This week, the House O&C Counties Task Force heard from officials in Josephine, Lane and Curry counties regarding their financial crises.
Public safety levies were proposed in those three counties for the May 21 election, and failed in two of them.
Many people who don’t understand the underlying issues affecting those counties think that their relatively low property tax rates are the problem. But the testimony we heard brought up many important points.
Nearly 30 percent of Josephine County’s 83,000 residents are 55 years and older and living on fixed incomes derived largely from Social Security benefits. Additionally, nearly 20 percent of residents are living below the poverty line.
The current unemployment rate in Josephine County is 11.1 percent, and does not include the 85 jobs lost from the closure of the Rough & Ready lumber mill.
Lane County’s levy passed, but its woes continue. Curry County’s levy failed. That county has 22,000 people, 18 percent of whom are living at or below the poverty level.
It’s easy to call for more taxes as a solution. But these issues are largely the result of poor management of the same federal lands that helped produce jobs and tax revenues for these counties for decades.
Ultimately, the true answer will involve the responsible use of our abundant natural resources and the creation of private sector jobs.
I look forward to working with my colleagues at the national, state and local level to enable our counties to provide critical services.
Monday was Memorial Day. As a Vietnam vet, on Memorial Day I stopped and remembered my fellow soldiers and pilots who served with honor, who never came home — all were young and most never had families of their own.
On Memorial Day we remember and honor those who gave their lives in the service of our state and nation. More than 5,800 Oregonians have died in combat since Oregon’s statehood in 1859. These are Oregon’s fallen heroes, and they must never be forgotten.
In 2008, we constructed the Oregon Fallen War Heroes Memorial in Central Point’s Don Jones Park. It is a beautiful memorial and I hope you will visit it. See its eight monuments, circle of flags and beautiful grounds. On the entryway monument, I had the honor to pen the following words:
“We honor for their valor the men and women whose names are engraved on these monuments. They made the ultimate sacrifice. They must never be forgotten. We also honor the heroes who survived combat and returned home with wounded bodies, hearts and minds – many with pain hidden deep within their souls – the unsung heroes, who by the grace of God, lived to fight another day.”
Although Memorial Day has come and gone, let us remember Oregon’s fallen war heroes who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. Remember also those who served and returned home with wounds hidden deep in their souls. Let us all remember: we drink from wells we did not dig.
One of the most important roles of government is to help society’s most needy. But it’s also critical to ensure that the resources intended for those people aren’t squandered through waste, fraud and abuse.
An audit conducted in May by the Secretary of State’s Office identified nearly $3 million in erroneously paid benefits. In those instances, payments were made to lottery winners, PERS recipients who had cashed out, and prisoners.
In response, a series of bills were introduced in the Legislature to combat this problem.
Among these common sense proposals was one that would permit the Department of Human Services and Oregon Health Authority to suspend public assistance to those who fail to provide requested documentation regarding possible overpayment of assistance. Another would require DHS to establish a registry of persons receiving social services from counties and the state to enable agencies to coordinate those services. Still another would require public employees who administer public assistance to report suspected fraud.
Two other proposals would require electronic benefit transfer cards to display the photograph of all adults authorized to use it and require DHS to ensure that those cards can’t be used to purchase prepaid credit cards.
Unfortunately, none of those bills received hearings this session.
My House Republican colleagues attempted to pull those bills out of committee this week and bring them up for votes, but that effort was defeated by the Democrats on a party-line vote.
It’s a shame that the majority party allows this abuse to continue.
Heading towards the end of the 2013 session, it’s easy to get caught up in any number of side issues that have sprung up during the course of hearings, meetings or debates on the House floor.
But I’ve found during this session that the difficulty of the main challenge we face is enough to let the side issues stay on the side, to be dealt with just as a course of getting the work done. The main challenge we face is funding education. And that’s the framework I continue to view every other issue through, big or small.
In 2011, we worked to change our health care system, to hold down costs and get better results. That work is paying off. We’re putting in place a system that will cover 220,000 Oregonians who currently don’t have health care coverage, and do it in a way that promises to be a national model.
With that effort, we’ve slowed the rate of increase for health care costs, and now, in 2013, we’re working to do the same with our public safety system. There are many similarities to the two efforts. They both push funds down to the local level, and both use evidenced-based practices to get the best results.
They also both serve to address the main challenge of funding education. We’re moving in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of work to do in the next few weeks, still a good ways to go in the next few years.
Notwithstanding last week’s optimistic revenue forecast, which essentially balanced the State Budget for 2013-15, the whisper around the Capitol is that our Democratic leaders are planning to raise taxes without meeting the constitutional requirement for a three-fifths vote. The plan is to draft a two-part bill that will (1) reduce state revenue by extending tax credits that are about to expire and (2) increase taxes in an equal or lesser amount.
In other words, if the proposed tax increases do not exceed the reduction in revenue from the tax credits, there will be an offset — no additional revenue means no tax increase, and only a simple majority vote will be required.
In reality, a lucky group of taxpayers get tax credits and an unfortunate group of taxpayers get assessed additional taxes without the constitutional protection of the three-fifths voting requirement.
The proposal to circumvent the constitutional requirement for a three-fifths “super majority” vote on all tax measures must be resisted. If tax increases on some Oregonians are allowed to avoid the three-fifths majority vote rule merely because they are offset by tax reductions for other Oregonians, it will establish a new low standard of political scheming and set a bad precedent for future legislatures.
If and when such a surreptitious plan to circumvent our Constitution is attempted by the Democrats, I and my Republican colleagues will immediate file a lawsuit challenging this blatant constitutional violation and seeking an injunction to stop the illegal tax increases.
