The end of the 2009 Legislative Session is very near -- we will likely finish our work this week. The last month has been challenging, but productive. We've been finalizing budgets, restoring fairness to our tax system, addressing major issues like health care reform, and working hard to protect Oregon's children, seniors and working families. As always, I appreciate hearing your feedback, so please continue to be in touch about the issues that are important to you. I may not always be quick to respond because of the volume of emails and phone calls, but I'm listening to your opinions and looking out for your interests.
Please mark your calendars for upcoming opportunities to discuss the session and my priorities for the rest of the year:
Wednesday, July 15 - Session Wrap-Up Town Hall
Kenton Firehouse, 7:00 p.m.
I will also be attending the following two neighborhood association meetings next month:
St. Johns NA, Monday, July 13, 6:00-7:30 p.m., St. John's Community Center, 8427 N Central
Arbor Lodge NA, Thursday, July 16, 6:30 p.m., Kenton Firehouse, 2209 N Schofield
I hope to see you in the weeks ahead.
House and Senate vote for tax fairness
These are tough economic times for every community in Oregon. While families struggle to balance household budgets, my colleagues and I are working hard to increase accountability and efficiency in government while forging a path to a balanced state budget that protects the middle class and critical services such as education, public safety and human services.
Although it is important we solve our immediate financial challenges, we must also improve the long term prospects of the state by making our tax system more fair. For too long, middle class families and small businesses have shouldered the tax burden while big corporations and the wealthy have avoided paying their fair share of taxes.
To correct this imbalance, as well as tackle the fiscal crisis facing our state, I joined my House and Senate colleagues in passing tax measures that will raise approximately $800 million in new revenue for 2009-11. This will be done by increasing corporate income tax rates and raising income taxes on individual filers earning more than $125,000 per year and joint filers earning more than $250,000 per year. After four years, a portion of the corporate tax increase will stay in place (an increased rate for corporate profits over $10 million annually), and these dollars will go into the state's Rainy Day Fund.
This plan restores tax fairness, maintains essential state services, and protects the small businesses that will fuel the state's economic recovery.
Managing the state's budget wisely
I have spent many weeks as the co-chair of the human services budget committee trying to figure out how best to protect services for vulnerable Oregonians while also working to make state government leaner and more efficient. The Legislature will end up cutting about $2 billion from the state budget to reduce the state’s $4.2 billion budget shortfall. But, besides cuts, we are proposing ways to do more with less.
For example, I pushed for restructuring the Office of the Long-Term Care Omsbudman so they could better utilize their primary resource -- the hundreds of volunteers across the state who watch out for individuals in long-term care facilities. Instead of filling a vacant deputy director position, my committee advocated for eliminating that position, creating a new volunteer recruitment specialist position instead, and saving the agency about $60,000 in the process. As a result, this agency can continue to protect seniors and people with disabilities, but do their job more cost-effectively.
District Spotlight: Protecting Fazio Farms
Sometimes it's the little bills that mean the most to people. One such bill is House Bill 2904, a bill I introduced on behalf of the Fazio family and their farm in the East Columbia neighborhood. The bill passed unanimously in the House and is on its way to passing in the Senate. It creates a special farm use classification for farms that are trying to fix land that has been damaged by adverse conditions so they can farm again.
Fazio Farms has been growing pickling cucumbers in Northeast Portland for generations, dating back to World War I. When their soil became infested with a fungus, the Fazios lost their farm use special assessment from Multnomah County – a significant financial loss for a family farm struggling to get by – because they had not been farming for more than a year and state law does not define remediation as an acceptable farming action. House Bill 2904 gives counties the tool they need to deal with cases like this by creating a category of farm land use for the remediation of severe adverse conditions of the land.
The bill also contains important safeguards to protect against abuse. It precludes eligibility for areas where negligence or intentional abuse of the land creates the need for remediation. The bill also requires certification of the remediation plan by the specialists at the OSU Extension Service, a return to farm use after the plan is completed, and that remediation be the primary use for any machinery or equipment purchased under the assessment.
I believe that empowering farmers to return to farming following problems with their land is one of the best things we can do to preserve our agricultural heritage, our environment, and the diversity of our economy. I'm proud that I was able to help the Fazio family in my district by advocating for this smart statewide policy.
Thanks for reading!