Subject: News from Representative Phil Barnhart
Representative Phil Barnhart's End of Session Report
in this issue Education, Education, Education... Health Care Accessibility and Affordability Legislature Works to Support Veterans Tax Reform - Demand fairness for all of Oregon Improving Governmental and Regulatory Efficiency
The House, Senate and Governor have finally negotiated a final 2005-07 budget, and the Legislature has adjourned. Bipartisan cooperation has been unfortunately rare this session, and an unusually low number of initiatives have been adopted. Of course there have been some that will have significant impacts on Lane and Linn counties. I will report on some of my work during this legislative session below.
Education, Education, Education...
Once again, the Legislature failed to provide adequate funding for public education in Oregon. Community colleges and the Oregon University System will continue to decline under this budget, further weakening Oregon's workforce development, but kindergarten through 12th grade, in particular, will face serious program cuts this biennium. A combination of pressures is strangling our schools: the skyrocketing cost of health care is driving up operating costs, and the House majority refuses to allocate the funds necessary for a "no cuts" budget, let alone restoring our schools' excellence for all students.
I first ran for office in order to fight for public education. Strong schools and quality education are critical to ensuring that our workforce has the experience and skills necessary to compete on the international market.
My priority for this session was to pass a results- oriented plan to stabilize school funding. I opposed Speaker Minnis' plan to set a permanent cap on education spending. I sponsored the "Quality Schools Plan," which would annually fund at least 80% of the Quality Education Model. This plan would stabilize educational services, rather than just dollars, which is an important distinction.
Health Care Accessibility and Affordability
The Senate passed a number of bills to increase access to health care in Oregon, but few of them received up-or-down votes in the House. This issue is becoming a progressively greater concern for many individuals and businesses, who are shouldering the skyrocketing cost of health care. The following are a few important bills that I fought to pass through the House:
- SB 1 will require insurance companies to cover mental health problems the same way they cover other medical conditions. This bill will allow many more Oregonians to seek the treatment they need for mental disorders, and will reduce significant human suffering associated with mental health issues. After months of inaction, the House finally passed SB 1 on July 30th.
- SB 329 would expand the state's drug purchasing pool to private businesses and individuals to save money on prescription drugs. The bill never received an up-or-down vote in the House.
- SB 1040 would make the details of hospital costs more available to the public, in order to ensure accountability and prudent financial management. Hospital costs are high in Oregon, but neither the public, nor the Legislature, knows why. This bill would give us that information, but it never received an up-or- down vote in the House.
Of course, the skyrocketing cost of health insurance will not settle down until we restore the Oregon Health Plan, which will reduce the burden on private insurance customers.
Legislature Works to Support Veterans
The federal government has largely failed in its responsibility to repay our veterans for their service and sacrifice, and to adequately support them while on deployment and upon their return to civilian life. As a result, the State of Oregon has been forced to step up to the plate. As Vice-Chair of the first House Veterans' Affairs Committee in 50 years, I have enjoyed the opportunity to fight in the Legislature for those who have fought for us.
The most impactful veterans issue considered by the Legislature this year was an increase in funding for county veterans services officers (CVSOs). I fought for $5 million statewide, but the Legislature�s final budget agreement allocated only $2.6 million, which will not even provide one additional officer in each county.
I sponsored a number of proposals in order to ensure that our troops abroad are adequately supported, including:
- HB 2737-A would create an Oregon Military Family Relief Program that would assist guardsmen and reservists whose families are financially strained by long deployments.
- HB 3096-A would end Oregon's taxation of combat pay.
- HB 3385 would ease the transition of Oregon National Guardsmen from deployment back to civilian life.
- SB 1100-B will direct the Department of Veterans' Affairs to enhance and expand the services provided by county veterans' officers.
- HJM 2- B urges the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to reject the Pentagon's proposal to close the Portland Air National Guard base.
Tax Reform - Demand fairness for all of Oregon
The Oregon Legislature has consistently underfunded services despite tax and fee rates that should easily cover most of our costs. How is this possible? 42 cents of every dollar of local and State revenue is given away through tax breaks. Many of these breaks are fair and reasonable, such as the property tax deduction from income taxes. Some of them, however, are grossly abused loopholes that force ordinary taxpayers to shoulder the burden of the $12 billion State budget.
These loopholes primarily benefit large out-of-state corporations. More than 65,000 of the 75,000 businesses generating revenue in Oregon pay only the corporate minimum tax of $10 per year. While this figure includes many small businesses whose taxes should remain low, it also includes such giants as Enron, which owns Portland General Electric. Most of Oregon's tax giveaways are never even reviewed by the Legislature, unlike the budget, which we revise every biennium.
I introduced the following bills this session, and sponsored several others, in order to improve the fairness of Oregon's tax code:
- HB 2884: Eliminates the Pollution Control Tax Credit for those companies that are being paid to follow State or Federal law.
- HB 2944: Graduates the corporate minimum tax, so that giant companies pay a larger minimum than small businesses.
- HB 3141: Requires utility companies to pay the taxes for which they have already charged their customers.
- HB 3387: Eliminates a tax credit for companies that own foreign subsidiaries.
- HJR 46: Proposes a Constitional amendment to require the Legislature to review all tax expenditures every six years.
Improving Governmental and Regulatory Efficiency
I set regulatory streamlining and government waste reduction as two of my highest priorities for this session. I sponsored a total of twelve bills to increase efficiency, and passed five of them out of the House. Here are three important ones:
- HB 2649-A is expected to save municipalities millions of dollars per biennium by revising obsolete statutes and allowing them to use new technology when they publish their budget summaries.
- HB 2328-A removes counties' ability to impose unneccessary regulations and fees on the propane industry by designating the State Fire Marshall as the sole authority responsible for propane tank installation safety. Until this bill's passage, Lane County was strangling local propane companies with duplicative and costly regulations.
- HB 3159-A would protect contractors who installed asbestos many years ago, based on legally approved plans, from civil liability. Holding contractors liable for having not known that asbestos would eventually be found dangerous makes it much more difficult for them to do business now, and would not protect the public in the future.