When is a tax not a tax? It depends on who you ask.
This week, we took a vote on House Bill 3477. The stated purpose of this bill was to close tax loopholes for out of state banks. But like many issues, this is more complicated than that.
In the 1990s, there were around nine companies that started doing real estate lending in Oregon. The loans they issued made the dream of home ownership possible for people throughout the state by offering them multiple financing options.
These companies were excluded from some Oregon taxes because they had no physical presence in the state. They did, however, pay those taxes in the states where they were actually located.
When HB 3477 came up for a vote, my colleague, Rep. Vicki Berger from Salem, raised the question on the House floor of whether this bill was a tax increase. Rep. Berger is a member of the Revenue Committee, so she is very familiar with these matters.
This distinction was important, because a revenue raising bill requires only a simple majority vote. A tax bill, however, requires the approval of a supermajority of 36 votes.
Even though all indications are that HB 3477 was a tax bill, the House speaker ruled that it wasn’t. The vote was taken, and the bill passed.
I am appalled that the speaker would disregard the system and processes that guide this chamber, and won’t be surprised if her decision gets challenged in court.
Every school district in Oregon is up against a firm deadline to have its budget finalized and passed by the end of June. That process is already beginning at the local level.
School districts, however, receive most of their funding from the state. They need to know right away how much to expect so they can plan their budgets accordingly.
The May revenue forecast released last week showed an increase of $271 million heading into state coffers.
Now that this is out of the way, and we estimate (via the forecast) that there will be enough revenue to adequately fund essential programs, the Legislature needs to identify its top priorities and act on them.
We need to do right by our schools and fund the education budget immediately.
My first session in the Legislature was in 2011. That was an historic year, as the House was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The co-governance model we developed during that time earned national accolades for its collaborative spirit.
During that session, we funded the education budget in mid-April. School districts were able to develop and pass their budgets on time, and the system worked.
The longer we go without passing this critical part of our budget, the more likely it is to become politicized. Our teachers, parents, students and school districts deserve better than that. We need to fund education immediately.
Last week we called for an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to addressing our state’s budget crisis to stop teacher layoffs and cuts to classrooms. Much has happened in Salem on budget negotiations since we wrote last week.
Governor Kitzhaber made a call for action to legislators on both sides of the aisle: compromise. He called for Democrats and Republicans to find middle ground in order to balance our state’s budget and reinvest in education. Makes sense, right? Compromise is what democracy – indeed, governing – is all about.
Democrats have proposed closing tax loopholes to increase revenue for vital services, in addition to the over $800 million in PERS savings we passed earlier this session. We now have a historic opportunity to reinvest in education if we accept the compromise framework laid out by the Governor.
Democrats are ready to come to the middle on a budget deal, and have compromised to provide additional, sensible PERS savings. Yet our Republican colleagues have not come to common ground. The offer is on the table and we look forward to engaging quickly in a conversation. But time is running out.
It’s time that we got to work, come together and do what’s best for Oregon.
This isn’t about partisan politics. This is about schools, critical services, and it’s about priorities. Now is the time to come together so we can reinvest in and stabilize our schools, keep our communities safe, and protect vital services for our most vulnerable.
Less than 24 hours before the release of the state’s latest revenue forecast, Gov. Kitzhaber held a press conference, in which he expressed support for higher taxes on Oregon business.
This comes after a bad month for many big businesses throughout the state.
Integra is moving its corporate headquarters from Portland to Vancouver, Wash. The last lumber mill in Josephine County has closed down. Greenbrier is laying off 200 workers at its Gunderson LLC plant in Northwest Portland. SoloPower announced the suspension of its Portland operations. Xerox is laying off 300 workers in Coos Bay and North Bend. Kinder Morgan pulled the plug on plans for a proposed coal terminal in Columbia County, and CenturyLink just announced the closure of its Hood River call center.
These are just the big businesses that are struggling, and does not include all the small businesses throughout Oregon that are also having a hard time right now.
Calling for higher taxes on businesses sends the wrong signal to job creators at a time when Oregonians need jobs more than ever.
The Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) reforms that the governor has signed are a good first step. But they don’t solve the problem.
I’ve been saying for years that our state government needs to get its spending in line before asking anyone for more taxes. PERS costs affect every school district, city and county in the state. We need to fix those issues immediately, instead of continuing to kick that can down the road.
Helping our older generation transition from life through death is not convenient. It is not always pleasant, but it is our duty. Such service is good for them and it is good for us. Oregon families and friends care for 80 percent of Oregonian’s elderly population without state subsidization. The remaining 20 percent are served by our state and federal programs. Oregon has an aging population and the cost of their long-term care is not cheap. The fastest growing age component of Oregon’s population is in the 85-plus category.
For “end-stage” living, the greatest costs are incurred by those receiving long-term care in nursing homes, residential care facilities and assisted living facilities. Since most elderly Oregonians would prefer to live in their own homes if possible, we as family, as friends, and as neighbors, have the honor and duty to be engaged. We can reach out and ask what we can do to help care for elderly family and community members.
Family, friends and community-based programs ultimately must assume responsibility to ensure adequate care for our seniors. They, who so generously gave us the care we needed when we were young, now deserve the best we can give to them.
Watch a short video of Dennis Richardson talking about his parents and the duty to care for elders.
As part of the Mail Tribune's coverage of the 2013 Oregon Legislature, we have invited seven Southern Oregon legislators to send dispatches from Salem. They will be posted here to give readers an inside look at the processes, goals and challenges. Read Full