Status of the Oregon Legislature

Posted By: Molly McGrew Central Oregon, Industry News, Mid-Willamette Valley, Portland/SW Washington, SWV News,
Last month we learned that the impact of the Coronavirus COVID-19 has had a cratering effect on our economy. To understand the full impact of what has happened, check out the hearing on May 20th.
Our state economic recovery will hinge on our personal health and ability to combat the virus. This is an unusual but significant consideration as our state revenues have increasingly relied on sales revenues, which are tied to consumer spending. Social distancing measures have shown to be the most effective at reducing the spread of the virus and this in turn will impact our long-term recovery. When you combine the corporate activities tax (CAT), vehicle fuel taxes, vehicle privilege tax, video lottery and marijuana; with our significant reliance on personal income tax means that this biennium loss will be painful, but the real hit will be felt in the next biennium, 2021-2023.
What this means for policy makers, is that they have to look at the gap in what has been allocated for spending from the previous legislative session with what has been spent since July 1, 2019 within each agency. Then, legislators have to apply a combination of cuts in agency budgets (usually this means reduction in personnel tied to a specific program) and balance that with the loss of federal income tied to those programs for the immediate term.
In addition to that budget exercise, legislators are grappling with what to do with the remaining, dwindling revenues and how best to allocate those dollars in order to keep Oregonians housed, provide access to food and other basic necessities and provide financial relief for businesses impacted by the shutdown-- all while keeping the spread of the virus at a minimum so that it doesn’t overwhelm our limited healthcare system. It’s a tremendous undertaking and one that has never been done before with the uncertainty of a virus determining what moves or doesn’t going forward.
Unlike previous legislative hearing days which were spent in the Capitol figuring out what direction policy makers will focus on; this year’s hearings were all conducted virtually and took a little over two weeks for both the House and Senate to complete their committee work. As expected, the doom of the budget forecast meant agencies had to present their version of the impact the loss of revenue will have on their budgets and provide legislators with examples of programs that would be most impacted. In addition to that industries across Oregon testified to the impact the shutdown has had on them.
Multifamily NW’s Executive Director Deborah Imse testified to the ongoing need for rental income assistance based on rental data from May. In addition to her testimony was that of Jim Straub from the Oregon Rental Housing Association who echoed Deborah’s sentiments and also addressed the impact this is having on landlords as well. Multifamily NW’s position is to continually focus on across the board rental income assistance, while also supplying necessary data as to where that income assistance is most needed.
Based on the testimony the last two weeks, the Legislature’s Emergency Board approved a relief package of nearly $250 million last month that will support Oregonians and small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Oregonians are struggling and it is essential that state and federal resources get out to people in need as soon as possible.
Among the additional investments are: 
  • $75 million to support rental assistance, affordable housing and mortgage payment assistance
  • $10 million in additional support to the Oregon Worker Relief Fund which support Oregonians who are not otherwise eligible for unemployment insurance like farmworkers
  • $18.5 million to support individuals having difficulty paying their utility and internet bills
  • $4 million to support survivors of domestic violence
  • $25 million to enhance behavioral health services for Oregonians impacted by COVID-19, with a focus on communities of color, Oregon’s federally recognized tribes, and vulnerable populations.
  • $30 million in childcare support
  • $20 million to expand access to broadband and help Oregonians adapt to working and learning remotely 
  • $10 million to help small businesses purchase the personal protective equipment they need to reopen
It’s very likely that we’ll end up in a short special session by the end of June in order to balance the state budget. When that happens, the June session will most likely focus solely on revenue related matters which means necessary policy discussions around liability, diversity, equity and inclusion will have to wait until another special session is called over the summer.