Job creators face uncertainty

Mike McLane

Rep. Mike McLane

In the aftermath of the 2013 legislative session, I think it’s appropriate to consider what it meant for Oregon businesses.

There are some indications that an economic recovery is under way statewide and nationally. However, the last few months have seen many large Oregon companies either relocate elsewhere or lay off hundreds of employees. This has happened in places like Tigard, Hillsboro, Coos Bay, Hood River, Halsey, Cave Junction and even Portland.

In order to succeed and thrive, businesses need a sense of certainty. They need to know that the state and its agencies aren’t going to implement rules that can affect their ability to do business or plan for potential expansions and hiring.

That sense of uncertainty was only compounded throughout the legislative session. Job creators faced any number of bills and potential laws that could complicate their efforts to stay in business.

It isn’t just businesses that face that kind of uncertainty. Members of Oregon’s public sector face it as well. But like all things, these issues are connected.

The state of Oregon relies heavily on personal income tax revenue to fund its programs and services. Because of that, a vibrant, thriving public sector requires a strong private sector. Otherwise, public employees face uncertainty about the security of their livelihoods.

I remain optimistic that we can find ways to create more certainty for our job creators, which will, in turn, create more certainty for people working in the public sector, and will keep working to make that happen.

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Don’t depend on Uncle Sam

Rep. Sal Esquivel

Rep. Sal Esquivel

The Legislature adjourned on Monday, and the days since then have given me the chance to reflect on the session.

One of the largest budgets we passed was for the Oregon Health Authority. This new agency was created to take up some of the duties that had been traditionally assumed by the Department of Human Services.

OHA has a $15 billion budget, with a 22 percent increase in the next two years totaling $2.7 billion. But OHA already knows it will have a $1 billion shortfall in 2015 and an additional $1.5 billion in 2017.

The agency’s budgetary projections are based on the assumption that the federal government will provide some of the funding.

I tend to question the wisdom of relying on federal funding to prop up our critical programs. Those of us in rural counties know the folly of doing so, as our counties face unprecedented funding crises due to bad federal policies. Much of the land in our rural counties is owned by the federal government, and was used to harvest timber for decades, with the revenues being used to fund county governments. But the safety net put in place to make up for logging restrictions has vanished, leaving our counties high and dry.

Relying on the federal government to keep its promises is bad public policy. We should learn from this example, instead of going out of our way to repeat the same mistake.

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Time will judge 2013 session

Peter Buckley

Rep. Peter Buckley

How successful was the 2013 legislative session? Well, my opinion is biased, and I can only judge it by what I know about what we set out to do and accomplish. Time will tell how the choices we made play out.

My major goals for the session were to turn around our investment in education, particularly for K-12, to ensure Southern Oregon University’s vitality in a time of significant change in higher education, to boost local job development, to begin the work needed to stabilize and structure a sustainable Public Employee Retirement System, to procure a state investment in the WISE project (Water for Irrigation, Streams and the Economy, a vital long term water project for the Rogue Valley), and to support the remarkable work Senator Bates is doing on the health care front, including providing access to 220,000 Oregonians currently without coverage, and adding autism treatment for children ages 0 to 8.

All of those issues, of course, were framed by the work necessary to balance the state budget, which is my primary task as co-chair of the budget committee.

The budget is balanced. The goals listed above have been accomplished. Major building projects will be funded at SOU and RCC. We increased investment in our small business development centers, and we’re adding teachers back to the classrooms. There will still be criticism of the session, and there is still work to do going forward.  But again, time will be the judge, and I’m glad to be home.

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A successful session, overall

Alan Bates

Sen. Alan Bates

As my colleagues in the Senate and I prepare to work through the weekend to wrap up this legislative session, I’m proud to say that much has been accomplished already in 2013. We’ve passed a historic K-12 budget, brokered an agreement for insurers to pay for treatment of autism, reinvested in public safety, expanded health care access, and passed a number of bills that encourage our economy to recover and help small businesses grow. Perhaps best of all, we’ve also worked across the aisle on a number of critical issues, and a spirit of bipartisanship has for the most part been present throughout the session.

