by Sen. Doug Whitsett
State legislators were in Salem this week to attend committee meetings during Legislative Days. Representative Gail Whitsett participated in her five assigned committees while I participated in my four assigned committees, as well as the Senate floor session to confirm Governor Brown’s appointments.
My first meeting took place with the Joint Interim Task Force on Funding for Fish, Wildlife and Related Outdoor Recreation and Education which convened on Friday, September 16. The Task force is attempting to establish a new and stable source of revenue to fund an $80 million per biennium increase in Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) budgets. During that meeting, Task Force members discussed the outreach its members are doing with stakeholders, who deal regularly with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, to explain the proposed budget increase of more than 20 percent. We also worked on defining key questions and decision points for the task force, developing the group’s next steps and identifying its key messages. My personal opinion is that ODFW must undergo significant consolidation and prioritization of its myriad programs, and must continue its efforts to deal with inefficiencies and program duplication before the legislature should even consider additional funding for the agency.
Two separate funding options for ODFW were selected by the Task Force, including a surcharge on Oregon income tax returns and a wholesale tax on beverage containers subject to the Oregon Bottle Bill. The task force chair was charged with delivering a report on its progress to key legislative committees in both the House and Senate.
Sen. Alan Bates Memorial Service
Tuesday, September 20 proved bittersweet, as a memorial service was held in the Senate chambers for Sen. Alan Bates (D-Ashland). He passed away unexpectedly August 5 during fishing trip on the Rogue River. Rep. Whitsett and I also attended a service held for Senator Bates on the campus of Southern Oregon University in late August. I served with him in the Senate for many years, and was saddened by his sudden passing.
Future of Troubled Oregon Department of Energy
The following day, the Joint Interim Committee on Department of Energy Oversight held its most recent meeting. We continued our review and discussion of the programs within the troubled Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) and the recommendations made by its stakeholders for how that agency should function. The debate remains open regarding whether the Legislative Assembly should chose to either close or restructure the agency.
Members of the committee heard presentations about ODOE’s Energy Development Services Division, as well as its Director’s Office and Central Services. We also held a discussion about what next steps should be taken by the committee in its duties to provide oversight to the distressed agency.
BETC Audit and Recommendations Not Addressed
Unfortunately, the committee chairs [Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) and Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene)] decided not to address either the recently published forensic audit or the long list of recommendations made by the auditors. Both the reason for creating the Joint Committee and for commissioning the independent audit was to delve into the Business Energy Tax Credit program that spent more than $1 billion of taxpayer money with little oversight, direction or accountability.
‘Clean Air’ Updates – Monumental Financial Challenge for Oregon Industry/Transportation
Immediately following that meeting, the Senate Interim Committee on Environment and Natural Resources heard invited testimony from a representative of the Climate Trust regarding carbon offsets. We also received an update on Cleaner Air Oregon as well as the Human Health Rulemaking Related to Industrial Emissions from DEQ and Oregon Health Authority (OHA). Senator Dembrow provided an update on his Diesel Work Group along with a DEQ clean diesel program coordinator.
The cumulative effects of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard that was enacted in 2015, the Coal to Clean extension of the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard that was enacted in 2106, plus the proposed Carbon Cap and Trade, Clean Diesel and Cleaner Air Oregon projects will create a monumental financial challenge for Oregon industry and transportation interests. Ironically, their cumulative effect will accomplish virtually no measurable reduction in regional or global greenhouse gas emissions.
Bottle Bill Update and Appointment Confirmations
That Committee also heard an update on the bottle bill given by representatives of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association and the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative. The chairman of the previously mentioned ODFW Joint Interim Task Force on State Department of Fish and Wildlife Funding gave a report on that group’s work to date. Similarly, representatives from the Task Force on Independent Scientific Review for Natural Resources gave a presentation and a report.
The morning of Thursday, September 22 featured a brief Senate floor session in which we unanimously confirmed the appointment of dozens of Oregonians to the state’s many boards and commissions. Four new agency directors were confirmed, as was a new member of Oregon Tech’s Board of Directors.
Emergency Board Funding Requests
Finally, on Friday, September 23, the Emergency Board is scheduled to meet and consider funding requests from several different state agencies. A grant consent agenda included requests from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission for dislocated workers and apprenticeship programs, Department of Human Services for preparing students with disabilities, the OHA for prescription drug overdose prevention and a Women, Infants and Children information system tracker and the Parks and Recreation Department for an historic properties database.
Other agency funding requests included the Department of Revenue for property tax deferral programs, Department of Veterans Affairs for transportation of veterans in rural areas and nursing staff at veterans’ homes, the Department of Police Safety Standards and Training for assistance to firefighters, Oregon Department of Forestry for the 2016 fire season and the Legislative Fiscal Office on the behalf of the Department of Education for lead testing in schools.
The E-Board also accepted a number of reports including two that helped to quantify the enormous cost of complying with the most recent collective bargained union contracts for state employees. As I have previously reported, the continual growth in costs of public employee salaries and benefits is unsustainable.
The next week of legislative committee days is scheduled to take place December 12-15.
Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls