We continue our review of the 2023 Oregon legislative session. Earlier, we discussed the wins of the session, changes that advance economic justice. Here, we take a look at the some of the important missed opportunities from the session, acknowledging that this is not an exhaustive list. By missed opportunities, we mean situations where the legislature had a bill that would have improved the economic well-being of Oregonians, but failed to advance that legislation.
Tax justice: Legislature punts on kicker reform
As the legislative session progressed, the size of the expected “kicker” — Oregon’s highly inequitable tax rebate — continued growing. In their last forecast, state economists said they expect the next kicker to come in at about $5.5 billion, shattering records. But because of the way the rebate is structured, the rich could see payments topping $800,000, while the Oregonians struggling the most to make ends meet will receive little or nothing.
One excellent way to reform the kicker would be to convert it to what we call the Working Families Kicker. Instead of sending huge rebates to the rich, this reform would give all tax filers the same amount. This would result in more Oregonians getting a bigger kicker, helping families make ends meet. You can see the difference between the current kicker and the Working Families Kicker by using this calculator.
Despite the looming, record-breaking kicker, the legislature failed to suspend this tax rebate, as the Constitution allows, and do something better with the funds. Lawmakers also had the chance to refer to voters an amendment to this inequitable policy, but did not do so.
Tax justice: Legislature leaves intact the tax break for wealthy investors
Opportunity Zones, a set of tax breaks for capital gains income, serve to enrich the wealthy while harming everyone else. This tax scheme subsidizes investments that would have happened anyway, such as the luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel in downtown Portland. Meanwhile, it fails to achieve its stated purpose of lifting up struggling communities. And in slashing taxes on capital gains, it uses money that could have gone to fund schools and other essential services to pay for tax cuts for wealthy investors. This past session, the legislature once again failed to end the Opportunity Zones tax break.
Worker power: legislature did not adequately improve working conditions for long-term care workers
Long-term care workers do the difficult, essential work of caring for older adults and people with disabilities. But pay is low and working conditions are difficult in this industry, where employers use strong-arm tactics to quash efforts to unionize. As such, the long-term care workforce struggles with high turnover, to the detriment of people relying on services. Oregon could have taken a big step to improve wages and working conditions for long-term care workers by enacting Senate Bill 602, which would have established a wage board for the industry. Regrettably, lawmakers failed to do so.
Income justice: Legislature did not pursue innovative guaranteed income program
All Oregonians deserve an affordable place to call home, and for many struggling to make ends meet, housing is the biggest monthly expense. SB 603 would have created the People’s Housing Assistance Fund Demonstration Program, providing $1,000 monthly payments over two years to about 1,000 Oregon households struggling to afford the rising costs of housing. The program would have served as a roadmap for how Oregon could establish a guaranteed income, ensuring every Oregonian is more economically secure. SB 603, however, did not advance.
Other economic justice: Legislative inaction leaves Oregonians vulnerable to hunger
Food is a human right. And yet, our nation’s principal food assistance program excludes many people based on their immigration status. Senate Bill 610 would have addressed this inequity, making food available to Oregonians excluded from federal food assistance, reducing the threat of hunger in our state. The legislature, however, failed to act on this bill advancing a basic human right.
While the 2023 legislative session yielded significant wins that advance economic justice, it would have been a session for the record books had lawmakers acted on the missed opportunities listed above. Lawmakers should use these policies above as a starting point for setting future legislative priorities.