn’t declare victory with a straight face, the “winner” may have been their tactic. Holding the Senate hostage worked and will likely embolden future legislative minorities to adopt the same hostage-taking tactic. It could even happen this session in the House. 

The “loser” may be legislative leaders who were undercut by a governor brokering a deal. Sometimes lawmakers ask governors to broker deals. But legislative leaders need to retain the ability to work out arrangements across a wider spectrum of legislative issues. This deal short-circuited two bills whose sponsors said their bills had the votes to pass in the Senate.  

Another "loser" may be businesses relying on Senate Republican leadership to protect their interests by stopping the revenue mechanisms contained in HB 3427 and HB 2020's cap and trade bill. Businesses may be upset that Republicans traded away opportunities to reduce the financial impacts from those two bills in an effort to stop social issues like vaccines and guns.

The political maneuvering to pass the Student Success Act this week doesn’t fully eliminate the legislation’s peril if referred to voters. A referral seems likely, even though Oregon Business & Industry, the state’s largest business lobby group, took a neutral position on the tax. Nike, which supported the Student Success Act, has already donated $100,000 to defend it if there is a referral. 

The referral may hinge on the PERS reform legislation, which has just been introduced and may be on a fast track. That legislation would stretch out the unfunded liability, providing some relief in the short term for public employers, but actually increase the liability. The most contentious part of the legislation is requiring public employees to contribute to their own PERS accounts, which could be a hard pill for some legislative Democrats to swallow.

The tax measure represented at least a two-session campaign by Senator Mark Hass to find a way to raise money for public schools while modernizing the state’s corporate tax system. The final version focuses the tax on an estimated 40,000 out of 460,000 businesses operating in Oregon, according to the Legislative Revenue Office. Hass credited Nike tax experts for providing critical assistance to fine-tune the tax proposal. A key compromise was to sequester the projected $1 billion per year in new revenue from going to PERS payments.

 

 

Political Poker Game Underway on Taxes, PERS and Cap and Trade

Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss reports there is a high-stakes political poker game underway in Salem and Senator Betsy Johnson, who represents the 18th vote for a Senate supermajority, holds the most important cards. [Photo Credit: Willamette Week]

Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss reports there is a high-stakes political poker game underway in Salem and Senator Betsy Johnson, who represents the 18th vote for a Senate supermajority, holds the most important cards. [Photo Credit: Willamette Week]

A billion-dollar boost for education, a new tax on large businesses and a cap-and-trade scheme may all boil down to how one Oregon senator votes, according to Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss.

“Senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) holds almost all the cards” in a big-stakes political poker game that could determine the fate of the three highest-profile legislative measures in the 2019 Oregon legislative session, Jaquiss writes this week.

A keen-eyed, long-time legislative observer, Jaquiss says Johnson’s position as the critical 18th Democratic vote in the Senate gives her a lot of leverage. A three-fifths supermajority is required to pass tax-raising measures. Johnson also is one of two Senate co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which okays state spending authority. 

Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, may be the key vote that determines the 2019 legislative future for the Student Success Act, PERS funding reforms and cap and trade.

Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, may be the key vote that determines the 2019 legislative future for the Student Success Act, PERS funding reforms and cap and trade.

In Jaquiss’ telling, Johnson, whom he describes as a “business-friendly Democrat,” is reluctant to bolster education funding with a commercial activities tax without “significant PERS cost cuts.” This roughly parallels the view of Senate Republicans who staged a walkout this week, denying the Senate a quorum to take floor votes, including the vote on education funding bill. The 12 Senate Republicans feel left out of the final compromise on the tax measure, which has already passed the House, and want to slow it down to allow more time to negotiate an agreement on PERS.

Jaquiss says Johnson also isn’t keen on the Clean Energy Jobs bill that sets up a cap-and-trade system, apparently agreeing with opponents that it will result in higher costs for Oregon consumers. It’s little surprise – and probably not a coincidence – that the state’s leading business advocacy group, Oregon Business & Industry, just gave Johnson its first Jobs Champion Award.

As the crucial Senate floor vote for the Student Success package, Johnson could use her leverage on a PERS deal or to scuttle cap and trade, but probably not both, Jaquiss claims. Her decision may be informed by which option has the strongest political legs. 

In his article, Jaquiss says the other power player in this legislative poker game is House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland. She has a comfortable supermajority in the House (the Student Success Act passed by a 37-23 vote) – and gubernatorial aspirations. Wading into a contentious fight over PERS isn’t on the priority list, but she may not be able to avoid it. Kotek may have to do what it takes to smooth the way for Johnson’s vote on education funding. 

The idea floating around Capitol hallways to deal with the large and growing PERS unfunded liability is to require teachers and possibly all public employees to begin contributing to their own retirement funds. Governor Brown, who is term-limited and under pressure to address PERS funding, could accept that, Jaquiss says, but it would be a tougher draw for Kotek who enjoys high level of trust from Oregon unions. 

Keeping with the poker motif, Jaquiss says Senate Republicans see a delay on the education funding bill as a way to call the bluff of Democrats, forcing backstairs conversations into the open and either gain PERS concessions or a death blow to cap and trade.

Senate Republicans can’t hide out forever, so a deal or no-deal should emerge soon. The Student Success Act is a safe bet to pass. Everything else is 50-50.

 

Student Success Plan, Tax to Pay for It Take Shape

Increased investment in early childhood education is one of the goals of the Student Success Plan that has been rolled out by a joint legislative committee. The rollout also included details on a commercial activities tax that could raise the $2 billion called for in the education plan.

Increased investment in early childhood education is one of the goals of the Student Success Plan that has been rolled out by a joint legislative committee. The rollout also included details on a commercial activities tax that could raise the $2 billion called for in the education plan.

The Joint Committee on School Success rolled out its “Student Success” plan that spells out how $2 billion in new revenue would be invested, where the money would come from and how it won’t be spent.

The leaders of the joint committee, which spent 14 months touring the state and visiting 77 schools, briefed reporters on the major components of their plan. As reported by OPB’s Rob Manning, the spending targets are:

  • $400 million per two-year budget cycle on early childhood priorities, including full funding for Early Childhood Special Education.

  • $600 million per biennium on “statewide investments” such as dropout prevention and supports for students with disabilities.

  • $1 billion per biennium for a “school improvement” fund, described as “non-competitive grants” toward specific goals, such as smaller class sizes, a longer school year and additional health professionals in schools.

The $2 billion they seek would likely come from a commercial activities tax tiered by the size of business earnings. Two options were presented, including one that would allow businesses to deduct labor expenses in exchange for a higher tax rate. Individual income tax rates would be adjusted slightly downward to account for pass-through price increases resulting from the new tax.

Rep. Greg Smith, R-Umatilla, a vice chair of the committee, spoke in favor of the new tax. He speculated other Republicans would join him to boost education funding.

“I think that there are Republicans who want to make strategic investments in education,” Manning quotes Smith as saying. “Once they have the opportunity to see what the revenue package looks like both on the personal income tax side and the commercial activity tax side, I believe there may be votes there.”

Committee leaders politely dismissed the idea that any of the $2 billion would go to higher education, even though Governor Kate Brown has hinted it might. “The goal of this committee’s work has been pre-K to 12 from the start, and that’s because in 1990, when Measure 5 was passed, we had a significant shift in how funding worked,” according to Co-chair Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland. 

Committee leaders acknowledged conversations to address the growing unfunded PERS liability, but noted none of the proposed commercial activities tax would go to PERS. 

Many legislative hurdles remain from a briefing to final passage of an ambitious education improvement plan, a new corporate tax and tinkering with personal income tax rates. Those conversations about PERS, which now include former Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski, cast a long political and fiscal shadow over the plan and new revenue.

Brown has resisted engaging in ways to modify PERS benefits, focusing instead on ways to secure sizable chunks of money to whittle down the unfunded liability, such as the possible sale of SAIF. Kulongoski and former GOP legislator Chris Telfer are the chief sponsors of a pair of initiatives for the 2020 general election ballot that would reduce some public employee retirement benefits and divert some benefits to a 401(k) savings plan.

Tim Nesbitt, a former Oregon AFL-CIO president, says he has received a grant from the Oregon Business Council to form a broad-based coalition in support of the initiatives. Nesbitt said he hopes the prospect of a ballot measure fight will spur action in the 2019 legislative session.

Oregon labor officials have testified the two initiatives would fail to make a dent in the unfunded liability and likely would be declared unconstitutional. They insisted that boosting funding for education shouldn’t be an excuse for cutting benefits for public employees. 

 

Glimmer of Hope Surfaces on I-5 Bridge Project Restart

A glimmer of hope has appeared that Washington and Oregon may take the first steps to resume work on replacing I-5 Columbia River Bridge by restarting bi-state project office.

A glimmer of hope has appeared that Washington and Oregon may take the first steps to resume work on replacing I-5 Columbia River Bridge by restarting bi-state project office.

Someday, the I-5 Columbia River Bridge will be replaced. And Washington State hopes that someday is sooner rather than later.

The Washington Legislature generated some fresh enthusiasm when it included $450 million in a proposed transportation investment package to cover the state’s projected share of the cost to replace the bridge. Plus, Washington Governor Jay Inslee included $17.5 million to re-open a project office in his proposed 2019-2020 transportation budget.

The Southwest Washington legislative delegation has tried to stoke the appropriations fires and managed to make the bridge replacement that state’s number one priority in the propose transportation investment package that passed out of the Washington Senate Transportation Committee. However, with a portion of funding for such a packaged tied to creating a carbon fee in Washington, building the necessary support to pass it this year looks more like embers than sparks.

Washington looks poised to retain at least $8.5 million for a project office. While less than early-session expectations, opening a project office would begin laying the groundwork for replacing the bridge. Washington’s Department of Transportation, along with its Oregon counterpart, local cities and community partners, would start re-evaluating permits and design, develop a fresh budget and re-engage with stakeholders on both sides of the river.

Light rail, the bogeyman that helped sink a bi-state deal several years ago, remains a lightning rod. In his budget proposal, Inslee included a light rail provision, even though regional advocates encouraged calling for “mass transit“ to allow for further evaluation. Any mention of light rail has disappeared.

Meanwhile, Oregon, the putative partner in a bridge replacement deal, has been more or less quiet. There have been back-channel conversations between Olympia and Salem, but no real commitments. Majority Democrats in Salem are consumed with a cap-and-trade proposal and quest to raise $2 billion in new revenue for public education. A major transportation funding package is not anywhere near the adult table.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek remains the most ardent advocate for replacing the bridge, which is part of her North Portland legislative district. She probably has support in the office of Oregon Governor Kate Brown and a good chunk of lawmakers. But without a strong, definitive move by Washington officials there is little reason to start beating the drums in Salem. That definitive move appears to be on the horizon.

 

Climate Kids Lawsuit Could Overshadow Legislative Action

A group of 21 young plaintiffs, 11 of them from Oregon, are challenging the federal government to take responsibility for a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” Their lawsuit has so far withstood five attempts to bock or dismiss it. They are inching closer to an actual trial that could prove a turning point on public acceptance of climate change and the urgent need for a credible response. [Photo Credit: Robin Loznak/ZUMA]

A group of 21 young plaintiffs, 11 of them from Oregon, are challenging the federal government to take responsibility for a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” Their lawsuit has so far withstood five attempts to bock or dismiss it. They are inching closer to an actual trial that could prove a turning point on public acceptance of climate change and the urgent need for a credible response. [Photo Credit: Robin Loznak/ZUMA]

The efforts by Oregon Governor Kate and a Democratically controlled legislature to pass a measure to limit greenhouse gas emissions may be overshadowed by a more sweeping climate lawsuit initiated in 2016 largely on behalf of young Oregonians. 

The so-called Climate Kids have filed a lawsuit claiming a constitutional right “to life, liberty and property” under a government-backed “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” The lawsuit bears the name of Kelsey Juliana, who is a now a 22-year-old University of Oregon student. Juliana was interviewed on 60 Minutes over the weekend and declared, "My generation and all the generations to come have everything to lose if we don't act on climate change right now."

The longshot lawsuit, initially considered fanciful, has survived five attempts to block it in US District Court in Oregon, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Despite efforts by the fossil fuel industry and the Trump administration, the lawsuit continues to move toward an actual trial. 

“Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” US District of Oregon Judge Ann Aiken

“Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” US District of Oregon Judge Ann Aiken

The Climate Kids and their Oregon-based attorneys insist they have compiled what they believe is overwhelming evidence. A press release from Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust, accuses the “federal government of creating a national energy system that causes climate change, is depriving them of their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property and [failing] to protect essential public trust resources. We look forward to presenting the scientific evidence of the harms and dangers these children face as a result of the actions their government has taken to cause the climate crisis.”

Julia Olson, executive director of Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust, is co-counsel on the Climate Kids lawsuit arguing younger Americans have a constitutional right to a climate system that can sustain human life.

Julia Olson, executive director of Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust, is co-counsel on the Climate Kids lawsuit arguing younger Americans have a constitutional right to a climate system that can sustain human life.

Olson told 60 Minutes the evidence is staggering. The Supreme Court, in its unsigned decision to let the lawsuit proceed, called its breadth “striking.”

Juliana is one of 21 youth plaintiffs who range in age from 11 to 22 years old. The ages of the plaintiffs are welded to the core of the constitutional argument. One pleading on behalf of the youths said, “As the government continues to neglect the consequences of climate change, they say, their future selves – and their future children – will suffer.” Eleven of the plaintiffs live in Oregon. Other plaintiffs hail from Colorado, Florida, New York, Hawaii, Arizona, Alaska, Washington, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

An extensive list of supporters has accreted as challenges to the lawsuit have proceeded. They included well known environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, interfaith organizations and legal scholars. The League of Women Voters submitted an amicus brief that asserted it is a proper role for courts to act as a check and balance on political branches to address “irreversible impacts” that affect younger generations of Americans and generations to follow. 

Two of the underlying legal arguments that have emerged in Juliana v. United States involve “atmospheric trust litigation” based on a public trust doctrine, which has been applied to protect shorelines and other valuable natural resources.

Ultimately, the goal of the Climate Kids lawsuit are environmental policies that would accelerate efforts to reduce damaging greenhouse gas emissions and eventually abandon a carbon-based economy. Opponents variously argue that is an unattainable objective in any near-term time frame. Political opponents claim the lawsuit, if successful, would subordinate climate policy set by the President and Congress to a court ruling.

Assuming the lawsuit actually makes it to trial, the evidence presented could mark a turning point in broader public acceptance of the reality of climate change and the need for urgent action. The trial is likely to be linked with the Green New Deal that has been introduced in Congress and to propel more state environmental activism, especially in states like Oregon where the trial would be held and covered extensively.

 

Democrats Address Climate Change with Carbon Caps, Modernized Infrastructure

Democrats in the Oregon legislature and Congress will be pushing legislation to cap carbon emissions, including from transportation, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Oregon lawmakers will consider a cap and trade proposal, while Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio presses for a $500 billion federal investment in modernized infrastructure.

Democrats in the Oregon legislature and Congress will be pushing legislation to cap carbon emissions, including from transportation, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Oregon lawmakers will consider a cap and trade proposal, while Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio presses for a $500 billion federal investment in modernized infrastructure.

The Oregon cap and trade legislation was unveiled last week.  Oregon Public Broadcasting  provided a glimpse into its details.

The Oregon cap and trade legislation was unveiled last week. Oregon Public Broadcasting provided a glimpse into its details.

(Updated February 1, 2019)

While the big event in the 2019 Oregon legislative session is sure to be a $2 billion revenue package for schools and an industry-supported Medicaid package, the first major legislative thrust by Democrats will be a cap and trade bill designed to put a lid on carbon emissions. A key Oregonian in Congress is also pushing for a major response to climate change.

The bill is expected to surface by the end of the week. Its chief architect, Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, says the measure will be very similar to a previously introduced bill, but with more clarity on issues such as oversight, mitigation for vulnerable industries and how quickly the emission cap will decline. Republicans are grumbling they haven’t seen evolving drafts since late last year.

Not surprisingly, Dembrow predicts a “noisy few weeks” when the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction, which he co-chairs, considers the controversial measure, called the Clean Energy Jobs Bill.

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Environmental groups expect a cap and trade bill will pass this session. Governor Brown and Democratic legislators vigorously campaigned in support of climate change legislation. Brown's budget framework, released late last year, detailed the creation of a Carbon Policy Office, with a $1.4 million budget, that has been charged with exploring how Oregon can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions while still growing the state’s economy.

State Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio will be on point with legislation to address climate change. Dembrow co-chairs the committee to take up a cap and trade system that seeks to limit carbon emissions, including from transportation fuels. DeFazio is floating a measure to invest $500 billion to modernize the nation’s transportation system and reduce carbon emissions, while increasing resiliency in highways, tunnels and bridges.

State Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio will be on point with legislation to address climate change. Dembrow co-chairs the committee to take up a cap and trade system that seeks to limit carbon emissions, including from transportation fuels. DeFazio is floating a measure to invest $500 billion to modernize the nation’s transportation system and reduce carbon emissions, while increasing resiliency in highways, tunnels and bridges.

The basic idea is to set a fixed limit on greenhouse gas emissions and issue allowances that can be traded in an open market, which currently includes seven states and four Canadian provinces. The greenhouse gas emission limit would ratchet down over time.

The Environmental Defense Fund anticipates Oregon’s cap and trade bill will parallel a similar structure in California that extends to transportation fuels as well as regulated electricity and natural gas utilities.

As Oregon lawmakers hack away on climate change legislation, Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is preparing to push for a $500 billion investment to address crumbling US infrastructure, support “green” infrastructure that is more resilient to climate change and develop cleaner fuels. Among other funding, DeFazio proposes issuing 30-year bonds paid for by indexing the federal gas tax to inflation, which he says could generate between $17 to $20 billion per year to invest.

He wants the House to pass a version of his legislation in the next six months and it appears House Democratic leaders support his push.

DeFazio told Curbed in an interview there is a $102 billion backlog to repair America’s metropolitan transit systems and that critical transportation routes such as the Holland Tunnel in New York and the I-5 Columbia River Bridge could be wiped out by flooding or earthquakes, causing economic catastrophes.

Curbed observed, “[DeFazio] takes control of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during a pivotal time when technology advances, long-term funding issues and climate change demand a comprehensive, forward-thinking plan.”

In quintessential DeFazio fashion, he said, “I’m going to approach it from a very hard-hearted way: Boy, you’re stupid if you don’t make these investments.”

 

A Challenge and a Legacy Lie Ahead for Legislative Democrats

Oregon’s Democratically controlled 2019 legislature will have its work cut out for it with a $2 billion revenue challenge for education, an $800 million hole to patch for Medicaid and passage of legacy legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions through a cap-and-trade program.

