I wanted to echo some of the same sentiments as our leadership on the recent special session. It was a good bipartisan effort to pass the special session agenda as put forth by the governor. Unlike the regular 2013 session, both parties had to participate in order to move the agenda forward. There was much to like and much to dislike about the bills which were crafted into an all-or-none agenda by the governor.
SB 861 & SB 862 (PERS)
My view was that the single most important issue is starting to get PERS under control. The COLA reform bill (SB 861), as well as SB 862 which removes future legislators from PERS, was a good start. The unfunded long term liability for PERS has now been reduced by about 25-30%, which will be several billion dollars in savings. SB 861 will undoubtedly be challenged in the courts and so it remains to be seen if the actions taken by the legislature will be upheld by the judiciary.
It is my hope that it will be; otherwise, the entire retirement system will be unsustainable, jeopardizing our education system and the fiscal health of all of our cities and counties.
HB 5101 (School and Program Funding)
Secondly, I am very pleased that HB 5101 gave the K-12 education system, community colleges, and universities extra funds to operate as well as an allocation for the Project Independence, which keeps seniors in their homes and out of expensive institutional rest homes. I supported HB 5101.
HB 3601 (Tax Restructuring)
I did not vote for the hundreds of millions increase in taxes in HB 3601 since we already had two billion dollars more to spend in this last legislative session than previously. Our state government expenditure is growing in the double digits, which is significantly more than the rate of inflation and I believe we could have allocated the taxpayers’ funds in a more responsible manner last session.
I also was opposed to the fact that the business tax restructuring left out tax cuts for single proprietor family businesses with family employees. These are the very businesses which make up 15% of tax revenue for the state. The tax restructuring only applies to those businesses which had one or more employees that were non-owners and registered as LLC, S-corps and partnerships. Many of our small businesses, farms and ranches in Klamath and Lake Counties are owned and operated by families and their members. About 5% of all businesses fall into this category.
In the long run, I believe this will hurt those individual start-up small businesses and farm families who wish to start or keep businesses confined to their family structure. How would this have affected Bill Gates or Steven Jobs and their ideas, working out of a garage or in a basement, where some of technology’s greatest inventions occurred? I supported broad, equitable across-the-board businesses tax cuts, but the bill became selective and somewhat unfair in my opinion.
SB 863 (Statewide Seed Policy)
I also supported the state’s ability to set statewide policy for agriculture. SB 863 never mentioned GMO’s, nor any companies by name, despite what some of the press around the bills suggested. The governor has indicated he will propose legislation to map GMO-planted crops in the state during the next session and take further action to establish a statewide policy for those crops. This bill neither pre-empts or supports GMO’s. It simply establishes that any further legislation on agriculture will be statewide, with the exception of Jackson County if their existing ballot measure passes next year. It will be up to the 2014 or 2015 legislatures to determine the outcome of that particular issue.
Overall, I don’t believe that the special session was necessary. We had the same PERS bills proposed during the last session, but they did not make it to committee and the floor for votes by both chambers. It has only been 83 days since the 2013 session ended. It is unfortunate that the controlling majority party legislative leadership could not have agreed and undertaken these issues during the six months we were in Salem previously, and in which the Governor was missing during some of the crucial discussions from February to July.
Representative Gail Whitsett
House District 56