Donate to the Clatsop County Democrats!

Click an option below

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Log in to website

You are here

Oregon Blog Updates

Subscribe to Oregon Blog Updates feed
Latest entries from BlueOregon
Updated: 2 hours 1 min ago

Will Oregon Democrats Betray Renters ?

6 hours 38 min ago

By Shamus Cooke of Portland, Oregon. Shamus is an organizer for Portland Tenants United.

Oregon’s housing crisis is suffocating the state, and Democrats have the power to fix it. But will they? The Democrat-dominated legislature is discussing pro-renter House Bill 2004, which passed the House but faces a precarious future in the Democrat-led Senate, where the staunchest opponents are also landlords (Democrats need zero votes from Republicans, who are unified against the bill).

House Bill 2004 is simple: it makes rent control legal, allowing local municipalities to craft their own policy (there is currently a statewide preemption). It also makes no-cause evictions illegal, giving tenants basic due process in the eviction process (though it still allows landlords to use for-cause evictions for tenants that don’t pay rent, damage property, break laws, etc).

House Bill 2004 is also ‘revenue neutral’, meaning it would cost taxpayers nothing. In actuality it would likely save taxpayers millions a year, since it would relieve pressure from the homeless crisis by keeping people in their homes.

Less money would be needed for homeless shelters and social services in general, since, as author Matthew Desmond explains in his celebrated book Evicted, poverty is often a consequence of evictions, not the cause.

Who are the Democrats that are biggest barriers to House Bill 2004? Democratic Senator Betsy Johnson—a landlord—is the staunchest opponent, according to lobbyists inside the Capitol. Her district is packed with constituents who are renters, voters who will not be pleased if she ends up voting ‘no’ on HB 2004, or seeks to maim it by removing the rent control provision from the bill (it should be noted that the very notion of a ‘preemption’ is a corporate-driven idea, long championed by the right wing, but recently accepted by some Oregon Democrats).

Rod Monroe is another Senate Democrat and landlord who’s not supporting the bill; he owns a 51 unit complex in renter-heavy east Portland, where voters put him into office. These same voters will think twice in the next election if Monroe votes ‘no’ on HB 2004.

Then there is Democratic Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, another landlord who Capitol lobbyists say wants to water down HB 2004—in effect drowning it—before she’ll consider voting yes.

In regard to Burdick’s landlord status being a potential conflict of interest, she was once quoted in Willamette Week as saying “I declare the potential conflicts and I vote for the tenants.” We hope she listens to her own advice and stops acting as a barrier to HB 2004.

Not all Democrats who are landlords oppose the bill. Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson is also a landlord, but she’s a co-sponsor and champion of HB 2004, putting to shame her Senate colleagues.

What do Democrats have to say about opposing HB 2004? One Salem lobbyist said “they’re [Senate Democrats] basically regurgitating the landlord lobby’s talking points.”

One reason why Democrats might like landlord-lobby talking points is that the lobby created the ‘Equitable Housing PAC’, which has poured thousands of dollars into legislators’ election war chests.

One of the key talking points is also the most ridiculous: legislators have actually been quoted saying “rent control hurts renters”, a comment as perplexing as “food stamps harm the hungry” or “homes hurt the homeless”.

The other anti-rent control arguments are equally nonsensical, and follow the awful logic of neoliberal economics which argues “any regulation on the ‘free market’ has unintended consequences”, a savvy yet vapid argument created by the big banks, big corporations, and big landlords that acts as a permanent barrier to any limit on their power.

When Portland Tenants United wanted to debate rent control with the landlord lobby, Multifamily NW, the landlords declined. But a PSU professor took up the challenge, championing the anti-rent control position against tenant organizer Margot Black, who most listeners would agree dominated the debate. Ultimately the anti-rent control arguments dissipate under any scrutiny.

Several Senate Democrats say they would vote ‘yes’ on HB 2004 if the rent control provision was amputated from the bill. Yet few Democrats would say publicly that local municipalities shouldn’t have the power to decide rent control for themselves, since landlord talking points are most effective behind closed doors.

If HB 2004 fails—or is disfigured beyond recognition by amendments—voters won’t soon forget; Portland Tenants United has every intention of reminding them next election.

Oregon is at a historic crossroads, where renters are finally given the chance to get basic rights and cities will finally have the chance to implement rent control if they so desire. If Democratic Senators continue playing political games with tenants rights they’ll be gambling with their political future come next election.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Pink slips for teachers, a big tax cut for the wealthy

May 24, 2017 - 1:29pm

School districts in Oregon have been drawing up plans for staff cuts, in case the Oregon legislature fails to come up with the revenue needed to fill a $1.4 billion state revenue hole. And according to several teachers who spoke during a town hall in Portland this past Saturday, pink slips have already started landing in some schools.

While Oregon schools brace for layoffs, the richest Oregonians wait for a big income tax cut to fall into their laps.

Last week, we learned that Oregon is on course to trigger another personal “kicker” — the automatic income tax cut that kicks in when non-corporate revenue collections exceed the amount forecast two years earlier (in May 2015 in this instance) by 2 percent or more. When that 2 percent threshold is reached, the state spends the full amount of unanticipated revenue in the form of an income tax credit. Right now, state economists are predicting that revenues will exceed the two percent threshold by $70 million. If that prediction holds in September, and if the Oregon legislature does nothing to stop it, the state will spend about $400 million on kicker tax credits at tax time next year.

It looks like the kicker is kicking because some extremely wealthy Oregonians died. While estate tax revenues generally track changes in home sales and stock prices, they are impossible to accurately predict. State economists now project revenue from the estate tax to come in $110 million more — 50 percent greater — than the prediction made in 2015. In other words, if some ultra-rich people had not died, the kicker would not be kicking.

It’s ironic that deaths among the ultra-wealthy are making the kicker kick, because the kicker disproportionately benefits the wealthiest Oregonians. Each person’s income tax (not estate tax) payment for tax year 2016 determines the size of the kicker tax credit they will get in 2018. If the state economists’ current estimates hold true, the typical (median) Oregon taxpayer — one with income in the $30,000-$35,000 range – will get about $85 kicked off their 2017 taxes. The average member of the top 1 percent of earners — those who make at least $368,000 annually — will get a tax cut of about $4,505.

Another way of looking at how the kicker tilts in favor of the well-off is to consider the share of kicker dollars that would flow to different income groups. Oregon’s richest 1 percent are expected to get over 21 percent of all the kicker dollars, nearly double the share projected for the lowest-earning 60 percent of taxpayers (about 12 percent). Further, the highest-earning 20 percent of taxpayers together will receive 70 percent of kicker dollars, while the remaining 80 percent of Oregonians will get 30 percent of the kicker.

Oregon’s schools and essential services already suffer from chronic underfunding. The $1.4 billion shortfall only makes a bad situation worse.

The choice before lawmakers is clear: Suspend the kicker to protect education and other essential services, or allow big tax cuts for the wealthy to go through and risk more pink slips at Oregon schools.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Small voices with a big stake in state budget outcome

May 15, 2017 - 11:10am

Poor children don’t have a megaphone. They can’t create a dark money-funded group to pay for TV ads that attack lawmakers for their ideas.

