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Bennett's Blog: Birds chirping, yellow flowers and other recent Capitol developments Print E-mail

chuck-bennett.jpgby Chuck Bennett, Director of Government Relations

Yesterday The Oregonian gave its readers an insight into the development of state tax policy and resulting funding for everything from sea mammal restoration to their local public school system.  The paper outlined events surrounding the stalled vote taken Wednesday in the Oregon Senate to raise more than $730 million in new corporate and personal income taxes.

Here’s how they explained the debate in the words of one of Oregon’s business leaders:

“Ryan Deckert, executive director of the Oregon Business Association, said the easy way out for lawmakers is to accept a slightly smaller corporate tax increase and make it temporary.  ‘There's actually a path for an agreement,' Deckert said. "Birds are chirping, and there are little yellow flowers on the path'."

Set aside the rather arcane policy debate over temporary versus permanent taxes and focus on the vision of lawmaking contained in the second half of the Deckert quote.  Birds chirping? Little yellow flowers? Oh my.

I read Deckert’s comments this morning after drinking a couple of cups of high octane Italian roast and had an immediate reaction. It was from my youth – I’m sixty now so the memory comes to me through the haze of time. But here’s how I see it.
Wednesday one Democratic Senator, who is part of a supermajority that can pass tax measures without any Republican support, voted against the two tax measures aimed at balancing the state’s recession driven shortfall in its 2009-11 budget.  The array of groups supporting the tax increases includes every union in the state, every user group in the state, every public employee organization in the state, a supermajority of the House of Representatives that already voted in favor of the taxes and the Governor, who is poised to sign them. Add a half million school kids and their parents and grandparents, every Oregonian relying on some other aspect of city, state or county government and you’ve got yourself  a very large, motivated group. On the other side --Deckert and his Oregon business group and every other business lobbying group at the Capitol and a minority of the House and Senate members.

Using Deckert’s comment, along comes this Senator just whistling down that yellow flowered path, listening to the chirping birds. You can hear the bubbling brook, the Disneyesque critters peeking out from the vivid greenery along the path. The whole thing is sort of like a scene from Bambi.

Okay, now  the metaphor I’ve been trying to get to. It centers on a short movie I remember called “Bambi meets Godzilla,” and it pretty much sums up how that walk along the primrose trail went for the Senator.

A second vote was taken today on the two tax bills and this time every Democrat voted for the taxes and the state budget is back on its way toward balancing. Of course the big news was that the Senator changed his mind and voted for the two tax bills. I’m figuring the change of heart on the tax measures occurred in much the same fashion as seen in the movie. Bambi is just gamboling away and suddenly out of nowhere down comes Godzilla’s foot. End of story. That’s pretty much what happened in Salem today – and with that footnote to the session of the legislature, the question of whether schools will receive a proposed funding level of $6.0 billion over the next two years was resolved. They will (assuming the legislature’s revenue plan isn’t overturned at the ballot box and the economy levels out).

In other recent developments:

  • Yesterday saw the end of a proposal from Oregon’s counties (or at least it appears to be the end). The plan was for counties, through a state managed assessment and taxation fund, to collect the interest from all delinquent property taxes for their assessment and taxation operations. The plan would have raised counties about $13 million over the next biennium or about $20 per ADMw from taxes owed to school districts. Initially school advocacy groups asked for some basic accountability language that would have required the counties to use the funds for assessment and taxation not to backfill other general fund programs and to provide reports on the impact on of additional funding on tax income. Counties and the state Revenue Department balked at these  conditions and schools groups then encouraged either defeat of the bill or an amendment exempting their funds from the bill’s provisions. The committee finally agreed to take up the issue during the interim.
  • ESD mergers are on the agenda Wednesday afternoon and are scheduled to pass in a bill that will cut the number of service districts from 20 to 13 and change their governance structure from elected to appointive boards of directors. Funding for ESDs will be in another bill but is expected to remain at the same level as during the last biennium or about 4.75% of the state school fund. Small ESDs that received a million dollar floor payment will continue to receive that payment and will receive it even if merged. So, if two ESDs receiving the million dollar floor payment merge, the new ESD will get approximately $2 million.
  • Earlier this week, thanks to in large part to your calls and letters and testimony, we learned that Senate Bill 555 is not scheduled to proceed further.  We appreciate your response to our call to action.  Well done, folks.
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This page was last updated on Friday, June 12, 2009 .