Cattlemen sees changes with election, new legislature

By Jim Welsh,
Oregon Cattlemen Association
Government Affairs Report

Election Results
Many of us in the Natural Resource industries are apprehensive, to say the least, after absorbing the results, statewide and nationally, of the November 4th elections.  The Oregon State Legislature on the House side will be composed of 36 Democrats and 24 Republicans of which we may be able to call 30 or more our friends who would vote with us most of the time.

In the Senate the party composition is the same as in 2007, 18 Democrats to 12 Republicans and the Natural Resource lobby hopefully able to call 15 or more our friends.  The new members to the legislative process are mostly, as you would suspect, from around Portland.  This reality places the responsibility on us to educate and develop relationships wherever possible.  The challenge seems daunting, but the leadership commitment from the Oregon House of Representatives has not change to date.  Rep. Dave Hunt and Rep. Arnie Roblan were very helpful in their advocacy for the Natural Resources industries in the 2007 Legislative Session.  Rep. Hunt will most likely be elected Speaker of the House and Rep. Roblan will be elected Speaker Pro-Tem.  The challenge will come from the newly elected members from Portland and the others who still need to understand the importance of the “other Oregon.” 

Natural Resources and the 2009 Legislative Session
The Governor’s agenda for 2009 includes his, yet to be final, “Headwaters To Ocean (H2O) ” Initiative, and final, “Jobs and Transportation Act.”  The agriculture stakeholder advisory group has continued to keep us, in the Natural Resource Coalition not included in the Stakeholder Group, updated on the H2O Initiative.

There are five major components to H2O which include: (1) A formal water supply plan; (2) Data for planning, assessment, and monitoring; (3) Response to short term and long term challenges; (4) Build on momentum of recent water initiatives (SB 1069 and SB 737); and (5) Long term investment for a sustainable water supply, water quality, and maintaining balance of beneficial uses.  The advisory group is supporting the long-term component (Planning and Data Collection) and short-term needs (Water Supply & Conservation, Measurement of Water Use, and Ecosystem Services).

There is definite concern about what all is included in Measurement of Water Use.  The Governor’s office and Stakeholder Group indicated it would include further work of the Water Resource Commission’s 2000 Water Management Strategy and a new legislative proposal (LC 662) that would implement a strategy for 2012 which is a Task Force charged with looking at measurement of other diversions.  Also included, is the Water Resource Department legislative request for funding.  We will continue to monitor further developments and provide input as this “Initiative” heads for the 2009 Legislative Session.

The Governor’s “Jobs and Transportation Act 2009” which was unveiled on November 10th is a 23 page document containing his letter of intent and 22 more pages of proposals.  To begin with the Governor intends on Creating and Sustaining Family Wage Jobs through a $499 million investment in Oregon’s transportation system and continuing ConnectOregon with an increase of $50 Million.  The plan goes further, with statewide investments that begin with the creation of a “Trust” for most timber dependent counties; Expansion of elderly and disabled transit services and; $600 Million one-time bond proceeds dedicated to relieving freight bottlenecks across the state.  The Governor is also interested in maintaining present investments and “Greener Investments for Tomorrow.”  This would be accomplished through dedicated funding for non-highway projects; Meeting Oregon’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals; Accounting for carbon in transportation planning; and, Transitioning away from the gas tax. The Governor proposes to reduce “harmful Green House Gas Emissions” by encouraging consumers to buy alternative powered vehicles and proposing broader environmental standards for all transportation construction contracts funded with state funds.

You are probably beginning to wonder as you read this how this will all be funded.  Here comes the kicker.  The Governor proposes to establish a “Variable First Time (One-time) Title Fee” structured as an incentive to drivers using vehicles that receive a high EPA mileage rating.  The fee is set at, one-time, $100 for all newly titled vehicles in Oregon.  If you can prove your vehicles’ EPA rating is above 30 mpg then your fee will be $50.
Secondly, the Governor proposes a “Pay-AS-You-Drive” (PAYD) Auto Insurance which offers a voluntary alternative to fixed-premium auto insurance, converting a portion of one’s annual insurance fee into a per-mile fee, thus giving a driver more control over driving expenses and provides an incentive to drive less.  The third proposal on the Governor’s list for increasing revenue is an increase in the vehicle registration fee from $27 dollars per year (today) to $81.  The fourth proposal increases the title fee for all of us, not first time applicants, from $55 to $110.  The fifth proposal is a 2 cent fuel tax increase from the present 24 cents to 26 cents.  These proposals are designed to fund new highway investments and they add up to the $499 million mentioned previously.