 

Overall this has been a very successful session, and yet, a few issues still remain. Early last week I voted against a public safety bill because of provisions that lessened penalties for certain offenses and sex crimes. And as I write this letter, I’m unsure if a “grand bargain” can be reached that would include PERS savings and modest revenue raising measures. We face a historic opportunity to change the trajectory of education funding in Oregon for the next two decades, which would allow us to send more resources to schools so they can fully restore cut school days, hire back teachers and reduce class sizes. We must take this opportunity.

 

If we lose the opportunity for a bipartisan agreement on PERS and revenue, I will be the first to encourage Governor Kitzhaber to bring legislators back to the table in a special session this fall.

 

We still have work left to do to fund our schools and critical services for the most vulnerable. I’m calling on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come to the table, find consensus, and do what’s right for Oregon.

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Budget delivers for schools

Alan Bates

Sen. Alan Bates

For years, school districts in Southern Oregon and across the state have been forced to address budget shortfalls by shortening the length of the school year, laying off teachers, cutting art, music and after-school activities, and cramming students into larger classes. Needless to say, my No. 1 goal this session has been to increase funding for schools.

Last week we delivered on this priority by stabilizing our schools with a budget that reverses the trend of teacher layoffs and ballooning class sizes. The budget we passed adds $1 billion in new resources for schools, our strongest education budget in nearly a decade.

After the budget passed, I spent time on the phones with Phil Long and Juli Di Chiro, superintendents of Medford and Ashland school districts. Here’s the really good news: For the first time in a decade, Ashland is looking at a no-cuts budget. A similar story is playing out in Medford.

The budget passed last week allows schools in local districts to restore cut school days, hire back teachers and reduce class sizes. We’ve all heard — or seen — the horror stories of 50-plus class sizes, yet this budget allows Ashland schools to maintain realistic class sizes of 25 students.

Finally, we’re truly marking a turning point for Oregon schools. While there’s always more to do, I couldn’t be more proud to see this big reinvestment in schools paying off for Southern Oregon.

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One hand claps for these achievements

Rep. Dennis Richardson

Rep. Dennis Richardson

The 2013 Legislative Session is about to end.  It’s tragic to realize it was run without a carefully considered plan. There were multiple concessions given to powerful political forces, such as “the coalition of the status quo,” but what did this legislative session really accomplish?

Did we fix the PERS crisis without violating the PERS contract with our neighbors and friends who are retired teachers and public sector workers? No.

Did we budget within our current forecasted resources and set aside a substantial ending balance to protect the budgets of our schools and government agencies if the revenue forecast falters, like it did in 2011 and so many times before? No.

Did we focus our attention on and pass rational legislation that will both manage and protect our forests while making Oregon more economically competitive, innovative and welcoming to job creating small businesses? No.

What do Oregon’s Democratic leaders have to show for the time, effort and expense consumed by the 2013 Legislative Session?

We will end this session with the standing ovation of one hand clapping — NO PLAN for expanding Oregon’s economy and gross domestic product, NO PLAN for attracting job-creating innovation, entrepreneurial start-ups or private capital investment, and NO PLAN for solving the PERS crisis and doing so without violating the PERS contract.

The bipartisan successes of the 2011 Session were universally ignored during this session. Total Democratic Party control of the House, Senate and governor’s office has not well-served Oregon citizens.

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Bill would have helped victims of sexual abuse

Mike McLane

Rep. Mike McLane

One of the most important roles of government is to protect the most vulnerable members of society. That includes victims of sexual abuse.

Last week, my House Republican colleagues and I moved to pull House Bill 3541 out of committee and up for a vote.

HB 3541 expands the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits against sexual abusers who are public employees. Such a law would have applied to longtime Pennsylvania State University football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of abuse that took place for 15 years.

More locally, a former Sherwood High School teacher was recently accused of sexually abusing students, and was investigated for those alleged crimes back in 2008.

A double standard currently exists in the laws governing these areas. The statute of limitations for victims to bring a lawsuit against public employees is only two years, but is much longer for victims seeking retribution against an abuser who was employed in a private organization. It basically means that children abused by public employees have lesser protections.

Unfortunately, our effort to bring HB 3541 up for a vote was denied by House Democrats.

