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Sal Peralta: Legislature as divided as ever

The 2016 legislative session concluded on March 3rd of this month, closing the door on one of the most contentious, partisan and acrimonious sessions in recent history.

Oregon voters approved annual sessions in 2010, with long 160-day sessions in odd-numbered years and 35-day sessions in even-numbered years. The intention behind adding sessions during even-numbered years was to allow for budget corrections or to fix true emergencies, and in 2012 and 2014, the Legislature held true to form.

Guest Writer

Guest writer Sal Peralta is a project manager for Oregon Lithoprint and secretary of Oregon’s Independent Party. He lives in McMinnville with his wife, Tanya, daughter Bella, and two dogs. When he is not working or thinking about public policy, he can usually be found playing the violin or enjoying time with family and friends.

Not so, in 2016. Legislative Democrats came forward with an agenda that included making Oregon the first state in the country to ban coal from being used in the state’s energy portfolio and passing the largest minimum wage increase of any state in the country.

With a short legislative calendar, and the Democrats holding an 18-12 majority in the Senate and a 35-25 majority in the House, legislative Republicans invoked a seldom-used provision in the Oregon Constitution that requires each bill to be read aloud on the floor before it can be voted on. That requirement can be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote, and the Republicans withheld their consent.

The Democratic supermajority status, coupled with Oregon’s “strong caucus model” that grants almost absolute power to the Speaker of the House, Senate President, and co-chairs of the Ways and Means Committees, meant most decisions on controversial legislation were often decided by a group of 3-7 people, including the governor, senate president, house speaker, and occasionally the majority leaders or the co-chairs of Ways and Means.

Even some Democrats were crying foul. State Senator Betsy Johnson opinioned, “All of us were elected the same way, but here we basically have this small group of people dictating the outcomes of all of these important bills. It’s a terrible process.”

With that statement as the background, let’s take a look at the most significant legislation that was passed in 2016.

Oregon became the first state to adopt a geographically-tiered minimum wage when Kate Brown signed SB 1532 into law. Oregon’s current minimum wage of $9.25 will increase on July 1, and will increase each year through 2023 when it will settle at $14.75 in the Portland metro area, $12.50 in rural counties and $13.75 everywhere else (including Yamhill County).

Seventy-three percent of voters favor an increase in the minimum wage, with support falling off as the wage increases toward the $15 mark. Proponents point out that low wage jobs account for 44 percent of job growth since the great recession and that full-time wage earners need to earn at least $16.61 to afford a two bedroom apartment in a state like Oregon.

Opponents contend that raising the minimum wage will drive up costs for businesses and cause employers to shed employees or pass the increased labor costs onto consumers. The University of Oregon released a statement shortly after the minimum wage increase announcing the university would face additional costs, culminating in a $6.1 million increase by the 2021 biennium, which it would address through a combination of raising tuition and decreasing staff.

Oregon also became the first state to ban the sale of electricity generated from coal-fired power plants and mandated that utilities replace it with energy at least 90 percent from renewable sources. Currently, Oregon receives about one-third of its power from coal-fired plants.

The net cost of this to Oregon consumers remains a subject for debate. A PGE spokesman estimated that consumers could expect to see cost increases of 2-3 percent. PacifiCorp’s spokesman, Paul Vogel was less concrete. He told The Oregonian “It’s going to be in the billions and billions of dollars and how that breaks out for Oregon, it’s inestimable.”

Opponents of the legislation say it is likely to have little benefit in reducing emissions and do not justify the increased cost to consumers. Proponents say the legislation will reduce carbon emissions across the Western states by 30 million metric tons — “the equivalent of taking 6 million cars off of the road.” The legislation does not apply to publicly-owned utilities.

Other major initiatives that passed the Oregon Legislature include legislation that bans rent increases for month-to-month tenants in their first year and requires a 90-day notice for any increase in rent. A companion bill would allow local governments to place affordable housing requirements in new multi-family developments.

The Legislature increased the state’s hotel tax from 1 percent to 1.8 percent. It de-listed gray wolves from the state’s endangered species list, and requires the Oregon State Police to test sexual assault evidence kits after it was learned that more than 5000 kits in possession of the OSP were never tested.

In the end, the short session created a lengthy list of debate fodder for the 2016 elections, when Oregonians will decide which brand of leadership they prefer.

Comments

Don Dix

Sal -- you have mixed up the senate and house as far as numbers in each.

The emission bill -- The trace gas (CO2) is 400 parts per million (4 per 10,000) of the total composition of the atmosphere. Humans produce only about 3-4% of that CO2 (including fossil fuel burning). Thus, humans contribute from 0.12 - 0.16 of all atmospheric CO2 ... and that fraction is most responsible for GW (if there is any GW)?

Additionally -- in all studies (tree rings, ice core, and ocean sediment) CO2 rises after temps -- by an average of 800 years. So, how does an effect magically become a cause? ... when the political establishment needs another reason to extract money from the population ...

And CO2 is absolutely essential for all life on Earth, no exceptions, so it needs to be taxed (mostly because the other effects in the atmosphere are not subject to any sort of control, including the Sun).

Our liberal leaders are chasing fairies and unicorns, and the cost to do so comes out of our pockets. It seems the Oregon voters would be advised to elect real representatives of the people, and not a pack of fools adhering to a slanted agenda!

Sal Peralta

The Senate and House counts got juxtaposed in the editing, I think. Or maybe I'm just a knucklehead and missed it.

Don Dix

PGE has only one coal plant -- in Boardman. Only 15% of PGE power is supplied by coal. Since 2010 the plant has been scheduled for closure by 2020, so it seems this bill is just legislative posturing.

PacifiCorp has 10 plants all over the west (none in Oregon), and 60% of it's power source is coal.

By the numbers, it is no surprise that PacifiCorp will experience more costs to replace coal than PGE.

If no other western state eliminate coal-fired electricity, it appears Oregon's mandate will effect only Oregonians.

Oregon already has the costly, inefficient ethanol fuel requirement, which effectively only raises the price at the pump (while lowering mileage and causing more repairs), so it fits that this latest attempt to be 'environmentally conscious' is just another chapter in Oregon's BS, nanny state meddling.

Grumpy

You never mentioned the communistic gun legislation. It would have been nice to hear about how Democrats are trying circumvent our 2nd amendment right. Other than that I enjoyed the article. Just saying....

Sal Peralta

Don - Pacificorp will face no increased costs. The provisions of the bill allow them to pass the full cost on to consumers.

sbagwell

Don:
That means you and me, pal. We get to pick up the tab for being virtuously coal-free.
Residents of other states get to reduce their rates in exchange for taking coal power off our hands. The companies just pass it along.
I agree with you wholeheartedly, though, in reading this as a pointless consumer ripoff.
The same amount of coal power will be consumed tomorrow as today. We just get to pay extra for the privilege of knowing none of it will be coming to us.
Personally, if I'm going to pay more for either gasoline or electrical power, I would like my additional contribution to fund additional infrastructure, not just go toward making a meaningless political point.
This deal echoes the carbon tax deal. These are self-righteous actions that serve to punish the consumer in order to make a hollow gesture.
Both deals suck.
Steve

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