5 need-to-know points about Oregon’s special session

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by Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog

Gov. John Kitzhaber is calling Oregon lawmakers back to Salem for a special session Sept. 30 to both cut state employees’ pensions and increase taxes for additional funding for schools and other programs.

He said legislative leaders have agreed to boost revenue by $244 million while cutting the state’s unfunded pension liability by $4.6 billion for the 2013-15 biennium. The package includes further cost of living adjustment cuts than what the Legislature passed during the regular session and tax cuts for small businesses, tax increases on corporations and a 10-cent increase in the tobacco tax.

BACK TO WORK: Lawmakers will head back to Salem Sept. 30

As lawmakers prepare to head for a short special session, here are some points to remember:

1. Who’s for it: The Oregon Business Plan, a coalition of state businesses, applauded the special session in a press release Friday. The group especially likes the tax relief for small businesses.

We believe this provision will lead to new business investment and grow much needed jobs in every corner of our state. We would have preferred that the plan refrain from increasing taxes on any segment of a business community that is just now regaining its footing after a long and deep recession, but we recognize that the proposed increase in the C-corporation tax rate is far preferable to other plans that have been discussed.

The Oregon School Boards Association and other education groups also support the package and are lobbying for others to jump on the bandwagon.

2. Who’s against it: Not surprisingly, unions are not a fan of this special session. They don’t want to see any cuts to pensions and are calling Kitzhaber’s special session “Wrong for Oregon.”

From SEIU Local 503, a public employees’ union:

While students are being crammed into classrooms and our universities remain crucially underfunded, it’s time for big business and corporations to pick up their part of our shared sacrifice. The revenue proposal being discussed doesn’t get us anywhere near that.

Expect government spending watchdog groups to be on guard about this, too, for different reasons. The Taxpayer Association of Oregon recently pointed out much of the discussion behind this package has happened without public input behind closed doors. Some Republicans argue the increased taxes are unnecessary given the state has an extra $2 billion in its general fund.

“The need for more revenue is difficult to justify,” said state Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls.

3. Pension problems: State Budget Solutions, a nonprofit that advocates for state and local budgeting reform, listed Oregon as one of the nine worst states for pension health. The study, “Promises made, promises broken,”  looked at states facing a particularly large unfunded liability.

The package is an attempt by Kitzhaber to whittle down the state’s $14 billion unfunded liability in the Public Employees Retirement System while appeasing his fellow Democrats who rely heavily on union support and getting Republicans on board with tax increases.

4. Key votes: Kitzhaber needs all Democrats and two Republicans in both the Senate and House to agree to his package as Oregon requires a super majority vote for any tax increases. Statements from both sides of the aisle have been cautiously optimistic, saying there’s more, difficult work to be done.

5. Other issues: Kitzhaber is also calling on lawmakers to consider a statewide policy on genetically modified organisms to keep counties from creating patchwork rules across the state. Local communities are already considering labeling genetically modified crops. It’s also possible Kitzhaber will try to add the Columbia River Crossing project now that Oregon has a plan to build the new I-5 bridge from Portland to Vancouver without the help of Washington state.

Contact Shelby Sebens at [email protected]

Northwest Watchdog is a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity

  • .

    These extra-special sessions are fiscal foam over root bawls crying out that biennial meets are not near enough for tax and spend shopaholics.

    Rally now, PERS should have been closed off before the farce became unSphinct’rd in the 90’s.

    Oregon taxpayers beware: The state governmentium nonsense must be culled before Detroit osmosis assets in.

    Suggest to the thrice flailed governor to call it quits and take his huny off to to Warshingmachine DC and go soak theirs in the Potomac on an outgoing tide.

  • James Elliott

    The efforts here is just wasted because the votes are not there. This is not a community effort, it is a one-sided viewpoint being shoved upon the people of Oregon. If it doesn’t serve the entire community of Oregon, then it should be shelved.

  • JacklordGOD

    Ohhhh Ohh Lemme guess. Lemme guess…I know the answer to this one.

    OK – Step One – So we all agree to this, the governor gets to hurt everyone with more tax increases and in exchange promises to do the right thing, get PERS under control.

    Step two – Like a battered housewife, we agree to take one more punch in the face if he promises to do the right thing afterwards.

    Step three – Public employee unions go to court, the tax increases remain, any PERS reform goes, and like the battered housewife whose husband comes out of treatment ready to beat the crap out of her, the productive wonder when the next blow will be.

    I really think I have seen this movie before. Not just once, but several times. I mean this is as old as “they have WMD’s, we need to go in and do something”

    How about this, add up all the tax increases you have had over the past few years, wrap them up in a big bag of F you, and solve the damn problem without this same dumb routine again. I am sick and tired of this attitude of “well, if you just let me be a little irresponsible (tax increases) I promise to be responsible (deal with PERS)”

    Will we fall for it? You betcha. Those tax increases are as good as passed. Any sort of PERS reform? Not on your life.

    My favorites “it’s time for big business and corporations to pick up their part of our shared sacrifice” from the SEIU.

    Hey you know what SEIU?

    F- You.

    I am sick of you guys bleeding every mom and pop business dry so you guys can retire at 53 with 105% of salary.

    So here is a big F-You SEIU, along with a little dance I do that looks like a bad Irish jig while I make hand motions simulating a yapping parrot. That’s right, it’s the F-You dance.

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