In know you are probably tired of reading all this but the Governor’s proposals for increasing revenue continue!  The Governor believes there needs to be increased revenue for “Multimodal Investments,” also.  The first proposal under this heading is dedicating $16.1 million of lottery proceeds as debt service on ConnectOregon III and the purchase of a new train for the Amtrak Cascades line.  The second proposal includes the transfer of $44 million in flexible funds from the state highway program to fund investments in eligible multimodal needs.  The third and last proposal is a 2.5 cent cigarette tax increase to fund elderly and disabled transportation services.

The Governor promises that on top of all these revenue developing proposals is the commitment to (1) Protect Local Decision Making; (2) Maintain Local Allocation of Dollars; (3) Support Development of Local Emissions-Reductions plans, and; (4) Exempt Rural Oregon from the Vehicle-Mile-Traveled (VMT) Reduction Goals.

It has been mentioned numerous time that the most active committee in the 2009 Legislative Session will most assuredly be the House Revenue Committee, as all the Governor’s revenue proposals will begin with schedule hearings there.  And, to further belabor the subject of revenue proposals, we must not forget the Governor now has the mandatory super majority of his political party (36 members) seated in the House of Representatives with the power vested in them to pass out any revenue proposal without the approval of the voters of the State of Oregon.  Fortunately, we have the referendum available if they get too carried away.

Governor’s Budget Requests for ODA and Others
Budget woes are here again.  The Board of Agriculture was provided a budget update from the Department during their October 11-12th meeting.  There were few encouraging words.  The Governor has asked for initial 10% agency (all agencies) reductions to involve as much General Fund as possible, with another 10% reduction plan to be included before the Legislative Session opens in January.  ODA has proposed to reduce their budget by making cuts to Food Safety, Regulatory and Export Service Center Laboratory Services, Animal Health ID, Ag. Development and Marketing Projects, Ag. Water Quality, Invasive Species, Shellfish Program, Exotic Weed Eradication, Weights and Measures, Pesticide Use Reporting and Outreach, and Predator Control.  All these reductions add up to $1,762,551.

The second round of reductions will possibly eliminate the state Confined Animal Feeding Operations Program reverting it back to the federal Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and save the ODA $1,473,630 in the process.  This would take legislative action and an agreement that once the funding was available it would return to ODA management and oversight authority.  With the new CAFO rules at the federal level this is not good news.  OCA will certainly be hoping further reductions to the budget are not needed and advocating for full funding of this program, with possible reductions elsewhere, if the second round of reductions are imposed.

OCA 2009 Proposed Legislation
OCA committees and members approved several legislative concepts to introduce in the 2009 Legislative Session.   The Wolf Committee approved the same legislation to be introduce on behalf of the Association as was introduced in 2007.  The Committee and members approved a definite course of action leading up to the Session which would involve members lobbying the Fish and Wildlife Commission members and their elected representatives in the House and Senate.

The OCA Brand Advisory Committee recommended legislation that would remove all unbranded livestock, other than cattle and horses, in state law from the astray requirements imposed on the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) Brand Department.  In addition, the ODA would be allowed to charge a livestock owner for services rendered when determining a fence line problem or astray cattle or horses.

The Wildlife Committee recommended some changes to the LOP Program that would require more wildlife biological data for LOP purposes, another level of tag distribution called Land Owner Incentive Tags, and landowner compensation if all other remediation efforts fail.  In 2007 the OCA introduced their two science legislative concepts and will again in 2009.

Disclaimer: Articles featured on Oregon Report are the creation, responsibility and opinion of the authoring individual or organization which is featured at the top of every article.