Oregon’s Democratically controlled 2019 legislature will have its work cut out for it with a $2 billion revenue challenge for education, an $800 million hole to patch for Medicaid and passage of legacy legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions through a cap-and-trade program.

The Democratically controlled 2019 Oregon legislative session will address a “once in a generation” challenge to boost education funding by $2 billion and a potential legacy-making bill dealing with climate change.

Expectations are high heading into the session, which begins in January. Neither will be a cake-walk to achieve, despite Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate.

Some of the complicating factors are:

  • Oregon lawmakers also have to find more than $800 million to sustain the state’s Medicaid program.

  • The Public Employees Retirement System unfunded liability is expected to grow by possibly as much as $4 billion, with no strategy in place to reduce it.

  • There are signs the US economic recovery is facing headwinds caused by an escalating global trade war, political unrest in Europe and a weakening economy in China.

Passing major tax legislation – and avoiding a referral to voters – is never easy, whether for schools or cleaning up the environment. For example, despite polls showing general support for climate legislation, Washington state voters have twice rejected carbon tax proposals. Oregon’s approach, which involves capping greenhouse gas emissions and allowing carbon trading in a state or regional marketplace, is different, but will still be cast by opponents as a tax.

Governor Brown has called her $2 billion challenge for education an opportunity that lawmakers can’t pass up because of the state’s robust economy and the needed Democratic votes in the House and Senate to approve tax bills. Brown also has called the Clean Energy Jobs bill “absolutely a legacy issue.”

Senate President Peter Courtney has endorsed the legacy label for the Clean Energy Jobs bill. "As a 75-year older person – you know I'm going to go to the children and grandchildren – I cannot think of a more serious issue," he said.

While it might be legacy legislation, it also has been introduced and failed to pass in the previous two legislative sessions. Part of the reason is its inherent complexity. Ted Sickinger filed a report for The Oregonian that outlined some of the complexity, which includes exactly what emissions will be capped and what emissions will be exempted.

In the 2019 session, advocates for the Clean Energy Jobs bill have apparently cut a deal with utilities that say their ratepayers are already footing the bill for greenhouse gas emission reductions baked into their future energy plans. Even that compromise isn’t without some debate over whether the utility plans should accelerate emission reductions. Timber and agriculture also may be exempted.

Another complicating factor is “leakage,” which boils down to manufacturing operations relocating to another state to avoid the cost of a cap-and-trade system. Republican Senator Cliff Bentz points to Ore-Ida Foods in Ontario. "I do not want to drive it 150 yards away into Idaho," Sickinger reported. "It will be devastating."

A report unveiled last week confirms Bentz’s fear that the potential for leakage in the manufacturing and industrial sectors is substantial, which if it happened to any degree would throw shade on the legacy of the legislation. “It would also eliminate a big chunk of allowance revenue [advocacy] groups are expecting to reinvest in carbon reduction and climate change adaptation programs,” Sickinger said. 

Rural interests have expressed concern that the increased price of fuel for cars and trucks will disproportionately hurt them at the pump. Then there is a constitutional question about whether any tax revenue collected from cars and trucks can escape the Oregon Highway Trust Fund. In anticipation of that question, Senator Michael Dembrow wants to include a provision to fast-track a challenge to the Oregon Supreme Court.

There is the need to put the program, if created, some place in the state bureaucracy. In her recommended 2019-2021 budget, Brown calls for elimination of the Department of Energy. She proposed creation of a new agency – the Oregon Climate Authority, which would assume the role of the existing Oregon Global Warming Commission. Creating a new agency and identifying who will sit on its advisory board can produce legendary backroom legacies.

Finally, in a system that involves carbon credits, you need a marketplace to trade them. Backers of the legislation and some industry groups favor linking the Oregon cap-and-trade program to the Western Climate Initiative, led by California. Bentz worries Oregon will be like a flea on a dog’s tail without much influence on the direction of the marketplace. 

Neither the $2 billion education challenge or the Clean Energy Jobs bill figure to be among the early bills to move in the 2019 session. Their destiny inevitably will be as part of 11th-hour legislative maneuvers to clear a path to adjournment, probably sometime next July. That’s often how legacies are born.

 

 

Raising $2 Billion Won’t Be a Slam Dunk

Democrats hold all the main levers of power in Salem, including supermajorities in the Oregon House and Senate that could pass tax hikes without any Republican votes. But meeting Governor Brown’s $2 billion revenue challenge won’t be easy and certainly won’t be a slam dunk.

Democrats hold all the main levers of power in Salem, including supermajorities in the Oregon House and Senate that could pass tax hikes without any Republican votes. But meeting Governor Brown’s $2 billion revenue challenge won’t be easy and certainly won’t be a slam dunk.

Democrats hold supermajorities in the House and Senate to pass revenue-raising measures without Republican votes. Business interests may be relegated to the political sidelines. Yet, Governor Brown’s $2 billion revenue challenge in the 2019-2021 biennium seems tenuous.

In her budget message, Brown didn’t specify how she wanted to raise an additional $2 billion in revenue to fund public education. However, she has been very clear she isn’t interested in tying a revenue increase to reduction in PERS benefits, which business interests have advocated. The implication is that legislative Democrats have the votes and can decide on the details.

It may not be that simple. 

For starters, the PERS unfunded liability is likely to be larger. As The Oregonian’s Ted Sickinger reported, PERS investments so far this year have fallen significantly short of the assumed 7.2 percent return rate, which actuaries say could balloon the unfunded liability by as much as $4 billion. 

That won’t affect the current public employer contribution rate, which is already fixed for the next two years and cost an additional $1.1 billion. The PERS actuary predicts even steeper contribution rate increases beginning in 2021. Such a prospect may propel public employers to press harder for legislative solutions.

Jody Wiser of Tax Fairness Oregon has suggested paying down the PERS unfunded liability with a one-time diversion of the personal income tax kicker, pegged at $724 million. Voting to redirect a kicker payment to PERS is not impossible to imagine in a Democratically controlled legislature, but it still wouldn’t be an easy vote. Most of the kicker benefits flow to middle- and upper-income Oregon taxpayers, the people who typically write campaign checks to legislators.

Democrats have a comfortable supermajority in the Oregon House, but a less reliable one in the Oregon Senate. Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, isn’t always a sure bet to go along with her 17 other Democratic colleagues on tax issues. As one of the two Senate co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, Johnson will be part of the Democratic leadership team, but also hold more political leverage. Johnson is one of those votes you have to earn, not just count on.

Governor Brown touted her $2 billion revenue challenge by saying, “Our current strong economy gives us the best chance in a generation to address persistent, structural challenges so we can achieve our full potential.” Brown’s challenge drew this response from House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, “This is not a challenge to the legislature; it is a challenge to the wallets and pocketbooks of hardworking Oregonians.”

Governor Brown touted her $2 billion revenue challenge by saying, “Our current strong economy gives us the best chance in a generation to address persistent, structural challenges so we can achieve our full potential.” Brown’s challenge drew this response from House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, “This is not a challenge to the legislature; it is a challenge to the wallets and pocketbooks of hardworking Oregonians.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the $2 billion revenue challenge is the lack of a specific plan. Democrats pushed in the 2017 session a corporate tax restructuring proposal, but the proposal or something like it wouldn’t generate $2 billion. That means a tax plan would most likely need to affect business and personal income taxpayers.

A business tax hike might be a lighter lift after the congressional GOP tax cut that included several business tax breaks. But the federal legislation contained personal income tax provisions that limit state and local tax deductions, which will mean higher federal taxable income starting in 2018 for a chunk of Oregon taxpayers. Again, not insurmountable, but not necessarily easy.

Designing a tax proposal, especially one as large as $2 billion in Oregon’s context, will be messy. Tax ideas will be floated and dropped. The final product may not be a single tax increase, but a series of tax and fee increases. This revenue-raiser will be in addition to taxes and fees levied to fill the budget gap for Oregon’s Medicaid program.

How the $2 billion will be spent also will be the source of endless debate. A special committee traveled the state during the interim gathering ideas on how to improve public education in Oregon. It came up with a long list – and didn’t include suggestions for higher education.  

The slim 22-member House GOP caucus, with Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, as its new “superminority” leader, expects to be largely spectators on tax legislation this session. However, that doesn’t rule out a role as spoilers who seize every opportunity to take political pot shots at Democratically backed tax proposals – and rising PERS contributions by cities, counties and school districts.

There is always a possibility of a bipartisan revenue package, which might avoid a voter referral that would be costly and delay any revenue increases. Compromising on a $2 billion tax package would pose political risks for both Democrats and Republicans, but also afford potential political benefits.

Republican legislative control in a blue state seems remote, so negotiating for some “victories” as part of a tax package could be viewed by GOP voters as turning lemons into lemonade. Democrats could win accolades for leadership by including some GOP priorities instead of plowing them over in the legislative process.

One thing is sure. Raising $2 billion in the next biennium is not a slam dunk because there will be votes on one or more tax measures to raise that sum, huge debates over where the money should go and a dark shadow cast by PERS.

 

Brown’s Budget Focuses on Education, Human Services

Fresh off her successful re-election, Governor Kate Brown unveils her $23.6 billion General Fund budget that includes a $2 billion revenue challenge to state lawmakers to eliminate structural deficits in public education.

Fresh off her successful re-election, Governor Kate Brown unveils her $23.6 billion General Fund budget that includes a $2 billion revenue challenge to state lawmakers to eliminate structural deficits in public education.

