SALEM – Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Sept. 2 vetoed
a bill that would have provided farmers a
reprieve from Oregon’s high minimum wage. In
the process, the governor upset Oregon farm
representatives by refusing to meet with them
to discuss the bill.
The bill – one of nine bills Kulongoski has
vetoed from this legislative session –
previously had been on a list of bills the
governor said he intended to quash.
The bill passed both the House and Senate
comfortably, although when it passed the
Senate, lawmakers were not aware of the bill’s
full revenue impact.
The Legislative Fiscal Office changed the
revenue impact from less than $20 million for
the four-year life of the bill to more than
$220 million in the days between when it left
the Senate and arrived in the House.
It passed the House 33-27 after passing the
Don Schellenberg, a government affairs
assistant director for the Oregon Farm Bureau,
said the bureau sent a letter to the governor
offering to renegotiate the last two years of
the four-year tax credit if it became clear
after 2006 that its revenue impact was a
burden to the state.
The governor did not respond to the letter,
Schellenberg said, nor did he respond to
repeated requests to meet with him.
Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm
Bureau, said Kulongoski even refused to meet
with two Democratic lawmakers to discuss the
“It was an important, high-profile bill with
bipartisan support,” Bushue said. “I would
have thought we should at least have had the
opportunity to meet with him.
“We’re frustrated,” he said. “There doesn’t
appear to be enough interest in the industry
to even meet with us.”
Senate Bill 1083 would have provided farmers
with a tax credit on the indexed portion of
Oregon’s minimum wage, the amount between the
$6.90 an hour minimum wage voters approved in
2002 and the current year’s minimum.
The minimum wage in Oregon is adjusted
annually based on the consumer price index, an
index of inflation that tracks the prices of a
marketbasket of goods and services in urban
Oregon’s minimum has increased under the index
from $6.90 an hour in 2003 to $7.25 this year.
It is the second highest minimum wage in the
country after Washington’s $7.35 an hour
Washington’s minimum wage also is adjusted
annually. No other state automatically adjusts
its minimum wage.
Discrepancies over SB1083’s revenue impact
arose when the Legislative Fiscal Office
interpreted the tax credit to apply only to
workers making minimum wage and only to the
difference between the previous year’s minimum
and the current year’s minimum. The fiscal
office has since concluded the tax credit
would have applied to all farmworkers and
extend back to the difference between the
current year’s minimum and $6.90.
The bill’s revenue impact was projected to
rise dramatically as the indexed portion rose
– topping off at $106 million for the six
months the wage would have been in effect in
the 2009-2010 fiscal year, when the wage is
expected to climb to $7.85 an hour. The bill
called for the tax credit to sunset Dec. 31,
Bushue said tax relief available in the bill
was critical to farmers trying to compete
against farmers in states paying more than $2
below what Oregon farmers must pay.
Mitch Lies is based in Salem. His e-mail
address is email@example.com.