House Democrats renew call for more revenue

More than half of House Democrats have signed a letter that seems to threaten passage of a transportation measure unless the Legislature raises more money for services.

Capital Bureau

SALEM — Sixteen House Democrats appeared Saturday to threaten a major transportation package with a renewed call for tax reform addressed to the Speaker of the House.

A group of 16 of 35 House Democrats have written a letter to Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, D-Portland, saying that while they supported the “well-crafted transportation package,” “the package alone is not enough.”

“In the final days of the 2017 session, we believe that the legislature must focus on the all-important task of identifying additional revenue to support education and other essential state services, ensure government transparency and reduce waste so we can protect critical services that the most vulnerable Oregonians can rely on,” the group wrote.

A legislative committee had advanced the $5.3 billion transportation package, the result of a significant effort to come to agreement between Democrats and Republicans, mere hours earlier. It’s expected to go to the floor of the House of Representatives next week.

Since the beginning of the session in February, Democrats had been advocating for structural revenue reform, aiming to shift the basis of business taxes from income to sales in search of what many argued would be more, and more consistent, revenue in future budgets.

But after months of debate that followed a divisive ballot measure campaign, the issue had appeared to come to a stalemate. Although a last-ditch effort to drum up nearly $200 million in additional revenue by restructuring a tax break for small business-owners passed the House, it appears unlikely to make it to the Senate for a vote.

Kotek said in a statement late Saturday regarding the letter: “At this point, I’m not sure what this will mean for the final vote on transportation.”

The transportation package raises $5.3 billion over ten years through increases in the gas tax, registration fees and a new tax on payroll, new vehicles and bicycles priced more than $200. Because it raises new revenue, it requires a three-fifths majority vote in both the Oregon House and Senate.

Union groups had suggested earlier in the session that they would withdraw support for a transportation package without revenue reform.

The letter was signed by representatives Karin Power, of Milwaukie; Julie Fahey, of Eugene; Rob Nosse, of Portland; Pam Marsh, of Ashland; Diego Hernandez, of Portland; Chris Gorsek, of Troutdale; Sheri Malstrom, of Beaverton; Janelle Bynum, of Happy Valley; Tawna Sanchez, of Portland; Mark Meek, of Clackamas County; Carla Piluso, of Gresham; Ken Helm, of Washington County; Teresa Alonso Leon, of Woodburn; Janeen Sollman, of Hillsboro; Mitch Greenlick, of Portland; and Brad Witt, of Clatskanie.

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