GOV. KATE BROWN AND PERS
Gov. Kate Brown rolled out a financially and politically ambitious proposal Friday to rein in increasing public pension costs for schools over the next 15 years by diverting various state revenue streams and requiring public employees to contribute to their pension benefits. The proposal is an effort to ensure that any new corporate tax money lawmakers dedicate to schools will actually make it into the classroom, and not be swallowed up by the pension system to backfill its growing deficit. But it could also serve as a backup plan in case lawmakers can’t pass a new tax plan. Elements of Brown’s plan have circulated for some time, but she hasn’t offered much specificity to date. That changed Friday, as she unveiled a detailed set of options for lawmakers to consider.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has released her long-awaited plan to tackle the state’s financially troubled public pension system. The governor’s proposal, made public Friday, includes a long list of ideas to raise around $3.3 billion over the next 16 years to shield Oregon schools from most of the rate hikes facing Oregon public employers. State leaders are trying to dig their way out of a pension debt now estimated at nearly $27 billion. The plan includes proposals that could affect taxpayers, the business community and the state’s 70,000 school employees. Among other things, it calls for capping next year’s “kicker” income tax rebate at $100 — a move that would divert up to $500 million from taxpayers into the PERS school rescue fund.
Oregonians could pay less on their state income taxes but pay more for some goods and services, under a legislative proposal to raise money for the state’s struggling public school system. The long-awaited proposal will tax businesses just under one-half of 1 percent of their gross receipts of more than $1 million while cutting Oregonians’ income tax rates by a quarter of a percent for all but the top bracket. Sales of groceries, gasoline and diesel would not be taxed under the proposal. The smallest businesses — those that make less than $1 million in taxable revenue per year — will not be subject to the tax, nor will any that already pay the medical provider tax. Businesses that are taxed will be able to allay the impact by deducting one-quarter of either their labor costs or the amount they paid to other businesses during the course of the year.
Two elements make budgeting a painful math exercise for the Umatilla School District: employee health benefits and retirement benefits. Right now, the school district pays about 8 percent of its budget, or $1.2 million, to the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System. In the next school year, that cost will go up an estimated $46,000. That may not seem like much, but for Umatilla it could mean cuts — especially if the state doesn’t come up with more money for schools. “If there’s any type of increase, that is a direct hit to what we can offer to students,” said Superintendent Heidi Sipe. “…PERS is a larger and larger percent of those expenses that’s hitting us harder and harder each year.”
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Oregon Public Broadcasting
When business closed at the Oregon Legislature Tuesday, a breakneck session became somewhat less hectic. Roughly halfway through the 2019 Oregon legislative session, April 9 marked the last day most bills could either be moved out of committee or shelved for another year. But while the list of fallen proposals included some notable bills — lowering the drunk driving limit and disarming campus police, among them — the real challenges lie ahead. Democrats still have a hefty to-do list: They want to raise $1 billion annually for schools, rejigger the state’s tax code, usher through ambitious gun legislation and pass a complicated proposal to cap carbon emissions. “I kind of feel like I’m surfing on a tsunami of taxes,” said House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass. “Every inch of this building (is) firmly in their hands for the most part. So I think that they’re using that opportunity to do everything that they’ve wanted to do for years.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Oregon lawmakers looking to raise $1 billion in tax revenue to invest in public schools heard a familiar message Thursday: “Yes … and?” Early childhood advocates, supporters of increased mental health resources, students calling for smaller class sizes and expanded programs — they all urged the Joint Committee on Student Success to approve the $1 billion plan to support K-12 schools. In fact, no one argued against the bill that’s come out of more than a year of meetings. Instead, advocates for the state’s youngest children and students in college and universities pressed lawmakers to stretch the dollars to help their priorities as well.
