Legislative Update: Wheat Growers League

By Jana Jarvis,
Oregon Wheat Grower’s League

The carefully crafted bi-partisan power sharing arrangement in the Oregon House of Representatives was severely challenged during the fifth week of the 2011 legislative session. During the budget concerns of the 2009 session business had agreed to a short-term disconnect from the federal tax code – specifically the bonus depreciation and Section 179 small business provisions – with the understanding that these would be reconnected in 2011 for Oregon income tax purposes. SB 301 was the vehicle to reconnect both the personal and business tax provisions and it had passed the Senate and was on the floor of the House on Monday, March 7th. The Governor had included these costs in his budget and it was commonly understood that these reconnect provisions were part of SB 301. After passing the House Revenue Committee and on its way to the fl oor for a vote Legislative Counsel called the two co-chairs of the Revenue committee to inform them that SB 301 did not contain the business reconnect provisions. The business community and Co-chair Berger assumed that the bill would be pulled back to committee for this fi x; but Co-chair Barnhart and Democratic leader Rep. Hunt decided that the additional $100 million shouldn’t be taken off of the table and would not agree to pull the bill back to committee. That set the stage for the floor

fight that followed. Over the weekend the Governor had lobbied leadership to send the bill back to committee to find a compromise in a more private setting. On the floor Co-chair Barnhart argued for a couple of days to find a fix for the business provisions but that the individual tax credits were too important to wait for this fix. A vote on the motion to send the bill back to committee died on a party-line vote of 30-30. Then a motion was made to replace SB 301 with a Minority Report that contained the business tax provisions and many of the same legislators that had argued to send SB 301 back to committee for “further work” argued in opposition to the Minority Report. After much discussion the House voted to replace SB 301 with the Minority Report and it passed on a vote of 32-28 with two Democrats crossing over and voting with the Republicans. Most lobbyists cannot remember a Minority Report passing and while they rarely have, the certainly have never become law. Then the House voted on the new SB 301 and it passed on a vote of 41-19 – eleven Democrats crossed over and supported the newly-amended version. Within minutes the House Democratic office issued a scathing press release condemning Republicans for ruining the legislature’s attempts to take advantage of the much needed tax breaks for Oregon’s tax-paying citizens and claiming that the Senate would never concur with the new version of SB 301. In response the Senate promptly voted to suspend the rules and they voted on SB 301 the very next day – where they concurred with it unanimously! The bill was then sent promptly to the Governor’s office where he signed it into law on that Wednesday – less time than House Democrats had argued for to find a solution. Very few bills fail in a chamber’s floor session – most of the conflict is worked out in committee before a bill is

sent to the floor for a vote. The following Monday (must be something about Mondays!) a bill to modify the requirements surrounding charter schools lost in a partisan floor fight allowing Democrats a huge win for the week. OSU’s Statewide Public Service Programs funding will be a part of their budget discussions in the coming weeks. With state revenues falling some of these programs are at risk and the natural resource industry (wheat included) is meeting with members of the budgeting and policy committees that are charged with prioritizing and funding this program. Every ten years the legislature is charged with drawing new maps to determine legislative and congressional districts in Oregon. The Redistricting Committee met in LaGrande and Burns this past Friday to hear from constituents in Eastern Oregon. These hearings will continue around the state over the next few weeks. If the legislature is unable to develop a consensus plan, the task will fall to Oregon’s Secretary of State – as it has over the past couple of decades. Most hope that the consensus attitude of this legislative session (with a couple of exceptions) will allow legislators to devise a plan that is void of partisan perspectives when drawing these lines.

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