Yet, Oregon’s most vulnerable kids have an outsized stake in the current tax and budget negotiations in the legislature. Many children in families receiving rudimentary cash and job training assistance through Oregon’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program would pay a steep price with budget cuts, should a revenue solution fail to materialize.

Sadly, this is nothing new. Whenever the state faces a shortfall, the TANF program often ends up on a budget cuts list, for two reasons. First, unlike Medicaid, the federal TANF block grant structure provides little incentive for Oregon to maintain its own TANF investments. Second, there is no large, politically powerful industry with a financial stake in TANF to go to bat for them with the politicians.

Right now, the legislature’s budget writers have warned that, in the absence of new revenue, TANF is in the crosshairs. As the Oregon Center for Public Policy has outlined in a recent paper, the proposed cuts would drive 11,000 poor kids deeper into poverty, making their life prospects even bleaker.

For instance, one proposal would make the TANF lifetime time limits significantly harsher than they already are. As a result, after 48 months, the maximum cash grant for a parent with two children would drop from $506 per month to $348 per month, despite the parent’s efforts to become employed. At 60 months, the grant would drop to zero. Families with physical and mental health barriers to work need more time and support to overcome them. As such, this cut would harm children who already face great barriers to a successful life.

Other proposed cuts are equally harsh and would impact children in households with disabilities and children being raised by relatives.

Oregon’s poorest kids don’t have a megaphone. It is up to us — you — to speak loudly on their behalf.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

A gross receipts tax? Oregon already has one

May 10, 2017 - 11:38am

The Oregon House leadership should be commended for putting forward a bold revenue proposal that would improve the lives of Oregonians. Their Oregon Education Investment Initiative would not only help fill the existing budget gap, but also result in about $2 billion in new investments, mostly in education — from pre-K to higher education. The funds would come from a tax on gross receipts for businesses with Oregon sales above $5 million a year. The proposal would also eliminate the corporate income tax and reduce the personal income taxes of low- and middle-income Oregonians.

For some, talk of a gross receipts tax is a non-starter.

They may be surprised to learn that Oregon already has a gross receipts tax. More than two-thirds of all C-corporations already pay taxes based on their Oregon sales, not profits.

These businesses pay Oregon’s corporate minimum tax. It’s a tax based on gross receipts, and it kicks in when it exceeds a corporation’s tax under the profits tax. This structure has been in place since 2009, after Oregon voters enacted Measure 67. While it’s a very modest gross receipts tax, nonetheless it’s a tax based on Oregon sales.

It may also surprise some to learn that Oregon’s existing gross receipts tax came from a proposal initially floated by the Oregon Business Association in 2009.

The Oregon Education Investment Initiative unveiled last week is certainly bold, but not novel in its use of a gross receipts tax. More than two-thirds of corporate taxpayers have been paying taxes based on sales, not profits, for some time now.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Don’t know much about civics: Overwhelming majority (93%) of U.S. adults believe civics education should be bolstered in public schools

May 1, 2017 - 11:23am

By Jacel Egan of Salem, Oregon. Jacel is the marketing communications manager at icitizen, civic engagement tool that connects citizens and their elected officials through online polling.

According to a new icitizen survey released by Sen. Chuck Riley (OR-15), more than nine in 10 Americans believe that more emphasis should be placed on civics education in the public school system.

“We’re living in a time now where it’s hard to tell the difference between fake news and real news, and alternative facts are being presented as truth,” said Oregon Sen. Chuck Riley. “It’s clear constituents want to address this issue head on, and as an elected official, I’m obligated to do what I can to help future generations be prepared and informed citizens.”

Fully 84% of respondents support requiring high school students to pass a proficiency test in civics in order to earn their diploma (10% oppose, 6% unsure). This crosses age, gender, and party lines, and actually increases with age: support is at 74% among millennials and reaching upwards of 95% support among seniors ages 65+.

Taking the requirement further, almost a three-fourths (74%) of Americans support requiring high school students to take and pass the U.S. citizenship test to demonstrate civic proficiency (21% oppose, 5% unsure). The strongest opponent of this requirement are racial minorities; about a third expressed their disapproval (34%).

"Given the dramatic increase in civic engagement after the election, it's no surprise that emphasis on civics education would be a priority across party and demographic lines," said Cynthia Villacis, icitizen's Director of Polling. "Lawmakers should be cognizant while drafting legislation to be inclusive and ensure that these proficiency tests accommodate those with special needs or language barriers."

Methodology: The survey was conducted online from April 5-13, 2017 among 1,245 American adults. In order to achieve an accurate demographic representation of the public, the data were weighted to U.S. Census and national benchmarks for gender, age, race, education and party identification. The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 2.78 percentage points and is higher for subgroups.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

This May Day, think of not just flowers, but of how Oregon’s economy can do better for its workers

May 1, 2017 - 8:58am

May Day, for some Americans, is a celebration of spring’s arrival, replete with bright flowers and maypoles. But for many around the world, May 1st is International Worker’s Day. It commemorates the deaths of protestors fighting for an eight-hour workday in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in 1886.

So today is a good day to ask: How is Oregon’s economy doing for workers?

Oregon’s economy is strong. As the Oregon Center for Public Policy’s latest publication shows, Oregon had the nation’s second-fastest growing economy from 2001 to 2015, on a per-capita basis. Only oil-rich North Dakota expanded faster over that period. In that time, Oregon’s economy grew at nearly triple the rate of the national economy. Today, Oregon’s unemployment rate stands at a historic low.

And yet, all is not well for Oregonians. Poverty remains at a higher level than before the Great Recession. In recent years, Oregon has seen a rise in the share of families living in poverty despite having at least one working parent, as well as a sharp increase in the number of families struggling to put food on the table. Economic growth has disproportionately flowed to the very top, as the incomes of the richest of the rich have rebounded to near record highs.

There are ways lawmakers in Oregon can make the economy work better for everyone.

One of the most important things lawmakers can do is to adequately fund the public services that benefit all Oregonians. Investing in education, for example, opens the doors of opportunity for the next generation, while setting the stage for a stronger state economy. Similarly, extending health insurance to all children in Oregon ensures that everyone has a chance to be healthy and succeed in school and life, while creating a more skilled workforce that can strengthen Oregon’s economy.

To accomplish this, Oregon lawmakers must confront the state’s revenue problem with a revenue solution. Oregon faces a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall. Unless lawmakers find the revenue to fill the shortfall, schools and other essential services will suffer, as will all Oregonians who benefit from them.

Addressing the current budget shortfall is not enough. The quality and reach of public services are insufficient for all Oregonians to gain from the state’s economic success. Public schools, for example, have not recovered from the devastating impact of property tax changes in the 1990s. Lawmakers must raise adequate resources to confront the long-term underfunding of public services if Oregon is to become a place that offers everyone a meaningful opportunity to thrive and is a good place for workers on May Days to come.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Clearing the smoke on the pot tax

April 20, 2017 - 12:32pm

It’s 4/20. For some, this date may trigger the often-asked questions: How much revenue is the tax on marijuana generating? And what’s it being spent on?

Oregon’s state tax on marijuana brought in about $67 million in the 12-month period through February 2017.

That’s more revenue than state officials expected , but it’s still small trimmings in terms of Oregon’s revenue sources. To put it in perspective, the state tax on pot is bringing in less than 1 percent of the amount that the personal income tax —the biggest source of revenue for the General Fund (the “state budget”) — generates in a year .