Governor Kate Brown released her 2019-2021 budget recommendations that roll out ideas to shore up state health care funding, continue to invest in affordable housing and pay for initiatives she announced in her re-election campaign.

Proposed budgets are also notable for what they don’t include. Brown’s $23.6 billion budget proposal omits any mention of Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) cost-cutting or investing to restart bi-state conversations about an I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement.

Her proposed budget did contain a $2 billion revenue challenge to legislators to bolster Oregon’s public education system. The challenge coincided with the rollout of the Coalition for the Common Good, consisting of Oregon public employee unions, a group of long-term care providers and Nike, in support of a major tax package.

“We want to bring a sole focus into revenue reform,” said James Carlson, president of the Oregon Health Care Association. “The reality is we can’t afford to waste another five years chasing a deal that may or may not happen” on cutting government costs.

Major business groups are positioned to resist a major tax overhaul without steps to reduce the $22 million unfunded PERS liability, which poses a drain on local government and school district budgets.

The $2 billion in new revenue would go to extend the school year, decrease class sizes, expand access to preschool and decrease college tuition at public universities. Brown faced sharp criticism in her re-election campaign for Oregon’s low high school graduation rate and failure to provide all of the funding voters authorized to expand career and technical education statewide.

Brown’s budget is heavy on aspiration and revenue projections. It also is very readable, has a reasonable amount of detail and is backed up by economic and revenue analysis. For example, it shows that $19 billion in revenue comes from Oregon personal income taxes, which represents 80 percent of the budget. Corporate income taxes and lottery proceeds contribute 4 and 5 percent, respectively. Roughly 50 percent of Brown’s proposed spending would go to education and 27 percent to human services.

Even though state lawmakers will have around $1 billion more in revenue than the previous biennium, Brown included tax increases in her budget, much of it to plug a funding hole for Medicaid. She proposed raising tobacco taxes by $2 and expanding taxes or assessments on hospitals, insurers and some employers.

In her budget, Brown proposes to shut down the Oregon Department of Energy and allow the state’s Chief Education Office to end. She asks for creation of an Oregon Climate Authority that would administer a “well-designed, market-based program to achieve our state climate emissions reduction goals at the least possible cost, while protecting our manufacturing industry and mitigating impacts on low-income and rural communities, communities of color, and Tribes.” 

Brown devotes substantial funding to her Children’s Agenda, including $285.8 million to provide preschool for an additional 10,000 children, $20 million for housing stability for homeless families, $13.8 million to integrate disorder treatment and behavioral health programs for families and $10 to increase “quality, affordable” child care. Brown wants to ensure 100 percent of Oregon children have health care access and proposes $47.1 million for a comprehensive child welfare system “based on positive human development” and that reduces the need for foster care.

Another campaign promise that showed up on Brown’s budget is incorporating standards from the federal Clean Air and Clean Water acts into state law. She also wants to fund an effort to eliminate a backlog in pending air quality permits.

Brown recommended expanding Oregon’s automatic voter registration system by including other public interactions with state agencies, such as applying for a hunting license, as triggers and sending voters ballots with return envelopes with pre-paid postage. 

After a gubernatorial election that broke state spending records and involved independent expenditures funded with dark money contributions, Brown committed to work on campaign finance reform.

The budget proposal sets aside money for earthquake preparedness, firearm safety, a university program dealing with threat assessment and immigrant defense. Some $5 million is earmarked for funding rural broadband infrastructure and $10 million for remediation of rural brownfields so they can be redeveloped.

Brown titled her budget proposal, “Turning Point: An Agenda for Oregon’s Future.” Here is the opening paragraph of the budget document:

“Oregon is at a turning point. Hundreds of thousands of people have moved here in the past 20 years, and a million more are on their way. We’ve done some good things over the years, but our state is changing, and changing rapidly. With the aging of Oregon’s baby boomer generation, and the impacts of recent dramatic federal tax changes and burgeoning federal deficits exacerbating these changes, one thing is clear: we can no longer do things the way we have in the past. We must grow up as a state, and we need to decide – together – what we want to be over the next 20 years. The challenges of affordability, of educating our kids, of mitigating the effects of climate change, and of maintaining a strong democracy will not get better unless we change our approach.”

She says Oregon must renew faith in democracy, spend money wisely, address affordability, prepare for the future and “finally fix our underfunded education system.”

 

Brown, Democrats Ride Strong Wave of Voter Turnout

Oregon Governor Kate Brown overcame a trail of administrative miscues and an aggressive campaign by challenger Knute Buehler to win re-election to a full four-year term. High voter turnout also swept out three Republican House incumbents and gave Democrats supermajorities in both the House and Senate. [Photo Credit: Steve Dykes, AP]

Oregon Governor Kate Brown overcame a trail of administrative miscues and an aggressive campaign by challenger Knute Buehler to win re-election to a full four-year term. High voter turnout also swept out three Republican House incumbents and gave Democrats supermajorities in both the House and Senate. [Photo Credit: Steve Dykes, AP]

Governor Kate Brown turned back a spirited challenge from Republican Knute Buehler and Democrats earned super-majorities in both the Oregon House and Senate by unseating three sitting House GOP members.

Oregonians rejected ballot measures to end the state’s sanctuary status, ban public funding for abortions and block taxation on groceries. Voters approved a measure to allow local governments to use public money with private developers to build affordable housing. In Washington, voters defeated a carbon tax proposal.

In key local races, Kathryn Harrington won as Washington County Chair and Jo Ann Hardesty glided to victory on the Portland City Commission, becoming the first African-American woman to sit on the commission. Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay won re-election. A majority of local ballot measures passed. A full list of election results can be found here

The Brown-Buehler contest set campaign spending records in Oregon and may be the spark for campaign finance reform in the 2019 legislative session. Despite running an effective campaign, Buehler’s loss further dented the notion that a moderate Republican could defeat a Democrat in a race for governor in Oregon.

There may not have been a blue wave throughout the nation, but strong turnout by Democratic voters contributed to the defeats of incumbent GOP Reps. Julie Parrish (West Linn), Rich Vial (Sherwood) and Jeff Helfrich (Hood River). House Democrats increased their margin of control to 38-22, up from their 35-25 margin in the previous session. It takes 36 votes to reach a House supermajority required to pass revenue-raising measures.

Democrats managed to flip one seat in the Senate where Jeff Golden prevailed in a seat held last session by GOP Senator Alan DeBoer who didn’t seek re-election. That one seat was enough to give Democrats a Senate supermajority of 18-12.

No changes are anticipated in Democratic leadership. Senate President Peter Courtney easily won re-election to a sixth term and has led the Senate since the 2003 session. Speaker Tina Kotek was elected to the Oregon House in 2006 and became Speaker in the 2013 legislative session.

Brown’s seemingly comfortable 5-point lead over Buehler didn’t necessarily reflect the bruising intensity of the gubernatorial campaign and the closeness of the contest, which drew national attention because the race was unexpectedly tight. The race also attracted gobs of out-of-state money as Brown and Buehler combined to spend a record $30 million.

In her post-election comments, Brown said her priorities in the next legislative session will be campaign finance reform, affordable housing and boosting Oregon’s low high school graduation rate, something Buehler poked at during the campaign. During her campaign, Brown announced a plan to incorporate federal clean air and clean water protections into Oregon law.

Other issues that will demand attention in the upcoming session include how to keep paying for Oregon’s Medicaid program, bolstering community mental health resources and improving child welfare programs.

There will be continuing pressure to address the unfunded liability of the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System and realign the state’s corporate tax system. It is unlikely remnants of the culture wars – immigration, abortion, transgender rights – will rear their heads in the legislature during the next two years.

A well-coordinated campaign apparatus consisting of labor, environment and progressive groups contributed to Brown’s re-election and the defeat of several ballot measures. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, expected to return as Speaker of the US House, credited a similar coordinated effort with the discipline and financing to regain control of the House and win governorships across the country, including in Trump country. 

Washington Initiative 1631, dubbed the Green New Deal, lost after large industrial corporations poured $31 million into a campaign to defeat it. If passed, I-1631 would have imposed a new carbon fee to fund conservation projects, renewable energy farms and struggling communities. The measure was endorsed by Governor Jay Inslee who called it “well-balanced, thoughtful policy.”

 

 

PERS: The Defining ‘Hot-Button’ Issue in the Governor’s Race

There have been grand bargains, court judgments, work groups, dire warnings, threats and inflated claims. Now there is a gubernatorial race that might turn on frustration over how to reform the Public Employees Retirement System. [Illustration Credit: Joan McGuire/Oregon Business]

There have been grand bargains, court judgments, work groups, dire warnings, threats and inflated claims. Now there is a gubernatorial race that might turn on frustration over how to reform the Public Employees Retirement System. [Illustration Credit: Joan McGuire/Oregon Business]

Ted Sickinger of The Oregonian has written a series of revealing articles about the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), which his latest story calls the “defining issue” of the 2018 Oregon gubernatorial race.

Ted Sickinger is a long-time member of The Oregonian’s investigative team who has written extensively about the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, from its arcane actuarial realities to the political firestorms it has ignited.  https://muckrack.com/ted-sickinger/articles .

Ted Sickinger is a long-time member of The Oregonian’s investigative team who has written extensively about the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, from its arcane actuarial realities to the political firestorms it has ignited. https://muckrack.com/ted-sickinger/articles.

