Do What You Can Do 5/16/19

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Senator Jeff Golden

 *  “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And
because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
 —Helen Keller

Welcome to our May 16 edition of Do What You Can Do.

What's Up

Rep Barbara Smith Warner at the Vote on HB 3427

Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, one of the Chief Sponsors and architects of the Student Success Act, celebrating the bill's passage. Photo courtesy of Logan Gilles

The Bargain: Trading Gun Safety and Vaccination Bills for Student Success

We were long on drama in Salem this past week.

The Republican walkout, which denied the Senate the 20 member-quorum we need to conduct business, lasted four days. Republicans sent us a list of bills they wanted changed or killed before they returned. That felt like hostage-taking to us on the Democratic side, and we wanted to wait them out.

But over the weekend, the Governor jumped into negotiations. As a longtime legislator, she's seen plenty of near-misses in state government's 30-year effort to shoulder the major part of the burden of funding public education. Unwilling to risk falling short yet again, she agreed to drop two big bills--HB 3063 (removing religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccination mandates) and SB 978 (a gun safety package)--if Republican Senators came back to the Capitol to allow a final vote on the Student Success tax package. That happened on Monday. We passed it in the Senate with the bare minimum of the 60% vote needed to increase taxes, 18 out of the 30 members, completely on party lines. 

Some of you got in touch with me before the vote on the education bill, concerned about a clause that would prevent local governments from imposing the same kind of tax in the future. I struggled with that for a couple of days; I don't believe the state has any business telling communities that, no matter what local people want, they're not allowed to levy a tax. But that preemption was evidently necessary for the business community's agreement not to fund a ballot measure to repeal the tax.

It seemed like a steep price to pay. I did some research and discovered that the best way to preserve future options for Oregon's communities was to clearly establish "legislative intent" as to how narrow this preemption really is. That's what shaped my brief floor speech on the Student Success package.

Senator Golden Testifying on HB 3427

Photo courtesy of Logan Gilles

What's the Package Again?

Well, it's a big deal. Senators who've been here 10-25 years called it the biggest vote of their careers. Here's a brief summary. A lot of you wrote in to urge my support. The Medford/Jackson County Chamber told me to vote no. I included my answer to them in the last newsletter--here it is again.

"Can We Have a Re-Do?"

Yesterday the Legislative Revenue Office released the last forecast for the legislative session. These are the final numbers for crafting Oregon's 2019-2021 budget.

They were striking. Oregon will take in some $870 million more in tax dollars than we thought three months ago. Much of that will go to the "kicker," sending a larger tax rebate to Oregonians that we've seen before.

My Republican colleagues weren't pleased. How convenient, they said, that we'd approve a new $1 billion/year tax two days before announcing that torrents of money will soon fall from the sky (a result, one of them hinted, that someone has succeeded in Making American Great Again. I'll leave that alone for now). How would the rich new revenue projection have changed the Student Success Tax vote, they asked, if we'd known about it beforehand?

Senate President Peter Courtney

Senate President Peter Courtney. Photo courtesy of Logan Gilles

Republicans then made a motion so unusual that the President had to consult with the Senate Parliamentarian to rule on it. In light of this new information, they said, let’s withdraw the tax package, now passed by both the House and the Senate, from the Governor’s desk, where it awaits her signature.* Not surprisingly, all 18 of us who voted for the package on Monday voted against pulling it away from the Governor and back to the Senate.

But what about the Republican argument that this unusual flush of revenue should cancel out the newly approved Student Success funding? That might make sense to someone who thinks Oregon’s service levels are basically okay.  I don’t. With K-12 education addressed by the new Student Success package, there are places those unanticipated tax dollars should go: community college and university support (so that students don’t bear another double-digit tuition increase), a range of human service and public safety programs that are nearly falling apart, paying down the PERS debt, and if possible fortifying the state’s Rainy Day Fund, because rainy days lie ahead. Decades of disinvestment leave us with a lot to pay for. Our job is finding the fairest way to do it. 

THIS JUST IN: The Governor signed the bill today around noon.


...Since I just mentioned it...

There's widespread agreement that the new tax package has to be coupled with strong PERS reform. That we’ve passed the first and are still talking about the second is more evidence that dealing with a huge PERS liability that can’t be ducked is the roughest challenge in Oregon politics.

