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Special session offered a welcome spirit of cooperation

A three-day special session of the Oregon Legislature ended early this month, and I believe its successful conclusion is something not to be quickly dismissed. In a time when the divisive gridlock, partisanship and vitriolic rhetoric of Washington, D.C., dominates political news, the ability of 91 diverse and polarized elected officials to find common ground is rare. But that’s exactly what happened in Salem.

It wasn’t easy or pretty, but at the end of the day Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature found consensus on issues that typically deeply divide. I am always amazed at what Oregonians are able to accomplish when they set aside partisanship and embrace the challenge of making Oregon a better place.

While there is a little bit of something for everyone to dislike in the agreement (that’s the way compromise often works), I believe the result is something that will continue to improve our state long into the future.

One important aspect of the agreement is the $100 million in additional funding it provides for school classrooms. This represents millions of dollars for Forest Grove and Hillsboro school districts that will help add back teachers, reduce class sizes and add back school days. We are just now beginning to reverse the damage of years of underfunding, but this, coupled with the overall $1 billion school funding increase we adopted during the session, begins to put our schools back on the right track.

What’s more, the special session compromise also produced some additional reforms to Oregon’s indebted Public Employee Retirement System. While the reforms unfortunately don’t produce immediate savings, over the next few years they will free up hundreds of millions of additional dollars for local schools, police departments and government services to invest in meeting needs. PERS has been siphoning money away from these core services for too long; these steps of reform will begin to provide relief.

The compromise package of legislation we adopted also contained tax relief and tax certainty for Oregon businesses. This is the first time in Oregon history the Legislature has taken action specifically to help small businesses. I voted to create a new tax bracket specifically for job creators that qualify as small businesses, resulting in a 22 percent tax cut that will help small businesses to hire new employees and expand their operations.

This is a groundbreaking policy that I believe will help Oregon small businesses grow and add new jobs, and therefore help working families succeed. A state with a successful economy has successful small businesses. This legislation recognizes the crucial role small businesses play in the long-term welfare of Oregonians, and works to help them prosper.

While Oregon continues to experience slow recovery, a firm economic foundation is needed in order for families to realize their dreams. Small businesses account for 64 percent of new private-sector jobs. More than 75 percent of employers in Oregon are small businesses with fewer than 10 employees. So giving these small businesses security and predictability is one of the best things we can do to spur job growth in Oregon.

Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t love everything in the agreement. With more than $2 billion more to spend this budget cycle than last, I didn’t think we needed to increase taxes on corporations, but my Democrat colleagues disagreed and wouldn’t support PERS reforms or small business tax relief without the additional revenue. I also wish we could have done more to fix a broken PERS system. But when considered as a whole, I believe the agreement offers much hope and opportunity to our state and its citizens, and so I was proud to support it.

The spirit of cooperation that led to this agreement I believe provides a roadmap for future legislators to productively serve Oregon. It’s my plan to follow it.

State Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) represents Senate District No. 15, which includes the city of Hillsboro.




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