The revenue from the state tax on pot does not flow to the General Fund. Instead, the money is dedicated for specific uses. Forty percent goes to grow the size of the Common School Fund; the earnings generated by the Fund go to schools. The rest of the state tax on marijuana goes to mental health treatment, drug abuse prevention, and law enforcement programs at both the state and local level.

There you have it.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

8 key things to know about Oregon corporate taxes

April 14, 2017 - 6:00am

Dark political money is flowing in Oregon. It seeks to squelch efforts in the legislature to raise taxes on corporations. This is happening, of course, as a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall threatens cuts to schools, health care, and other public services that benefit all Oregonians.

Without a doubt, raising corporate taxes is the place to start when it comes to raising revenue — not only to protect vital services from the current budget crisis but also to strengthen them so they improve the lives of all Oregonians.

Here are eight key things to recognize about Oregon corporate taxes.

1. Corporations used to contribute a lot more in income taxes than they do now.

In the mid-1970s, corporations contributed about 18.5 percent of all income taxes paid in Oregon. Today, the corporate share of has shrunk to just 6.7 percent. That’s a decline of nearly two-thirds. This has resulted in Oregon having less money to invest in schools, health care, and other key services. And as corporations have shed their income tax responsibilities, individuals and families have had to pick up the slack.

2. The Oregon Lottery now brings in more than the corporate income tax.

How shamefully low have corporate income taxes sunk? So low that the Oregon lottery brings in more revenue. That’s right. A source paid mainly by Oregonians struggling to make ends meet or with a gambling addiction (or both) does more to support our state’s schools and other vital public services than Bank of America, Verizon, Walmart, and all the other corporations doing business in Oregon combined.

3. Corporate property taxes have also shrunk.

In the late 1980s, corporations and other businesses contributed about half of all property taxes levied in Oregon. Today, they contribute about 40 percent — one of the harmful legacies of Measures 5 and 50 in the 1990s. Property taxes are the second largest source of revenue for Oregon public schools, trailing only income taxes. They are also the main way communities fund services that foster quality of life: libraries, parks, and emergency response services, for example.

4. Oregon, among all states, has long ranked at or near the bottom in terms of business taxes, including corporate taxes.

For over a decade now, Oregon consistently has come out at or near the bottom among all states in terms of its “total effective business tax rate.” This is according to a study funded by a big corporate lobby group.

5. The shrinking of corporate taxes didn’t happen by accident.

Legions of lobbyists, lawyers, and accountants have served corporations well over the years. Corporate income tax contributions have shrunk due to corporations lobbying for and winning many tax loopholes and subsidies, pursuing aggressive tax sheltering strategies, and taking advantage of corporate forms largely exempt from corporate income taxes. In short, corporations have gamed the system.

6. While they avoid taxes, corporations benefit from our tax system and lobby for tax subsidies.

Just because corporations have shed much of their tax responsibilities, doesn’t mean they thumb their noses at what the tax system offers. On the one hand, the tax system pays for, among other things, the schools that educate and train their workers, the courts that resolve their disputes, and the public safety services that protect their property. According to a corporate-funded study, businesses in Oregon get a bigger benefit out of the taxes they pay in Oregon than just about any state in the country. On the other hand, the tax system directly subsidizes corporations through a long list of tax credits, deductions, and subtractions.

7. Until recently, a minority of lawmakers could prevent the closing of corporate tax loopholes and subsidies. That’s no longer the case.

Not long ago, the legislature believed — upon advice of their lawyers — that closing a tax loophole or subsidy required support from a supermajority (three-fifths) of lawmakers. That meant that a minority of lawmakers could block any effort to reform or eliminate a corporate tax loophole or subsidy. A recent Oregon Supreme Court decision, however, has made clear that a simple majority suffices, giving the Oregon legislature significantly more room to maneuver in terms of increasing funding for services that benefit all Oregonians.

8. Corporations hide behind corporate tax secrecy, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

We know corporations as a group are getting away with paying far too little in income taxes, but we have no way of knowing which corporations pay their fair share of state income taxes and which are effective at avoiding taxes. And we know little about which tax credit subsidies they use to pay nothing or next to nothing in taxes. That’s because corporations currently are not required to disclose information on how much they pay and which tax credit subsidies they use. The legislature can force corporations to disclose that information, a move that would allow Oregonians to see for themselves which corporations are paying a fair share and which are not, and pave the way for necessary reforms to our corporate tax system.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Oregonians need homes, not tax shelters

April 12, 2017 - 1:48pm

You may have heard the radio ads, seen the large newspaper ads, or pulled the shiny postcard from your mailbox touting a proposal to create a “First-Time Home Buyers Savings Account.”

The marketing materials are from an entity with the benign sounding name “Oregon First Home Coalition.” It’s nothing more than a front — a political action committee, actually — for the Oregon Association of Realtors. This political action committee has spent at least $750,000 campaigning for the proposal.

Ahead of upcoming House and Senate meetings on the proposal (HB 2996 and SB 849), the Oregon Center for Public Policy published a paper analyzing the flaws with this new tax shelter. Here’s what you should know:

1. The home buyer savings program is structured to mainly benefit well-off families and their kin. We know this because it is structured in the same way as another tax savings program that steers 87 percent of the tax benefits to the wealthiest fifth of Oregonians.

2. There is no evidence the proposal would increase home ownership. The association of realtors has offered no evidence this program would boost home ownership in any meaningful way and there is no reason to think that it would. Because it is tailored to benefit the most well-off, the program would simply be subsidizing home purchases that would already occur.

3. The proposed tax shelter will divert $35 million from schools, affordable housing, lowering student debt and other essential services. Following the release of our report, the Legislative Revenue Office estimated that the realtors’ tax shelter would cost about $35 million in the upcoming budget period, 10 times the realtors’ estimate. That would mean that the legislature would be digging the existing budget hole even deeper — just to create a tax shelter for the well off.

“Buying a first home should be more than just a dream,” the Oregon Association of Realtors’ marketing proclaims. That’s certainly true, but the lobby group’s proposal would keep it a dream for the middle-class — while creating a real-life tax shelter for the rich.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Will business groups speak up in opposition to Priority Oregon or hide behind their shirt tails?

April 12, 2017 - 10:06am

By Jody Wiser of Portland, Oregon. Jody is an advocate for progressive tax policy at Tax Fairness Oregon.

If business organizations aren't going to support a reasonable increase in business taxes, the Legislature should eliminate all business subsidies and the public support of state agencies that exist to support business profits.

No more Lottery or General Fund support for Business Oregon, Regional Solutions, Connect Oregon, Oregon Inc, ONAMI, OTRADI, OWET, Oregon BEST, PIE, Drive Oregon and SOAR Oregon, state-sponsored trade missions, the Wave Energy Trust and the Agriculture and Forestry Departments. Let the sunsetting tax credits expire, along with the New Market Tax Credit. Drop Oregon RAIN, the Oregon Metals Initiative, and the Oregon Research Collaborative. Forget about public support of farmers’ water needs, the Western Juniper Industry Fund, the Main Street Grant Fund, and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center.

