New taxes on coffee and old cars are among the proposals introduced by state legislators last week in Salem.
Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, said Friday that last week — the second week of the 2017 legislative session — was a frustrating one for Republicans. He said Democrats from Portland are meeting weekly in secret as part of a work group discussing the state’s budget.
“The interesting part is that the Republicans have not been invited to participate,” he said.
Kruse said he’s concerned about whether the Democrats will reign in spending on the Public Employee Retirement System, and he criticized Gov. Kate Brown for agreeing to give public employees a 6 percent pay increase.
Kruse has introduced legislation to make public employee union negotiations with the executive branch subject to public meetings laws.
“The people get to pay the bills. They at least ought to have a clue as to how the decision’s reached,” Kruse said.
Meanwhile, some legislators have come up with unusual suggestions for filling the state’s looming budget hole, among them House Bill 2875, which would create a five-cent per pound wholesale coffee tax. The coffee tax bill, sponsored by the House Committee on Revenue, could raise around $2 million a year, and the proceeds would be spent on education.
Another tax proposal, House Bill 2877, would charge owners of cars 20 years or older a $1,000 tax every five years. Neither bill has been set for a hearing, which could be a sign both will fail.
Kruse said another major issue he plans to work on is a transportation package. He’s not optimistic that one will get passed this session, though he thinks it’s more likely it will happen in next year’s short session.
He said an audit is needed to determine how the state is spending its transportation dollars. Kruse said he thinks the Oregon Department of Transportation has more engineers than it needs. He also said he has anecdotal information that projects are re-engineered regularly, even projects so far in the future that they may never happen.
Overall, Kruse said Friday, the intensity was really high in the legislature last week, given that it was only the second week. He expects a “battle for taxes” this session.
Rep. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, said he’s concerned about what he sees as an anti-employer sentiment in Salem.
Heard sits on the House Committee on Business and Labor, where he heard testimony on four bills Monday. Some sounded good on the surface, like HB 2167, an anti-bullying in the work place bill, and HB 2180, a bill enabling an employee to place a lien on property owned by an employer who failed to pay the employee’s wages. However, Heard said he plans to offer amendments to ensure that pro-labor legislation doesn’t reach a point where it’s damaging to good employers.
“Everybody wants employees to have the best possible surroundings so they can thrive and move forward in life and be successful, but it takes two to tango,” he said.
Most of these bills “go way too far,” he said, starting out with a good concept, and then becoming extreme.
“It’s the same theme over and over and over, which is business is bad, business is bad, business is bad, here’s six more tools for trial lawyers to sue employers because somebody made fun of somebody’s Donald Trump hat at work,” he said.
If you make it too easy for employees to sue their employers “for pretty much anything,” the toll, especially on small companies, may ironically impact the quality of jobs and the work environment, he said.
Heard also said he spoke with House Speaker Tina Kotek about the housing shortage, and said she seemed receptive to his idea about promoting free market solutions. Heard wants to bring rural developers in to testify about what encourages or discourages them from building multi-family or inexpensive single-family homes.
He said the old car and coffee taxes are unlikely to move forward; however, like Kruse, Heard is concerned Democrats will move to raise taxes. While Democrats point to a looming budget deficit caused by increased expenses, notably PERS increases, Republicans have been saying that revenues are up so the state should be able to close the gap by reducing expenses.
“I for one am not excited about the prospects of raising taxes for Oregonians when we have record revenues,” Heard said.
And in his ongoing battle against red tape, he said he encourages constituents to email him if they are feeling the real-life impact of regulations from state agencies.