E-Newsletter Volume 7, No. #18



Representative Brad Witt
District 31

Phone: 503-986-1431    900 Court St. NE, H-374, Salem Oregon 97301
Email: rep.bradwitt@state.or.us    Website: http://www.leg.state.or.us/witt
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May 31, 2013              E-Newsletter              Volume 7, No. 18

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Hi Everyone,


A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the efforts being made to balance the state budget so that we can finish up and go home on time.  This has involved a lot of back and forth, give and take, as the Ways and Means Co-Chairs and the Governor continue to massage the numbers and arrive at an agreement that will pass with the maximum support possible. Central to these discussions has been the importance of generating more revenue while also reducing the unsustainable liabilities caused by a few idiosyncrasies in our public employee retirement system (PERS). 

We achieved a partial solution with the passage of SB 822, which required PERS retirees living out of state to begin paying income taxes on their benefits, and it directed the PERS board to recalculate employer contribution rates to lighten the burden on school districts and other public employers. The Governor remains concerned that the system is still vulnerable and he would like to see an end to the 6% “pickup” as a means of further relieving future liabilities.  PERS employees are required to contribute 6% of their earnings into their retirement accounts, but for at least the last 20 years, this amount has been “picked up” by the employer, many times in lieu of wage increases. To be fair, it has also saved public employers money because they have not had to pay payroll taxes on those dollars.

Some public employers have already negotiated a modification of the pickup.  The Portland Teachers Association and OHSU have agreed to a 6% raise in wages, with the employees assuming their own responsibility for pension contributions.  The Governor is now in discussions with the state’s two largest public employee unions, AFSCME and SEIU, and they have indicated varying degrees of interest.  If an agreement can be reached that is fair to all, I would support it, but I can’t emphasize the concept of fairness enough.  We need additional revenues to bolster funding for schools, health care and public safety, but it can’t all come from public employees.  I look forward to some interesting discussions as we head to adjournment.

The Agriculture & Natural Resource Committee that I chair has sent some fairly significant legislation over to the Senate.  Most of these bills passed the House unanimously, but I am not sure what their fate will be in the Senate.  Particularly vexing has been the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee’s failure to send four of our Committee’s five bipartisan priority bills to the Senate floor for a vote.  Here are the bills that I and my committee are concerned about:

  • HB 2624 – Allows counties exemption from the ban on dogs to hunt cougars if voters approve by a 2/3 majority
  • HB 2841 – Requires a 30-day notice to any rule changes regarding small scale mining
  • HB 3441 – Establishes the OR Hatchery Research Center Board and names the Oregon Hatchery Research Center at Alsea
  • HJM 2 - Urges United States Secretary of the Interior to allow enhanced management of cormorants by the State of Oregon

HB 2624 has not been scheduled for a work session, and the deadline is today.  The other three bills have been moved to Rules where they enjoy a more flexible schedule, but they also join a crush of other bills that are looking for a life line.  We have little less than a month until we are required to complete our work here and I am concerned when good legislation, broadly supported, is left to languish in committee.  I will be working diligently with my colleagues in the other Chamber to see that that does not happen.

Finally, I want to congratulate my North Bethany constituents for their diligent work on the transfer of approximately 160 acres from Multnomah to Washington County.  This area of Multnomah County, referred to as “Area 93,” was included in Metro’s urban growth boundary in 2002, but it was at such a distance from the availability of services that it could not be developed.  It does lie immediately adjacent to urbanized portions of Washington County, however, but access to those services required a change in state law, hence the introduction of HB 3067.  I was honored to carry the bill in the House, where it passed unanimously, and just yesterday, Senator Johnson obtained full approval in the Senate.  Both counties are now free to adopt a formal agreement by January of 2014.  Good job everyone!

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter…have a great weekend!