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Opportunities lost after the boycott of the 2020 legislative session

Commentary
March 12, 2020By Alejandro Queral

Last week, the short legislative session ended without substantive progress on issues of critical importance to Oregon’s working families. Republicans in both legislative chambers left the building to prevent the House and Senate from advancing legislation that would regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In so doing, several pieces of legislation that would help level the playing field for working Oregonians were left to wither away. Here are four of those missed opportunities.

1. Bill paring back and shining a light on tax subsidy for wealthy investors

The death of House Bill 4010 leaves in place the so-called “Opportunity Zones” tax subsidy. This giveaway to wealth investors created by Congress slashes taxes on capital gains income — profits from selling assets like stocks or real estate — that are reinvested in areas designated as “Opportunity Zones.” This loosely drafted law has no reporting requirements or public oversight. Because Oregon law automatically replicates these tax cuts, wealthy investors in Oregon stand to receive both a federal and a state tax subsidy. HB 4010 would have pared back the Oregon tax break, required investment funds to disclose certain information about the investments, and required the Legislative Revenue Office to study this policy.

The derailment of HB 4010 means the Oregon budget will have less revenue available to invest in important services. It also means these taxpayer-subsidized investments will operate in obscurity, leaving the public in the dark about what investments are being subsidized and at what cost.

2. Referral to voters ending prohibition of state real estate transfer tax

The demise of House Joint Resolution 203 means that Oregonians won’t have the opportunity to vote for a policy that could have led to tens of millions of dollars being invested to address homelessness. Oregon’s Constitution currently prohibits the state from enacting a real estate transfer tax, used by many other states to fund important services to help support families in need. HJR 203 would have partially ended this prohibition, allowing the state to establish a real estate transfer tax only on properties valued over at over half-a-million dollars and only if the revenue raised went to affordable housing.

3. Study the cost and impact of a statewide rent assistance program

With House Bill 4002 not advancing, the Oregon legislature will not study a statewide rent assistance program, making it harder for Oregon to move forward on a program designed to confront the worst aspects of the housing affordability crisis. Many Oregonians are struggling with the cost of rent, and available programs are inadequate to address this need for our lowest income neighbors. As one step in the process of creating a statewide program to help people afford the rent, HB 4002 would have directed Portland State University to study the cost of providing rent assistance to different populations and assess the impacts of this program.

4. Bill to end suspension of driver’s licenses because of fines

Oregon had an opportunity, with HB 4067, to end the harmful and ineffective practice of suspending driver’s licenses of people who are unable to pay court debt. The penalty has no public safety justification, as Oregon already suspends driver’s licenses based on the number of violations. Debt-based suspensions only serve to make it harder for people with low-incomes to support themselves and their families. They can trap Oregonians in a cycle of poverty.

Improving the lives of Oregonians requires public policy solutions, including those above and many more. Although the latest walkout shattered hopes of addressing these opportunities during the 2020 Legislative Session, we are committed to returning during a special session or in 2021 with even more determination to create an Oregon where all families can thrive.