Senator Jason Atkinson: Legislative Update

State Senator Jason Atkinson Office:

Back to Basics Budget Saves Taxpayers Money, Protects Services

Yesterday the Senate and House Republicans announced a Back to Basics budget plan. This budget plan fully funds education and protects essential services such as public safety and human services by providing them with the same level of funding as the last two year budget, while creating a $1.374 billion surplus for targeted legislative add-backs and reserves.The Back to Basics budget protects our most important priorities: high-quality education for our children, safe communities, and humanitarian services for those who need them most. When Oregon families and small businesses are spending only on what is most important and tightening their belts everywhere else, it is only appropriate their legislators do the same. By budgeting responsibly and not spending frivolously we can fund what is most important to Oregonians without having to raise taxes on Oregon’s families and small business in these tough times.

You can find a detailed outline of the plan here, but here are some highlights of the Back to Basics budget. The plan:

“¢ Is founded on the principle that Oregon does not need to increase its revenue to provide Oregonians the services they deserve and need.
“¢ Fully funds K-12 education with $6.245 billion, not cutting their budget at all so children can receive a quality education for a full year.
“¢ Protects the safety and health of our communities by providing, at a minimum, the same budget they had last the last budget cycle.
“¢ Uses $911 million of federal stimulus money and $457 million from the Rainy Day and Education Stability Funds to fund the core services at their 2007-09 levels, leaving $457 million of Oregon’s reserves intact.
“¢ After funding each core service at their 2007-09 levels, the plan leaves $1.374 billion for the legislature to make add-backs to the most important priorities.

Atkinson Helping Businesses Create New Jobs

Senator Atkinson, along with Representative Scott Bruun, has introduced HB 3493. The bill is a new tax credit for businesses: for each new employee they hire, who is employed for at least a year, the business will receive a $3,000 tax credit. This is almost identical to Senate President Peter Courtney’s SB 4, with one important distinction: Senator Atkinson’s bill stipulates the new employee must have been unemployed for at least 4 weeks in order for the business to receive a tax credit. Senate Bill 4 would give out a tax credit to businesses for any new employee.

The crucial difference is that Senator Atkinson’s bill creates an incentive for businesses to hire Oregonians who are unemployed, SB 4 does not create that incentive; an employee could simply switch companies and the business would qualify for the tax credit. “This is about turning benefit checks into pay checks,” says the Senator. “President Courtney has the right idea, but we need to make sure this is going to actually put Oregonians back to work who are currently struggling to find a job. Unless we limit this to hiring from the ranks of the unemployed, this is just going to turn into another corporate tax credit.”

Atkinson Eliminating Taxes on Unemployment Benefits

Several months ago, Oregon lawmakers disconnected from federal tax law. When the federal stimulus bills came out, the decision was made at the federal level to discontinue taxing unemployment benefits. Oregon specifically disconnected from the federal tax law in order to continue taxing unemployment benefits. Senator Atkinson does not believe this is right and is working to change this policy.

Currently Oregon taxes the first $2,400 of unemployment benefit a person receives. “Oregon has the second highest unemployment in America. Today, more than 255,000 Oregonians are without work and the Oregon government is taxing them. It’s like kicking someone when they’re down,” says the Senator. Oregonians — many of whom are on unemployment for the first time in their lives — need a hand up, and this is not the way to go about giving it to them. “Oregonians need to know we are on their side,” the Senator said. “Oregon’s government can’t say we are serious about creating jobs with a straight face when it taxes the unemployed.”

81 Days and Counting”¦When Will the Legislature Fund Education?

As we are nearing the 100th day of session, the legislature still has not passed an education budget. “Ninety one of us: 1 Governor, 30 Senators, and 60 State Representatives all say education is the priority, and yet this year, again, it will probably be the very last budget to pass,” lamented Senator Atkinson. “It is time to make education the priority we all say it is. It is well past the 81st day of the 75th Legislative session, and Oregon teachers, students and school administrators still have no idea what their budgets will look like. There is no excuse for waiting so long.”

Many other states such as Florida, Washington and Nevada can pass their full budgets in 60 days. Senator Atkinson once again has a bill, Senate Joint Resolution 19, which would require the Oregon legislature to pass a K-12 budget by the 81st day of the legislative session or the Oregon legislators would forfeit their compensation. While it is currently awaiting a hearing, if passed, SJR 19 would be put to a vote by the Oregon people on the November 2009 ballot.

All Best,

Kyle Vinyard
Senator Atkinson’s Staff