“Perhaps few issues more starkly delineate the views of Kate Brown and Knute Buehler in this fall’s gubernatorial election than Oregon’s public pension system,” Sickinger wrote. 

“Though PERS has been a hot-button issue in the state for decades, the political pressure may never have been higher,” he continued. “Schools, municipalities and government agencies are panicking as their required PERS contributions spiral to historic highs to help dig the system out of its $22 billion unfunded liability. There is no rescue in sight, and contribution rates are slated to jump again in July, pulling another $550 million a year out of public budgets statewide.”

Republican challenger Buehler has used the issue as a political club to criticize Governor Brown’s leadership. Brown has searched for ways to buy down the unfunded PERS liability and insists she won’t punish hardworking public employees. 

As Sickinger describes it, Buehler has promoted a set of PERS reforms closely paralleling those backed by Oregon’s business community. Brown dismisses Buehler’s “threats and bluster” and says she will concentrate on “actual solutions that solve the problem.” 

In reality, the window of possible changes isn’t very wide. “There is a limited menu of changes to the pension system considered economically meaningful and legally viable in light of past decisions by the Oregonian Supreme Court,” Sickinger says. “None would erase the pension deficit, though it is possible to make cost reductions that would help [public] employers.”

Sickinger walks through ideas on the table – public employee cost-sharing, which Oregon public employees already do, a $100,000 salary cap to limit large pension payouts and a transition to a 401(k) plan. 

Sickinger’s article touches on incentives and investments, including Brown-backed legislation to entice public employers to make an extra contribution to PERS and have the contributions matched by 25 cents on the dollar. Buehler calls the idea “political theater” with minimal impact on the unfunded liability.

Brown touts professional changes in the state treasurer’s office to achieve a higher rate of return. Buehler dismisses this, claiming the Oregon PERS portfolio has been one of the best performing funds in the nation.

Regardless of your politics or gubernatorial preference, Sickinger’s reporting on a major state issue is informative and cast illumination on claims, counter-claims and outright inaccuracies. 

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For starters, there were 145,963 Oregon PERS retirees through December 2017 – 127,687 of whom are considered Tier 1, the group with the most court-tested retirement benefits. Another 67,840 Oregon public employees are eligible to retire – 22,300 of whom are in Tier 1.

For the rest of the story, read Sickinger’s story, including a YouTube video on how Oregon got $22 billion in the hole.

 

How Oregon Might Look with a GOP Governor

Polls show the Oregon gubernatorial race is close enough heading into the November 6 election to wonder what a Republican governor in reliably blue-state Oregon would look like. (Photo Credit: E.J. Harris/East Oregonian)

Polls show the Oregon gubernatorial race is close enough heading into the November 6 election to wonder what a Republican governor in reliably blue-state Oregon would look like. (Photo Credit: E.J. Harris/East Oregonian)

Polls show the Oregon gubernatorial race is tighter than expected, at least by Democrats, and suggests it’s possible a Republican could capture the governor’s chair for the first time since 1978.

Buehler’s challenge to incumbent Governor Kate Brown is serious enough to ask what Oregon politics would look like if the state had a Republican governor while Democrats retained control of the Oregon House and Senate. Here are some thoughts:

Oregon Land Board

The three-member board that oversees state lands, from forests to submersible lands, would have two votes sympathetic to commercial interests – Governor Buehler and GOP Secretary of State Dennis Richardson. Some of Buehler’s biggest campaign contributors have come from leaders in the forest products industry, which could tip decisions in a different direction, such as the previously proposed sale of the Elliott State Forest.

Raising taxes and PERS

On the campaign trail, Buehler says he will block any tax increases until the legislature enacts cost-saving reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System. This has been a stand-off waiting to happen. Business interests – and more quietly school boards – would welcome this kind of pressure to force a compromise that reduces the unfunded PERS liability. A task force named by Brown spent months searching for ways to cut into the deficit and came away with a scant list of possibilities. Buehler may not fare any better, but he might bring fresh energy to the challenge.

State agency management

A Buehler victory would mean wholesale changes at the top of state agencies. Buehler has called out management lapses under Brown and he wouldn’t miss the chance to replace Brown appointees, especially since many Republicans may line up at his door seeking those jobs. 

Health care and human services

Under Democrats, Oregon carved out a niche in health care and long-term care delivery. These innovations have long enough roots that can’t be ripped out, but Buehler, who is a doctor, would covet the chance to put his own mark on Oregon’s health care system. He would likely face strong legislative opposition to Trump-like limitations on Medicaid and he might choose instead to focus on shoring up or even reinventing the state’s embattled child welfare system.

Homelessness

A politically opportune opening for Buehler would be combating the homelessness issue by significantly increasing community-based mental health resources, promoting innovative approaches to substance abuse and expanding options for victims of domestic abuse. In campaign ads, he has promised some “tough love,” which presumably means a coordinated effort to end camping in parks and on streets by providing more temporary shelters and affordable housing connected with services. Homelessness has emerged as a raw-nerve issue that has some urban Democrats weighing a vote against the incumbent they have supported in the past.

Redistricting

The quiet issue in the corner of this election is congressional and legislative redistricting, which will occur after the 2020 Census. GOP control of the governorship and secretary of state could give Republicans a bigger grip on how maps are redrawn. That could be especially significant if Oregon earns a sixth congressional district, which would be carved out of existing districts held by Democrats and potentially make one or more seats competitive in the 2022 election. Redistricting could also make a few House and Senate districts more competitive, making Democratic legislative control less a fait accompli. 

Legislative process
A Republican governor and Democratic legislative leaders could be like mixing oil and water. However, there has been a history in Oregon of bipartisan collaboration between moderate Republicans and Democrats. That is more likely if Buehler sticks to his moderate positioning and isn’t tempted to channel Trump policies on deregulation and tax policy. In fact, a Republican governor could be the galvanizing factor that breaks some logjams on policy issues in Salem by requiring bipartisan compromises.

Political Style
Brown has admitted she has a reserved, personable style that may not resonate with everyone, especially in the shadow of more flamboyant politicians, even though it has produced significant successes such as a higher minimum wage, major transportation funding package and a clean air initiative.

Buehler’s political persona isn’t over the top, but he has campaigned as a problem-solver willing to butt heads in Salem to get things done. His projection of himself as an action figure contrasts with the quieter approach of Brown and might be a better match for the political moment of this election, even if it results in inevitable public confrontations with Democratic legislative leaders in 2019.

 

Gubernatorial Slam Dunk May Not Be a Slam Dunk

A gubernatorial election in reliably blue Oregon in a midterm election with an activated Democratic base should be a slam dunk for a Democratic incumbent. However, the race so far seems anything but a slam dunk.

A gubernatorial election in reliably blue Oregon in a midterm election with an activated Democratic base should be a slam dunk for a Democratic incumbent. However, the race so far seems anything but a slam dunk.

It’s hard to watch television without seeing a barrage of spots touting or trashing Oregon’s gubernatorial candidates. Even the Washington Post has taken notice.

Oregon is considered a comfortably blue state with an urban, liberal corridor from Portland to Eugene that virtually guarantees Democrats victories in statewide elections. In a midterm election when Democratic activism seems to be surging, Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s re-election would seem like a political slam dunk. And yet, it may not be.

Brown faces a challenge from Knute Buehler, who swatted away more ideologically conservative competitors in the May primary and has positioned himself in the general election as a pro-choice, moderate Republican committed to solving the homeless crisis and improving health care.

Aided by business-backed Priority Oregon, Buehler is conducting the equivalent of saturation bombing on television, pummeling Brown for a “failing” state education system, numerous administrative missteps and weak leadership.

Brown has begun pushing back. She cites her leadership that preserved Oregon’s health plan for lower-income Oregon families. And she has taken a shot at Buehler’s legislative record on preserving Oregon’s health plan and attempting to reduce the price of prescription drugs. Planned Parenthood is running TV ads in support of Brown that challenge Buehler’s pro-choice claim.

Under the smoke of political gunfire, there is a palpable sense that Buehler is succeeding in Step One of any successful challenge to an incumbent – create doubt and someone to blame. Many people worry about low K-12 graduation rates, are disquieted by the growing specter of homelessness and tremble at rising drug prices. Buehler doesn’t exactly pin the blame for all that on Brown; he simply claims she isn’t doing enough to make a difference.

Step two in a successful incumbent challenge is to gain respect as a reasonable alternative. Tim Craig, national correspondent for the Washington Post, provides an interest anecdote suggesting Buehler may be making progress on Step Two.

“After handing out pamphlets touting his support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage, Knute Buehler stepped to the microphone at a recent campaign event and promised that ‘opportunity will ‘replace poverty’ and ‘hope will replace despair’ in the state. And if elected, Buehler added, he would govern with an ‘open mind and a caring heart.’”

“As Buehler spoke in this working-class Portland neighborhood, Rachelle Dixon slipped into the audience, frequently nodding her approval. That was notable, considering that Dixon is the vice chairwoman of the Multnomah County Democrats, in a year in which Democrats hope to punish Republicans up and down the ballot because of disillusionment with President Trump.’

“There are Republicans I know for sure, ‘I would never vote for this person,’ said Dixon, 51. ‘But when I look at this man and his voting record, I don’t say, ‘Gosh, I’d be scared to be in the room with this guy.’”

Not exactly an endorsement, but also not the kind of rebuke you might expect from a Democratic partisan. 

A robust state economy, with a low unemployment rate, would ordinarily be a major selling point for an incumbent governor. However, Brown hasn’t tried to take credit for the good economic times. 

