Tax plan scuttled; time for state leaders to talk
“Mission Accomplished,” blared the banner aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, while then-President George Bush made his famously premature announcement of an end to combat operations in Iraq.
“We’ll have the votes,” said Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek this week, predicting that two Republicans would join House Democrats in voting for a major tax increase. It took just two days for that forecast to fall flat, hopefully opening the door to politics of negotiation and compromise among legislators seeking real and lasting solutions to Oregon’s fiscal mess.
Perhaps the most unsettling fallout from this week’s vote occurred when Speaker Kotek blamed the loss of her party’s tax-and-spend plan on Republican partisanship. It’s a mind-boggling state of affairs when a dominant political party totally ignores the opposition with plans to cram yet another tax hike down Oregon’s throat, then complains about partisanship when it fails.
The new House speaker has operated from such a power base that for months she felt little need to talk with those who think differently about financial solutions for Oregon. When she did talk, she didn’t listen; when she listened, she didn’t hear.
Instead, she brushed aside the Pubic Employees Retirement System reform plan proposed by a governor from her own party, imperially rejected the pleas from Oregon education and business leaders for even more aggressive reform and whole-heartedly joined the union-backed movement to protect excessive public pensions by raising Oregon taxes. Again.
Of course, even if Kotek had succeeded in turning two Republicans votes, her major tax increase was headed for trouble in the Senate.
Democrats enjoy a 34-26 majority in the House, needing 36 votes for the 60 percent super-majority required to raise taxes. In the Senate, where the Democrat margin is 16-14, finding two Republican votes for a super-majority is an even greater hurdle.
At last, perhaps, Democrats will have to engage in conversation with the 45 percent minority of legislators entrenched on the other side of this financial debate. And through those leaders, the conversation will engage Oregonians from the majority of counties where fiscal conservatism is not overwhelmed by the spendthrift ideas of Oregon’s ruling urban masses.
Speaker Kotek is smart, resolute and clearly a government force. However, the political landscape is littered with remains of those who would place themselves above the commoners who presumedly really don’t understand what’s best for their communities and their state.
Real leadership requires an ability to avoid polarization through honest communication and, when necessary, compromise. Class warfare, while it might work again at the Oregon ballot box, is no solution to the state’s financial and economic challenges.
There are compromise proposals to be heard, but the price for any significant tax increase will be a major change in the public pension program now strangling our state and local governments.
We join others in hoping that this week’s vote in Salem opens the door to long-needed discussions, and that Oregon leaders can agree on fair and lasting financial reforms.