GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
As it is, required PERS payments from the system’s 900-plus employers jumped 45 percent in July. While the system expresses those rates as a percentage of payroll, in dollar terms, it means employers will collectively contribute $2.9 billion during the current two-year budget cycle, compared with $2 billion in the last. That’s a painful increase for many school districts, municipalities and state agencies struggling with tight budgets. But there’s a lot more coming. Systemwide, PERS contribution rates are set to rise about 4.5 percent of payroll in 2019, with a similar increase in 2021. That translates to almost $1 billion in extra contributions for the 2019-21 budget cycle and another $1 billion in 2021-23.
Helfrich lives in Hood River and worked for the Portland Police Bureau for 25 years before retiring, according to the House Republican Caucus. He was also enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Helfrich’s prior government experience includes service on the Cascade Locks City Council, the city’s planning commission and budget committee, and serving on the board of directors of the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District.
The Sandy Post
A longtime public servant, Helfrich served on the Cascade Locks Planning Commission and City Council, the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District Board, in the Air Force during the Gulf War and as a Portland police sergeant. “I understand the needs of my community well as both leader and member,” he said in a letter earlier this week. “Upon appointment to Representative for House District 52, I will continue and expand upon the work of (former) Rep. Mark Johnson.”
Republican candidate for governor and representative Knute Buehler speaks with Laural Porter about policies he thinks will help Oregon.
The Lund Report
In the campaign for governor, Rep. Knute Buehler has outraised the sitting governor slightly for the year, reporting contributions of $2 million to Kate Brown’s $1.9 million. But she’s burnt through $1.2 million while he has limited expenses to $550,000.
Portland Business Journal
“I’m proud to join my Attorney General colleagues in fighting this misguided rule rollback. Employers’ views should have no bearing on a woman’s personal decisions about her health care,” Rosenblum said in a statement.
PUBLIC SAFETY & COURTS
A Mexican man who was deported from the United States more than a dozen times was sentenced Friday in Oregon to 35 years in prison after pleading guilty to sodomy, kidnapping, sex abuse and other charges in separate attacks on two women.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Advocates say the Supreme Court case challenges Oregon’s public accommodation non-discrimination laws, which protect LGBT people from being refused service or entry to public places because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The law applies in places such as retail stores, restaurants, parks, hotels, doctors’ offices and banks.
Native American students in Oregon are graduating at lower rates, performing worse on state assessments, attending fewer days and receiving more suspensions and expulsions than their peers, according to a report released last week by the state Department of Education. For graduation rates alone, Oregon’s Native American students are graduating at about 56 percent, compared with the state’s overall four-year graduation rate of 74.8 percent.
NEWSLETTER ELECTIONS COMPLAINT
The Democratic Party of Oregon filed a complaint Friday against Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, the top Republican state official, alleging he tried to sway voters against a ballot measure on a health-care tax that is the subject of a special election in January.
“Our Oregon Health Authority audit revealed that in just six months, OHA wasted more than $88 million,” Richardson says. “Today, the Democratic Party Chair filed a meritless complaint to divert attention from OHA’s wasteful spending. Holding to my deeply held principles of transparency and accountability, we transferred this matter to the Oregon Department of Justice for review.”
“Dennis Richardson made promises during his campaign to run an office that could be trusted to act in a nonpolitical and even-handed manner, yet it’s clear that he has infused politics into the work of both the state audits and elections divisions,” said Jeanne Atkins, Oregon Democratic party chairwoman and former secretary of state.
In her complaint, Atkins took issue with Richardson writing in his newsletter: “Soon Oregon voters will be considering whether or not to approve tax increases intended to provide additional funding to the OHA. With such abysmal examples of OHA misfeasance and obfuscation, OHA faces tough questions about its credibility and its ability to appropriately spend the money it is provided.” Atkins alleged that Richardson was in effect telling voters to reject the tax hike. In a statement, Richardson said Democrats filed the complaint to distract from the Health Authority’s failings.
However, a conservation organization is concerned that the changes to the plan, including rules around when and how residents can kill wolves, open a path for Oregon’s gray wolves to be treated like any other carnivore in the state, to the detriment of the still-vulnerable population. Danielle Moser, wildlife coordinator for Oregon Wild, said the draft could put a “foot in the door” for regulated wolf hunts down the line.
