Jeff Kruse, Oregon senator
The Legislature has finished its work.All the votes have been bought and it is just a matter of going through the process.
As was expected, the Democrats have had a successful session. I could talk about how we have now doubled down on Oregon being a “sanctuary state” or the fact the state is going to pay for lateterm abortions based on anything, including the sex of the baby, but I think there are a couple of other important things you need to know.
At the beginning of the session, the Democrats claimed we needed tax increases because we had a “$1.8 billion deficit.” We said the first thing we needed to do was find some cost containment within government. This was based on the fact government is growing at 14 percent a year, which is three or four times the growth rate of the state economy. A workgroup was created which explored many efficiency options, virtually all of which were rejected.
On Thursday, SB 1067, which is being called the cost containment bill, was passed with the Democrats claiming success. In reality the bill is full of accounting voodoo and accomplishes nothing. We had asked for $1 billion in general fund cuts, which would have been a 5 percent reduction across all state agencies, and we got nothing.
Meanwhile, we were able to pass a balanced budget without a major tax increase, which is just another example of how one can “play” with the numbers to try and achieve any objective. The Democrats tried up to the 11th hour to pass tax increases, but without any Republican support it wasn’t going to happen. I fully expect them to renew their efforts in the 2018 session.
Earlier in the session, we passed what is called the provider tax to fund the Medicaid program. There was a way to fund Medicaid within Medicaid’s own assessment system, but the Speaker of the House insisted on creating true taxes in the legislation. So, what we now have is a .7-percent tax on hospitals and a 1.2 percent tax on health insurance.
Besides the fact these taxes were unnecessary, there is also the fact they can be increased by a simple majority vote. I have been told there is already an effort underway to refer this measure to the ballot, which brings us to Senate Bill 229, which was a technical fix bill (originally) from the Secretary of State’s office.
It became in the House a special elections bill and passed in both the House and Senate Thursday on party line votes. Quite simply this creates a plan to totally violate our election process.
Normally, when enough signatures are gathered to put something on the ballot a balanced committee of people for and against the measure is formed to create the ballot title and develop the explanatory statements. On top of that, either side has the options of taking the issue to the Supreme Court if they are not satisfied with the outcome.
SB 229 now eliminates these protections and due process. What will happen now is a six-member committee of legislators (four Democrats and two Republicans) will write the ballot title and statements without any ability for anyone to object to the results.
On top of that, they want to bring the issue for a special election in January during the holiday season. We all take an oath when we are sworn in to uphold the Constitution, and this is a clear violation of that oath. But I guess it has become clear over the last decade that the progressives don’t believe in the Constitution anyway.
I could go on about a whole lot of other things, like the fact we underfunded community colleges, but were somehow able to give Multnomah County over $100 million for a new courthouse, but maybe I will mention something positive.
We did pass a transportation package. This was very needed, and is an example of how things can work if we take a bipartisan approach to issues.
We did leave a lot of important issues, like PERS, on the table which is very frustrating, but in a one-party state, only so much can get done.
I want to thank all of you who have communicated with me over the last few months; your input is very valuable.
Personally, I am going to take a break from this and go back to just being a farmer for a little while. The Legislature will meet again for legislative days in September as we begin to prepare for the 2018 session.
It continues to be my honor to serve District One in the Oregon State Senate, and we will continue our dialogue as we move forward.