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Oregon State Senator Doug Whitsett
June 29, 2009 E-Newsletter

HB 2414

All kinds of machinations and schemes surface when the end of the legislative session is near. The most disingenuous and deceptive scheme of this session was the attempt to pass House Bill 2414 last Thursday.

It has become apparent that both the income tax increase, and the corporate tax on gross receipts that were passed earlier this session, will be referred to the people to decide on the ballot. The efforts to refer these taxes began, as soon as it became apparent that the Democrat majority intended to levy nearly $800 million in tax increases on the people of Oregon.

If a bill is passed by the legislature and is referred by the people to a ballot measure for the people to decide, it becomes merely a measure to be voted on by the people. It cannot become law until the voters re-pass the bill in the ballot measure by a majority yes vote. If the voters override the legislature and reject the bill by a majority no vote, it is the same as if the bill was defeated in the legislature.

It is well established in Oregon law, that a majority no vote by the people on the ballot measure would mean that the taxes are not to be levied.

          In fact, an Oregon Supreme court decision confirms that a referred measure will never become law unless a majority of voters voting upon the referred bill vote in favor of the bill. If the people vote in the affirmative, the bill becomes an act. If they vote in the negative the measure fails. Under current law the ballot measure must be worded so that a yes vote means to override the vote of the legislature and that a no vote must mean to sustain the vote of the legislature.

House Bill 2414 was a blatant attempt by the Democrat majority to prevent Oregon voters from overriding their tax bills. Their bill states that a yes vote is a vote to not override the tax measures. It states that a no vote is an affirmative vote to override the tax bills. So the Democrat majority wants a yes vote to mean no, and for a no vote to mean yes. Their stated reasoning was that voters are often too confused to comprehend the language of a referral measure, and that this new language would be easier for the poor confused voters to understand. This reasoning conjures up the discussions of the definition of what is really is.

Professional polling companies have long been aware that voters who are undecided usually vote no. They also know that more voters vote no when the measure is difficult to understand.

 In order to take advantage of those voter trends, House Bill 2414 was written by the Democrat majority to require language in a ballot measure referred by the people that would both make the measure more difficult to understand, and make a no vote mean yes. However, the same bill also requires the current language, which requires a yes vote to mean yes and a no vote mean no, for any ballot measure that is referred by the legislature to the people.

This bill would have made George Orwell proud. It tilts the voting in favor of referrals made by the legislature by requiring that yes means yes while it tilts the voting against referrals made by the people by requiring that a yes vote means no. HB 2414 was a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the upcoming ballot measure votes on the tax measures by the people of Oregon.

House Bill 2414 was originally a simple bill that would have allowed ballots to list names of no more than three political parties that have nominated candidates for election. The bill was “gutted and stuffed” with the deceptive language late Wednesday evening by the Senate Rules Committee. This was done by the Democrat Leadership in order to improve their odds to sustain the corporate and personal income tax increases previously passed on party line votes.

 HB 2414 was then forced out of the Ways and Means Committee on a straight party line vote even later at night. No hearings or public input of any kind was allowed on the bill! It was the Democrat intention to rush the bill to the Senate floor for a vote Thursday morning.

The Republican minority refused to suspend the rules to allow that vote to occur. This action gave the Republicans another 24 hours to inform the voters of what was about to happen to them.

The result of that information campaign was a veritable tsunami of thousands of emails and phone calls from enraged citizens. Newspapers and news broadcasts across the state chastised and derided the Democrat majority for their blatant attempt to hoodwink their constituents.

As a direct result of that citizen outrage, the Democrat majority voted to send HB 2414 back to the Ways and Means Committee to be further amended. Those amendments were to be made Monday morning. How those amendments are to be worded is unclear at this time. The bill will be scheduled for a Senate vote Monday afternoon which is also scheduled to be the final day of the session.

This kind of deceptive, last minute skullduggery makes it difficult to be a legislator. How can the people trust a legislature that purposely attempts to preempt the will of the people that they represent? HB 2414 is yet another excellent example of why the people do not, and can not, trust their government.