Buehler hasn’t, at least so far, made the economy a major theme in his challenge, even though it’s clear state business leaders smell blood and are salivating at the chance to have a Republican occupy the governor’s chair in Oregon for the first time since Vic Atiyeh left the office in 1987. Nike founder Phil Knight has reportedly contributed a total of $1.5 million to Buehler’s gubernatorial campaign.

Buehler’s election is far from certain – and possibly not plausible amid the turmoil that has ripped the GOP into pro-Trump and anti-Trump camps. Buehler has tried to steer clear of the wreckage, but that may grow more difficult as the November election approaches, exposés about the White House continue to surface and additional indictments are handed down. 

Brown faces her own intra-party challenges. As witnessed in primary elections in New York and last week in Massachusetts, the progressive wing of the Democratic party has unseated long-time Democratic incumbents with solid records and seniority. Restive progressives expressed impatience with what they called the status quo. Brown could suffer some of that same political fatigue.

The Brown campaign does appear to understand it is in an unexpected political dogfight, especially considering the state’s gaping Democratic registered voter edge. Like an experienced political incumbent, Brown has begun to raise doubts about Buehler, who is still trying to boost his voter recognition. She challenges his pro-choice bona fides and warns that “progressive voter values” could be at risk if Buehler wins.

“All the progressive work we have done, from minimum wage to women’s reproductive health to racial justice issues, will grind to a halt if my opponent gets elected,” Brown is quoted as saying in the Washington Post article.

Political observers suggest Brown has conceded Republican strongholds in Eastern and Southern Oregon and will rely on retaining Democratic votes in the Willamette Valley. That accounts for why Buehler and his supporters have zeroed in on issues of concern to urban voters such as homelessness, drug prices and abortion rights.

By all accounts, it is Brown’s race to lose. Those are always dangerous races to run.

Brown to Face Buehler in November

State Rep. Knute Buehler overcame more conservative GOP candidates to win the right to challenge incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown this fall in what could emerge as a marquee matchup this fall when a “Blue Wave” is anticipated nationally in the mid-term election after Donald Trump’s captured the White House in 2016.

State Rep. Knute Buehler overcame more conservative GOP candidates to win the right to challenge incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown this fall in what could emerge as a marquee matchup this fall when a “Blue Wave” is anticipated nationally in the mid-term election after Donald Trump’s captured the White House in 2016.

Oregon’s primary election didn’t excite voters as reflected by historically low turnout, but it did set the stage for what could be engaging contests in November.

Knute Buehler overcame a handful of more conservative GOP candidates to grab the Republican gubernatorial nomination, giving him a chance to carry on his vigorous campaign to unseat incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown.

Both wasted little time launching their general election campaigns. Before the votes were tallied Tuesday, Brown called for three formal debates and urged as many joint appearances as possible hosted by media outlets. Buehler scheduled a press conference Wednesday morning at the headquarters of Portland Public Schools to lambast a teachers’ union for “protecting a predator” who allegedly abused children and was transferred from school to school.

JoAnn Hardesty and Loretta Smith face a runoff in the fall for a Portland City Commission position, ensuring the election of the first African-American woman on the council.

Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington and Bob Terry will vie in November for the Washington County chair position. Terry is currently the Commission’s vice chair. Former lawmaker Ryan Deckert, whom some observers saw as the frontrunner, finished third in Tuesday’s voting.

All five Oregon congressional incumbents easily won their largely ceremonial primary contests. None seem in trouble in the general election, though Republican Congressman Greg Walden may face a spirited challenge from Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who defeated six other Democratic candidates to win the chance to poke at Walden for his support of Trump administration policies. Oregon Democrats have set up a website called “Repeal Walden,” a gibe at his leading role in the failed congressional attempt to repeal Obamacare.

Some races were settled in Tuesday’s voting. Shemia Fagan unseated five-term Democratic Senator Rod Monroe in a race that centered on affordable housing policies. With no Republican on the ballot in the East Portland Senate district, Fagan is basically a shoo-in this fall and will help tilt the Senate Democratic Caucus more to the left.

Former Eugene lawmaker Val Hoyle defeated long-time Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden to win the Oregon Labor Commissioner post, replacing Brad Avakian who didn’t seek re-election. Hoyle previously lost in her bid to become secretary of state, but now will become only the second woman to hold the Labor position in the 115-year history of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Lynn Peterson, a transportation planner and former chair of the Clackamas County Commission, cruised to an easy victory to become Metro president, replacing Tom Hughes who has served the maximum of two terms in the post. Nonprofit executive Juan Carlos Gonzalez received 55 percent of the vote to capture the Metro Council representing the western part of urbanized Washington County that Harrington has represented.

Kevin Barton handily defeated Max Wall for Washington County district attorney in what was one of the more visible local races. Barton, who is chief deputy district attorney, withstood a barrage of TV advertising from Wall, a former Polk County prosecutor and now a Beaverton criminal defense attorney. Election filings show the two candidates raised and spent around $900,000 in the campaign.

Pam Treece, executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance, defeated incumbent Washington County Commissioner Greg Malinowski. Former Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey won the Commission seat vacated by Terry.

Senate President Peter Courtney easily shrugged off a primary challenge, the first in a decade. Democrats hope to pick up a pivotal 18th Senate seat in Southern Oregon is a district where GOP Senator Alan DeBoer chose not to seek re-election. They also hope they can capture the Hood River House seat previously held by Rep. Mark Johnson who resigned to head the newly merged Oregon Business & Industry.

Oregon was one of four states holding a primary election Tuesday. Voting in Pennsylvania was marked by the primary victories of left-leaning candidates, including two members of the Democratic Socialists of America who won nominations in two Pittsburgh congressional districts. All of Pennsylvania’s 20 House seats are held by males, but that is expected to change with as many as four seats up for grabs for female candidates.

In Idaho, Democrat Paulette Jordan defeated an establishment candidate, running on a platform of protecting public lands, Medicaid expansion and relaxed marijuana laws. If Jordan prevails in November, she would be the state’s first Native American governor.

National Democrats are hailing Tuesday’s voting, noting larger turnouts and more voter enthusiasm for its candidates. The result of the voting, however, only produced one House Democratic gain in a special Pennsylvania congressional election.

Buehler Amps Up His Incumbent Challenge

Bend Republican Knute Buehler casts himself as the best GOP hope to unseat Democratic incumbent Governor Kate Brown, but he will have to overcome political conservatives in his own party in Tuesday’s Oregon primary election to get the chance to test Brown this fall. [Photo Credit: AP]

Bend Republican Knute Buehler casts himself as the best GOP hope to unseat Democratic incumbent Governor Kate Brown, but he will have to overcome political conservatives in his own party in Tuesday’s Oregon primary election to get the chance to test Brown this fall. [Photo Credit: AP]

The classic way for a challenger to take down an incumbent is to 1) raise doubts about the incumbent’s performance and 2) position yourself as a preferred alternative.

Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend), the presumptive front-running GOP gubernatorial challenger, has been taking whacks at Governor Kate Brown for months and insisting he could do better. But his political challenge runs deeper. Buehler has to prove in next week’s GOP primary that he is a more attractive candidate than his more politically conservative fellow Republicans.

Buehler has raised and spent vastly more money than his GOP competitors, called out one opponent for having 21 tax liens against him and generally avoided mixing it up with fellow candidates in the hustings. This week, Buehler came up with a new tactic: a dress rehearsal for GOP voters on how he would campaign against Brown if he wins the GOP nomination.

Buehler tried to upstage Brown at her media event in Eugene to tout her support for improved foster care in Oregon. Buehler, who has been a fierce critic of Brown’s leadership on foster care, scheduled his own media event at the same location, blasted Brown’s performance and recalled his legislative proposal to increase spending on foster care in Oregon by $50 million.

The political troll of Brown was itself a prime example of what challengers have to do to unseat incumbents. But the timing and intensity of Buehler’s media event was probably intended to impress undecided GOP voters that the Bend Republican will do more than recite conservative doctrine if he is the Republican who wins the job.

Buehler has taken pains to create a political image outside the shadow of Donald Trump on the fairly safe grounds that Oregon is anything but Trump-friendly. His purported variance from conservative orthodoxy, including on emotion-charged issues such as abortion, haven’t necessarily swayed a segment of Oregon’s conservative political base. That’s why Oregon Right to Life threw its support behind Sam Carpenter, the opponent Buehler pointed out who has all those tax liens.

Since primary elections in Oregon and generally are bastions for the partisan faithful, Buehler could wind up next Tuesday as the candidate with the best chance to test Brown, but who can’t win his own primary. His best hope is to convince Republicans that having a chance to win in November is more rewarding than basking in the defeat of a political moderate in May.

His struggle to convince GOP conservatives was evident when he barely squeaked out a victory in a straw ballot among generally more moderate Washington County Republicans. It should be noted that only 75 Republicans showed up for the unusual pre-primary event.

And that’s the problem with the formula for defeating incumbents. It takes one more element to pull off the upset. After beating up the incumbent and touting your own competence, you need to make sure voter turnout favors your candidacy. That may not be the case on Tuesday for Buehler.

In what is viewed as a lackluster primary, turnout could be relatively low, which could mean a higher percentage of bedrock conservative voters. Much of Buehler’s general election appeal is to the growing group of non-affiliated Oregon voters. Unfortunately for Buehler, independent voters won’t get the chance to weigh in his primary gubernatorial bid.

