Republicans, including Bend’s Rep. Knute Buehler, are seeking a special legislative session in the fall to address controversy about new taxes to pay for Medicaid.
Those taxes could go before voters in January if a GOP effort to get them on a special ballot succeeds.
Unfortunately, Gov. Kate Brown immediately said no to a special session, arguing the Republicans had plenty of opportunity to find bipartisan agreement during the recent legislative session.
The approved taxes are poor policy. One would tax hospitals on revenues at a time when many, including St. Charles Health System, are reeling under sharply reduced income. Another would tax health insurance policies, whose rates have climbed sharply in recent years. Both costs would inevitably be passed through to the public. In a highly partisan atmosphere controlled by Democrats, GOP alternatives got little attention.
The ballot effort is being led by Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn; Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford; and Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg.
In their letter to Brown, they discussed challenges at the Oregon Health Authority, which manages the state’s Medicaid program, called the Oregon Health Plan. They wrote that a special session would be better able to address issues such as the impacts of an increased minimum wage on the Oregon Health Plan, among others.
The OHA has also been in the news this week with the resignation of Director Lynne Saxton after a report of an OHA staff proposal to plant negative news stories about a nonprofit. Earlier, it was reported the agency had spent millions of dollars for patients no longer eligible for Medicaid.
Buehler, who recently announced he will challenge Brown for the governorship in 2018, said a well-planned one-day special session could make a “costly and divisive” ballot measure unnecessary. Parrish, Esquivel and Hayden noted a special election could cost $3.2 million, while a special session has a price tag of $13,000 to $15,000 a day.
Quite apart from the cost, a referendum is a blunt tool for complex tax policy. And if voters do say no, legislators are left with a mess to resolve.
Far better to give fair and full consideration to a range of alternatives in a special session devoted specifically to this challenging issue.