By many measures, Monday's special session of the Legislature was a success.
The session, summoned by Gov. Kate Brown to consider her proposal for a small-business tax cut, got its work done in one day. The session did not veer off the tracks, as some had feared it might.
And, at the end of the day, legislators passed Brown's proposal. It shapes up as a win for the governor, who went to the trouble to telephone legislators beforehand to be sure she had the necessary votes.
Brown now can hit the campaign trail, billing herself as a friend to Oregon's small business. (Her Republican opponent, Rep. Knute Buehler, voted for Brown's bill on Monday, but he likely will take pains to point out the rest of the story, in which Brown signed a bill to eliminate a larger tax break that would have been available to certain other businesses. That sort of nuance gets lost in the heat and dust of a hard-fought election campaign.)
You might think that the governor's proposal would have been a slam dunk in the special session: After all, which legislator wants to go on the campaign trail after voting against a tax cut?
But there was substantial doubt going into the session that Brown's plan had enough votes to pass; Democratic legislative leaders told their charges to prepare for a weeklong session.
Those worries didn't materialize: The Senate passed the proposal by an 18-12 margin. The House passed Brown's plan by an even more lopsided margin, 51-8.
Nevertheless, 20 legislators voted against the proposal, including three from the mid-valley — Sen. Fred Girod, a Republican from Stayton; Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat from Corvallis; and Rep. Dan Rayfield, another Corvallis Democrat.
Gelser originally voted yes on the measure but changed her vote after it became clear it had enough support in the Senate to pass. "I think it was important to get through the day," she told The Oregonian, and then said she continues to be interested in repealing the existing tax break that will be expanded under Brown's proposal.
Rayfield said he had issues with the fact that a significant portion of Brown's tax break would go to "some of the most wealthy people in Oregon. ... It was not going to help small businesses."
Rayfield also said he was troubled by the amount of tax money that would be lost by the state; the cost of the cut in the current biennium has been estimated at $11 million, but he said that figure likely would balloon to the $20 million to $30 million range for the two-year biennium that begins in July 2019.
Legislators sometime call such relatively small figures "budget dust" when measured against the full size of the state budget, but Rayfield said the phrase offends him. Think, he said, of what could be done with $30 million to bolster child welfare or education programs in Oregon.
Nevertheless, he said, Monday's vote was "probably one of the most challenging votes that I've had to take."
Girod's office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the reasons for his no vote.
All in all, we're sympathetic to these naysayers.
The governor said she wanted to push this tax cut through as a matter of fairness for a group of business owners who had been left out of the original existing tax cut, which legislators passed in 2013. She also denied charges that her proposal was motivated by the looming general election.
Well, voters can be the judge of that. It's still not clear why this matter was so urgent that it required a special session.
What is clear is that this tweak is not the full-fledged tax reform Oregon needs. Brown said that kind of reform was too much for a one-day session, and she's right about that. But let's hope the governor's sense of urgency on tax reform carries over to a full set of proposals for the 2019 session. (mm)