It has been reported that the Legislature will have to deal with its enormous challenges in a certain order. Maybe even one crisis at a time. How to fill the $1.8 billion shortfall in the current service level of the 2017-19 budget? With a gap that size, cuts to programs are inevitable. But there is also the often-described top priority this session: produce an adequate transportation infrastructure maintenance and repair package that would – if necessary – be approved by voters. Those two items alone are daunting and would seem to discourage work on any other big notions this session.

Nevertheless there are notable discussions taking place on other big ideas.

The Joint Ways & Means Committee continues its statewide tour soliciting public testimony on its budget headache. In the first of its hearings February 10 in Salem, Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope waited patiently for two hours before delivering a crisp and well-received statement in his allotted two minutes on the need to invest in the state’s natural resources and the agencies that serve in that sector. Hearings that take place in Hermiston, Madras, Ashland, Eugene, and Tillamook will likely be similar, with crowds of people waiting to speak. Most of the witnesses in Salem were those who are working or had worked in state government, and decried the cuts to critical services. It is unsure whether the legislators received help in finding solutions.

The group of legislators from both chambers toiling away on approaches to the transportation package have divided themselves into four work groups: Highway/Road Preservation, Maintenance and Seismic Upgrade (Rep. Bentz and Lively; Sen. Winters and Girod); Traffic Congestion and Freight Mobility (Sen Boquist and Johnson; Rep. Smith-Warner and McLain); Public Transportation and Public Safety Sen. Beyer, Monroe, and Taylor); and Multi-modal Freight (Rep. McKeown, Olson, and Smith). They will meet for the remainder of February on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and encourage public and stakeholder participation.

But other groups are meeting to develop topics that can be presented when the appropriate time comes.

The Public Employees Retirement System remains under scrutiny for potential, although likely modest, reduction in its unfunded liability. The evidence that the discussions continue are the public demonstrations from time to time outside the Capitol by state employees and retirees.

The two revenue committees are getting themselves up to speed on alternative methods of corporate taxation, studying the experience of other states with systems of broader tax bases and lower tax rates. (A frequent refrain at the Salem hearing of Ways & Means on February 10 was “corporations are not paying their fair share,” but without any specifics).

The Senate Finance & Revenue Committee has waded in to the property tax system. Using Senate Joint Resolution 3 and Senate Bill 151 as early vehicles, it will hold hearings on a system that retains district permanent rates but applies them to real market value of the property. It would not disturb Measure 5 (1990) limitations on tax rates or compression. SB 151 would sweeten the pot for voters with a homestead (owner-occupied principal dwelling) exemption.

Those who want to see a more significant, but still politically palatable, remodeling of the property tax system, including AOC and the League of Oregon Cities, point to inequities that have grown under Measure 50 (1997) since the link to real market value was broken, the vast differences in permanent tax rates, and the rigidity of the 27-year old Measure 5 rate caps ($5 schools/$10 general governments). The ever-present reality with any changes to the property tax system is the fact that its details are embedded in the Constitution, which will require a vote of the people. To pass, any change to the system would have to be simple and clearly explained. There is a long way to go before agreement.

As of February 21st, 3,570 bills have been introduced. The bill filing deadline is February 28th. AOC is tracking or monitoring over 60 percent of the bills, a percentage that has been consistent since the first off-loading of proposed legislation.

If you are curious about any bill or legislative-related subject, contact any of the AOC Policy Team. We will likely be contacting you for testimony and other support during the session.

Contributed by: Gil Riddell | AOC Policy Director