State Senate President Peter Courtney held a news conference before the 2021 legislative session to announce steps to keep the legislative process accessible to Oregonians.
“We have never seen a session like this before. We need to keep members and staff safe,” he said. “Legislative staff worked hard to come up with a plan that is safe and transparent. Every session, Oregonians make their voices heard on issues they care about. We need these voices.”
But if you don’t know what the Oregon Legislature is talking about it’s hard to voice your opinion. Consider Courtney’s Senate Bill 846. It’s a model of translucency, not transparency. The bill shifts money around. It also potentially reduces the kicker tax refund.
Does the language of the bill clearly state that it potentially reduces the kicker? No.
Does it even mention the kicker? No.
Shouldn’t a bill that potentially reduces the kicker clearly state that? Yes, we think so. Do you?
Now if you are fluent in the budget-speak of the Legislature you could figure it out from the language of the bill — maybe. What the bill does, in part, is repeal transfers to the general fund of $15 million from the state’s insurance fund and from an operating account of the Department of Justice. The money stays where it is, at least temporarily. It just doesn’t get shifted over to the general fund.
That matters because it effectively reduces the general fund by that $15 million. That affects the kicker. The kicker is Oregon’s unique law passed by voters. It occurs if state revenues exceed forecast revenues by 2% or more over a two-year budget cycle. If that happens, the excess, including the trigger amount, gets returned to taxpayers.
No final determination has been made if there will be a kicker for the 2019-21 biennium. But the kicker is on target to kick, according to the latest revenue forecast. And because Senate Bill 846 is moving forward, the amount returned to taxpayers would be less.
Look, legislators need to be able to move money around, such as in this bill. They need to be able to balance the budget and line money up how they want to spend it. They also should be transparent about what they are doing and clearly state in a bill if it would reduce the kicker.