Legalized marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some highlights from what you told us.

Tax Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affordable Housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Process of Regulating Pot

Marijuana edibles are just one of the significant differences and public health challenges facing regulators in Oregon who now regulate liquor.

Marijuana edibles are just one of the significant differences and public health challenges facing regulators in Oregon who now regulate liquor.

With voter approval of marijuana use comes the challenge of regulating it. Liquor regulation provides important precedents, but may not go far enough.

There will be similarities in regulating where marijuana can be sold, requiring accurate labels and preventing sales to minors.

But marijuana poses other challenges that have been highlighted by people knee-deep in developing original regulation in Colorado and elsewhere. For example, the amount of alcohol and its effect on individual adults can be roughly calculated arithmetically. That may be less true of the potency of different types of marijuana.

Marijuana edibles represent a significant challenge. Candy is sold with small amounts of liquor, but they convey far less of a potential jolt than a marijuana cookie, which is designed to transport the buzz offered by marijuana.

Another unique challenge is how to integrate the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana with recreational marijuana .

Rachel O'Bryan, cofounder of Smart Colorado, a nonprofit formed to weigh in on marijuana regulation, wrote in an op-ed in The Sunday Oregonian that someone who represents public health concerns, especially for youth, must be at the table writing rules for Oregon. She wrote: 

"Provisions that likely would not have existed but for Smart Colorado included: potency and contaminate testing; health warnings and a universal marijuana symbol; childproof packaging; per-serving and per-package THC limits; and restrictions on marketing and advertising targeted at youth." 

The backdrop for the regulation of marijuana is not law enforcement versus recreational drug users. Legalized marijuana is a hot new product category that financiers and corporate interests are pursuing. They will be the big rollers in the room when rules are discussed and their motivation, O'Bryan says, will be to sell product and turn a profit.

Oregon is a so-called "control" state for distilled spirits. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission sets the rules, with a strong influence from a constituency that includes groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which counterbalance pressure from liquor manufacturers, liquor agents and others who would like to sell liquor. O'Bryan argues a similar constituency will be needed to keep marijuana regulation in balance.

Kitzhaber Wins Re-election, But by Narrow Margin

Governor John Kitzhaber claimed an unprecedented fourth term without a majority, and the measure that gained the widest national headlines was approval of Measure 91 to legalize the use, sale and production of marijuana.

Governor John Kitzhaber claimed an unprecedented fourth term without a majority, and the measure that gained the widest national headlines was approval of Measure 91 to legalize the use, sale and production of marijuana.

Democrats retained and even strengthened their grip on control of the state house and legislature as Oregonians said yes to legal weed and no to labeling of genetically modified foods and the much touted top-two primary. The story wasn't so good for Democrats nationally as they saw their majority in the U.S. Senate evaporate, giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress.

The story of the night was the relatively narrow victory by Governor John Kitzhaber, who claimed an unprecedented fourth term without a majority. On a series of critical news reports about First Lady Cylvia Hayes, including charges she may have leveraged her influence with the governor for personal gain, Kitzhaber's double-digit lead in the polls shrunk to a 5 percentage point victory.

The tighter-than-expected race appears to be more a reflection on Kitzhaber than his GOP opponent Dennis Richardson and raises questions about how the governor will fare going forward, especially if the Hayes scandals continue to dog his administration.

The other race of interest and significance involved a rematch between former Rep. Chuck Riley and incumbent GOP Senator Bruce Starr. Riley led in early voting results, but Starr now hows a thin 123-vote lead in a race that may be headed for a recount. If Riley manages to upset Starr, it would give Senate Democrats an 18-vote majority, enough to pass funding measures without any Republican votes.

Democrats retained control of the Oregon House by a margin of 35-25, one vote shy of the three-fifths majority to move tax measures without help from across the political aisle.

All of Oregon's incumbent congressional delegation up for re-election, including Senator Jeff Merkley, won handily.

Senate President Peter Courtney, whom some thought might face a tough re-election battle, prevailed with more than 53 percent of the vote. On the flip side, Rep. Jim Weidner, a Republican representing McMinnville and one of the most Republican-leaning districts in the state, won by a surprisingly narrow 51 to 46 percent measure over Democratic challenger Ken Moore. Moore campaign vigorously, while Weidner didn't.

A lot of attention and money focused on ballot measures and none more than Measure 92, which would have required GMO labeling. This is the second time Oregonians have rejected a similar measure, but this time the margin was razor thin at 50.6 to 49.4 percent, or something like 17,000 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast. (Interestingly, a GMO moratorium in Maui, which also attracted deep-pocket opponents, narrowly passed.)

The biggest loser was Measure 90, the top-two primary, which went down to defeat 68 to 32 percent. Measure 88, a referendum to overturn legislation to allow driver cards for non-residents, was defeated almost as soundly at 67 to 33 percent.

The biggest winner was Measure 89, the equal rights amendment, which passed by 63 to 37 percent.

The measure that gained the widest national headlines was approval of Measure 91 to legalize the use, sale and production of marijuana. Alaska also approved a similar measure and the District of Columbia passed a somewhat more restricted legalization. They join Washington and Colorado, which already have passed and implemented marijuana legalization schemes. Oregon's regulatory challenge will fall to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which announced it will move forward a policy that reflects the "Oregon way."

The Weed, Guns and Booze Session

Legislator e-letters to constituents are signaling the 2014 session will take up legislation relating to gun control, pot legalization and liquor privatization. Those issues may make the headlines, but the real work of the session is to refine biennial budgets — yet again, with fewer resources than budget writers expected at the end of the last session. 

The arcane process of state budgeting is hardly the stuff of eye catching headlines — in the paper or in constituent newsletters. Still, it’s true that even-year legislative sessions have inescapably become the second-chance opportunity for legislation that didn’t quite make it through the hoops at the longer, odd-year regular session. It also becomes the last chance to do something legislatively before a major issue shows up on a November general election ballot. And the short session offers an opportunity to pass a bill on a topic that has captured the moment.

Gun background check legislation falls into the second-chance category, while pot legalization and liquor privatization belong to the last-chance category. Faced with the prospect of potentially popular initiatives, lawmakers are considering pot and liquor bills that offer an alternative.

Catch-up legislation to the Cover Oregon website debacle heads the opportunity category.

The Columbia River Crossing commands its own special category — the last-ditch, Hail Mary category. After the Washington legislature failed to approve funding for an I-5 bridge replacement at its regular session last year and is unlikely to do so in its session currently underway in Olympia, Oregon is left with a choice of whether or not to step out on its own. Opponents have stoked fears of the risk to Oregon taxpayers and those trepidations seem to be hitting the nerve in a number of former legislative supporters, including Senate President Peter Courtney. One Capitol wag said the project isn't dead, but is a "walking zombie."