Oregonians have endured unending cries from proponents of big government for more than a decade, claiming the State must have more revenue to run its operations. Those constant pleas, combined with Democrat dominance of both the House and Senate for the past dozen years, have resulted in frequent tax and fee increases levied on Oregon citizens and businesses.
Proponents of ever-increasing government spending universally fail to acknowledge that state government has a spending addiction. Typically absent from their discussion is any reference regarding where the new revenue has been spent and what that spending has achieved. Also missing is any narrative regarding the wasting of taxpayer money on multi-million dollar boondoggles that should never have been allowed to happen.
Political leaders have failed to prioritize programs that provide needed services to Oregonians. Instead, state officials have spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars on attempted social engineering and “market transformations,” often under the guise of protecting the environment. Their explanations are usually devoid of any accountability for the use of other peoples’ money.
Both the Democrat and Republican parties adopted their platforms during conventions held earlier this summer. Those platforms reveal a great deal regarding the agendas and priorities of each political party. They represent a roadmap of how each party plans to govern if they are elected.
The Republican Party Platform is a 66-page document encompassing several areas of both foreign and domestic policy. Its Preamble’s first line states: “We believe in American exceptionalism.” It is dedicated to members of the U.S. military, law enforcement, first responders and their families.
Other principles embraced in the preamble include the belief the United States Constitution is our enduring covenant rather than a flexible, living document. The qualities of limited government and the separation of powers are specifically enumerated, as well as the recognition that our people are better stewards of natural resources than our government.
While speaking at the Democrat National Convention in Philadelphia last month, President Barack Obama proudly took credit for a strong and prosperous United States economy. His statement begs the question of who, exactly, has seen a strong and prosperous economy under his administration.
Aside from public employees, Wall Street investment firms and politically favored renewable energy producers, all indications are that the average American has not prospered throughout the past seven and a half years. In fact, during Obama’s two terms in office, the U.S. economy has suffered through the slowest economic recover recorded since World War II.
Despite annual government infusions of enormous amounts of borrowed money, and “near zero” interest rates, the U.S. economy has stagnated. Annual economic growth has averaged only a little more than two percent during the first seven years of Obama’s administration.
Oregon has been spent into a monumental, multi-agency, multi-billion dollar budgetary hole during the past several legislative sessions. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is among the state agencies facing the worst financial challenges for the 2017-19 biennium and beyond. Most of the agency’s financial woes are the result of legislative and agency management decisions made over the past dozen years.
The lion’s share of ODOT’s state highway division funding is raised by the fuel and weight-per-mile taxes, as well as certain vehicle license and registration fees. That highway fund revenue is constitutionally dedicated to the maintenance, preservation and construction of Oregon highways and bridges.
ODOT’s budget has traditionally been done on a pay-as-you-go basis. Prior to 2002, the agency was not authorized to spend more revenue than it collected during each budget cycle.
According to our constitutions, each American citizen possesses the unconditional, guaranteed right to own, keep and bear firearms.
The Second Amendment to the Unites States Constitution reads: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
“Shall not be infringed” has clear meaning. It means no government shall encroach upon, interfere with, violate, disobey or disregarded the constitutionally guaranteed right of a citizen to own and bear firearms.
The proper role of government is frequently debated in the Legislative Assembly. Most lawmakers agree that one of the fundamental functions of government is to provide the basic infrastructure that enables all citizens to have access to shared services such as roads, public schools and clean, potable water. Arguably, those services should include access to electric and natural gas utilities.
During the 2015 session, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 32 by wide bipartisan margins. The bill states the Oregon Legislative Assembly finds that access to natural gas is in the public interest and the extension of pipelines to rural areas is necessary for communities to preserve and develop local economies and enlarge their tax bases. In addition, I believe the expansion of natural gas infrastructure and services also represents the most cost effective means of energy conservation.
SB 32 required the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to form a work group to study feasible ways to expand natural gas infrastructure to areas that are not currently served by public utilities. I was among those selected to serve on the work group that has already convened for several meetings.
Even though the 2016 Oregon Legislative Assembly has adjourned, many of its committees, task forces and work groups continue to meet in the interim between sessions. Last week, I was back in Salem for three interim meetings that covered a variety of topics of interest to residents throughout the state.
All three are bicameral, bipartisan interim assignments made by Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem). Each is designed or to help address some of the ongoing problems with multiple agencies or to help formulate future legislation.
As you may recall, Rep. Whitsett and I, along with several other Republican legislators, asked for an investigation of the Departments of Energy and Revenueregarding their parts in the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) debacle. Partially in response to that request, the Joint Interim Committee on Department of Energy Oversight was created by House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) and Senate President Courtney. Both Senator Alan Olsen (R-Canby) and I have been assigned to that joint committee.
The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) was created by the Legislative Assembly to ensure that “safe and reliable utility services are provided to customers at just and reasonable rates, while fostering the use of competitive markets to achieve these objectives.” That body is charged with regulating only the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) that are owned by private companies such as PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric (PGE).
IOUs are given monopolies within their utility service areas. These monopolies are approved and regulated by the state. The PUC is charged with ensuring that the more than 1.5 million PacifiCorp and PGE customers in Oregon are treated fairly by those two companies.
Bills to significantly increase Oregon’s minimum wage will be a main topic of vigorous and divisive debated during the upcoming 2016 legislative session.
Governor Brown is also floating a minimum wage proposal. Her concept would raise the wage in all areas outside of the Portland Metro Urban Growth Boundary to $10.25 in 2017 and to $13.50 by 2022. Within the Boundary the minimum wage would be increased to $15.52 by 2022.
Oregon voters approved Measure 71 during the November 2010 general election. That Constitutional amendment established short legislative sessions in even-numbered years. Lawmakers will gather in Salem on the first of February to participate in the 35-day session that resulted from that 2010 vote of the people.
Legislative leaders sold Measure 71 to voters as a much-needed opportunity for legislators to make minor adjustments to state budgets, to pass laws that were already well vetted and limited in scope, and to address emergency situations.
I voted against Senate Joint Resolution 41, which referred the Constitutional amendment to the voters to decide, for three reasons. The first was that I was not convinced that the Legislative Assembly could demonstrate the discipline required to limit its scope of work during the short sessions. Moreover, I was concerned the short sessions would be designed to limit the opportunity for the public to participate in their lawmaking process. Finally, I feared that holding legislative sessions during election years would cause bills to be introduced in order to be used as fodder in political campaigns.