Gov. Brown slams GOP after absent lawmakers hold up vote again on school tax bill
On Wednesday, Oregon state senators went home for the second day in a row without voting on the Student Success Act. The bill would raise an estimated $2 billion for schools over the next two years through a half-percent tax on some of Oregon's wealthiest businesses.
Democrats say the money is needed to improve the education system, especially in a state with some of the largest class sizes and lowest graduation rates in the country.
But Republicans say the tax plan would raise the prices of consumer goods without fixing schools.
On Tuesday, no Republicans showed up for a Senate floor hearing on the tax bill, meaning no vote could be held. Rules say at least two GOP lawmakers must be present for a vote to take place.
On Wednesday, one Republican did show up, state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend. He said he wanted to deliver a message.
"We are going to continue to deny a quorum until we believe that the voices of our constituents are being heard. And this is one of the only opportunities and tools that we have in order to do that," Knopp told a KATU reporter. "The issues of the tax increase along with policy and structural spending reforms have to be linked because you can raise all kinds of taxes and if you don't solve the spending problem that the state of Oregon has, we're not gonna make any progress on improving the outcomes for students."
Gov. Kate Brown, D-Oregon, and other Democrats blasted GOP lawmakers for holding up the vote.
"Absolutely irresponsible that the Senate Republicans wouldn't show up and do their jobs," Brown said. "If they really care about our school children, if they really care about making sure that our teachers have the tools they need, they would be here fighting to put more money into the classroom. Where are they? Missing in action."
Knopp said as long as Democrats, who have a super majority and support the bill, don't address Republican concerns, they'll keep holding up the vote.
"When you have record amounts of revenue coming into this state and you have spending that is creating a deficit, you have a problem," Knopp explained.
He said Democrats need to better address PERS, the Public Employees Retirement System, which is now $25 billion in debt.
A KATU reporter asked him what the GOP would do to fix it.
"There has to be more employee participation. There needs to be a cap on benefits and there needs to be I think overall a new plan, a 401(k) plan for new hires," Knopp said.
"Do we need to fix PERS? Absolutely," said Brown. "We have a proposal. We'll be moving forward on it. It will stabilize employer rates from the entire system, a reduction of at least five percentage points. And secondly, we want to make sure that we have a financially stable system so that our hardworking public employees can have a secure retirement. And that's exactly what we're going to do."
The state Senate is scheduled to convene again Thursday morning.