Our office received hundreds of emails and calls on this bill within a 36 hour period. Constituents were rightfully furious. My staff and I spent hours attempting to explain to enraged voters what was going on, and why it was happening.

Unfortunately, your legislature has passed a number of other bills this session designed to weaken the citizen’s right to initiative and referendum.

          Virtually all of the bills were passed on party line votes. The bills are mostly designed to make it more difficult and more expensive to place an initiative or referral on the ballot. Some of the bills create new legal hurdles, new and enhanced fines for failing to abide by the new regulations, and even criminal charges for violating the new complex of laws regarding initiatives.

Like HB 2414, these bills are described by the Democrat majority as clarifications, and efforts to strengthen current law. They state that these changes are needed to prevent the people from abusing their constitutional rights to control their legislature through initiative and referendum.

In my opinion, taken as a whole, the bills represents a coordinated effort to diminish the peoples’ constitutionally established initiative and referendum rights.  The goal of the majority party appears to be to make those rights useless.

HB 2186

House Bill 2186 passed out of the Senate Wednesday with 16 Democrat votes. This bill is undoubtedly the most anti-business bill of the entire anti-business session. It is vehemently and bitterly opposed by virtually all of Oregon’s business, trucking, farming, timber, utilities and energy sectors.

House Bill 2186 directs the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to conduct a study of medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also gives DEQ the authority to adopt study based rules to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This would create yet another low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) with which Oregonians must comply. You may recall that our state legislature imposed a LCFS in 2007 when it passed a bill creating a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The RPS requires the largest utilities in Oregon to provide 25 percent of their retail sales of electricity from newer, clean, renewable sources of energy by 2025. Similarly, smaller utilities have comparable, but lesser, obligations. Renewable energy from wind and solar sources costs an order of magnitude more to produce. The utilities are allowed to recover all of their prudent investment and production costs. Since these cost increases are mandated by the RPS they are prudent and they will be passed on the utility ratepayer.

The LCFS aspect of the RPS is the 10 percent ethanol requirement in all fuel sold in Oregon. Unfortunately, fuel producers and consumers are still struggling with that requirement. Looking at the affects of the first LCFS, we see that consumers are experiencing at least 10% worse mileage with the ethanol blend resulting in more fuel consumption. This fact alone brings the carbon footprint of E10 into question. Notwithstanding a more than 50 cent per gallon taxpayer subsidy and extensive state tax credits for building the plants, two ethanol plants in Oregon are now in bankruptcy. With these dismal observations from the first LCFS in mind, it is apparent that more study of the issue is needed before even more draconian energy regulations are unilaterally imposed on Oregonians.

Moreover, the manner in which HB 2186 authorizes DEQ to study the issue should be closely examined. While the RPS from 2007 provided guidelines and expectations for implementation of the LCFS, HB 2186 delegates a very broad amount of unchecked authority to DEQ to develop this supplementary LCFS. The bill does not provide the department with any direction, but allows it to adopt any standard or goal that has already been implemented by another state. We may expect that Oregon will soon be required to obey laws made in the California Assembly. Furthermore, the bill does not require DEQ to study how to implement the adoption of a new LCFS, nor how the adoption would affect Oregonians and Oregon businesses. No cost benefit analysis has been made is contemplated to be made in the future. Although rules implemented by DEQ with t he goal of reducing emissions would be subject to legislative review, the current legislative majority is very likely to adopt whatever rules the ODEQ proposes. 

K-12 vote

The six billion K-12 budget was passed again this week overriding governor Kulongoski’s veto. I voted for the budget in the Ways and Means Committee, voted again for the budget on the Senate floor, and voted for the budget a third time in voting to override the veto. The first vote to override was a procedural vote when the Democrat majority moved to override the veto without notifying the Republican minority and while ongoing negotiations were occurring. I voted no on the first veto override for that reason. I joined six other Republican Senators in voting to override the Governor’s veto and sustain the K-12 budget as previously submitted when the Republican minority had been properly informed and when the negotiations were completed. The media characterization that I changed my vote twice demonstrates both a misunderstanding of the legislative process as well as a failure to ask what actually occurred.

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