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McLain, Parrish spar over minimum wage, schools

Washington County politicians disagree over approaches at forum


Two state representatives — Democrat Susan McLain of Forest Grove and Republican Julie Parrish of West Linn, whose district takes in part of Washington County — disagreed on proposed laws, including one to raise Oregon’s minimum wage, during a recent Washington County Public Affairs Forum.

The minimum wage is now $9.25 per hour. Bills to raise it did not reach a vote in the 2015 session. Voters in 2002 linked increases to inflation, but the rate did not change for 2016.

This year, Gov. Kate Brown proposed a two-tier rate that would raise the minimum over six years to $15.52 per hour within Portland’s urban growth boundary and less in the rest of Oregon.

It’s an alternative to ballot initiatives backed by labor unions and others that would raise the minimum wage to either $13.50 or $15 over three years.

Brown has since lowered her proposed rates (to $14.50 instead of $15.52) and Senate Democrats have offered an alternate, three-tiered system that comes to the floor of the Senate for a vote this week.

House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland and Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem, the Legislature’s Democratic leaders, will have to rely on Democratic votes to push any such bill through because Republicans are unlikely to support it.

McLain is a first-term member from District 29, which covers west Hillsboro, Cornelius and Forest Grove. She said she has been meeting with a variety of groups.

“Many of the businesses at these meetings hope that we will do something like a measured package,” she said. “Business says we want the Legislature to deal with it because we don’t want it on the (Nov. 8) ballot.”

Parrish is a third-term member from District 37, which includes Tualatin. She said higher wages will bring higher taxes and also reductions in food assistance, state-supported child care, health care and other services, meaning low-wage workers will see little benefit from a big increase in the minimum wage.

Parrish called for “a real conversation” about how to get people off government subsidies “and into real wages.

“The question we should be asking is why we are not moving people into good-paying jobs.”

Although it’s uncertain whether an alternative will surface in the short session, McLain and Parrish were asked about another pending ballot initiative — backed by public employee unions and opposed by business groups — for a higher minimum corporate tax on businesses with $25 million in Oregon sales.

The measure would raise an estimated $5.3 billion in a two-year budget cycle.

Parrish said she got into politics as a result of Measure 67, which voters upheld in 2010, that imposed a higher minimum corporate tax on businesses — but not on the same scale as the proposed initiative. She opposed both.

She said it would penalize high-volume, low-margin businesses such as groceries — and it would add taxes on business-to-business sales.

“Ultimately, the consumer is going to pay for it,” Parrish said. “If we are going to have a tax on products, maybe we should have that conversation, which I know isn’t necessarily going to be popular. But at least in a state where you have a sales tax, you actually see the tax.”

Oregon voters rejected a general retail sales tax nine times between 1933 and 1993.

McLain was noncommittal, saying only that members of the Westside Economic Alliance labeled the initiative as “problematic” during a discussion with her and several other legislators.

“I think the whole Legislature is very serious about making sure business has a good environment, a good foundation to be able to do their work and make a profit so they will stay in our community,” McLain said.

Both Parrish and McLain will offer education bills during the short session.

One of Parrish’s bills would remove the 2017 expiration date from a 2011 law allowing students to attend a school outside their home districts and letting state aid follow them into their new district. Districts do not have to allow open enrollment and can cap the number of open slots under the law.

One of McLain’s bills would seek greater accountability for public dollars, whether they are spent in regular schools, charter schools that are privately operated, or online schools. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 10.

Both McLain and Parrish are seeking new terms in the House.