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Oregonians Are Hostage to the Fractions Faction

Commentary
May 30, 2007By Chuck Sheketoff

If a majority of the Oregon Legislature think a tax is needed to support an important program, or that a tax break for a powerful interest ought to be stopped, or that an outdated tax should be updated, lawmakers should be allowed to make the change. That’s why we elect them.

If a majority of the Oregon Legislature think unanticipated revenues ought to be saved for a rainy day or devoted to a one-time investment that will reap long-term rewards for Oregonians, lawmakers ought to be allowed to take such action. That’s why we elect them.

But majority rule does not apply in Oregon on these important issues. Instead, a minority of the Legislature can hold the majority hostage. How can that be? Oregon voters gave the power to small factions of the Legislature when they voted to require a three-fifths (3/5) majority to raise taxes (36 instead of 31 in the House and 18 instead of 16 in the Senate) and a two-thirds (2/3) majority to spend unanticipated tax revenues (40 votes in the House, 20 in the Senate). In other words, fractions of the Legislature can hold a majority hostage.

Five and two. That’s how many more than a simple majority in the Oregon House and Senate can stop the majority in the Oregon Legislature from eliminating a tax break or fixing an outdated tax code problem like Oregon’s 76 year-old, $10-a-year corporate minimum tax.

Five and two. That’s how many more than a simple majority in the Oregon House and Senate can stop the majority from increasing Oregon’s less-than-a-penny-per-bottle tax on beer to fund needed alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment programs throughout the state.

Five and two. That’s how many more than a simple majority in the Oregon House and Senate can stop a majority in the Oregon Legislature from expanding kids’ coverage under the Oregon Health Plan while simultaneously making poisonous tobacco less affordable.

Nine and four. That’s how many more than a simple majority in the Oregon House and Senate can stop a majority in the Oregon Legislature from either saving the extra fruits of a strong economy for Oregon’s next economic downturn, or investing it in rural counties facing the loss of federal timber-land payments.

Nine and four. That’s how many more than a simple majority in the Oregon House and Senate can stop a majority in the Oregon Legislature from investing unanticipated revenues from a stronger than expected economy in public structures that will reap long-term rewards for Oregon, such as capital improvements in K-12 and higher education.

Partisan ideologues are using the 3/5 and 2/3 fractions to hold the Legislature hostage and prevent our elected representatives from solving some of Oregon’s most important problems. This fractions faction is preventing the Legislature from doing what’s right for Oregonians.

Look at some of the results: gridlock over updating Oregon’s $10 a year corporate minimum tax. Gridlock over paying for widely-supported health care for children. Wasteful tax loopholes that stay on the books.

That’s why the Legislature should show leadership by giving voters another chance to decide whether they want small minorities to control Oregon’s future. Oregonians should not be held hostage by the fractions faction any longer.


Chuck Sheketoff is the Executive Director at the Oregon Center for Public Policy, which does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues with the goal to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.

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