Meanwhile, Brown faces only token opposition in the Democratic primary and will enter the general election with her campaign war chest intact and robust. Buehler may represent her toughest opponent, but only if he earns the GOP nomination on Tuesday.

 

2018 Oregon General Election Could Be Dark and Spicy

Oregon has prided itself on polite politics and transparent campaign finance. But that reputation could be tested in this election cycle with bruising political battles and a rise of dark money financing for ballot measures.

Oregon has prided itself on polite politics and transparent campaign finance. But that reputation could be tested in this election cycle with bruising political battles and a rise of dark money financing for ballot measures.

Oregon has a reputation for polite, transparent politics. That reputation may change in this election cycle because of “hardball tactics” by Priority Oregon, a pro-business organization committed to challenging the hegemony of Democrats in the state.

Formed a year ago, Priority Oregon entered the political field by opposing efforts by legislators in 2017 to craft a gross receipts tax that would have assessed businesses on sales versus profits. Now it is spearheading four initiatives that take aim at unions, state spending and legislative approval of tax increases.

OPB’s Jeff Mapes has reported business lobbyists describing Priority Oregon as “designed to take a more hard-nosed approach to politics, unencumbered by the mainstream business community’s need to maintain ties to the Democrats who largely run state government.” Priority Oregon’s task is apparently not to make nice with Democrats.

So far, Priority Oregon also isn’t making it clear who is funding its political activities. In his story, Mapes said, “While sharpening its rhetoric, the group seems to be protecting its backers from any blowback.”

So-called dark money is no stranger to politics, but isn’t common in Oregon, where public disclosure is the rule and the routine practice. Erica Hetfeld, who is heading Priority Oregon, has promised the group will be more visible this election cycle, but not necessarily more transparent. Priority Oregon was established as a nonprofit 501(c)(4) entity that is allowed to engage in public activities without the same disclosure requirements as a political action committee.

Financial disclosure forms filed with the Elections Division indicate the Oregon Farm Bureau, Associated Oregon Loggers and Automobile Dealers Association of Portland have contributed to political action committees aligned with Priority Oregon-backed ballot measures, which are collecting signatures. Initiative backers must turn in the required number of signatures by July 6 to qualify for the November Oregon general election ballot.

Political Action Committees supporting Initiative Petition 31, which would require legislative supermajorities for any state tax revenue increases, and several other petitions (IP 34, 36 and 33), have collectively spent $146,000 during this election cycle with Ballot Access, LLC to collect signatures, according to state records.

Initiative Petition 34, which would make Oregon a right-to-work state, seems relatively quiet awaiting a ruling by the US Supreme Court in the matter of Janus v. AFSCME. The court heard arguments February 26 on the potentially precedent-splintering case. If that decision results in a victory for Union supporters, you can expect fundraising and advocacy to increase.

Initiative Petition 36 would create a state government spending limit and require excess revenue to reduce the Public Employees Retirement System unfunded liability. 

Another major effort expected on the ballot in November, Initiative Petition 37 would ban a tax on groceries.  IP 37, as you might imagine, has attracted substantial financial support from major grocers like Costco and Albertsons-Safeway. In addition, it's spent over $300,000 for petition signature gatherers and management support from conservative firm Morning in America since December of 2017.

More rough-and-tumble politics also is expected in the gubernatorial race. Democratic Governor Kate Brown is running for a full 4-year term and may face Republican Knute Buehler who has positioned himself as a politically moderate alternative. Like a running back on a bad football team, Buehler’s biggest challenge may be getting past the line of scrimmage in the GOP primary that often is dominated by more conservative voters. While Buehler has raised more campaign funds than his conservative fellow candidates, their views may be more in line with current thinking within the Republican Party.

There is an interesting twist to Buehler’s campaign. Rebecca Tweed, his campaign manager, also runs Grow Oregon, which major business leaders created in 2012 to counter the success of Our Oregon, a union-backed political group that advocates for tax hikes in the name of economic and social fairness. Grow Oregon and Our Oregon are both nonprofits, not PACs. Before leaving for Priority Oregon, Hetfeld was director of Grow Oregon.

It is a recipe for a ripe family feud with plenty of money spread around to make a lot of noise. Toss in a few additional spicy ballot measures that are circulating for signatures and you could have one of the hottest elections in some time. Some of the measures in circulation include restoring legislative term limits, requiring publicly traded corporations to disclose their state taxes, requiring proof of citizenship to vote and repeal of Oregon’s sanctuary state law.

 

A Look at the Relatively Quiet Oregon Gubernatorial Race

Oregon’s 2018 gubernatorial election has been relatively quiet so far, with Governor Kate Brown biding her time until the fall general election and front-running GOP challenger Knute Buehler trying to find a way to win the primary without getting beaten up on the campaign trail.

Oregon’s 2018 gubernatorial election has been relatively quiet so far, with Governor Kate Brown biding her time until the fall general election and front-running GOP challenger Knute Buehler trying to find a way to win the primary without getting beaten up on the campaign trail.

Oregon’s gubernatorial race continues to be a low-key affair with the election now just six weeks away and ballots due to arrive in mailboxes before then.

Democratic Governor Kate Brown doesn’t face any credible primary opposition and seems to be waiting to see who Oregon Republicans will choose to face her in the fall general election.

Rep. Knute Buehler from Bend has raised the most money among GOP candidates and struck a moderate political posture on abortion and guns, making him potentially a strong candidate to woo independent and alienated Democratic voters in November. However, Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon, has to win the May 15 primary against more right-leaning opponents, including former Blue Angels Commander Greg Wooldridge, who has been endorsed by Oregon Right to Life, and Bend businessman Sam Carpenter, who is an unapologetic supporter of President Trump.

The annual Republican Dorchester Conference straw ballot early in March favored Wooldridge over Buehler. Buehler downplayed the result, saying he had little time to mix and mingle with Dorchester conferees because he was in Salem for the short Oregon legislative session that adjourned just when the conference was beginning. Others viewed Buehler’s loss as his weakness with what have come to be called Trump voters.

Since then, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports Buehler has skipped several candidate forums attended by his GOP gubernatorial rivals, which has raised questions. “People are asking why. You know, it’s peculiar,” Baker County GOP Chairwoman Suzan Ellis Jones told OPB. Wooldridge’s campaign team has been blunter. “What is he hiding from. If he’s not willing to meet people face-to-face, I’m not sure he’s really ready to represent the people of Oregon,” said Russ Walker, a Woolridge campaign strategist.

There are 10 Republicans vying to take on Brown. Buehler has reported a campaign war chest of more than $3 million, while Wooldridge and Carpenter are the only other two hopefuls who have raised more than $100,000. Nobody’s campaign has taken to the airwaves so far.

Buehler is betting his experience serving two terms in the Oregon legislature, fundraising connections and moderate policy positions on reproductive rights and gun control will convince Republicans that he is the only GOP candidate with a chance to defeat Brown and become the first Republican since Vic Atiyeh to sit in the governor’s chair. Most of Buehler’s statements have come in the form of criticizing Brown.

Buehler reportedly bypassed challenging Brown in 2016, when she ran to fill the remaining two years of former Governor John Kitzhaber’s fourth term, because Democratic turnout was expected to be high in a presidential election year. However, 2018 may not be all that different as Democrats have energized their political base in response to actions by Trump, such as undermining Obamacare, challenging legalization of marijuana and dismantling environmental regulations. The Trump tax plan that will limit federal tax deductions for state and local taxes and Trump’s tariffs on trade with China have irritated upper-income Oregonians and alarmed farmers. Trump’s overall favorability rating in Oregon hovers below 40 percent.

Voters along the I-5 corridor from Eugene to Portland are reliably Democratic, but there will likely be more Democratic electoral efforts in rural Oregon aimed at Greg Walden, Oregon’s lone GOP congressman. The Republican gubernatorial nominee, whoever it is, may be forced to spend time and resources to defend the Red State part of Oregon.

In the general election, Brown will be attacked as a weak leader who has presided over state agency foul-ups and resulted in a fairly high turnover rate of agency leaders. Brown will cite her leadership in a major transportation funding measure, a hike in the state minimum wage and create of a state-sponsored retirement savings plan.

Buehler probably will need to dig into his campaign fund to raise his visibility before the primary, while Brown probably will hold off any major media outreach until the general election campaign is underway. She has the luxury of using the next few months to bolster her $3.2 million campaign bank account.

That means for now, Oregonians can enjoy the relative quietude of the gubernatorial race. It promises to get a lot noisier and nastier.

 

Lawmakers Still Puzzling over Purpose of Short Session

The 2018 Oregon legislative short session is over, but lawmakers are still trying to figure out how to use the even-year session fruitfully amid its unavoidable frenetic pace

The 2018 Oregon legislative short session is over, but lawmakers are still trying to figure out how to use the even-year session fruitfully amid its unavoidable frenetic pace

Oregon lawmakers continue to struggle to find the right mix for the short, even-year legislative session. They adjourned last Saturday after leaving a much-ballyhooed cap-and-invest bill sitting in committee along with a constitutional amendment to treat health care as a right.

Yet, lawmakers did notch notable accomplishments by tightening gun restrictions on domestic abusers, updating the state’s advance directives statute, requiring more transparency on drug pricing and changing the governance structure of Salem-Keizer Transit in return for future access to a local payroll tax.

