Gary A. Warner
The Bulletin

SALEM — Two tax issues, gun control, and the return of a Bend political activist were part of Wednesday’s news from in and around the Capitol.

Lawmaker sues lawmakers, governor

As promised, Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Kate Brown and the Democratic leaders of the Legislature over a bill passed during the 2018 session that disconnected the state’s tax system from the federal system.

Boquist says the move was unconstitutional because the legislation, Senate Bill 1528, was passed with only a majority vote. The bill stopped the state from replicating in state tax returns the 20 percent tax exemption for some businesses on federal tax returns approved by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump

Boquist wants the bill declared unconstitutional and void. The suit names Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, along with Brown.

Boquist said the bill should have required a three-fifths supermajority in each chamber since the decision resulted in an increase in taxes compared to if the Legislature had done nothing. Under the Constitution, tax increases require a three-fifths majority.

Advocates of the legislation said the change to the tax code was not a tax increase.

“I know for a fact the intent and purpose was to raise revenue,” Boquist says in the lawsuit.

State analysts said in April that if the federal tax cuts were replicated in state tax law, it would lower state revenues by about $250 million.

Unlike the federal budget, the state budget is required by the state Constitution to be balanced. That means any tax break would have to be offset either by spending cuts or new taxes.

Kicker up for debate

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, believes Democrats will try to amend or abolish the state’s personal “kicker” tax rebate in 2019. Knopp, who was a leader in getting the kicker enshrined in the state Constitution in 2000, said Wednesday that he expected the issue to come up before the Democratic-led Legislature when it convenes in January.

“It’s clear the Democrats will make a run at getting rid of the kicker, and I will try to preserve the kicker,” Knopp said. “I’m interested in a constitutional spending limit and serious cost containment along with tax reductions for small business.”

Oregonians received kicker rebates worth a total of $464 million in 2017, and the current budget is on track to yield a kicker of $555 million on 2019 tax returns.

Knopp expects Democrats to keep the issue on the back burner through the November election, when Brown is seeking a new term. An early indicator of plans could come when Brown releases her 2019 budget plan later in November, which she will do regardless of whether she wins or not.

The difference between what the state takes in and how much it spends has been stretched by rising health care and public pension costs. At least one lawmaker thinks it’s time to discuss whether or not to keep the kicker.

“I don’t think it’s good policy,” Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, recently told The Oregonian. Hass is the chair of the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee. Hass cautioned that changing the kicker was one of “hundreds” of fiscal options lawmakers will be looking at next year.

No go on gun safety initiative

Advocates for Initiative 44, which would penalize gun owners who stored their firearms unsafely, allowed their unsafe use by others, and did not report their loss within 24 hours, is dead for 2018. Backers had until July 6 to gather at least 88,000 signatures for the initiative. But gun rights advocates flooded the attorney general with objections to a proposed ballot title, slowing the process of getting petitions to voters. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for the initiative to move toward signature gathering, but proponents said Wednesday there wasn’t enough time left before the deadline. Backers of the “Oregonians for Safe Gun Storage and Reporting Lost/Stolen Firearms” initiative told Oregon Public Broadcasting that they would work with the Legislature in 2019 to meet some of their goals — and try to qualify a similar initiative for the ballot in 2020.

Back to elections

Ben Schimmoller, the Bend political activist who lost the 53rd House District Republican primary by two votes, has signed on as campaign manager for Teri Grier, the Republican running for the 9th House District seat held by Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay. The race is a rematch of the 2016 contest, which McKeown won by just over 1,100 votes out of about 31,000 cast.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750,