By Tony Van Vliet

Dear Gov. Kate,

Since we toiled together in the Legislature, I feel I can be candid with you as a friend and fellow legislator. Now is the time, Kate, when your office is the one that sets the vision and the agenda for the future of our state. It may be our last opportunity for some time. The very real uncertainty of the federal government policies adds to the urgency. In the serious recession of 1980 through 1984, Gov. Vic Atiyeh and the Legislature cut budgets as far as they could go and resorted to asking agencies if they could raise fees, thereby replacing general funds that could be used in crisis areas.

It was not to be a permanent solution, but like an intoxicating drug it became an easy “art form” of budgeting. It became a must after Oregonians fell for the “no new taxes” or better yet “cut my taxes” siren call of Measure 5.

Our population has doubled since 1975; so have the demands, so have the roller coaster rides of feast or famine budgeting, and so has the crisis in funding local government.

Here are some suggestions from 17 years on Ways and Means:

1. This coming session, you and the legislative leaders need to have the House and Senate form a “Committee of the Whole.” Select chairs or the presiding officers who can act as co-chairs and call weekly informational meetings jointly in the House Chamber until measures are ready to vote upon.

2. Only three joint committees will operate: Ways and Means, Revenue and Judiciary (which will act as Rules also). All will be joint. Revenue will select subcommittees from the remaining membership of the “Committee of the Whole.”

3. The large subjects of personal and corporate income taxes with special attention to fairness and stability. The issue of special “sweetheart exemptions” of various property taxes that removed funds from local government. The various kinds of old exemptions in the statutes that no longer make sense. Sunset any special tax exemptions written into contracts. Last, but not least, is one sub dealing with PERS.

4. Look for ways to legally expand the “Local Option.”

5. Get additional help for legislative revenue.

6. No one goes home until you PASS meaningful change in our patchwork tax system. No referrals.

7. Have the press vigilant and spotlight legislators and lobbyist who throw sand in the gears of progress.

This is an opportunity for the Legislature to finally do what should have been done over 30 years ago. I think Oregonians would applaud the statesmanship!

I realize that political fortunes and power are always made at a person’s or group’s expense, and, yes, there has been waste. But in Oregon, different than Washington, D.C., I believe that recent bad choices such as some energy projects, health computer systems and reorganizing education were not made for personal gain but with the honest belief they were making Oregon better.

We need nothing fancy this time. Just roll up your sleeves, protect our best programs in health, get a grip on mental health, pick wise programs in education and help small business.

That’s why the Legislature needs to prove why the love of Oregon comes first this time.

— Tony Van Vliet is a former state representative from Corvallis from 1975 to 1995.

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