Rather than again cutting teaching staff and underfunding the human services budget, the legislature should end all enterprise zones, Single Sales Factor, the Film and Video Labor Rebate and Tax Credit, equipment property tax exemptions, the Oregon Business Retention and Expansion Program, IC-DISC and pass-through income tax breaks, and the Industrial Site Readiness Program.

Oregon has seen an explosion of new funding for business programs over recent years. The two-year cost of the programs and tax breaks named above is over $835 million. In addition, Legislators could disconnect from federal tax law and no longer allow tax-free like kind exchanges, depreciation of property, and accelerated depreciation of equipment.

If the greater business community is unwilling to get behind a tax increase for themselves, then the Legislature absolutely needs to stop funding this grab bag of benefits and instead spend the resources on our children.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Who needs a housing subsidy more?

March 31, 2017 - 5:00am

In a world in which the State of Oregon has unlimited revenue to spend addressing society's needs for education, economic development, housing, health care, child foster care, seniors’ care, and the like, it might be okay to give everyone a housing subsidy.

Of course, that’s not the world we live in.

We live in a world in which revenue is scarce and the needs are great, especially housing needs. Many Oregon families struggle to keep a roof over their heads, and some have lost that struggle.

In this difficult reality, whom should the state prioritize when it comes to subsidizing housing? The low-income family struggling to keep a roof over their head or living on the streets, or the family that can afford to purchase safe, comfortable housing?

That, in a nutshell, is what the debate around reforming the Oregon mortgage interest deduction is all about.

Totaling $1.1 billion in the next budget cycle, the mortgage interest deduction is far-and-away Oregon’s biggest housing subsidy. The deduction only benefits about three out of 10 Oregon taxpayers, and the bulk of the tax subsidy is going to those at the higher-end of the income ladder.

In short, Oregon’s biggest housing subsidy offers no help to the vast majority of Oregonians, especially those most affected by the housing crisis. Instead, it mostly helps those who can already provide safe, comfortable housing for their families.

Sadly, that’s the way the Oregon Association of Realtors wants to keep it.

At a recent legislative hearing on House Bill 2006, which would enact a common sense reform of the mortgage interest deduction, a lobbyist for the Oregon Association of Realtors offered up a scenario to defend this indefensible housing subsidy.

What was the scenario? One in which we were told it was bad that under the bill a single woman in Portland earning $99,999 a year loses $49 of her $162 monthly mortgage subsidy for her $483,000 home.

The realtors’ example illustrates just how out-of-whack their priorities are.

House Bill 2006 would allow middle-class families to continue to get up to $113 a month in subsidies on up to $15,000 per year in interest payments. With the average yearly mortgage interest payment under $9,000, the vast majority of homeowners would be unaffected. And even the realtors’ allegedly-struggling $99,999-a-year single woman would still get a housing subsidy of about $113 per month under the bill. The realtors implied that her losing out on $49 a month from the subsidy cap was enough to cost her the privilege of homeownership.

Now compare the realtors’ scenario to that of a single mom earning just $31,000 a year at her $15 per hour Portland job. She’s likely to rent, so she does not qualify for the mortgage interest deduction. And it is likely that her rent (especially in Portland) is more than 30 percent of her monthly income, putting her in a precarious financial position. Under the current system, she gets no $113 a month housing subsidy from the State of Oregon.

Or think about Oregon’s 22,900 homeless school kids and their parents. They don’t have a permanent shelter or a $113 a month subsidy.

HB 2006 addresses our subsidy’s misplaced priorities.

HB 2006 would allow the state to help many families struggling as a result of the housing crisis. The bill would take the revenue savings from the reform and invest them in helping low- and moderate-income families become homeowners, in increasing the supply of affordable rentals, and in directly addressing the state’s severe homelessness problem.

HB 2006 reflects a choice between the two worlds: Will Oregon continue to live in the realtors’ world where we prioritize subsidies for well-to-do homeowners, or will Oregon begin to help those struggling to put or keep a roof over their heads in this housing crisis?

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

A ready-made solution for protecting Oregon’s homeless children

March 24, 2017 - 11:11am

It’s a stain on the conscience of Oregon.

Last year, 21,000 school children in Oregon experienced homelessness. The same fate befell another 1,900 pre-school kids. Oregon had more homeless students than during the depths of the Great Recession.

Homelessness inflicts tremendous suffering and long-term harm on children. Homeless children are more likely to go hungry, to get sick, and to suffer from anxiety and depression. They are at greater risk from violence or of witnessing violence. They are more likely to miss school days and drop out of school. Robbed of a normal childhood, these children will face many obstacles as adults.

This tragedy, however, need not continue. Oregon has at its disposal a ready-made solution.

House Bill 2006 would provide enough resources to help stabilize 21,750 families in need of emergency and transitional shelter, transitional housing, and rapid re-housing assistance.

And that’s just for starters. Over the next two years, the bill could also provide enough resources to help some 5,000 low- and moderate-income families achieve the dream of homeownership. And it could help fund the construction of 1,400 new affordable housing rental units.

In short, HB 2006 represents a real game-changer in terms of how Oregon confronts the statewide housing crisis.

How would all of these investments be paid for? They would be paid for in the fairest way possible: by reforming Oregon’s biggest housing subsidy — the ineffective and inequitable mortgage interest deduction. This housing subsidy mainly benefits well-off homeowners, those who do not need help from taxpayers to put or keep a roof over their heads. HB 2006 would keep in place the subsidy for the vast majority of homeowners who currently take the deduction, but eliminate the benefits for those at the top and those using the subsidy on vacation homes.

This common-sense reform of Oregon’s biggest housing subsidy would yield sufficient revenue savings that could be used to protect Oregon’s homeless children and others caught in the housing crisis.

The reforms from HB 2006 are not just common-sense. They are a moral imperative.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Whom does Greg Walden represent?

March 21, 2017 - 4:18pm

Whom, exactly, does U.S. Congressman Greg Walden represent?

Officially, of course, he represents all the people living in Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, a vast area encompassing Oregon east of the Cascades and southern Oregon. But it that is not the impression one gets when looking at the GOP health reform plan, which would result in deep cuts to Oregon’s Medicaid program, the Oregon Health Plan (OHP).

Rep. Walden is one of the architects the GOP plan. A congressional committee he chairs unveiled the plan a couple of weeks ago.

Not only would the GOP plan hit Oregon, by one measure, harder than all but one state, Walden’s district would suffer the most out of Oregon’s five congressional districts.

How would the GOP plan affect Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District? In House GOP Health Plan Threatens Nearly One Million Oregonians Relying on the Oregon Health Plan the Oregon Center for Public Policy explained:

  • A bigger share of people in Walden's district rely on the Oregon Health Plan to access health care than in any other district in the state, and thus they would suffer the most from the plan’s cuts to Medicaid.
  • More than half of all children in Walden’s district have health insurance coverage through the OHP. The magnitude of the proposed cuts to Medicaid would put their health care, and ultimately their economic future, at risk.
  • Hospitals — major employers in Walden's district — would see their bottom lines erode as people lose health insurance and Medicaid spending is reduced. Lost federal dollars would hit the economies of District 2 hard, costing jobs in health care, construction, real estate, retail trade, and other industries.

