A Constituent Coffee Beckons



Senator Michael Dembrow 
SE & NE Portland, Maywood Park

District Phone: 503-281-0608

Email: sen.michaeldembrow@state.or.us 
Website: senatordembrow.com

Twitter: @michaeldembrow


Dear Friends and Neighbors:

Hope you’re enjoying another round of lovely weather. (Fingers crossed for a sunny Rose Parade.  And if not . . . there’s a constituent coffee beckoning!) 

Even though you may still be in recovery from last week’s kind-of-long newsletter, I wanted to send you another one today to let you know about a few events coming up this week, and also to say something about a couple of the hearings that occurred last week during Legislative Committee Days— our overall positive revenue forecast from Revenue and Finance, and some of the difficult issues that were addressed in Environment and Natural Resources.

Next Constituent Coffee: This Saturday, June 7

This Saturday is the first Saturday of the month, so that means it’s time for another constituent coffee.  Assuming you’re not downtown at the Rose Parade, I hope you'll take some time to join me in a conversation about some of the topics in this and the last newsletters, and anything else that's on your mind. I'm continuing to look to you for topics of concern as I prepare legislative proposals for the 2015 session.  I'll also break down the latest revenue forecast and what it means for the state budget, and recap the air quality workshop from the day before. As usual, we'll be meeting up at the Hollywood Senior Center from 10am to 11:30am.

The Latest Revenue Picture:  Getting Better All the Time (well, for now, anyway)

Oregon’s state economist and his team presented the latest revenue projections and economic forecast to the House and Senate Revenue committees last Wednesday.  We get these forecasts once a quarter.  They give us a snapshot of the state of the local and national economy, and they let us know how our tax revenues are lining up with expectations.  This particular forecast is important for two reasons: it’s the one immediately following the April tax filing deadline, and it shows us where we are halfway through the current biennium (2013-15).

Tax revenues were actually a little below what the economists had predicted earlier (many high income filers had chosen to pay more the previous year because of changes in the federal tax code), but refunds were also lower than anticipated.  The end result was 52.5 million more for the General Fund than predicted in the March forecast.  That’s a nice little surprise.  (In fact, we’re getting uncomfortably close to the trigger point for the kicker to kick—more on that below.)

But equally significant was the overall assessment of Oregon’s economy, which was very positive—and likely to improve further.  Thanks to restored activity in housing, construction, and manufacturing, more jobs were added in March and April than at any two-month period since 2005.  We are outpacing the nation in job growth.  And the job growth has at last begun to be seen outside of the Portland Metro area.  Again, though, many of these are on the lower side of the salary spectrum, not what we would consider family-wage jobs.  In general, businesses are still slow to reinvest their profits into expansion and greater hiring, though the analysts do see that happening more and more.

You can see the State Economist’s Powerpoint presentation here.  If you’re interested in all the details, you can read the complete report here.  Here are some of the takeaways from their report:

  • In Oregon we are back to 3% annual growth in our economy.
  • Housing and related employment is coming in three times faster than the rest of the economy.
  • Non-housing construction is also strong, with the huge investments at Intel and the Milwaukie light rail project helping to drive this.
  • With the increase in jobs, we will see more spending (resulting in more economic activity) and more tax revenues.
  • As in the rest of the country, the recovery came mainly to our urban areas first, but we are at last seeing improvements in much of the state (in 80% of the counties).
  • We’re starting to see more net in-migration to Oregon again (largely from California), including older retirees in Southern Oregon and young, generally skilled workers in the Metro area.  Legislative revenue is currently analyzing the spending patterns of these groups.  They are also looking to see if there is much out-migration to Washington for tax purposes.  (I’ll let you know what they come up with.)
  • In general, increased levels of education produce increased mobility.
  • Although some unemployed young people are coming to Portland and remain unemployed for a time, overall the stereotype of the Portland “slacker” generally doesn’t hold for most newcomers.  Spouses and partners are more likely to move without a job and remain unemployed for a time.
  • We are now about $73 million away from “The K Word”—the individual kicker.  Remember, if tax revenues exceed the amount predicted last May by more than 2%, then EVERYTHING in excess of the prediction must be sent back to taxpayers.  In 2007 nearly a billion dollars was returned (and then the following year we had to cut $4 billion from the budget).
  • Half of the increase so far is due to improved economic conditions, but half is due to the unexpected revenue increases voted by the Legislature during the special session in October.  The kicker law never anticipated that this kind of midterm legislative action could affect the kicker, but our legal experts say that it does.
  • In addition, we’re only $16 million from the corporate kicker kicking, so there’s a good change of that occurring.  Thanks to the constitutional amendment that the voters passed in 2012, in this case the kicker amount will go to education funding; however, this is a much smaller amount than the individual kicker.
  • We’ll receive regular updates on the status of the kicker but won’t know for sure until the biennium ends in June 2015.  I’ll keep you abreast.

SENR: Pesticides, Water Use, and Clean Fuels

Last week’s meeting of the committee that I chair (Senate Environment and Natural Resources) was lengthy, informative, and at times very difficult.  This shouldn’t be surprising, given the importance of natural resources to the Oregon economy and quality of life, with the attendant competition among business, environmental, and public health concerns.  We touched on several tough issues, which will likely need to be addressed in whole or in part during the next legislative session. 