A similar bill, HB 3478, was brought up earlier in the session and received a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. Testimony against the bill centered on its potential financial impacts to public agencies.

It is tragic that our state government would rather ignore this issue rather than deal with it appropriately.

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Partisan games prolong session

Rep. Sal Esquivel

Rep. Sal Esquivel

The Oregon Legislature’s 2013 session should be over by now. But it isn’t.

A robust revenue forecast released in May shows that there is enough money to balance the budget and adjourn. Yet the session still continues on.

The majority party will try to portray me and my fellow House Republicans as obstructionist. That is completely inaccurate, though, as the Democrats are in charge of the House, Senate and the governor’s office. They have had complete control of the process.

One of the biggest holdups so far has been the passage of the education budget. This is unfortunate, as every school district in the state is required by law to have its budget finalized by the end of June. But that budget was held up in the Senate, where it was subjected to partisan political gamesmanship.

During the 2011 session, the House was evenly split between both parties, prompting a unique co-governance model. That atmosphere helped produce the passage of the education budget in mid-April, giving school districts ample time to meet their obligations.

In the halls of the capitol, there has been talk of Saturday and Sunday sessions. This is the result of poor session management.

Ultimately, Oregon has a citizen legislature. We all have jobs and families back home in our districts. It is time for us to conclude conducting the peoples’ business instead of perpetuating the end-of-session blame game.

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Democratic leaders made progress on PERS

Peter Buckley

Rep. Peter Buckley

Wow. I’m not sure who wrote the Mail Tribune editorial on Thursday, taking a shot at Speaker Tina Kotek and blaming her for the lack of progress on a deal for revenue and additional PERS reform, but they couldn’t have been farther off the mark.

I’m a senior member of House leadership, having served in leadership since August 2005. As House Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Ways & Means, I work in daily partnership with Speaker Kotek.

Kotek and I came into this session with one main priority — to turn around education funding, to stop the layoffs of teachers and the unacceptable growth of class sizes in our schools. With the support of our colleagues, we’re getting that done. Most every district in the state, including Ashland, Phoenix-Talent and Medford, are adding back personnel and school days.  Some districts are still hurting, though, so we’ve been consistently open to compromises that might result in additional funding for K-12, as well as to reach a goal of freezing tuition for our community colleges and universities.

PERS is a central part of mix. We’ve presented and passed reductions for $455 million, and agreed with the governor’s proposal in May to reach for several hundred million more. Our criteria has been that we have to protect low-pension retirees, make sure reforms are legal, and result in real savings.  No one in the 2013 legislature has achieved more on PERS or education funding, and we’re still at the table, ready to do more.

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Working together works

Rep. Dennis Richardson

Rep. Dennis Richardson

There once was a group of men at a church who had the assignment to move a grand piano from one room to another. The piano was very heavy and several of the concerned volunteers discussed ideas on how to move it without harming themselves or the piano. Finally, a wise man suggested they all should gather close around the piano and together “lift where you stand.” They did so and the piano was easily moved because of the unified effort. What we do here in the Oregon State Legislature is often like the men in this story.

Politics is a team sport. In addition to statewide efforts, individual legislators have issues in their home districts that deserve solutions without concern for party or politics.   Whenever possible, I try to “lift where I stand” and help other legislators craft solutions that benefit the people in their districts.

For instance, Rep. Lew Frederick proposed a bill to help his Portland neighborhoods do something about the blight of abandoned houses that attract squatters, drug dealers and derelicts.  The bill originally contained provisions that assessed a $150 fine per day against property owners who failed to maintain the properties, but did not include a solution to the underlying problem.

After the public hearing I asked Rep. Frederick what he was trying to accomplish.  He said he wanted to enable residents in blighted neighborhoods to do something about abandoned homes that sometimes sit empty for years.  We worked together to amend his bill with language that, where possible, notifies owners of the need to clean up and maintain empty properties.  If nothing is done, local government can do the maintenance and place a priority lien for the amount of the “actual and demonstrable costs” incurred. This solution was a win/win and has been signed into law.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have such stories of working together for the common good.  It’s an honor to work with such dedicated legislators and to serve the citizens of my district and all of Oregon.

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