There’s no question that the GOP plan would harm Oregon, and especially Walden’s 2nd Congressional District. Which is why it bears repeating: Whom does Greg Walden represent?

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Hey Salem! Renters Have an Emergency: Pass HB2004.

March 20, 2017 - 11:36am

By Pete Hybertsen of Portland, Oregon. Peter is a renter and organizer with Portland Tenants United.

For any of you who’ve been thawed out of a glacier lately, or just haven’t been keeping much of an eye on Oregon politics, let’s get this out of the way first; Housing is arguably the biggest issue under debate right now. How could it not be? Very few things are more important to our survival and wellbeing than the shelter of a stable home. Thanks to tireless organizing and grassroots pressure from renting Oregonians and allies, we have a bill in Salem this legislative session. In its current form, this bill would be a historic victory for hundreds of thousands of tenants statewide.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends of all gender identities; Meet House Bill 2004, which desperately needs your vocal support to liberate it intact from the clutches of the Human Services and Housing Committee. There’s a bit more to it, and you can read the bill in all its wonky glory here, but HB2004 does three major things. It declares a housing state of emergency statewide. It bans no-cause evictions in most cases, with mandatory payment of relocation expenses where it’s allowed. And, best for last, it repeals the current ban on local rent control.

If you have a basic sense of fairness and a conscience, it seems difficult to make an honest case against banning no cause evictions. As long as landlords have the power to kick anybody out of their home on a whim, no renters have genuinely secure homes. Maybe some of you’re thinking, “But I always pay my rent on time. I take good care of my home. My landlord loves me and intends to name their firstborn in my honor.” That’s great and all, but it doesn’t buy you any actual rights, and if you’re holding up your end of the deal the rest shouldn’t matter.

Right now your landlord might evict you for making maintenance requests “too often,” or if they (rightly) hate that damn fedora you wear all the time, and anything in between. Sure it’s “illegal” for landlords to retaliate, but they know it’s hard to prove; it happens all the time. This has to stop. As long as a law allowing no cause evictions is on the books, any other legal rights tenants have are paper shields at best.

It’s not just the literal evictions though. Rent increases are putting people on the streets too. In the Portland area, rent increases of 100% or more are far from unheard of. Officially, that’s not an “eviction,” but try making that distinction to the families who are calling homeless shelters right now because their wages aren’t remotely close to keeping up, and they’re struggling to find anywhere else they can still afford.

The situation may be more extreme in the Portland area than some of Oregon’s other communities, but HB 2004 isn’t just about keeping Portland weird. Times are tough for renters all over Oregon, from Bend and Medford, to Eugene, Ashland, and The Dalles. Housing issues are inherently local, and this bill allows communities to rein in runaway rent increases according to their specific needs by eliminating the state ban on rent control.

There’s no defense for allowing our friends, family and neighbors to be forced out of their homes when nothing changed but the intensity of a landlord’s greed. There’s even less of a defense for tolerating that while also stripping our communities of the power to prove that change starts at home. As long as our hands are tied on the local level, it’ll be open season for price gouging on Oregon’s tenants. Hopefully, there will be enough Oregon legislators who are willing to stop defending the indefensible this year.

If you’ve got a problem with that, then you might just be a landlord who’s afraid to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to social responsibility. Or you might be Democratic Representatives Jeff Reardon and Mark Meek, and Senator Rod Monroe, though they still have time to change their minds and get on the right side of history. Rod Monroe wins an extra special prize for being both a current barrier to HB2004’s progress and landlord to a multi-million dollar apartment complex in East Portland.

It matters that HB 2004 names the statewide housing emergency for what it is. That’s old news to tenuously housed tenants who live it every day. It’s even older news to communities of color, LGBTQ+ people, and former renters who have been forced into homelessness. Declaring a state of emergency is everything, in a way, in that it acknowledges that the emergency is “man-made.” The decisions of a wealthy few made this emergency, not some law of nature, or even those Yanni-listening, heavily armed nudists who lived by you that one time. This law won’t get the job done on its own, but it gives back the tools we need to start unmaking it.

We’ve got to pass HB 2004 intact, and we need your voice to do it. This isn’t just any bill sitting there on Capitol Hill, folks. It’s more important than ever, with dark times from D.C. still ahead, to remember that sanctuary literally starts with a home. It’s more important than ever to act and be a part of solutions where you live. We’ve got to pass this bill, but we won’t get there on passive faith in politicians. If you think the basic dignity of being secure in your own home is worth fighting for, then join us.

Call key Democrats today to let them know that you insist they vote YES on HB 2004.
Representative Jeff Reardon (503)-986-1448 Representative Mark Meek (503-986-1440 * Senator Rod Monroe (503)-986-1724

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The Big Quake is Coming: Is Portland Prepared?

March 16, 2017 - 3:00pm

By Ronald A. Buel of Portland, Oregon. Ronald is a longtime progressive activist in Portland.

Prominent geologists say we’re due for a powerful earthquake. Chances are 14-20% that it could hit in the next 50 years, experts say. The expected magnitude 9 quake hitting the Cascadia Subduction Zone would first hit at sea, creating a mighty tsunami with waves 50 to 100 feet high. Such a quake would roll inward through Portland to the Cascade Mountains, hitting an area from Eureka, California to Vancouver B.C. This quake would create violent shaking for three to four minutes, collapsing buildings and creating massive havoc. The Portland City Club created a study committee, which, late last month made 14 recommendations in its 84-page report (pdf).

The City Club report, however, just doesn’t go far enough in three crucial areas -- how to prevent loss of life during and immediately after the big quake; why we need an early warning system; and how to pay now for life-saving solutions. The local press did not publicize the report widely, and it is likely that the report's recommendations, like those of so many City Club studies, will go unheeded.

Suppose the “Big One” hit us this year. We are totally unprepared in Portland.

According to a less-than-comprehensive Portland Bureau of Development Services survey of the city, more than 1,700 buildings, built between 1870 and 1960, are built with unreinforced masonry. These buildings will collapse partially or completely, killing people in and near them. Based on my count from the city's study, these unreinforced masonry structures include 25 Portland public schools, a dozen private schools, 28 churches, 21 event halls, seven community centers, and 17 hotels. The list also includes 227 apartment buildings two to seven stories high. The other 1,000-plus buildings that likely would collapse contain offices, medical clinics, grocery stores, and businesses of every type. A recent magnitude 9 quake in Japan, like the one expected here, killed 15,000 people and destroyed 272,000 buildings.

No one has counted the private homes in Portland where the foundation is not fastened to the walls. Many people in most such homes will find their house collapsing right off the foundation. At the very least, the State Legislature should make home sellers certify, at all future sales, whether their homes are likely to withstand a quake because they are fastened securely to the foundations.

The most significant finding in the City Club report involves the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub on the west bank of the Willamette, just north of the central city -- the dozens of oil and liquid natural gas tanks have a capacity of 830 million gallons, roughly 28 times the quantity of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster. The fossil fuels would flow into the Willamette, eventually to the Columbia River.

Here’s why: 1) these tanks are not reinforced, 2) the quake would turn the ground underneath the tanks to liquid, and 3) the protective walls that surround the tanks are not tall enough to contain the oil and gas - and may collapse during the quake. In addition, electric transmission lines above the area could fall, sparking a massive, uncontrollable fire on land and on the river.

