From the Left Bank
Looking at the Legislature

By Peter Toll

Oregon_Senate_ChamberMany people are gearing up for the regular Oregon legislative session next week. Hundreds of lobbyists are meeting with their clients to put schemes and dreams into law or to protect their positions. Bureaucrats are mulling whether to ignore or cater to the biennial barrage from legislators, the only chance elected officials get to shake a fist at them. Salem is gearing up.

But what about the regular folks? Those in the dwindling middle class in Milwaukie or Sandy, Molalla or Oregon City? What about the one-in-five Oregon children living in poverty? Or the motorist forced to endure the constantly deteriorating roads and highways, the bridges of our county and state? The list goes on and on. Who will represent these people in the fighting and clawing, biting and scratching for new laws?

Better, what kind of a laundry list would we like to see the legislature address now that it has solid Democratic positions in both houses and Mahonia Hall? What values would we like our legislators to embrace?

Here’s a sample legislative leadership and our Clackamas County delegation of five state senators and 10 representatives should be working on:

Taxes Let’s re-balance the income tax picture to what it was 50 years ago when corporations paid much more than they do now and regular folks paid a whole lot less. That is now upside-down, with corporations happy and the regular folks unhappy. Who’s driving this bus, anyway?

Does a sales tax fit in? Not necessarily, but if it does it should provide serious offsets for the elderly and those at or below the poverty level. Income taxes should be much, much more progressive; that is, the poor should pay a much lower percentage — if any — of their income, and the well off should pay more. It’s about fairness.

Jobs Can we acquire clean, family wage jobs without giving away the farm in tax benefits to industrialists? If not, why not? People move their businesses to Oregon for several reasons, and having a trained labor pool is near or at the top of the list.

Too, instead of the usual slogan, “if you move here we’ll help you financially,” which economic development folks love to say, maybe it should be, “If you move here your family will thrive and your life will be changed.”

Public Education. With a better tax base, we can provide more money to public education and restore it to its enhanced prime. Poorer schools need more help, not penalties for low performance. Teachers need more pay and respect, not less. We must reverse this ugly notion of turning education into a privately driven force where only the rich will succeed. And “civics” needs to be reintroduced into the curricula. The young aren’t voting and don’t care.

Environment We must do all we can to protect our air and water and encourage proper stewardship of timberland to protect fish and wildlife. Status quo doesn’t go in this or several other categories. “Carrying capacity” regarding the number of people we can afford to sustain should get fresh consideration.

Legislation to stop BPA from being included in baby bottles, thwarted by several Republican Clackamas County representatives, should now be passed. On a larger scale, Oregon must set the example for the country in reducing global warming.

Helping Working People Increasing the minimum wage is a modest step toward stopping the trend of rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. Reducing taxes on hard working people can fit in this category, too.

Parental leave and paid sick leave should also be passed into law. If the family is the core of our society, we must do more to hold families together. Universal single-payer health care should be enacted.

Protecting the Public Passage of legislation requiring everyone in Oregon to undergo a thorough screening prior to owning a firearm can now be passed into law. There is no reason to wait and no reason to water down this legislation.

Keeping Promises and Balancing the Playing Field In its last session the legislature passed a somewhat diluted but still important package which directed less money into putting people into prison for non-violent crimes and more resources into helping drug-driven criminals get treatment and help. Large sums were to go to the counties for this activity. How’s that going?

At the same time, legislation aimed at giving fines paid with corporate dollars to Legal Aid for the indigent was cavalierly dismissed by a handful of legislators; they stymied it. That bill should be passed pronto to rectify another out-of-balance situation. Practically every other state already works that way.

Most, if not all of these notions are not outlandish. They are ideas designed to help the people our government is supposed to help and not the oligarchs and captains of industry who have now become generals. In Oregon we could call it re-gaining balance and taking the right steps in the right direction.

Of course this is just a partial list. Everyone will want to flesh it out with their own personal agenda. Yes, it is time to take it personally. It’s what democracy is all about.

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Peter Toll has lived in Clackamas County more than 25 years, all the while active in Clackamas and Oregon Democratic activities. He is an independent financial advisor with a progressive perspective. You can reach him at ptoll@hevanet.com.