Do What You Can Do 8/14/2020

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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

Soda Mountain

This photo from Soda Mountain was provided by Sean Bagshaw.
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The Special Session

I’ll take a break from the Covid focus this week to tell you about this week’s Special Session.

A Very Long Day
A face-masked legislature convened in the Capitol at 8am and adjourned around 10:30pm on Monday.


This tense and turbo-charged special session was summarized well in this article. The highlights as I saw them:

The Main Event: Re-balancing the budget

 In response to the huge hit the pandemic has taken on our economy and tax revenues, we re-balanced the budget for what’s left of the 2019-21 biennial budget (from now through June 20, 2021) with $1.2 Billion in cuts and transfers.  This means we won’t be moving ahead on some of the gains we’d planned in areas like housing, mental health, and our natural resource agencies that haven’t been able to monitor and enforce vital regulations. The disappointing fact is they aren’t going to get the help we’d planned to give them. I’m especially concerned, as I look out my window at a dry brown landscape, with the Department of Forestry’s stripped-down budget; programs we’d approved to reduce wildfire risks will have to wait much longer than I’d hoped. could have been much worse. While we won’t be making the progress we’d planned in vital programs like housing and mental health, we didn’t have to make the slashing cuts that seemed likely, and the K-12 school budget was spared.  We did that by drawing $400 million out of the lottery-supported Education Stability Fund (ESF)—one of Oregon’s two emergency reserve funds—which leaves about $400 million more for future use. Dipping into these reserves requires a minimum of 60% approval—18 of 30 Senators and 36 of 60 Representatives—and that bar was cleared by a healthy margin.

That doesn’t mean it was an easy vote. With Oregon’s over-reliance on personal income tax revenue, we clearly have a rough budget road ahead. We need healthy reserve balances to buffer the worst impacts, and likely will for a while. It’s likely that taking a big bite out of the ESF now just pushes the serious pain down the road a few months. But since none of us have a clear crystal ball—particularly, in the near-term, on whether the U.S. Senate will agree to the House of Representative’s proposal to help state government stave off economic ruin—it was a reasonable option to take. For those of you with a green eye-shade and passion for line-items, here are all the details of the re-balanced budget.

The issue that really fired me up in the budget conversation wasn’t about the line-items. I’ve joined a movement to challenge new tax breaks for very high-income Oregonians just when we’re starting to cut vital services. These changes are the work not of Oregon law-makers, but of Congress, which buried in the first big COVID relief bill some complex tax code revisions that expand tax advantages at the upper end.  But as a state that connects to federal tax code, Oregon automatically adopts those changes unless the legislature acts to “disconnect” from the federal provisions, as we have in the past for other provisions we didn’t want to follow. If we don’t disconnect, $225 million of sorely needed state revenue will go to cut upper-end taxes more deeply. This brief summary lays out the basics.

I was firmly told ahead of time that we wouldn’t be able to take up a disconnect bill in this special session. But the prospect of ending services for some of the most vulnerable Oregonians while initiating new tax cuts for some of the most affluent couldn’t go unchallenged. The only opportunity to push back was this floor speech during debate on the big budget bill. I wasn’t allowed to finish, but it served to drive a stake in the ground for taking this issue up in a third special session, if one is convened. I’ll be working with other legislators and activists to get the disconnect issue towards the front of the line.

A Note of Caution: claims often get exaggerated or oversimplified in taxation battles. Talking points I’ve heard that only the wealthiest 1000 Oregonians will gain from these breaks aren’t true.  On the other side, I know that the carefully coordinated emails I’ve received in the last two weeks—“Dear Senator, I have a very small business, and I can’t believe that, as I struggle to keep my doors open, you want to  hurt me more by raising my taxes”—are off-base; most people writing won’t come anywhere close to qualifying for the new tax breaks.  But at a moment when the pandemic has laid bare the disastrous impacts of America’s health gap, it’s time to stand firmly against changes that would widen it.  Here’s a good place to find out more and, if you like, get involved.


Police Accountability

    Since the killing of George Floyd the hardest working legislators might be the seven Senators and five Representatives who make up the Joint Committee On Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform.  Since the first special session they’ve heard some twenty hours of public testimony on a wide range of issues. The committee was able to finalize a small portion of its work in time for the session. It came to us as HB 4301.

What struck me, and made for an easy vote, was the breadth of agreement on this bill. That included a letter from police leaders that arrived as we deliberated on the floor. The bill passed 55-2 in the House and passed in the Senate with five Republicans voting no. One of those was Minority Leader Senator Fred Girod (R-Stayton), even as he said he had no problem with the content of the bill.  Reminding us of a couple of related measures we passed in the first special session, he said he was voting no this time “to fire a shot across the bow that, for now, this is enough.”

Floor Speech

Photo from Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian

That brought my two African-American colleagues, Senator Lew Frederick (D-Portland) and Senator James Manning Jr. (D-Eugene), to their feet. They wanted to guarantee Republicans that this would not be the last bill we’ll take up in coming months.  “I hear people saying, ‘Too much, enough,” Senator Manning said. “People like me have been saying ‘too much, enough’ for years. Some people don’t have the ability to say, ‘Too much, enough.’”

I don’t expect to see the two parties getting any closer on the importance and urgency of police accountability legislation any time soon.



   Two other notable bills we passed Monday were aimed at making life easier for some people wading through our unemployment insurance mess. SB 1701 marginally increased the amount someone can earn before earnings are deducted from unemployment payments. SB 1703 lets the Department of Revenue give income data to the Employment Department for an individual who’s applying for benefits.

   The larger questions remain about the agonizing experience of too many Oregonians through the unemployment claims process. It’s been intensely frustrating for many and close to life threatening for a few. Once the dust settles and people are reliably getting payments, it’s up to us in Salem to get 100% clear on how this happened and do what it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again—even if (or, more likely, when) there’s a massive shock to the system.  Too often elected officials have said they’d do that in the wake of a big snafu, but it rarely seems to happen. That’s one reason why the government’s steadily losing public confidence. I’m hoping this time will be different, with more willingness to learn from what went wrong, and more transparency with the people who’ve elected us to oversee state services.


More on prospects for a third session, and our current COVID status, in the next newsletter. Below you’ll find resources we’re still finding to be helpful. Stay in touch, and do what you can do.


Senator Jeff Golden, Oregon Senate District 3

Important Updates

covid graph
  • This page from the Oregon Health Authority contains up to date COVID data for the state of Oregon. Oregon Public Broadcasting also puts out a weekly map of the state, which illustrates the cases in each county. 

  • The Oregon Department of Education has released updated guidelines for school reopening in the fall, which make it easier for rural schools to reopen. This article gives the details.

  • The Office of Emergency Management has offered these tips for staying safe in the summer heat and during wildfire season.

Current COVID Information



Business Resources:

Business Oregon Logo

Social Services:

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a helpline if you are struggling with mental illness in this stressful time, as well as many support groups of all kinds. The helpline is available from 9 AM to 5 PM at 503-230-8009, or toll-free at 800-343-6264. Visit their website here to find out more.

  • Oregon Recovers has put together a list of resources for those struggling with addiction.
Grocery Store

Meals for All: 

  • Access has put together a lengthy list of local food pantries.

  • Oregon Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education’s Food Hero website with resources about meal budgeting, planning, and recipes. Its searchable database has plenty of quick, tasty, healthy and low-cost recipes.

  • The Oregon Food Bank has put together a "Food Finder" page to help locate local pantries and food assistance sites. 

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