It does not seem likely that the owners of these tanks will move rapidly to harden the land underneath the tanks and reinforce them. These tanks require a speedy public-private solution, in part because they contain 90% of the fossil fuel storage for Portland Metro, and the pipeline that feeds them from Seattle will rupture in dozens of locations during a quake.

There is also the matter of the bridges across the Willamette, 11 of which will come down in a quake if it happened now. Even the ramps on the new Tillikum Bridge and the new Sellwood Bridge are not likely to remain standing and allow use of those two bridges. People will be stranded on one side of the river or the other in this disaster, unable to get home to their loved ones. We need to harden at least one full bridge for a quake -- the City Club study recommends the Burnside Bridge.

The City Club report provides very little information about Portland’s emergency response network after a big quake. The city’s 911 emergency communication system will fail entirely, and at least half a dozen police, fire and ambulance facilities will collapse. The report does not address which hospitals and schools will remain standing. The city’s current plan recommends schools as emergency shelters, but 25 of the 87 schools will certainly collapse. Hospitals seem particularly critical in the aftermath of a quake, but which will stand and which will fall?

Most importantly, the report barely mentions an advance warning system like those used in Japan and Manzanita, Oregon. Such a system would sound an alert when the first earthquake shock hits. This warning would give people in Portland a minute or so, as the earthquake rolls in, to get out of, and away from, dangerous buildings. This early warning system seems like the highest priority action item to me. Leaving it to the U.S. Geological Survey to create such a needed system does not seem responsible public policy. Schools, hospitals and residents of multi-story old apartments deserve all of the warning time they can get.

Finally, the City Club report fails to discuss how to finance the critical infrastructure fixes. Government bonding can provide the money to get one or more bridges ready to withstand a quake. It can buy an advance warning system. It can prevent the energy hub disaster. It can reinforce schools, hospitals and first-responder buildings, and provide reinforcing assistance for at-risk hotels, apartments, and important cultural landmarks. Money now can "harden" key electricity, water and sewer systems, and our 911 emergency communication system. It can save many lives and make the future worth living. The City Council needs to act to create a large bond for such fixes, and it needs to do it now

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The rich families’ down-payment assistance program

March 10, 2017 - 1:23pm

No doubt about it, Oregon is in the midst of a housing crisis. Families are being evicted en masse. The number of homeless school children is at a record level. Many families are priced out of being able to buy a home. And this problem is not just in Portland and other hot markets. Rural counties in Oregon are some of the nation’s most unaffordable rural counties.

So, enter the Oregon Association of Realtors with its plan to address the housing crisis: the Rich Families’ Down-Payment Assistance Program. Okay, that’s not what they call it, but that is in effect what House Bill 2996 would be if the legislature went along with this proposal. You very well may have seen the association of realtors’ large ads hawking the proposal (PDF) in a Sunday paper last weekend.

HB 2996 proposes to create a “First-Time Home Buyer Savings Account” program. It would allow people to shelter income from taxation by putting money into a special savings account at a bank, so long as those funds are eventually used to buy a home. So what’s the problem? The problem is that this would create a huge tax loophole for the well-off — wide enough to drive a truck through with a McMansion in tow.

This special account would be a tax shelter, not a shelter for the homeless and those struggling to own a home. The money deposited there would be subtracted — sheltered — from the taxable income of the person putting it in. And neither interest nor withdrawals would be taxed.

The bill does not means-test who can set up or benefit from the tax free account. So even Phil Knight could set one up.

To top it off, you could set up an account to benefit someone else. For example, parents could set up one of these tax shelters to help their kid buy a home.

The problem with this is that those who will use this savings account program will be mainly those families that already have the greatest means of helping their children and relatives buy a home. It will just allow them to do what they otherwise would do while avoiding taxes — taking revenue away from affordable housing programs, education and other vital services.

Why am I so confident in saying it will mainly be the rich who will use this down-payment tax shelter program? Because we can look at existing examples of this sort of subsidy scheme. The Oregon 529 College Savings Network accounts are set up similarly, and it is the most well-off who use them. About 87 percent of all the tax benefits of the college savings plan is going to the highest income group (the top fifth) of Oregonians.

We need real solutions to Oregon’s housing crisis, not more tax giveaways to those most well- off.

Fortunately, lawmakers have a better alternative to help first-time and other homeowners: HB 2006, a common sense reform of the Oregon mortgage interest deduction. That is a proposal that would truly help our state confront the housing crisis.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

A statement from BerniePDX on current campaign discussions

March 2, 2017 - 3:25pm

By Dat Nguyen of Portland, Oregon. Dat is the media coordinator for BerniePDX. [Editor's note: The following is a statement from the BerniePDX board regarding an earlier post here on BlueOregon.]

BerniePDX in an independent, grassroots community and political organization committed to realizing the Social Democratic vision of former Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. Social Democrats consider public education to be a cornerstone in the fight against racism, classism, ableism, and gender/sexual discrimination. We believe a functioning democracy depends on a robust public education system. These are the values that inform our endorsement process.

Charter schools are not a benign alternative to public education. We stand with hundreds of thousands of teachers, parents, students, and organizations across the country who understand the threat privately-managed charter schools pose to the fabric of public education in the United States.

Recently-declared candidate for Portland Public School Board, Jamila Singleton Munson, is a long-time member of the charter school movement. Munson is a former charter school principal at KIPP Charter Schools, and former senior-level official at the corporate-backed Teach for America (TFA). She continues work with TFA as a consultant. Her campaign for Portland School Board, Zone 4, has so far been funded by high-level officials at TFA and the anti-union organization Stand for Children. Munson’s support for charter schools couldn’t be more unambiguous. Despite these deep roots in the school privatization movement, Munson’s campaign website mysteriously omits her background.

As privately-managed entities, charter schools colonize public funding by diverting much-needed tax dollars out of public schools and into the coffers of private foundations and for-profit corporations. This trend is part of the wider campaign to privatize social and public programs, which is why conservative and far-right groups remain a bedrock source of private funding for charter schools and their lobbyists.

Teach for America plays a large role in this corporate education reform movement. TFA undermines educational equity by placing recent college graduates with a mere five weeks of training in schools located in low-income communities. The average time spent in these posts is two years or less, which further disrupts already struggling students. These are communities which desperately need experienced educators and support. TFA exacerbates the funding issue by pairing it with inexperienced teachers.

In addition to driving divestment of public schools, the charter school movement and Teach for America are ambitious union-busters. Senator Sanders has been emphatic about the rights of workers to form unions and the importance of unions in correcting a historic period of income inequality in America. Sadly, charter schools and TFA remain a potent enemy of unions and the wider working-class. Just this January, KIPP Charter Schools of New York unleashed a retaliation campaign designed to break their teachers’ union, after teachers complained about horrid working conditions and poor educational outcomes for students.

Earlier this year, President Trump named KIPP Baltimore Charter School founder Jason Botel to a senior advisor education position inside the White House. At a time when public education and workers face unprecedented attacks from President Trump, we must take a firm stand for the rights of working teachers and student educational equity.

Public education faces a coordinated, Walton Family Foundation-funded assault at all levels of government. According to The New York Times, the Walmart founders have spent $1 billion driving the school privatization movement. At BerniePDX, we cannot help but wonder what good that money could have done for public education.

