BY AMANDA WALDROUPE
The Legislature’s House Democratic and Republican caucuses have released their policy agendas for economic recovery and job creation. But between the divergence of those agendas, duration of the Legislature’s short, upcoming session, and partisan politics in an election year, the business community may wind up holding its breath.
“I think it’s more of a tee-up for the 2013 session,” said John Ledger, vice president of Associated Oregon Industries.
Ryan Deckert, the Oregon Business Association’s president, said neither agenda is new. “It seems like things that have been discussed in the past,” he said.
The House Republican agenda, dubbed “50,000 Jobs in Five Years,” calls for tax breaks and using the state’s agricultural, water and forest resources to create jobs. (Senate Republicans have not released an agenda.) “The focus of our agenda is private sector job creation,” said Rep. Kevin Cameron (R-Salem), the House Republican’s majority leader.
Among the tax proposals are doubling the two lower-income tax brackets to “provide tax relief to lower- and middle-income Oregonians,” creating tax credits for home and business owners who want to renovate their homes or businesses and for small businesses that hire unemployed workers, and capping the capital gains tax at 2.5% for two years. The agenda also calls for using an additional 450,000 of acre-feet of water from the Columbia River to “boost direct farm and food processing jobs,” and require that 95% of new timber growth be harvested.
House and Senate Democrats released a joint agenda they say focuses on protecting small businesses and the middle class. Among that agenda’s proposals are increasing small business’ access to capital and bank loans, creating partnerships with businesses and community colleges for workforce retraining, putting money into shovel ready infrastructure projects, redirecting state money to local banks and credit unions to create jobs, eliminating “sweetheart” deals in state contracts, and eliminating excess government spending.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Tina Kotek (D-Portland) said the Democratic agenda “focuses on barriers to Oregon’s economic recovery” and called it “achievable” and “reasonable.”
Deckert seemed largely supportive of the Republican agenda, specifically mentioning the capital gains cap and the creation of tax credits as ways that help business. He also says investing in infrastructure projects and loosening up capital would be “helpful.”
Jim Houser, owner of the Hawthorne Auto Clinic and co-chair of the Oregon Main Street Alliance, doubts that tax credits and breaks will help create jobs. Policies that will be more effective at creating jobs, he said, are stimulus projects “that [will] get people earning,” who in turn will become customers at local businesses. “What drives job growth are customers,” Houser said.
While he is largely supportive of the Democratic agenda, “The Democrats haven’t got a whole lot going,” Houser said because the state Legislature is limited by the national and international recessions.
Convening on Feb. 1 for a month-long session, the Legislature has a 16-14 Democratic majority in the Senate and a 30-30 split in the House. With such divergent agendas, compromise and bipartisanship will be crucial.
“There needs to be bipartisan cooperation,” said Sen. Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland). “Some of these themes are similar. We’re talking about putting Oregonians back to work.”
“We understand we’re going to have work with people to accomplish anything,” Cameron said.
But the House Democrats didn’t waste time throwing what might be their first political pot shot of the session. Mere hours after the Republican agenda was released late last week, a press release from the House Democratic office said the Republican agenda would result in the lay off of teachers, home-care workers, and public safety officers.
“It’s always easier to criticize than to lead,” Cameron said, who voiced some support for some of the Democrats’ small-business agenda.
Kotek said she “kind of” agreed with a Republican proposal to cut non-essential government spending, but can’t support any of their other agenda items.
“My biggest problem with their proposal is that they put ideas on the table that will cost money right now,” Kotek said, citing a tight budget and little revenue. “If you’re going to put out a plan that will have immediately impact on our budget, you have to explain how you’re going to pay for it.”
Amanda Waldroupe is a contributing writer for Oregon Business.