The Oregonian Editorial Board
Without the meaningful work to address this financial crisis facing our state, lawmakers are left to nibble around the edges in an attempt to limit additional budgetary pain and inequity to state employees. To that end, Oregon Rep. Gene Whisnant has a promising idea targeting one of the system’s more well-known shortcomings. The Republican, who represents the Sunriver area in Central Oregon, is aiming a bill for the upcoming short session that would block educators at community colleges and four-year universities from adding payments from outside work into their regular state salary as pension pay-outs are calculated. Again, this is a small, but needed fix. The “final average salary” calculation isn’t an issue for the vast majority of regular Joe recipients. But it’s been found to be a handsome pension loophole for those few highly paid employees who qualify.
PERS problems were caused by decades of dreamy assumptions about returns on investments and inflated promises of benefits. Democratic legislators are locked in an embrace with public employee unions, which produces enough delay and denial to stop any serious consideration of meaningful reforms. Instead, Gov. Kate Brown has backed a cartoonish exercise in selling pieces of state government to pay down the liability. Her big goal of the next legislative session is to raise hundreds of millions in new taxes for green energy. Brown is a leader in Oregon’s PERS cover-up.
Rep. Rich Vial, HD 26
With many decisions ahead regarding the use of tolls and how to prioritize congestion-relief and maintenance efforts, the committee will be busy for years to come. However, there remains a significant missing piece to the puzzle. Without a process for regular coordination with Washington state, we will never effectively address the congestion that plagues our transportation system.
Baker City Herald
If voters reject Measure 101, that would reduce the bill’s revenue by an estimated $330 million. According to Measure 101 proponents (who also supported House Bill 2391), that would put those 350,000 Oregonians in peril of losing coverage under the Oregon Health Plan. Parrish and Hayden disagree. We think they make a compelling argument, which is why we urge Oregonians to vote no on Measure 101 next month.
The Dalles Chronicle
Stepping up to serve
Daniel Bonham, owner of Maupin’s Stoves & Spa in The Dalles, is to be commended for stepping forward to take the House District 59 seat vacated in late October by John Huffman. We wish Bonham luck in the halls of Salem as he represents 63,000 constituents in western Wasco, Wheeler, Jefferson and northern Deschutes counties.
In a perfect world, there would be no legally sanctioned smokers among Oregonians between the ages of 18 and 21, but this is not a perfect world. And uncomfortable as the idea makes us, it’s not right to take away the right of those who are allowed to buy tobacco now.
Spending capital improvement dollars should not be affected by politics, and that seems to be true at the Port of Morrow. It’s a dark red district represented by the Republican Party’s longest serving House member, who has earned a favorable view from Kotek (who, by the way, represents the Port of Portland). We’re not so naive as to be unaware of the undercurrent of political favor guiding such decisions, but we’re pleased to see practical concerns hold more sway than ideological differences.
Register-Guard, Main Street Alliance
Nobody should be forced to choose between their economic security or caring for their family in a time of need. It’s time for Oregon to enact a strong paid family and medical leave program so that every business, employee, and family can thrive in our communities.
It’s appropriate that the $1.4 million has been released — but members of Oregon’s congressional delegation should make clear to their colleagues and the administration that the O&C money should not have been withheld in the first place.
Some, I know, will oppose even these mild measures. If you are one of them, you, like absolutists on the other side, need to get over it. Your guns will remain secure in your responsible hands, but sooner or later such changes are coming, and you and I and our families and communities will be just a little safer when they do.
Oregon’s Jeff Merkley is the only Democrat to get one included in the final bill. His amendment cut out a provision of the hastily-written bill that appeared to give a special tax exemption only to Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. The private school is funded in part by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Merkley’s office said. Senators voted 52-48 to strip out the tax break.
Among his priorities, he said, are restoring some deductibility for state and local taxes on federal returns — both House and Senate versions cap the property-tax deduction at $10,000, and eliminate others — and for interest on student loans and high medical expenses. The House plan eliminates them; the Senate plan leaves them untouched, although it would tax stipends paid to graduate students.
College students and campus administrators in Oregon are nervously watching Congress to see whether the final Republican tax plan includes policies that private and public university leaders alike say would be devastating for students and make college less accessible for everyone.
The tax reform plan approved by the U.S. House of Representatives would eliminate private activity bonds, which support programs that yield affordable housing units in Oregon and other states.