2013 Special Session

2013 Special Session


The just completed Special Session was very difficult. We passed some important revenue reforms, but we took some steps backwards as well.  I hope we can now move on to the larger revenue reform.  For more, read my Legislative Report below.



PS. Don't you like how Oregonians manage to get the business done even when it’s hard?



Legislative Days:
November 20th to 22nd
January 15th to 17th

Next Revenue Forecast:

November 21st

Short Session Starts:

February 3rd



Listen to KLCC's recording of the Town Hall here.


Representative Barnhart answering a question from the audience

Over 75 citizens participated

Trish Bohnert, Cover Oregon
(Speaking) (From Left to Right: Rep. John Lively, Rep. Phil Barnhart, and Dr. Katrina Hedberg, State Epidemiologist)

Dr. Katrina Hedberg
State Epidemiologist & Acting State Health Officer
Oregon Public Health Division

Dr. Patrick F. Luedtke
Senior Public Health Officer
Medical Director, Community & Behavioral Health clinics
Department of Health and Human Services

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The rapidly growing cost of PERS, Health Care, and Prisons has prevented us from increasing the funding for schools. The Special Session that concluded on October 2nd clears away the last of these issues to make room for real revenue reform. Oregon desperately needs a dramatic revenue overhaul if we are to restore excellence in our schools and to secure Oregon's and our children's future. Your Legislature concluded the three day special session by passing five bills. I opposed two of the bills and supported one other with reluctance. Weighing costs and benefits and choosing who should pay and who should benefit was difficult.  Not one legislator agreed with every aspect of every proposal.   

Special Session Overview:

Highlights: Schools, Low Income Families, Senior and Mental Health Programs

•    $100 million in new revenue could allow school districts to add school days and over a thousand new teachers for the 2014-2015 school year
•    $40 million to hold down tuition increases at Oregon’s universities and community colleges
•    $41 million to support senior programs
•    For the first time, nearly 80,000 low income seniors will be able to deduct medical expenses, because individuals will not be required to itemize tax deductions to benefit  
•    $20 million to support mental health services
•    A one third increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit to help low-income working families
•    PERS unfunded liability reduced by an additional $1.9 billion.  When combined with changes made during the 2013 Regular Session the actuary estimates that the unfunded liability will be reduced by about $5 billion.
•    Oregon PERS remains one of the best funded pension systems in the country and is better now.

What follows is a description of each bill and my basic reasoning for each “yes” or “no” vote I cast. 

Revenue Bill-HB 3601:
You may have read in the newspaper about my concern with the revenue bill. Most aspects of this bill were valuable and long-awaited. We reformed the additional medical deduction for seniors and the disabled by extending it to lower income Oregonians while limiting the deduction received by the well-off. We raised tobacco taxes to pay for mental health and addiction treatment. For the first time in our history, we dedicated revenue for these purposes.

My concern over the revenue bill had to do with the business owners’ rate reduction. This portion of the bill has two problems. The first is that it is vague and poorly drafted. The second is that it will benefit business owners other than those who are growing their businesses and hiring more Oregonians. It benefits very high income earners who do not need a subsidy with dollars that would otherwise be spent on schools. My initial “no” vote allowed me to get the leadership and the Governor to commit to clean up this provision and start work on the technical problems in the bill during our committee meetings in November in preparation for the 2014 Regular Session in February. I also have commitments from the leading Republican members to work to repair this bill. New concepts like this usually take two or three sessions to get right. With these commitments I expect to get it done.

Budget Bill – HB 5101:
I also voted for the Budget bill that allocates $100 Million to K-12 schools, and lesser but still very significant amounts to Universities, including the University of Oregon, and Community Colleges, including LCC and LBCC, to reduce tuition costs this school year and the next. The bill also allocates funds for very important senior programs such as transportation, Oregon Project Independence, and others that will help low-income seniors stay in their own homes and still get the services they need for healthy living.

Non-Controversial PERS Bill-SB 862:
I supported the non-controversial bill, which prohibits future legislators from participating in PERS and allows PERS pension payments to felons to be garnished to help pay money judgments against them. The vote was nearly unanimous.

PERS Cola Reduction Bill-SB 861 and GMO Preemption Bill-SB 863:
I opposed and voted "No" on the other two bills. The PERS "cost of living" bill was greatly improved from the first draft, but it still reduces the amounts low-income pensioners will receive over time. I successfully fought to remove so called “inactive” PERS members from the bill.  PERS costs have been a huge drag on our funding of schools and other state-supported programs, but this bill needs considerably more work. If it is upheld in court, it will reduce the pensions of many middle class retirees while it brings costs down. Teachers, custodians, policeman, clerical workers, and fireman should not have to bear the major share of the burden of our budget problems. For now, that is the result of this bill, hence my "No" vote.  I received calls and emails from many citizens and constituents, who put their lives at risk every day, passed up other benefits and positions for future stability, and paid out of their own pockets to supplement classroom materials.  Based on your calls and emails, you agree with me about the PERS cola bill. Retired public servants who have served our communities well should not be forced to give even more. 

The final bill will preempt counties from being able to regulate GMO plantings and processing in the county and keeps that function entirely as a state responsibility. Only one county in southern Oregon is exempt because it is already in the process of voting on restricting GMO. Lane County which could have had such a measure on the ballot in November of 2014 is out of luck. I voted "No" on this very bad bill because it puts our organic seed crop and our organic farms that grow healthy food for local consumption at great risk. I introduced four bills to regulate or prohibit GMOs during the 2013 Legislative Session that weren’t even given a hearing.  The only silver lining is that legislators like me are committed to getting stringent and appropriate regulation and labeling of food containing GMO ingredients at the state level, something that up to now has not been possible.  This bill makes it clear that Oregonians who want to protect our seed export crop and eat healthy food will have to rally at the Legislature to protect our valuable farm land from GMO. I plan to be there I hope you do too.
I worked hard as a member of the Committee on Special Session and in leadership discussions to improve these bills. It is no secret that I would rather not have had this Special Session, but it will result in lower college tuition, more school days or smaller classes or both for K-12 students, better support for necessary senior services, and the beginning of a real discussion for comprehensive revenue reform that we have needed for more than twenty years (since Measure 5 passed in 1990).

The additional funding and lower PERS costs for schools go only a little way toward solving the school funding problem. To get an adequate number of school days and small enough class size to give our students the education they will need to compete in the world, we need comprehensive revenue reform. There is no more regressive or onerous tax than a mediocre education.

I received over one thousand communications, mostly by email regarding the Special Session. I appreciate your views and considered them carefully. A clear majority of people who told me their views agreed with the positions I ended up taking after a great deal of evaluation. I very much appreciate the breadth and depth of your thoughtful correspondence.

Thanks, as always, for the privilege of serving you and all the citizens of Oregon.