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Senate GOP leader raps his party's attacks

Ferrioli: Leaders pledged against political use of 2013 end to senior medical tax break.

The Republican leader of the Oregon Senate has taken the unusual step of criticizing his own party’s attacks on two Democrats who supported elimination of a tax break for senior medical expenses.

The provision was part of a multifaceted measure (House Bill 3601) that also increased state cigarette taxes but resulted in reduced taxes for some small businesses and a higher tax credit for low-income workers.

The measure was part of a “grand bargain” reached by Gov. John Kitzhaber and legislative leaders from both parties during a 2013 special session. Among other things, the agreement pared cost-of-living increases for public employees but raised more money for schools and services for older people and mental health.

“At that time, we acknowledged that political attacks undermine the ability of lawmakers to rise above partisanship and seek common ground for the good of Oregon,” Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day said in a statement Friday.

“To the end, I signed a joint agreement … not to use the ‘yes’ vote elimination of the senior medical tax deduction in campaign materials directed at any of us or any other senator, representative or candidate for such office.”

But Republicans in two races have now pressed that exact issue against Democrats.

Republican Sen. Betsy Close of Albany, who is seeking the retain the seat she was appointed to in 2012, says in a questionnaire to the Corvallis Gazette-Times that Democratic challenger Sara Gelser of Corvallis voted to eliminate the deduction on state income taxes.

Close was one of seven Republicans to oppose the bill in the Senate. The other seven, including Ferrioli, voted for it.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, based in Washington, D.C., has focused on the “yes” vote by Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, in direct-mail, electronic and online ads against him.

Earlier this week, the committee targeted Courtney, the longest-serving member of the current Legislature and Senate president for the past 12 years.

The bill passed the House, 36-19, and the Senate, 18-10 — the exact 60 percent majorities required for a revenue-raising measure.

“I agree to continue the tempered demeanor of bipartisanship, respect the statesmanship with those senators and representatives who boldly looked to Oregon’s future instead of the political present,” Ferrioli says in the statement.

For Ferrioli, his party would win at least a tie in the Senate if Close wins and Courtney loses.

The parties have focused on the Close-Gelser race, one of the few opportunities Democrats have to increase their current 16-14 majority over Republicans.

The outcome may hinge on whether there is greater voter participation in Democratic-leaning Benton County, home to Gelser, or in Republican-leaning Linn County.

Courtney is being challenged by Republican Patti Milne of Woodburn, a former state representative and former Marion County commissioner. Party registration favors Democrats, but the district also has the lowest total of registered voters in the state.


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