Gov. Kate Brown has called for a one-day special legislative session in June to give some of the smallest businesses in the state — sole proprietorships — a tax break. We don’t know what to think about the tax break. We haven’t seen the proposal.
A special session for smaller businesses does have advantages. It’s focused and something both Democrats and Republicans could support. For Democrats, it has the added perk of delivering Brown a campaign narrative for the November election: “I called a special session and helped small businesses across the state!”
But calling a special session also makes a statement about the state’s urgent priorities. Is a tax break for small businesses the state’s most urgent priority?
Take your pick. Oregon faces many urgent challenges. Improving schools. Improving jobs. Improving health care. Passing PERS reform. Those are all big topics. Any one could fill a weeks-long special session to work toward solutions. As worthy a topic as a small-business tax break might be, though, doesn’t it seem something else might be a critically urgent problem Oregon faces?
What about the state’s foster care system?
More than 7,000 children are in the state’s care on any given day. These are children that have likely been abused or neglected. Keeping those kids safe can be an extraordinarily difficult task for the Department of Human Services. DHS is not going to be perfect. But Oregon is failing far too often.
A DHS contractor called Give Us This Day faced allegations of improper use of force against children, substandard facilities and misspent money. DHS got into trouble for the practice of housing children in hotels. And DHS recently agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle a lawsuit brought on behalf of a girl abused by her foster father. He identified himself as a sex addict during the state’s screening process.
DHS has been working on these problems. A state audit identified 24 areas that need improvement — everything from lack of staff, to oversight, to caseload management, to poor use of data. We hope to hear from DHS later this week on where it is on meeting all 24. After Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, called for $50 million to fix the DHS staffing issue, Brown pushed for and got about $14.5 million from the Legislature.
But it’s not like the problem is over. It’s not like it’s a good idea to sit around and wait. And if there’s one thing a special session can do, it’s focus attention and explore remedies. Brown began her career as a legal advocate for vulnerable children and families. Nobody has to tell her what a serious issue it is. Her call for a urgent meeting of the Legislature was for a tax break for small business.