Of the handful of nicotine-related tax initiatives, Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed $2 a pack tax increase has gotten the most attention. However, a proposed vaping tax ended up being the hot-button issue when the proposals got public hearings this week. Sixty-five people showed up Wednesday and Thursday to tell the House Revenue Committee how they felt about five bills being considered. Many others came to watch, packing the hearing room. If all passed, the proposals would collectively increase the tobacco tax by $2 per pack of cigarettes, remove the 50-cent tax cap on cigars and impose a 95 percent wholesale tax on electronic cigarettes. A vote on whether to pass the proposals out of committee hasn’t been scheduled.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
In less than two weeks, new Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno has dramatically changed at least the public face of the office. In her first days in the position, Clarno ousted chief of staff Debra Royal, legal affairs director Steve Elzinga and deputy secretary Leslie Cummings. On April 5, she made further changes, sending a letter to Larry Morgan, who holds a unique position as the office’s citizen engagement and inclusion coordinator, announcing that the contract for his services will not be renewed when it expires at the end of June. And this week, a vocal critic of Oregon’s largest school district resigned her position as the secretary of state’s liaison to the state of education.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Oregon lawmakers questioned Child Welfare officials in a hearing Thursday. They wanted to know why the number of foster care children being sent out-of-state skyrocketed and how a 9-year-old could be sent to Montana for six months and never be checked on by a caseworker. “Something here has gone very, very wrong,” said Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who chairs the Senate Committee on Human Services and convened the hearing. “We cannot ignore it and we have to keep this issue front and center until we are satisfied each of these kids are safe.”
The Student Success Act being debated at the state Legislature could add another $1.4 million a year to the Astoria School District’s budget, Superintendent Craig Hoppes said Wednesday. House Bill 2019, introduced last month by the Joint Committee on Student Success, calls for an additional $2 billion in K-12 funding per biennium starting in July to improve behavioral support, mental health and early learning opportunities. The money would likely come from a tax on businesses’ gross receipts above $150,000. In laying out the school district’s approach to creating a budget for the 2019-20 school year, Hoppes called the Student Success Act the best opportunity for new funding in his 22 years with the district. “It could have a really significant impact in our district,” he said.
Georgia-Pacific Wood Products has notified employees at its Coos Bay lumber mill that it will shutter the facility and lay off all of the site’s 111 workers. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports Georgia-Pacific’s western lumber general manager, Bill Goodman, wrote to state officials Thursday saying job cuts will begin June 10 and continue in phases until the Coos Bay facility is completely closed. The Atlanta-based pulp and paper company said Asian competition for Oregon logs made it more expensive to supply the Coos Bay mill. And Georgia-Pacific said the prolonged closure of Coos Bay’s swing span railroad bridge made it more difficult to ship products from the site.
Albany Democrat Herald
Linn and Benton counties each declared emergencies on Thursday due to recent flooding, which would allow them to assess damage and calculate estimated losses for possible state or federal relief funds. In Linn County, Board Chairman Roger Nyquist and Commissioner Will Tucker held a special meeting. Commissioner John Lindsey was not present. “The good news is that to our knowledge, there has not been any loss of life,” Nyquist said. “This also reminds us of how interconnected we are in the mid-valley in terms of residents traveling to and from their places of employment. When a major highway is turned into a river, it seriously affects traffic flow for all of us.”
The Pendleton City Council is taking its options for raising more revenue for street maintenance on the road. Council members gathered Tuesday for a workshop, where Mayor John Turner distributed a sheet of revenue ideas to each councilor. Turner emphasized that these were not ironclad proposals, but ideas meant to spur public discussion as council members present them to community groups. Turner said the city had about $1.2 million in the upcoming fiscal year for street maintenance funding, but needed another million dollars to start fixing a deteriorating street system.
In my 19 years of service at Wauna, I’ve seen how our industry is changing, the intensely competitive nature of paper-making, and how pennies per case really do matter. While most people probably don’t care about where their toilet paper is made, they should. Because the stuff we make at the Wauna mill is some of the greenest (not literally), most sustainable that you’ll find anywhere in the world. It’s clear that state Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell doesn’t care much about that. Her recent declaration of support for the proposed cap and trade legislation is pretty much a “closing soon” sign out in front of our mill (“North Coast needs clean energy jobs,” The Daily Astorian, April 4). Just ask our colleagues at the Camas (Washington) mill and the loss of the jobs there.
I work at the Wauna paper mill, and I am offended by the arrogant and dismissive words that state Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell recently directed toward hardworking people in her district (“North Coast needs clean energy jobs,” The Daily Astorian, April 4). For her to say that Oregon’s proposed cap and trade legislation doesn’t put hundreds of local jobs at risk is an outright lie.
I’m writing to correct some misinformation provided by state Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell via a recent guest column, “North Coast needs clean energy jobs” (The Daily Astorian, April 4). Unfortunately, her support for the cap and trade bill glosses over the devastating consequences for hardworking men and women within Oregon’s pulp and paper industry.