And lawmakers didn’t totally avoid controversy. With largely Democratic votes, the legislature approved a bill that disconnected from the recently adopted federal tax cut to prevent Oregon small businesses from taking advantage of a previous Oregon tax concession and a new lower 20 percent federal tax rate. There were rumblings Governor Kate Brown might veto the state tax measure, which drew strong opposition from business groups.

The short session also served as a shadow boxing venue for Brown, who is seeking re-election this fall, and her most prominent GOP challenger, Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend. During the session, Buehler laid out his planks of his campaign platform, such as additional investments in child welfare and taking stronger measures to curb the opioid epidemic in Oregon. Brown responded by asking for $14.5 million more for child welfare case workers and pushing her own priority opioid measure.

The shadow boxing hasn’t stopped with legislative adjournment. Buehler called on Brown to veto the Democratic tax bill scrapping a small business tax break. If Brown vetoes the legislation, Buehler will claim credit. If she doesn’t veto the bill, he will condemn her for denying a tax break to small businesses.

The short session was shorter than the 35 days constitutionally allowed. Republicans wanted to head to the beach for the annual Dorchester Conference. Others sped north on the freeway to attend a retirement roast for veteran homebuilder lobbyist and stand-up comic Jon Chandler. Still others braced for filing deadline Tuesday.

As predicted after Senate Democrats hoisted the white flag on cap-and-invest legislation before the short session started, there wasn’t a lot of drama in the Capitol hallways. There was a lot of pressure, however. Short sessions resemble the flurry typical in the last month of a regular legislative session. One lawmaker observed, “In a regular session, there are deadlines followed by time to get work done. In the short session, there are just deadlines.”

Perhaps notwithstanding Brown’s potential veto of tax legislation, GOP Senator Brian Boquist is entertaining a legal challenge clarifying what legislation is truly a “revenue raiser” and on whether a measure to disconnect from the federal tax code that generates new revenue can be approved without a three-fifths majority vote.

In all likelihood, the dawning of primary election season will overshadow what did or didn’t happen in the short session. The primary will be held May 15, which is less than 10 weeks from now – plenty of time for campaign coffees, lawn signs and mailers.

Dale - prof color photo.jpg

Dale Penn II is a partner and leader of the CFM’s state affairs team. He has been deeply involved in government relations and regulatory affairs in Oregon for more than 12 years and was active on behalf of a range of clients in the 2018 Oregon legislative session.

 

Short 2018 Session May Have Less Drama

No single issue is likely to dominate the Oregon 2018 legislative session that begins Monday, but lawmakers will still be busy with issues ranging from reconnecting to the federal tax code to gun restrictions. And there will be some political jockeying in advance of the Oregon primary in May and general election this fall.

No single issue is likely to dominate the Oregon 2018 legislative session that begins Monday, but lawmakers will still be busy with issues ranging from reconnecting to the federal tax code to gun restrictions. And there will be some political jockeying in advance of the Oregon primary in May and general election this fall.

Voter approval of Measure 101 and Senate Democratic cold water on cap-and-invest legislation may remove much of the anticipated drama at the 2018 Oregon legislative session, which convenes Monday. Of course, any legislative session during an election year can have outsized political tensions.

Without a focus on patching a big budget hole or trying to thread the needle for a compromise on cap-and-invest provisions, there isn’t an apparent single issue that will dominate the session with an adjournment deadline of March 11.

One of the sleeper bills likely to draw attention is legislation to connect Oregon’s personal and corporate income tax system with federal tax changes enacted by Congress late last year. Oregon lawmakers have tended to favor connecting Oregon’s tax provisions with their federal counterparts for the ease of taxpayer filing. But there may be other considerations this time around, including how the new federal limitation on state and local tax deductions will affect Oregon taxpayers.

The Oregon business community wants to see substantial progress on reducing the unfunded liability of the Public Employees Retirement System, but that appears unlikely in the short 2018 session and during an election year. Governor Brown will ask lawmakers to create an Employer Incentive Fund to provide matching money for public employers that accelerate their contributions to PERS. The pressure to act also was relieved by the Oregon State Treasury’s announcement that the PERS fund posted a 15.3 percent gain in 2017, which is good news, but not enough to stem rising costs.

Other priorities for Brown in the short session include a measure to encourage construction industry startups in rural areas that can access low-rate loans from Business Oregon to build affordable housing. Licensing requirements also would be relaxed and grants would be available to defray the costs of apprentices.

Brown wants all licensed opioid prescribers in Oregon to register with a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to generate information about opioid use and identify illegal prescribers. Her proposal also would provide for mentors in emergency departments to counsel people who have overdosed.

Another Brown priority is to create a reverse auction for state procurement as a way to squeeze more value and less cost for state expenditures. Her concept is to generate more competition among state vendors who benefit from the $8 billion Brown says state agencies spend every biennium. 

The governor is seeking a bill to prohibit people convicted of domestic violence or stalking from purchasing firearms. Oregon lawmakers approved legislation last year to empower courts to order the confiscation of guns owned by people deemed at risk of suicide or hurting others.

Passage of Measure 101, which secures funding for Oregon’s Medicaid program through this biennium, prompted Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, to propose a constitutional amendment that declares health care is a right of every Oregonian. He has attracted 40 cosponsors for his referral that would appear on November 2018 general election ballot.

Likely GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Knute Buehler, R-Bend, is pushing legislation to force coordinated care organizations to repay up to $74 million in Medicaid overpayments and address transparency and management issues by the Oregon Health Authority. Buehler has called for bipartisan action, but his measure will invariably have a vapor trail of politics following it.

Some familiar legislative faces will be missing. Long-time Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli and Senator Richard Devlin, the Democrat’s budget guru, have moved on to appointed posts on the Northwest Power Council. Cliff Bentz, who has served in the Oregon House since the 2009 session, assumed Ferrioli’s seat and Senator Jackie Winters was chosen to succeed Ferrioli as minority leader. Rob Wagner, a Lake Oswego School Board member, was appointed to fill Devlin’s seat.

Oregon Voters Give Overwhelming Support for Measure 101

Governor Kate Brown told Measure 101 supporters at Tuesday night’s victory party that voter approval of the Medicaid funding plan shows Oregonians support a GSD (Get Stuff Done) agenda.

Governor Kate Brown told Measure 101 supporters at Tuesday night’s victory party that voter approval of the Medicaid funding plan shows Oregonians support a GSD (Get Stuff Done) agenda.

Voters in yesterday’s special election overwhelmingly approved of Measure 101, which leaves in place the Medicaid funding plan approved by the 2017 Oregon legislature. It also lifts a huge fiscal burden off the shoulders of lawmakers in the short 2018 session that begins February 5.

The die was cast when, early in the evening, results indicated nearly 80 percent of Multnomah County voters approved Measure 101. Even though half of Oregon’s 36 counties, many of them rural, voted against Measure 101, they were heavily outvoted with strong support among higher population centers across the state.

In a low-turnout election, the side that wins is usually the side that can motivate voters to cast ballots. The pro-Measure 101 campaign had the broad coalition support, cash to advertise and the foot-power to get out the vote. Measure 101 opponents had none of those things. More than 180 organizations, both large and small, came together in dozens of advocacy events to show support in protecting healthcare coverage funding approved during the 2017 legislative session.

Referenda usually start as political quarrels in legislative sessions, which was the case for Measure 101. Whereas in recent sessions, funding mechanisms paying for Oregon’s Medicaid program had enjoyed bipartisan support, the enhanced tax proposal in 2017 met with partisan objections from some Republican lawmakers.

Led by Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn/Tualatin) and Rep. Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg), opponents called it unfair and declared it a “sales tax on health care.” Similar messaging was used successfully during last year’s M97 debate and opponents were trying to drum up support from Oregon voters who reacted to that rhetoric.

Supporters of the admittedly complicated Medicaid funding mechanism fought back, saying it was the best bipartisan plan to raise the money necessary to attract federal Medicaid matching dollars. They said opponents raised objections, but offered no politically viable alternative funding plan.

In the end, the $3.6 million campaign drowned out the opposition campaign, which reportedly spent less than $150,000 (a significant chunk of that raised in personal loans from Rep. Hayden). While TV ads provided air cover, the real difference was in the get-out-the-vote drive, aided by union and hospital supporters of Measure 101.

A key takeaway from this election may be the impact on future efforts by minority legislators or interests who seek to alter agreements they oppose. With M101 receiving more than a 6o percent majority, those parties may think twice before attempting similar fights on other legislative packages. Oregon’s referendum process is there for a reason, but legislators already have a mechanism for debating the validity and appropriateness of these type of budget and policy issues. Through the election process, voters can hold their elected leaders accountable for their work.

More than 1 million Oregonians are covered by Medicaid, which represented a fertile target audience to turn out to vote. In a relatively low-turnout election, a motivated group of voters can make the difference.

This was an election decided by urban Oregon voters. Majorities in big counties for Measure 101 ranged from 79 percent in Multnomah County to more than 65 percent in Benton and Lane counties. Jackson County in Southern Oregon went 58 percent for Measure 101. Suburban Washington County favored Measure 101 by more than 60 percent and Clackamas County, which Parrish represents, gave the measure a 58 percent plurality. Marion County went for Measure 101 by a 55 to 45 percent margin.

Oregon’s last special election was in 2010 when the state debated M66/67, which raised personal income tax revenue on the state’s highest-earning individuals and corporations. In that election, 1.28 million Oregonians cast ballots, representing 62.7 percent of eligible voters. Final numbers for M101 are yet to be released, but estimates are significantly lower.

The victory for Measure 101 was declared at 8 pm when the first batch of ballot totals were released.