Capitol Gains: Unfinished business

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

{safe_alt_text} By Abraham Hyatt

Was it a good session for business? Yes, says Kari Chisholm, a political consultant and an editor at blueoregon.com, one of the most prominent left-leaning blogs in the state. He points, as other Democrats do, to the major increase in funding for higher education as one example.

No, says Ted Piccolo, the publisher of nwrepublican.blogspot.com, one of the most prominent right-leaning blogs in the state. He thinks the Legislature was so union-friendly that it ignored “those folks working their tails off to provide a strong private economy.

“If one believes that business enterprise is the engine that drives the economy, this session added sawdust to the oil.”

Lynn Lundquist, president of the Or-egon Business Association, thinks the session as a whole went well. But he agrees that the Legislature was very union-friendly.

He also was disturbed by the decision to punt Measure 37 to voters (“This was a terrible thing for the state,” he says), and the lack of action on a transportation bill that had support from the business community.

Lundquist’s top item for February is environmental enhancement tax credits (tax breaks for businesses that exceed federal and state environmental requirements). Beyond that, he thinks there’s just not enough time between now and the special session for the Legislature to be ready to deal with many of the business community’s unresolved issues, such as further changes to the bottle bill, transportation and the corporate minimum tax.

HERE COMES FEB. 4

It’s during the “vacation” time — those months between legislative sessions — that the dirty work on bills gets done: research, input from legislative counsel, handshaking and deal making. And since the Democrats did little or none of that legwork last summer (who would have guessed they’d ever take dual majority?), what got taken care of in the 2007 session was the “easy stuff, the low-hanging fruit,” says Chisholm.

“It was good stuff, but manageable. Now comes the heavy lifting.”

The state’s tax system, Measure 37, recycling extensions for the bottle bill, paid family leave, medical marijuana in the workplace: Senators and representatives will learn a lot from voter initiatives, legislative committees and their own work by the time they convene for the Feb. 4-29 special session.

BUT WHAT WILL THEY DO?

Aside from responding to voter initiatives such as Measure 37, nobody’s saying just what the Legislature will take on. Some, like Piccolo, argue that the purpose of the special session is to deal with budget issues alone. The challenge for Republicans, he says, will be to limit or block policy bills from being introduced.

One of the biggest complicating factors for any bipartisan work is the 2008 November election. Politicos are already revving up their electioneering rhetoric. Hot and heavy campaigning will have undoubtedly started by February.

Will anyone in Salem really want to touch money-related issues?


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THE SCORECARD

{safe_alt_text}

THE COLOR GREEN: Bottle bill! Renewable energy! Tax breaks for businesses that use green energy! Several of the many, many green bills this session received mixed reviews from the business community. Whatever compromises were made before the governor signed his name, it’s the success of these broad-ranging bills that will help maintain the Dems’ momentum in the next year.

{safe_alt_text} DRUG-FREE WORKPLACE: A move to require medical marijuana patients to be drug free in the workplace passed the Senate but stalled in the House. Look for it to return at some point.


{safe_alt_text}RESORT INDUSTRY: The Senate passed a bill that would ban destination resorts near the Metolius River. But the governor didn’t like it (he argued that proposed resorts should be handled through the regular land-use process) and the bill never made it past the House.


{safe_alt_text} CORPORATE TAX INCREASE: It looked like it could have had enough support from the business community and House Republicans. But like so many other tax increases this year — which require a 60% majority in the House — it never won enough support. Definitely not a dead issue.

{safe_alt_text}CONSUMERS: Payday and car-title lenders didn’t like it (and dozens of stores have since closed their doors), but the Legislature knocked down triple-digit interest rates on consumer loans. Another win for consumers: restrictions on telemarketing calls. What didn’t get passed was an extension of the amount of time lawsuits can be filed against manufacturers of defective products.

{safe_alt_text} TAX BREAKS: The $22.4 million omnibus package of breaks — including $5 million a year for Hollywood filmmakers — is now law. So are another $19 million in tax hikes for the wealthy. It almost perfectly equals out for the next budget. But not for 2009-2011. By then, most of the breaks will be in place, and the state will have an estimated $26 million less in its pockets.

{safe_alt_text} HIGHER ED: One of the biggest winners. Universities ended up with an $870 million budget — a 23% increase from 2005-2007. That means as much as a 26% increase in funding for some workforce programs. It also means more than $20 million will go to Oregon Innovation Council programs such as ONAMI, BEST and Ocean Wave Energy.

 

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