The Latest and Greatest



Rep. Michael Dembrow 
NE Portland, Maywood Park & Parkrose

Phone: 503-986-1445


E-Newsletter                              December 8th, 2011

Friends and Neighbors,

It’s hard to believe that we’re already in the month of December! I hope you and your loved ones had a great Thanksgiving and that you’re coping with all the rigors of the holiday season with a level head and an open heart.

For me, this has been a very busy time—finishing up fall quarter at the college, working on the House Democrats’ policy agenda, working on a variety of constituent and policy concerns, trying to meet all the deadlines that come our way, while still being there for my family.

For those close to the legislative process, Monday was one of those important deadlines—the day that bill draft requests for the short February session were due. As a result of the constitutional amendment passed by the voters in 2010, the Legislature will be meeting in February and perhaps the first week of March for a short, even-year session. Much of our attention during this session will be on the budget (more on this below), but we’ll also be focusing on a limited number of policy bills. During this short session, there is a limit on the number of bills that a legislator can request to be drafted: 2. I have one bill designed to improve workforce development in this state, and my second attempts to shift badly-needed budget dollars from agency management to front-line service to those in need.

In addition, each committee is able to request five bills as committee bills. In the House, these concepts need the support of both the Republican and the Democratic co-chairs, which hopefully gives them a higher likelihood of passage. The Higher Education Committee, which I co-chair, will be submitting our full allotment of five bills, which I’ll describe to you over the next couple of newsletters. One is a re-submission of last session's Affordable Textbook Act, which you might remember died at the very end of the session for procedural reasons. I’ll be talking about another of them below: one dealing with the way that we govern higher education in Oregon.

In this newsletter I want to catch you up on a few of the things I’ve been working on. For those who want to hear more, I’ll be sharing information about these and more at Saturday’s coffee. Hope to see you there!

Coffee this Saturday with Jackie D and Me

Join me this Saturday (12/10) morning at 10 AM at Case Study Coffee (5347 NE Sandy Blvd.) for a cup of coffee and some conversation. We can follow up on any of the issues covered in this newsletter, or any others you’d like to address, so bring your thoughts and your questions and join us Saturday morning. As an added treat, Sen. Jackie Dingfelder will be joining us!

Latest Revenue Forecast

Each quarter the State’s Office of Economic Analysis issues its updated revenue forecast for the Legislature, incorporating economic trends that have emerged since the current budget was adopted last June. You may remember that the September forecast was a mixed bag: conditions were improving in Oregon, hiring was better than in most states, and tax receipts were coming in as projected. At the same time, national conditions were poor, due in part to Congress’s inability to deal with the debt-ceiling issue at the time. This caused the economists to advise us that revenues could be down by $200 million by end of the 2011-13 biennium.

The December forecast was just released, and it reveals that “we are in the same sort of limbo that we were three months ago.” Oregon’s individual tax revenues are strong, suggesting that the recovery is continuing, but corporate taxes on profits are down a little (which may actually be a good sign—suggesting that companies are letting their profits go down as they are at last starting to purchase equipment and hire back workers), and lottery earnings are down a little. But more of a problem has been ongoing national and international economic uncertainty over the European debt crisis, which has again caused the economists to downgrade the forecast, this time by $120 million--which is actually somewhat of a relief, as many people were talking about an additional $500 million in deficit. Still, we are looking at a total budget shortfall of around $320 million at this point, and this is a serious concern.

Fortunately, the Legislature does have reserves that will allow us to cope with this negative forecast. At the end of last session, we decided to hold back 3.5% from all the agency budgets (with the exception of K-12 education) and hold them in reserve. At the time, we were hoping that conditions would allow us to release that hold-back in February, which would allow us to keep Oregonians from losing much-needed services. Unfortunately, at present it appears that those reserves will have to be used to meet the deficit. In addition, we’re looking at further deficits in the Oregon Health Plan and anticipated federal money that is not coming in. So, all agencies, school districts, colleges, and universities are being asked to at least make plans for further cuts. Ways and Means subcommittee chairs are being asked to come up with potential cut lists that can, if necessary, be implemented during the February session.

This will be a huge challenge. We’ll of course look for further savings where possible (one of my personal bill requests does this), but given all the cuts that have already occurred, finding short-term savings that will not harm vulnerable Oregonians is not going to be easy. At some point, cuts alone will not solve our problem—we need to be looking at revenue reform that is fair, equitable, and sustainable in good times and bad.

View the Revenue Forecast Presentation

View the Forecast

Legislative Work Group on Higher Education Governance

As you probably know, last week the State Board of Higher Education voted not to renew U of O President Richard Lariviere’s contract. This was a really unfortunate turn of events. I dealt with Dr. Lariviere extensively in my role as Higher Ed co-chair, liked him personally, and thought he was doing some really good things at the U of O. In my experience and opinion, however, the Board was justified in its decision. But this was a very controversial decision, one that really casts the spotlight on the issue of local governance vs. state coordination and oversight for our universities.

This is in fact an issue that some of us have been working on for some time. You may remember that two years ago I was part of a special legislative work group that was created to craft legislation allowing the university system more autonomy from state regulation and direct oversight. It resulted in last session’s SB 242, which gives the universities much more control over how they spend their state allocation and tuition dollars, while also creating a new Higher Education Coordinating Commission to get the universities and community colleges working more effectively together, so that students can be more successful as they move from one to the other.

