Capital Chatter: Kate Brown discusses her 2019 priorities
Gov. Kate Brown had a wide-ranging discussion via telephone last week with two other journalists and me.
As Claire Withycombe of the Oregon Capital Bureau explained in her news story afterward, Brown said there is no point in trying to increase beer and wine taxes because the political opposition — i.e., the lobbying — is so high for a relatively small amount of revenue. It's been that way for at least 20 years.
Brown will release her 2019-21 proposed state budget on Wednesday morning, Nov. 28. Last Friday, the day of her media availability, was her deadline for getting it finished and to the printer.
"As always, there are a lot of difficult choices," she said. "I'm pulling my fingernails out, and my hair as well."
She said her budget goal is to keep the focus on where the state can make significant investments, particularly in education.
Brown meets regularly with school superintendents from around Oregon.
On business politics: Brown said she is meeting with a variety of business leaders to discuss increasing state revenue and making government more cost-efficient.
"I think our goal is to, shall we say, broaden the number of businesses that are at the table and having serious conversations about how we tackle some of the problems facing Oregon's future, both the cost-containment issues in terms of state government as well as the structural issues and how do we invest in education in a significant way that will really drive different outcomes," she said.
"My goal is to get us aligned on where we want to make investments in education."
Legislative priorities: Brown's top four priorities for the 2019 Legislature are making sure the state sustainably funds the Oregon Health Plan for more than one biennium, investing significantly in affordable housing across the state, tackling global climate change through a carbon tax-and-invest strategy — known as Clean Energy Jobs — and making a significant investment in improving educational outcomes.
She listed the priorities in what she said was no particular order.
Clean Energy Jobs: Brown favors a market approach for reducing carbon emissions at the least cost; her focus is not on increasing revenue through the Clean Energy Jobs legislation.
She was not surprised that Washington voters defeated a carbon fee, which is why Oregon's legislation must be a bipartisan bill that either won't be referred to voters or, if it is, will gain voter approval.
"Even though we [Democrats] have supermajorities, it is my expectation that we work across the aisle and around the state to develop the best policy for Oregonians.
"I know what it is like to serve in the minority," said Brown, a former legislator. "I served almost 10 years without being able to get bills that I was interested in heard … my perspective included in legislation."
The Democratic and Republican vice chairs of the Legislature's Joint Interim Committee on Carbon Reduction are crafting the 2019 bill, which the committee is expected to discuss in December.
Tax kicker: The personal income tax "kicker" is ingrained in Oregon's landscape, Republicans did a nice job of putting it in the Oregon Constitution, and Brown has no plans to mess with it.
On PERS: Brown's focus is on K-12 schools, helping them pay off some of their unfunded actuarial liability — which has driven up school districts' PERS costs — so more money can go into the classroom.
She has heard interest around the state from local governments about participating in the Employer Incentive Fund for reducing their PERS liabilities. She expects to see legislation introduced next year to ensure public employees "have skin in the game."
On wildfires: Brown is committed to expanding the Ashland forest collaborative and similar efforts that more aggressively prevent wildfires through thinning, prescriptive burning and other work on public lands.
Firearms: She anticipates introducing comprehensive firearms safety legislation in the 2019 legislative session.
Although she does not yet know which ideas have legislative support, she would like to close the "Charleston loophole"; increase the firearms purchase age to 21, especially for assault weapons; and ban bump stocks.
On the line: Oregon media were alerted Thursday evening to Brown's 9 a.m. Friday conference call. That late notice might be why the only participating reporters were Jeff Mapes of OPB, Withycombe and me.
Will Portland's mayor become governor? Former state treasurer and current Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has long been considered a likely Democratic candidate for Oregon governor.
Recently, Wheeler walked off the stage after being heckled during a speech and muttered, "I cannot wait for the next 24 months to be over."
That remark had people speculating he would not seek re-election as mayor, although he subsequently issued a statement saying he and his family would make that decision next year.
Off-the-cuff comments don't always mean much. I was sitting next to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a State Department briefing for editorial writers in 2011, when she was asked about her political ambitions. She said she was through with politics. I thought she meant it.
As for Wheeler, there is concern among his supporters that he will become so frustrated with Portland governance that he'll step aside from public service. Financially secure, he does not need the job of mayor. Or governor.
Speaking of elections: State Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, started her constituent newsletter this week by saying, "Election season is over! Probably like most of you, I will be SO glad to see fewer email messages in my inbox and fewer unknown caller phone numbers pop up on my phone."
Nathanson also talked about women in U.S. politics: "With recounts still underway as I write this, we know that next year at least 2,019 women will serve in state legislative offices, increasing the proportion from 25.4 to 27.3 percent. Women will make up more than 40 percent of state legislators in at least three states: Colorado, Nevada and Oregon. The Oregon Senate will have nine women, and I will be one of 28 in the House."
Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Facebook.com/Hughesisms, YouTube.com/DickHughes or Twitter.com/DickHughes.