Macpherson, Devlin weigh in on the scene from Salem
A crowd of more than 200 gathered early last Thursday morning at the Oswego Country Club for the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce's annual Leadership Breakfast.
The event was an opportunity to hear from state Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, and state Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, on how things are going in the Legislature and what things Oswegans could expect to come out of Salem.
'We're off to a good start,' said Macpherson.
'Ethics reforms are in place and legislators are buying their own beer,' he said jokingly. 'Plus no one has been run over by the jealous girlfriend of one of the capitol's janitors who is supposedly having an affair with a legislator.'
On a serious note he said that the session is off to a good start and he felt the Legislature would address more high-profile issues that will be good for all Oregonians.
Macpherson is serving on four committees this session and has been appointed to a sub-committee that will look at how the state can handle the many challenges of Measure 37.
According to Macpherson, the greatest problem facing Oregon is the need to deal with how to finance the public sector and how heavy the dependence is on income tax. He said the state needs comprehensive tax reform but that the timing was not right in Salem for it to happen this session.
He also noted the need to build a meaningful reserve fund - a rainy day fund - so the state had something to fall back on. He said one possible source to fund this would be the corporate kicker. He said many corporations are out of state and are probably not counting on taxes that they've already paid being refunded to them. He said the latest projection of the corporate kicker is $275 million. For this to pass it would require a two-thirds vote by both the House and the Senate or a referral to the people.
Macpherson said Oregonians also are likely to hear more about the governor's Healthy Kids Plan. It would provide health insurance for all Oregonians up to age 18, approximately 117,000 children. Macpherson said the likely funding source for such a program would be an increase in the cigarette tax of 84 cents per pack.
Devlin now serves on the Senate's Ways and Means Committee and as vice-chair on the sub-committee for education and on natural resources. He noted his responsibilities are much different than the federal government - 'we can't write a check for money we don't have.'
He said that it would be a successful session if legislators could address issues dealing with education, health care and the environment. Overall, Devlin says he already spends most of his day telling people 'no.' This is an aspect of the job he doesn't enjoy but is necessary based on the fact that the legislators have to be selective to where they allocate funds since there aren't enough to go around.
According to Devlin, the governor is asking for a school budget of $6 billion and many legislators hope to do better. He said this is almost $1 billion more than the last session. He said such a budget would allow schools to add back programs they lost over the last 10 to 12 years. In Lake Oswego it would mean the school district would receive and an extra $200 per student. For state universities, it would allow for an increase in faculty salaries so Oregon doesn't continue to rank near the bottom in the nation.
He also said the schools budget would allow for an $80 million increase for community colleges, the backbone, he feels, of the state's changing economy. He noted that community colleges have an important need to invest in capital projects as well as differing maintenance needs.
Other topics covered by both Macpher-son and Devlin included:
Macpherson has been appointed to a sub-committee to look at Measure 37 and come up with ideas on how to deal with this measure.
He noted that no compensation has been paid because no funding source has ever been identified. The measure is about waivers but he said that municipalities have not consistently processed these waivers. He also said that the rights that a person wins from a Measure 37 claim are also not transferable. He said his committee is meeting twice a week to figure a way for the state to deal with more than 7,000 pending claims.
Devlin said this is a difficult policy. He noted that most Oregonians voted for it but most Oregonians didn't realize the ramifications.
'Planners can't plan with what's happening with Measure 37,' he said.
Rainy Day Fund
Devlin said Oregonians should expect to have $200 million in a Rainy Day Fund by the end of this biennium. He would like it to be closer to $900 million but also said that it should actually be between $1.2 and $1.5 billion for the state to weather another recession.
'We are kidding ourselves if we get hit with a recession. A rainy day fund will only help us deal with a recession; we'll still have to make cuts. A rainy day fund is no iron-clad protection against a recession.'
He said criteria needs to be established on how a rainy day fund would be spent.
'This fund shouldn't be seen as the first thing we go after in a recession. The fund needs protections so the Legislature can't get the money unless there is a dire need,' Devlin said.
Devlin said that this is the first time in recent years that there are no plans to build a correctional facility, typically a $300 million project. He noted that the cost for this type of project should be compared to the community college capital improvement needs.
Macpherson said the goal is to make Oregon less dependent on fossil fuels. He said to expect a bio-fuels package that includes incentives like tax credits for businesses and residents who support energy efficient practices.
Devlin said that there is less federal money available and this affects Oregon's transportation dollars. He said there has been no talk in this session of increasing the gas tax to support the transportation infrastructure. He noted that the gas tax has not been raised since 1993 and that because cars are more fuel efficient that tax revenue stream has become flat.
The annual Leadership Breakfast is organized by the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce and was sponsored this year by Key Bank. The chamber holds events like these to help inform and educate the community and chamber members.