Senator Jason Atkinson: Taxes, school bullying, budget, more.

From State Senator Jason Atkinson

Items reviewed in this newsletter: Back to Basics Budget Makes Sense for Oregon and Does Not Raise Taxes, 81st Day Bill to Senate Floor, Crack Down on Bullying in Schools,Vote Against Vehicle Tax Increases and Work to Eliminate Taxes on Unemployment.

Atkinson Brings 81st Day Bill to Senate Floor

During a floor session last week the Senator made a motion to withdraw SJR 19, the 81st Day Bill, from the Education and General Government Committee. Senate Joint Resolution 19, otherwise known as the 81st Day Bill, would constitutionally require the Oregon legislature to pass a K-12 budget by the 81st Day of the legislative session; if the budget is not passed by that time, the legislators forfeit their salaries. If passed, the resolution would be put to the Oregon people for a vote on the November 2010 ballot. Procedurally, moving to withdraw a bill from committee removes the bill from whatever committee it is in and allows it to be introduced on the floor. Twelve senators voted for the motion, 17 against, voting along party lines.

Senator Atkinson believes, “It is time to make education the priority we all say that it is. Ninety-one of us, one Governor, 60 Representatives, and 30 Senators all say education is the priority. But it is always the last budget passed. Politics have no place in Oregon classrooms. States like Florida, Washington and Nevada can pass their entire budgets in 60 days, and we should be able to budget for schools in 81 days.”

Back to Basics Budget Makes Sense for Oregon and Does Not Raise Taxes

The Co-Chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee (Democrats Sen. Margaret Carter of Portland and Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland) released their proposed budget (the Co-Chairs’ Recommended Budget). Within the budget the Co-Chairs say they are proposing “strategic cuts” in every area of the budget. In the budget overview, the Co-Chairs claim they are “tightening our belts and doing everything we can to protect our kids and our vulnerable citizens”. However, the proposed budget is actually increasing spending from the last biennium.

Prior to the release of the Co-Chairs’ Recommended Budget, Senate Republicans released their own budget proposal, the Back to Basics Budget. The Back to Basics budget fully funds education, humane services, and public safety, and leaves a significant amount left in state reserves, and allows for legislative add-backs after the three most essential functions of government are funded. It does all of this without raising taxes on Oregon families.

For more information, go to There, you can find the Republican recommended budget, along with the Top Ten Truths about the Oregon Budget. The Top Ten Truths are a 10-day series of truths about the Oregon budget; here you can find Truths #8, #9, and #10.

Oregon Senate Cracks Down on Bullying in Schools

Bullying in schools is not limited to physical acts, nor does it stop after elementary school; it effects children’s learning environment and mental well-being, and also has the potential to affect many for their entire life. Yesterday the Senate recognized the seriousness of bullying in the K-12 system in Oregon, and passed HB 2599, which cracks down on bullying in Oregon’s schools.

Atkinson Works to Eliminate Taxes on Unemployment

After the last newsletter, there was a good deal of response, both in the form of emails and phone calls, about Senator Atkinson’s bill to eliminate taxes on unemployment benefits (SB 975). The responses raised a number of issues and questions about the definition of unemployment and how Unemployment Insurance works.

The official definition of unemployment used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes anyone age 16 or older who is not institutionalized and is not currently employed, but able to work, available for work, and actively seeking work. A common misconception is that unemployment only represents those who are receiving unemployment benefits. However, many people who are unemployed and represented by the unemployment rate and various unemployment figures, a rough number is 35-40%, are not even eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits. Examples include those who have exhausted unemployment benefits but continue to seek work, new labor market entrants — including recent high school and college graduates — and the formerly self-employed.

The official definition of unemployment also excludes certain groups who are sometimes thought of as being unemployed or “underemployed.” Those who would like to work, but who have stopped looking for work are not counted in the official definition because they are not actively seeking work. People working part time who would prefer full-time work are also not counted as unemployed because they are working, even fewer hours than they would like.

The Unemployment Rate, then, is the total number of “unemployed” persons divided by the civilian labor force (the total population minus the incarcerated, those in the military, and those under 16). Again, it is not the number of persons receiving unemployment benefits. The Unemployment Insurance program is unrelated to the unemployment rate.

The Unemployment Insurance system is fairly simple, and there are specific requirements as to who qualifies for and who pays for unemployment benefits. First, Unemployment Insurance is a 100% employer paid system. Taxes taken from workers’ paychecks do not go towards unemployment system.

Second, the unemployment insurance system was designed to give individuals, who were out of work through no fault of their own, partial income replacement until they found another job. The requirements to receive unemployment benefits are that a person must have earned at least $1,000 in the previous calendar year, and be physically/mentally able to work, actively seeking work, and must take any work that is available that is the type of work they are looking for. If someone stops seeking work or turns down a job offer, they are no longer eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Third, if a person has worked both out of state and in Oregon in the previous year, then they have a “combined wage claim”. They receive a portion of their benefits based on the wages they earned in Oregon, and a portion based on the wages they earned out-of-state. The other state agency then reimburses Oregon’s Department of Unemployment for the benefits paid.

Senator Atkinson believes that for those individuals, many of whom are unemployed for the first time in their lives, should not be taxed in this economy when they are trying to get back on their feet. Currently in the House, Senator Atkinson’s idea of not taxing unemployment benefits has been proposed in the -4 amendments to House Bill 2649. What this means is that should the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education adopt the -4 amendments, then the goal of SB 975 would effectively become part of HB 2649.

Atkinson Votes Against Vehicle Tax Increases

As part of his belief in not increasing taxes during an economic downturn, Senator Atkinson against HB 2001 on the senate floor last Friday, which contained increases in the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.