AP NEWS

Editorials from around Oregon

March 6, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The Register-Guard, March 6, on parents needing to lead suicide awareness:

In its desire to do good, the Oregon Legislature sometimes ignores the cumulative weight of its actions and their potential unintended consequences. That is the case with a bill confronting dealing with one of the most important issues facing our community and state: youth suicide.

Senate Bill 485 is halfway through the legislative process, heading to the Oregon House after passing the Senate with minimal discussion on a 27-0 vote Tuesday afternoon.

It is a well-meaning bill focused on the aftermath of youth suicides. It would require the Oregon Health Authority to collaborate with schools, colleges and certain providers of youth services on communication plans after a suspected suicide of a person younger than age 25. The school or college the individual was attending, if any, would have to inform the Health Authority of what it was doing to provide support and to reduce the risk of contagion — other individuals being influenced toward suicidal behavior.

Those collaborations already occur but they are voluntary under a 2015 law, the first in the nation.

And that law is working. Suicide affects the entire community, not just family and friends, and Oregon has become a national leader in helping communities respond helpfully and appropriately when young people take their own lives.

But we are concerned that it would be counterproductive to turn a successful voluntary collaboration into a mandatory one.

Supporters of the bill say the collaboration has been uneven around the state. Yet the legislation establishes a mandate instead of addressing why some school districts do not participate. That mandate also creates an unintended incentive for public officials to focus their resources on meeting the legal paperwork requirement instead of serving the community’s needs.

Every regulation imposed by the state carries a cost in school staff time and focus. The 2019 Legislature must be particularly wary because the Joint Committee on Student Success will propose a number of regulations, including many also aimed at increasing accountability. Legislators, who want collaboration by others, have a duty to collaborate themselves and prune the potential mandates, approving only the most effective ones.

Community understanding of suicide cannot be legislated. Neither can any law remove what remains of the societal stigma against mental illness. It is up to the community to do so, both individually and collectively.

Adolescence and young adulthood are difficult times. Young people face uncertainties and pressures around relationships, academics, family expectations and future careers, as well as sometimes dysfunctional family life and other obstacles.

Last month, the Senate Education Committee heard from parents who did not know their children were considering taking their lives until it happened. Their stories were heartbreaking and were powerful reminders that suicide can occur in any family, any neighborhood, any school.

As a community, we must help equip parents and other adults with the awareness, knowledge and understanding to talk openly and forthrightly with young people about mental health and suicide prevention.

On Tuesday, the Oregon Senate passed legislation requiring school districts to have comprehensive suicide-prevention plans. That Senate Bill 52 is long overdue. In contrast, SB 485 seems both unnecessary, overbearing and potentially counterproductive.

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Corvallis Gazette-Times, March 4, on record revenue forecast concealing rainy days ahead for Oregon:

Here’s an item from Salem that you might have missed last week: The state’s economists are predicting that legislators will have a record amount of revenue with which to work as they craft a spending plan for the 2019-21 two-year budget cycle.

The latest quarterly revenue estimate came last week from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis (perhaps the only agency of state government that prepares PowerPoint slides featuring a tiny image of Bigfoot in the lower left corner, a touch that we find admirable). This is the revenue estimate that legislators on the powerful Ways and Means Committee will use as they work to produce their first draft of the 2019-21 budget.

There is good news for state taxpayers in the most recent revenue estimates: The numbers likely mean that taxpayers will receive somewhat larger rebates from the state’s oddball “kicker” system when they file their taxes in 2020. You’ll recall that the kicker rebate is triggered when tax revenues for a two-year budget cycle come in at more than 2 percent above the economists’ forecast made at the start of the cycle. (The median kicker, the economists estimated, for a taxpayer earning about $35,000 will be around $180, but remember that the state pays that now in the form of tax credits instead of a check.)

For legislators, the increased revenue amounts are good news as well, to a point: The final result is that they should have about $67.7 million more to work with than anticipated in previous estimates. The total amount in the general fund (think of this fund as the state’s checking account) for 2019-21 should be around $22.5 billion.

That’s a lot of money. The problem, of course, is that it’s not enough to cover all the increased expenses anticipated in the state’s budget, in particular a pair of familiar budget-busters: The increased premiums associated with the state’s underfunded public pension system and the growing costs of the state’s expanded Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid.

Part of that Oregon Health Plan gap was filled last week when the Senate approved House Bill 2010, a $380 million package of taxes on hospitals and health insurers that will remain in place for six years. The measure already has passed the House of Representatives, and Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign it. The bill expands and extends the funding pieces approved by voters in January 2018′s Measure 101, and it increases a 1.5 percent tax on health insurance providers to 2 percent. (Every mid-valley legislator, with the exception of Scio Republican Sherrie Sprenger, voted for the bill.)

The state still faces a gap of $542 million or so to fund the Oregon Health Plan, and Brown’s two proposals to plug that (a $2-per-pack additional cigarette tax and a tax on employers whose workers are on the Oregon Health Plan) face, shall we say, a somewhat dubious Legislature.

One other point from last week’s forecast is worth keeping in mind.

The state’s economists are joining a national chorus of economists who are increasingly certain that the national economy will be significantly slowing down by next year. If that turns out to be the case, and considering Oregon’s vulnerability to economic slowdowns, it would behoove legislators to do what they can to bolster the state’s rainy day fund and its education stability fund, which have about $1.9 billion combined. That seems like a hefty amount, about 9 percent of the general fund. But, the economists warned, “such reserves would barely be sufficient to withstand a typical recession’s impact on state revenues, let alone account for the increase in public services and programs during downturns.”

Bottom line: It’s not rainy quite yet. But it will be soon. Let’s be sure we’re ready for the rain.

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The Bend Bulletin, March 2, on Oregon businesses not being taxed without PERS reform:

Gov. Kate Brown wants to give schools an additional $2 billion, but, as things now stand, she and lawmakers must find a new pot of money to fund her dream.

Now an alliance of businesses (Nike, a real estate developer and the Oregon Health Care Association) and public employee unions have joined forces to push for a tax. The one they like best is a gross receipts tax on business. It differs in some respects from the similar proposal in Measure 97, which Oregonians defeated by nearly 20 percentage points in November 2016.

There are still big problems with the idea.

Gross receipts taxes pyramid on top of each other, growing with every new step from raw materials to final sales. That drives up prices, and that, in turn, cuts job growth. From the Legislature’s standpoint, however, only two factors are likely to matter. Gross receipts taxes bring in a boatload of money, and they tend not to fluctuate much with economic ups and downs.

Lawmakers are working to reduce that problem, perhaps through something called “sales minus input,” in which a business can deduct some of its costs before calculating what’s owed.

That presumably would make the tax less onerous for businesses with narrow profit margins, notably grocery stores. Grocery stores could even be exempted from the new tax. But there are plenty of other Oregon businesses that have low profit margins, too.

Finally, there’s this: Without PERS reform, a major chunk of what’s raised by a gross receipts tax will go to keep the retirement fund afloat. To make her $2 billion a real increase, Brown is estimated to need to add in another $3 billion just to keep up with projected PERS increases through 2021.

Where are Brown’s proposals to match increasing taxes with substantial reform to PERS? Oregon businesses shouldn’t be taxed any more without those reforms.