‘Grand bargain’ is no bargain – Oped

Representative Kennemer recently publish an editoria for Pamplin Media Group. Please visit this page to read it or simply view the oped below.

l The governor has called for the Legislature to come back into a special session on Sept. 30. This is getting mixed reviews statewide, including some serious concerns from me.

The proposed “grand bargain” is more like a bargain basement. It’s a mix of tax increases, tax cuts, bills to address Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) costs and policies, and for good measure, an agriculture preemption bill to solidify who has jurisdiction when it comes to agriculture decisions.

I agree with the basic assumptions behind this. The legislative PERS reforms of last session were very weak and inadequate, not only failing to stabilize the fund, but the deferred payments of $350 million only puts Oregon further in debt. Also, taxing businesses on gross revenues instead of net income is detrimental to improving our struggling economy. Finally, having 36 counties regulating agricultural products differently when agriculture is a critical part of our economy creates a potential nightmare for Oregon farmers.

While concurring with the premise of addressing these issues, rushing into a legislative session is simply absurd. Many of the criticisms that are emerging are valid. As a representative, I view the process and proposals as political, simplistic and inadequate. Here’s why.

The special session proposals are the worst of what political pressure, compromise and elitism can conspire to create. The governor came to the mostly correct conclusion that the last legislative session failed to adequately deal with some major issues. However, rather than initiate an appropriate public vetting process, he sequestered the four House and Senate Republican and Democrat leaders into high-pressured discussions. Rather than a carefully and inclusively crafted, quality solution, the result is inadequate compromise with no public input.

The “PERS Lite” reforms of last session now become “PERS Lite” with a very inadequate pinch of sugar. The negotiated bills will have a disproportionate impact on some PERS retirees and still be nearly half of what many consider minimally necessary for long-term stability.

On the tax side, some businesses will see much-needed tax relief in exchange for a tax increase on C-Corporations. We should be working to provide a better tax climate for all Oregon businesses.

Also included in the so-called “grand bargain” is the capping of the senior medical deduction for higher-income seniors who have factored that deduction as part of their long-term health care management. An additional $244 million in new taxes is wrapped into the proposal, with additional allocations going to schools and mental health, which are too modest to do much and seemingly forget that we just increased school funding by a whopping $1 billion last session. A needed bill for agriculture wraps up the governor’s deal with a bow.

Where was the appropriate public outreach and input? Where are the needed systemic improvements? How do low-grade politics, compromise and minimal public process solve the problems Oregonians face?

Given these proposals, I anticipate voting against inadequate PERS reform, the tax increases and the loss of senior medical deductions and spending of even more of your tax money. Of the six bills under consideration, I expect to support only the agriculture bill and the vote to adjourn the session. Doing otherwise would be nothing short of irresponsible and would also serve to reward the governor and the Democratic leadership for their failure to address any and all of these issues in the several months of the regular 2013 legislative session.