PORTLAND — If there was any question that Oregon’s minority Republicans and majority Democrats would clash on high-profile issues emerging ahead of the 2015 legislative session, a panel of elected party leaders gave the answer at a business conference Tuesday afternoon.
The panel of two leading Republicans and two leading Democrats answered questions on business priorities they’ll address when the Oregon Legislature convenes Feb. 2. They were in front of a crowd of hundreds at the Oregon Leadership Summit. The Republicans lined up against Democratic-led proposals for a statewide sick leave policy, state retirement system and $15-an-hour minimum wage, and said they hoped those battles wouldn’t hamper bigger policy issues such as a transportation funding package the state desperately needs to pass or education reforms pushed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.
“The position (that) the state government should be the solution for private sector business problems — we’re not supposed to be your solution,” House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, told the crowd.
“We’re supposed to be your support for solving the problems.”
McLane was responding after Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, said she’s sponsoring a bill that would create statewide sick leave for employees and that the state should consider a retirement system for employees who don’t get one through work.
“Can we as a state give those folks access to a savings plan?” Rosenbaum asked. “I would argue that that’s something that would really benefit small businesses that aren’t big enough or in a position to have such a program for themselves.”
The panel also included Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and House Majority Leader Val Hoyle, D-Eugene. The four answered questions that were focused on three pillars the Oregon Business Plan, a business interest group, says are its priorities for the coming session.
The group’s 2015 priorities are to connect education with jobs, use natural resources to create jobs and update crucial infrastructure.
The group also wants to raise Oregon’s lagging personal income levels and reduce the poverty rate below 10 percent by 2020.
The lawmakers agreed that cooperation is the best way to pass a comprehensive transportation funding package and to improve the economy in the rural parts of Oregon, but they made clear they don’t agree on other issues.
“If policymakers can help remove the obstacles to regain rural prosperity in those 30 rural counties, this will be a tremendous session,” Ferrioli said. “If what we see is the typical reaction after an election that can only be considered a rout, if the spoil system is only alive in Oregon, what we’ll see is quite a different picture.
“And nothing else will proceed if again the majority party will call the tune.”
Rosenbaum said she and Hoyle would push the statewide sick leave policy next session, which Hoyle said would get rid of a patchwork that exists after some cities passed similar local ordinances.
Hoyle said she doesn’t support a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Democrats have an 18-12 supermajority in the Senate and a 35-25 majority in the House, one shy of a supermajority required to raise taxes. But Hoyle said the numbers alone don’t reflect what happens when committees get together to craft bills.
“You would be surprised at what coalitions form together and how we work together and on what things we don’t agree on,” Hoyle said. “But again you can’t just look at it as a bloc of (Democrats) and a bloc of (Republicans).”
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,