A new proposal from legislative leaders just came to the table. Both parties are picking it apart behind closed doors. I can’t support it in its current form, but its form is sure to change. I hope to be able to talk about details in one of the next two newsletters.          

A Smart, Healthy Food Program

SB 727A is an investment I want to make. It would spend $3 million on “Double Up Food Bucks”  (DUFBs) for people who qualify for the federal SNAP program (formerly food stamps). That would be matched by $3 million from the U.S. Farm Bill to make a $6 million program

SNAP recipients going to growers markets (or participating in CSAs) could get a DUFB for every dollar they spend, up to $10/visit.  So their $10 becomes $20 to buy healthy, locally-grown produce. Great nutrition for families who sometimes have trouble affording it, stronger growers markets, more local farmers making ends meet... that’s $3 million I want to spend.

Mount Hood

Photo courtesy of ODOT

Standing Firm for Environmental Protection

This week we passed SB 2250 on a purely partisan vote.  It directs state agencies to watch for any weakening of federal environmental regulations from what they were on January 19, 2017 (not a random date), and to make recommendations as necessary for adjustments on the state level to maintain natural resource protection. I was eager to speak on the floor on this one. It gave me a chance to slip in the “Second Generation” theme I wrote about in As If We Were Grownups.

Fighting GMO Contamination

Do you remember when Jackson County voted 2-1 in 2014 to ban cultivation of GMO crops? We did that because our valley’s thriving organic produce sector could be decimated by drift contamination from nearby (and sometimes not so nearby) GMO fields. What’s frustrating is that there’s been no effective remedy for organic farmers whose crops are contaminated.

HB 2882 could change that. It creates a legal path to sue patent holders of GMO products for this kind of contamination. In my testimony I was able to recall our experience in Jackson County.

What Do You Think?

Last week, after describing some of the quirks that bother people about the new and somewhat complex corporate activities tax, I wondered aloud about the conventional wisdom that Oregonians will never accept a simpler form of consumption tax—a straight sales tax, even one with exemptions that keep it from being regressive. Here’s what you said:

  • "I believe a low sales tax on everything but food from a grocery store is fair [...] Want to pay less sales tax? Buy fewer things. Pretty straightforward."
  • "We must increase corporate taxes in this state before a sales tax [...] I am in favor of a sales tax, but please let's make corporations pay their fair share."
  • "While I do not object to a sales tax, regressive as it is, I think a luxury tax is a far better idea. People who can afford to live in giant houses and drive fancy cars should contribute to the public services that make this a spectacular state to live in."

I got the sense from most of your responses that, though you might not be opposed to a sales tax, you're conscious of the burden such a tax might place on low-income folks and would really like to see more comprehensive revenue reform. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Senator Golden Thinking

Photo courtesy of Logan Gilles

This week: I described above how two big bills, one on gun safety and one on vaccinations, were dealt off to get Republican Senators back to the Capitol.  I’ve heard from hundreds of you on vaccinations; we’ll pick that conversation up again if and when another bill’s developed. But few of you from the district have weighed in on gun policy (by contrast, from Day 1 of the session I’ve been flooded with form-emails from people OUTSIDE the district, ferociously opposing any and all gun legislation). This debate will resume, either towards the end of this session or in 2020.

So give me some guidance. Do you want new laws aimed at reducing gun violence? If so, what one or two specific provisions would you most like to see become law? Email your thoughts to

The Last Word

We want to hear from you! We are pleased to announce two opportunities to get your views and respond to your questions. First:

Joint Medford Town Hall with Representative Kim Wallan- Saturday May 25th, Medford Library, 10AM-12PM.


And, if you're unable to make it to the live town hall on the 25th, how about being part of our first

Virtual Town Hall - Live-streaming on Facebook on May 29th, 7-8PM

We hope you'll join us at one or both of these events.

Have you checked out Capitolizing? It's the weekly podcast where Senator Shemia Fagan and I answer two questions every week: What do we do here in the Capitol, and Why the hell should you care?

Find Capitolizing on iTunes and other podcast networks.

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Our best to you for now. Please remember to do what you can do.


Senator Jeff Golden
Chair, Campaign Finance Committee 
Senate District 3 (Rogue Valley)

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1703
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, S-421, Salem, OR, 97301
Podcast: Capitolizing