BerniePDX harbors serious concerns about Munson’s candidacy for PPS School Board due to her history with and current involvement in the school privatization movement, as well as some of her campaign donors (as identified on ORESTAR). However, we are happy that her candidacy has motivated Portlanders to engage in a serious conversation about the future of charter schools and their impact in our city. We cannot in good conscience consider candidates for endorsement who advocate views that contradict Social Democratic values and vision.

In solidarity,

The BerniePDX Board

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Hey, white progressives, stop attacking people of color with unfounded lies.

February 28, 2017 - 3:12pm

By Jerome Brooks of Portland, Oregon. Jerome has worked in the public and nonprofit sectors to expand opportunities for vulnerable Oregonians.

We all already know this, but it needs to be said – Portland has a very long history of disparaging, attacking, and assassinating the character of people of color who become leaders – especially black leaders.

In a time when we are supposed to be coming closer together under what is the most extreme Presidential Administration in modern history, we also must be vigilant in addressing xenophobia, racism, bigotry, and oppression in our own backyard. I, like many leaders of color in Portland, often find myself experiencing or witnessing both subtle and blatant racism, but often only share my thoughts with people who share those same lived experiences. The reason being is a person of color speaking out against oppression and racism in Portland is like pouring gasoline all over yourself while standing next to a campfire.

I could go through and list names of the victims, recent and old, but I’ll just get to what caused me to speak up today.

Jamila Singleton Munson. Jamila is a native African-American Portlander who has decided to run for a seat on the Portland Public Schools’ board. Yes, please let’s get more people of color to run for office, unless we don’t want them to. From the moment of her announced candidacy, Jamila has been on the receiving end of relentless attacks – mainly from white Portland “progressives” who don’t like the fact that she has worked for a charter school and Teach for America. She has been called a school choice/voucher candidate, the “Betsy DeVos of Portland”, among a slew of other names. She has been blocked from endorsement meetings by supporters of Bernie Sanders organized as BerniePDX, had a sitting Portland City Commissioner dismiss her candidacy altogether, and more, without anyone having ever had a single conversation with her.

Now I’m not here to engage in an argument about charter schools. You want to talk about charter schools, I want to talk about the disproportionate discipline rates and atrocious graduation rates for African-American students. You want to talk about how charter schools played a part in gentrification and oppression of people of color, I want to talk about how African-Americans are still displaced and disenfranchised in Portland with only the help of oppressive public policy. The point of the matter is there should be a space for a conversation that is respectful and representative of the community we say we are. When that conversation happens, I want to talk about outcomes.

I really hope that Portland can become the city it proclaims to be, but I’m not holding my breath. Right now, all I can do is deal with the drama as it comes my way and support my friends as it come their way. At the end of the day, this is not our battle to win. I need white Portlanders of good conscience to stop allowing for double standards that would find black people ostracized and crucified for the things their white friends do freely without consequence. I need white Portlanders of good conscience to speak up every single time they witness an act of racism and xenophobia, whether subtle or blatant. I need white Portlanders of good conscience to stop their “progressive friends” from attacking people of color with accusations and narratives that are rooted in lies. I need white Portlanders to change the way Portland does business when it comes to people of color. Poor or rich, visible or discreet, a leader or an agitator, people of color at all levels are suffering, and oftentimes it happens from self-proclaimed allies.

We don’t need a safety pin. We don’t need a profile banner. We don’t need a hug. We need real, substantive, sustainable action that results in true equity and inclusion, and an improved quality of life for Portlanders of color. Donald Trump didn’t ascend to the White House o nly on the backs of white supremacists. And on that note, I’ll end with an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” –

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

13 ways to address Oregon's revenue shortfall

February 15, 2017 - 11:47am

The Oregon legislature’s budget writing committee has begun to hear from Oregonians about how to deal with a $1.8 billion revenue shortfall. At a recent town hall in Portland, nearly everyone who spoke urged lawmakers to spare schools and other vital services from devastating cuts by raising revenue, especially from corporations.

The public’s message is spot on. It addresses the cause of the problem and forces the legislature to recognize that it can’t cut its way out of the mess.

Schools and other vital public services open the door of opportunity for Oregonians, and yet they suffer structural underfunding. Public schools’ budgets and programs, for example, have not recovered from the devastating impact of property tax changes in the 1990s. And today, a significant revenue shortfall in the upcoming budget period threatens to further erode education and other public services. Meanwhile, we have an Oregon tax code that is riddled with tax giveaways for corporations and the wealthy.

It’s imperative to both plug the current revenue shortfall and increase our investments in the public services that benefit everyone. With that in mind, here are 13 common sense options for raising revenue put together by the Oregon Center for Public Policy. Each of these options look to the most obvious places for additional revenue: businesses (mainly corporations) or high-income folks.

You won’t find on this list a call for a sales tax. While we appreciate that some Oregonians who want to see stronger schools and better public services would look to a sales tax for additional revenue, we think that for both policy and political reasons, a sales tax is not the place to focus the current conversation about raising revenue.

From a policy viewpoint, given today’s level of income inequality and paltry tax contributions from businesses, a sales tax is not where we would start to look for revenue. And from a political viewpoint, a sales tax seems dead on arrival. We know of no one with the financial means to run a referral campaign who thinks a sales tax is viable with the voters.

Good options exist for raising revenue to protect schools and vital services. Does the Oregon legislature have the political will to make the necessary changes? What’s needed to get them to that point?

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Big Win for Tenants in Portland Has Statewide Implications

February 10, 2017 - 12:00pm

By Margot Black of Portland, Oregon. Margot is a mother of three, college mathematics instructor, and an organizer with Portland Tenants United.

Portland just did a really big thing, and it’s a really big deal.

Effective immediately, landlords who choose to displace their tenants with a no-cause eviction or an unaffordable rent increase of 10% or more will be required to pay their tenant’s relocation expenses, depending on the size of their unit. Displaced tenants will receive a moving expense benefit of $2900 for a studio, $3300 for a 1-bedroom, $3900 for a 2-bedroom, and $4500 for a 3 bedroom or bigger. This landmark tenant protection, arguably the most far reaching and power-balancing regulation in the state’s history, was spearheaded by new City Commissioner and renter, Chloe Eudaly, whose call for a rent freeze during her campaign helped her defeat the incumbent candidate, and was co-sponsored by new Mayor, Ted Wheeler, who also ran on a tenant rights platform. Both candidates were strongly influenced by the work and power of Portland Tenants United, a rapidly growing tenant union empowering tenants to challenge the status quo. In particular, providing tenants with relocation assistance when they are displaced by no fault of their own, is a key component of Portland Tenant’s United’s Tenants Bill of Rights.

This historic ordinance is a game-changer for tenants, especially during a deepening housing crisis. When a no-cause eviction is tantamount to an eviction from Portland, and daily headlines tell of a burgeoning population of “newly-homeless”, when family shelters are overflowing, and rent increases are breaking city and national records, all tenants live in fear of the dreaded letter on their door from their landlord. When a landlord can so casually displace their tenants, without accountability or consequence, the tenant dare not question their landlord’s unreasonable demands and illegal fees, lack of regular maintenance, or intimidating treatment. A strong financial disincentive to force tenants out of their homes and communities means that tenants can now breath a little easier.