We had our lengthiest hearing on the effects of the faulty aerial spraying of herbicides on private forest land in the Cedar Valley area of Gold Beach last October, which led to a number of illnesses among residents who live nearby.  We heard painful, difficult testimony from several of those residents and the son of one whose exposure might have precipitated a premature death. We also heard from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Forestry, and the Oregon Health Authority, each of which had some jurisdiction over the situation.  Though the helicopter pilot was clearly at fault (and is facing potential legal action), there clearly were errors made by the agencies in the way that they handled the event and communicated with the public. In hindsight, their focus appears to have been on making sure they had a good legal case against the applicator, even though this meant that residents weren’t notified of the specifics of the exposure for months.

There seemed to be consensus among the lawmakers (and the committee was joined by a number of our colleagues from both parties with an interest in the case) that situations like this need to be handled like a public health emergency, with a priority given to notifying the public as soon as exposure to chemicals is suspected.  I let the agencies know that we would be coming back to this issue in September to hear what procedure were being put in place to insure that this doesn’t happen again and to explore legislation if necessary.

For more detail on this issue, you can read OPB’s coverage of the hearing.

In addition to the pesticide issue, we also heard about the recently concluded water-use agreement in the Klamath Basin, where the Klamath Tribes (who have senior rights to the scarce water there) have agreed to allow farmers and ranchers greater access to irrigation water in exchange for habitat and efficiency improvements that will benefit fish runs. 

The third topic dealt with a controversial proposed pilot program by Oregon Fish and Wildlife to increase spill over dams, which could be very beneficial to juvenile salmon but could potentially increase power rates if fully implemented.  My sense is that in response to the hearing, ODFW will be fine-tuning their proposal, seeking cooperation from Washington and Idaho, and finding ways to keep costs down. 

The final topic of the day had to do with the roll-out of Oregon’s “clean fuels” program, designed to encourage the use of lower-carbon fuels (e.g., biodiesel, ethanol, propane, electricity) in an effort to fight global warming and climate change.  We heard from DEQ about its new rule-making process, from industry and academic experts on what is going on in California, and from the petroleum industry as to why they feel that the program should not be continued.  Finally, we received some very interesting testimony from Waste Management, the big refuse/recycling company that is committed to converting its fleet of trucks away from high-carbon gasoline in California and Oregon in response to the clean fuels program.

You can check out all the competing written testimony, reports, and PowerPoints from the various presentations on all these topics at the hearing website.

If you’d like to listen to parts or all of the hearing, just click on the circle that’s next to the meeting date (May 28, 2014) over to the right.  And please let me know if you have any questions or reactions to the hearing.

Portland Metro Area Becomes a Center for Sustainability Education

Most of us know that the Portland metro area has become a magnet for companies focused on clean energy and other forms of sustainability.  Many of our region’s schools, colleges, and universities have added curriculum related to sustainability and are working hard to make their own buildings more efficient and less polluting.

Now, the United Nations University’s Institute for Advanced Studies of Sustainability has officially designated the greater Portland region as a Regional Center of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development, one of 127 worldwide.   Known locally as the Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network (GPSEN), this is a growing network of regional leaders, educators, students, community members, and coalitions collaborating to advance sustainability education throughout Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, and Clark Counties. 

I’m proud to say that Portland Community College has taken a leading role in this effort, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of Dr. Kim Smith from the Sociology Department. Here’s a current list of members of the network.

This evening will mark the formal launch of the Network in a celebration at the World Forestry Center.  I’ll be there to help celebrate the launch, which should be a lot of fun.  Here’s more information for those interested.

A Chance to Learn More About Single Payer in Vermont

Many of you know that Vermont has been out in front of states pursuing a Medicare-for-All, or Single Payer model of providing access to quality health care.  At the heart of that effort has been the Vermont Workers Center, which was instrumental in organizing support for the successful “Health Care Is a Human Right” campaign that led to their Green Mountain Health Care plan, on track to be the nation’s first single payer system.

We have a rare opportunity to hear about this effort and learn from it: James Haslam, Executive Director of the Center, will be at an event on Friday evening sponsored by Health Care for All Oregon.  James will  speak and answer questions about Medicare for All in Vermont, and I’ll be there to talk about our efforts here in Oregon.  Should be very interesting.

Here’s a flyer giving the details of the event.

Air Quality in Portland: Workshop this Friday

Representative Mitch Greenlick and I are hosting a workshop on the current state of the Portland Metro area’s airshed this Friday, June 6, at PCC-Cascade (in the Moriarty Auditorium).  The workshop will run from 9am to 3pm, with public comments taken at 2pm.

Mitch chairs the House Health Care Committee, and I chair the Senate Environment/Natural Resources Committee.  Air quality is of course a concern that overlaps public health and environmental health, and we wanted to spend a day taking the pulse of the region on this issue.  We'll be joined by several other Portland-area legislators.

We’ll be building off of a recent update by the City Club to its report, “Invisible Enemies: Reducing Air Toxics in the Portland Airshed,”  We’ll cover the following topics:

  • Recap of the City Club Report
  • Responses from the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon DEQ
  • Good-Neighbor Agreements and other Industry-Neighborhood Agreements and Processes
  • North Portland Air Quality Monitoring
  • Lead Exposure in the Hillsboro Airport Airshed
  • Clean Diesel
  • Public Comment and Future Issues to Be Addressed
  • Next Steps and Legislative Follow-Up

It should be very interesting and useful.  It is, of course, open to the public so if you're free, please attend.

Until next time,

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