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Oregon negotiates solutions, not shutdowns

Earlier this month, Gov. John Kitzhaber called the Oregon Legislature into special session to pass a series of bills designed to help fund our schools. The bills passed and will raise $150 million for schools, colleges and other services. Notably, it also included dedicated funds for mental health care and an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for underprivileged families.

The package of bills was complex and included difficult choices for everyone. While I objected to several pieces of the package, it was good to see the Oregon Legislature continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to get things done for the people we represent. It is heartening to know that in Oregon we can negotiate solutions, not shutdowns.

There were two parts of the package I could not support. The first was the so-called Public Employees Retirement System reform bill, SB 861. This bill will cut retirement benefits for public employees. Real people will have their lives negatively impacted by this legislation. Firefighters, police officers and teachers who planned their retirement out will now have to change their plans. This is not a decision to be made lightly.

Time and again, when things have been tough, the Legislature has broken its promises to our public employees. It’s even more bitter this time, as we seek to make up funds lost in a recession created by Wall Street’s excesses. We have taken money from the people who keep us safe, who teach our children and who care for our elderly, in order to pay back money lost by bankers and hedgefund managers.

Sometimes, we have to make hard choices in governing this state. I have voted before to do things I didn’t like, such as when I supported another PERS bill during session. But this was too far. I appreciate the effort that went into negotiating this bill, but I could not support it.

The second bill I felt I could not support was SB 863, a bill that gave the power to regulate genetically modified organisms to the state, instead of to local governments. I understand that proponents of this bill are concerned about a patchwork of laws across Oregon making it difficult for farmers to know what rules are applied on what lands, but the fact that we preempted local control, without putting in a policy of our own, was not something I could support.

On the other hand, there were several parts of the package I was happy to support. Notably, corporations that make more than $1 million in profit will have to pay more in taxes. We also eliminated the personal exemption credit for higher-income households. This will raise $150 million for schools, colleges and other services. Lastly, over 70,000 more seniors will have access to the state’s special senior medical deduction because it will now be a capped subtraction versus an unlimited deduction for people who itemize.

Overall, the package is going to bring more money to schools and other vital services. After years of cuts, it’s good that we are finally on track to give our kids the education they deserve. But this isn’t the end of the fight. We need to get class sizes down and provide more stability to our schools.

State Rep. Margaret Doherty represents House District 35, which includes Tigard, King City, Metzger and parts of Beaverton and Southwest Portland.




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