When landlords are required to acknowledge and share in the real and significant cost of forced displacement, they will certainly pause before punishing “annoying” tenants with a (definitely retaliatory or discriminatory) no-cause eviction, and they will think twice about price-gouging their tenants with a 30% rent increase to bring their rent “up to market value” when they know that their tenants will not be able to afford it without making major and consequential financial sacrifices. And when the landlord makes that choice anyway (because the ordinance does not prevent them from doing so), the displaced tenant will actually have the upfront financial resources needed to find and move into new housing; a win not just for the tenant who might now be able to dodge homelessness or certain financial crisis, but also for the landlord who can take comfort in the fact that their tenant will be much more likely to leave the unit clean, empty and on time, as the tenant will actually have the financial resources to do so. It’s actually a double win for the landlord now that their tenants will be sure not to do anything to warrant a for-cause eviction, lest they give their landlord the easy opportunity to displace them without paying relocation. Tenants now have a stronger incentive than ever to pay their rent on time, befriend the neighbors, take good care of their homes—including reporting minor maintenance issues before they become major, and follow the rules laid out in the rental agreement. Behold: A stick is converted to a carrot!

Predictably, most landlords don’t really see it this way. The relocation ordinance was opposed mightily by area landlords and realtors. “Good landlords”, supposedly beloved by their happy long-term tenants living in well-maintained units, to whom they are happily charging under market rent, regaled city commissioners with plea after plea to retain the unfettered right to issue no-cause evictions and $400 rent increases. It would be impossible to be a compassionate and fair landlord with the ability to displace and price gouge their tenants without consequence. But their vehement opposition was no match for the renters of Portland (nearing 50% of the population) and their home-owning allies calling for landlords to acknowledge their role and responsibility in stabilizing our communities. City Council was so packed with supporters of the ordinance that a standing-room only overflow room was opened across the street. Over 100 people signed up to testify, mostly those in support of the ordinance. While those opposed to the ordinance were exclusively landlords (many of whom did not disclose that they were also real-estate brokers), those in favor included teachers, doctors, members of the faith and labor community, government officials, lawyers, homeowners, and yes, even some realtors, developers, and landlords, both big and small.

The urgent need for stronger tenant protections does not end at Portland’s borders. The impacts of our unregulated rental housing market are being felt throughout the entire Portland metro area, as well as Salem, Corvallis, Eugene, Bend, Southern Oregon, Hood River and up and down the coast. Tenants across the state are suffering from Oregon’s lack of tenant protections and a post-recession boom in real estate speculation. Fortunately, Portland’s victory came just one day after Oregon’s legislative session commenced, where strong statewide tenant protections are one of the chief priorities for Speaker Tina Kotek.

The two bills (including several versions of each) being considered by legislature this session, and championed by the labor and community coalition, Stable Homes for Oregon Families, will address no-cause evictions and rent control. The first aims to eliminate no-cause evictions, creating a just-cause eviction standard that will apply to tenants statewide, rather than require local jurisdictions to come up with their own policies. The latter simply asks legislators to overturn the ban on local rent control, allowing cities and counties to enact their own rent stabilization policies. Unsurprisingly, both pieces of legislation face formidable opposition.

For the landlord lobby, legislation to overturn the ban on rent control and ending no-cause evictions, was laughably unthinkable this time last year, or anytime in the last 30 years. But by late summer, largely owing to Portland Tenants United’s willingness to confront the lobby, ongoing demand for a rent freeze, exposure of blatant abuse by landlords, and a successful movement to empower tenants to demand change, the calls for action became too loud to ignore. The unthinkable became the inevitable. In a letter to members of landlord industry groups, titled “Owners of Apartment Complexes Need to Defend Ourselves” the birth of the disingenuously named “Equitable Housing PAC” was announced, and the gauntlet was thrown. At MultiFamily NW’s “fall apartment breakfast”, landlord and lawyer and lobbyist John DiLorenzo didn’t mince words: “This is war.” They have since stuffed their war chests with almost $400K to hand over to any lawmaker dedicated to preserving the exploitation and abuse of Oregon’s tenants.

Absent sufficient landlord push-back, radical tenant groups seek to persuade our legislators to enact rapid-fire changes to our housing laws like rent control, prohibition of "no-cause" rental terminations, and long rent increase notice periods.

Progress in Portland is often the harbinger of change in Salem. In 2015, in response to the renter state of emergency declared by the Community Alliance of Tenants, Portland took the then unprecedented step of enacting its own “renter protections”, requiring 90-day notices on no-cause evictions and rent increases above 5%. In response, the legislature took similarly unprecedented action and without convening the (now defunct) landlord–tenant coalition—former gatekeeper of all middling changes to landlord tenant law—passed a similar slate of statewide tenant protections. This is evidence of both the power of a growing housing justice movement, and of the force that Portland has when it takes the first step to enact change.

Renter SOS

On the other hand, Salem, it is said, hates to be forced to legislate on issues perceived as primarily “Portland problems” (another great reason to lift the ban and give Portland its regulatory tools back). It absolutely critical that tenants and their allies from across the state make their voices heard, and demand that their legislators support robust tenant protections, without qualification. Until last week, most tenants outside of Portland had no idea that change was even possible; the notion that they could feel secure in their homes and communities was but a whimsical fantasy, a right reserved only for those willing and able to take on a 30 year debt with Too-Big-to-Fail-Bank-of-America. But Portland’s new ordinance has changed the legislative landscape overnight. Tenants are waking up, and galvanized, are organizing and mobilizing and following the lead of Portland Tenants United by forming their own regional tenants unions, such as newly formed Southern Oregon Tenants Union and Eugene Tenants United. This momentum will flow directly to Salem where pro-tenant legislators will be heroes, and ambivalent or opposing legislators will be forced to acknowledge the growing power of tenants (a far bigger part of their constituency than landlords) who are waking up and rising up, and will no longer accept the status quo. Both types of legislators should find inspiration in Portland’s city commissioners who showed courage and resolve as they stood firm in the face the tired arguments, false narratives, and empty threats of the landlord lobby.

While the Portland ordinance is a victory to be celebrated, this is no time to rest. The legislative session is now in full swing, and we must continue and expand the push. Pushing hard for a couple of months can win us decades of dignity in our homes. Town halls must be be filled with families, labor, faith and community groups holding signs in favor of tenant protections. Lobby days must be flooded with tenants and allies demanding stable homes and stable communities. The phone lines must be flooded, the mail bags overflowing. More tenants should organize to form more tenant unions. Hello, Bend and Coos Bay and Scappoose Tenants United!? Any legislator who take money from the Equitable Housing PAC or who plans to vote against tenants and stable communities should know that they will be held accountable, and that they can be replaced.

It is entirely possible that a new day for tenants is on the horizon, one where housing security and dignity is a reality, not fantasy. Where no-cause evictions and $400 rent increases are relegated to the history books along with other legislative injustices that we should be similarly ashamed of. But it will take focus, coalition building and mobilization around the state to make this a reality. Historic statewide protections for renters can be won this year. Families and vulnerable members of our communities can finally feel defended from the grinding insecurity of the housing crisis. When we fight, we win.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Pages