If anyone thought Gov. Kate Brown was above playing hardball with her opponents, consider the case of state Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford. Esquivel, she believes, violated a vote-swapping agreement with the Democratic leadership in the state House of Representatives. Her line-item veto of money for three projects in his district is the result.
Esquivel, of course, sees it differently.
Esquivel agrees that a deal was made regarding House Bill 2391, the measure that taxes hospitals as well as private health insurance providers and the Public Employees’ Benefit Board. PEBB manages health insurance for public employees in Oregon. Esquivel voted for the bill, giving it the three-fifths majority needed to move it to the Senate. The taxes are expected to close a Medicaid funding gap in the state budget.
In return, Esquivel got something, or several somethings. The day before the 2017 Legislature adjourned, members approved House Bill 5006, the reconciliation measure that wrapped up all the budgetary loose ends so that lawmakers could go home.
In that measure was money for Esquivel’s three projects: $1.9 million for an irrigation project, $1 million for a theater restoration in Medford and $750,000 for improvements to a local baseball park.
On Tuesday, Brown announced she would veto all three, and she made no bones about why: Esquivel, though he had kept his promise and voted for the health provider tax, then signed on as a sponsor of the referendum petition that, if approved, would eliminate the same taxes. In doing so, Brown said, Esquivel had broken his promise to vote for the measure. Esquivel disagrees.
If the episode proves nothing else, it does prove this: the old quote about laws and sausages (if you like them, you shouldn’t see them being made) is true.
More important, however, is the very valid reason that no doubt led Esquivel to support the bill’s repeal. He knows, as some Democrats apparently do not, that a tax on providers is nothing more than a one-step-removed tax on those who must pay for providers’ products, in this case, health care. Raise the cost to providers and you can expect the prices they charge to go up, as well. It’s a lousy way to do the state’s business.