At the time, we were being lobbied hard by the University of Oregon to let them have their own Board of Directors and budget independence from the state, a proposal they called “The New Partnership.” We were also hearing from national experts and people from around the state that this would be a mistake. So the work group, and ultimately the Governor and Legislature, decided to focus on passing SB 242 and come back to this question of local university boards in the following session.

For that reason, for the last couple of months I’ve been working on a bill to create a new version of the legislative work group that would use the interim period between the end of the February session and the beginning of the full 2013 session to finally deal with this issue--to come up with a new governance model that would best serve higher education in Oregon.

It’s not just a question of thumbs-up or thumbs-down for local boards—if we agree that local boards would be a good thing, there are still some very serious questions to answer: Who appoints them? What is their authority? How do we pay for them? How will they interact with the State Board, if there continues to be a state board? How do we make sure that all the universities—big and small, all of which are doing important work—benefit from this new model? It will take time to answer these questions for the long-term, and that’s why many of us believe that a careful, open and transparent, deliberate process is the best way to go. That’s why one of the Higher Education Committee’s bills will be one that establishes this process, creating the work group of four legislators from the House, four from the Senate, and two from the Oregon Education Investment Board.

It’s unfortunate that the controversy over the U of O president had to occur, but it only lends greater urgency to this proposed legislation.

Update on Cell Towers in Residential Areas

The question of whether or not cell towers should go into residential areas, and the process for approving or disapproving them, remains an open and controversial topic. The City of Portland currently mandates that any cell phone company that wants to locate a tower or extension to an existing utility pole in a residential area must hold a public meeting before submitting its application. One such meeting was held a couple of months ago for a project proposed by T-Mobile in the Concordia and Alameda neighborhoods (the latter is part of my district). Frankly, the meeting was a disaster because of mismanagement and little interest on T-Mobile’s part in holding what most of us would consider a real meeting. I happened to be there to support the process and because I’d received lots of communications for and against the project. I wound up having to intervene to help bring some order and usefulness to it. At the end of the evening I also promised to arrange a meeting between the neighborhood association leaders and the city commissioner in charge, Dan Saltzman.

I’m happy to report that that meeting did occur, and it was productive. The neighborhood associations had a number of legitimate concerns about the process. Three neighborhood association presidents were there (from Alameda, Concordia, and Eastmoreland), along with the Commissioner and me. Saltzman was able to make a number of commitments that should really improve the process, insure that residents really have the ability to get their concerns heard, and make sure that towers are located near residences only as a last resort. He promised to share T-Mobile’s application if and when it arrives, so that the associations can comment prior to a decision by the City. The three presidents left the meeting pleased with the progress.

I’m happy to see an improvement to the process and happy that I was able to use the “bully pulpit” of my office to facilitate it. I must point out, though, that to a large extent, the City’s hands remain tied by federal law that gives the telecommunications companies enormous latitude in siting their towers. This is not a problem that is going away soon, certainly not with the ever-growing desire for cell phones, smart phones, and home networks. I’ll do my best to keep you informed.

For those of you who’d like more background on this particular issue, you can find information on my legislative website.

Update on the Senior Property Tax Deferral Program

On Halloween, a group of legislators teamed up with the Hollywood Senior Center and Elders In Action to hold an information session on changes to the Senior Property Tax Deferral Program. I was joined at the event by Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, Sen. Ginny Burdick, and Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer. From the County, we had Chair Jeff Cogen and Commissioner Loretta Smith, as well as County Assessor Randy Walruff. John Phillips from the state Dept. of Revenue also attended.

We had a packed house, as more than 100 showed up to listen, ask questions and give us their feedback. We heard from Sen. Burdick and John Phillips about the history of the program (which goes back to the 1960s) and why the legislature was forced to make changes in the 2011 session to keep the program going. Attendees also had a chance to ask questions of John and Randy, both of whom stuck around for about 30 minutes afterward to give one-on-one help.

I'm happy to say that the event helped bring together a group of advocates and legislators to work on proposed changes to the program for the February 2012 session. Elders In Action has been at that table, and my office has been engaged as well. I'll have more details to share with you on Saturday.

As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, the House and Senate Revenue committees met jointly during the last set of legislative committee days, in November. The early part of the meeting was dedicated to the latest state revenue forecast. The committees then moved onto an update from the Department of Revenue and legislative revenue staff on the property tax deferral program. You can listen to audio from the meeting here. The discussion of the property tax deferral starts around the 1 hour, 18 minute-mark. You can also access a PDF of Department of Revenue's presentation to the committee.

Come Hear About the Road to “Health Care for All” in Vermont

As you may know, Vermont has been on the forefront of healthcare reform since the days of Governor Howard Dean. Last June Vermont signed into law a plan to create a statewide, universal healthcare system, based on the idea that health care is a human right. We here in Oregon are closely watching developments in Vermont, to see what we can learn from them about what to do and what not to do. Now we have a chance to meet some of the people directly involved in that effort.

On Saturday, December 17th, members of the Vermont Workers Center, one of the groups that helped organize support for the Vermont legislation, will be coming to Portland to share information and answer questions. The event will be from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm at PCC-Cascade’s Moriarty Arts and Humanities Building Auditorium (corner of N Killingsworth and N Albina). Spanish translation will be available.

This will be a chance for you to learn more about what’s happening in Vermont, and also what’s happening in Oregon organize support for universal health care and a single payer system. Hope you can join me there!


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