Opinion: Gomberg outlines November measures

State Rep. David Gomberg

With an election looming, this a good time to outline six of the measures you will be voting on next month. Some of these are referrals from the legislature that require voter approval. Others are initiatives that were submitted by signed petitions for you to vote on. All of them are important and deserving of your careful consideration.

By State Rep. David Gomberg
D-Central Coast

Measure 94 would amend the Oregon Constitution to remove the requirement that judges retire when they turn 75 years of age. This discriminatory provision requires judges to retire even in the middle of a current elected term – which leads to more appointments.

No other elected officials in Oregon are subject to mandatory age-based retirement.

Seventy-five isn’t old or incompetent and the Constitution shouldn’t prohibit judges from serving just because they reach a particular age. Voters should decide who serves and how long they serve.

Measure 96 amends the state Constitution to dedicate 1.5% of state lottery proceeds for support Oregon veterans. This is the most consequential investment in veterans’ services in Oregon history.

Many of our veterans are doing well. But too many are not. Veterans are twice as likely to die by suicide. Many face challenges with physical and mental health, unemployment, and homelessness. Here in Oregon, at least 5,000 veterans lack a safe place to sleep each night. Measure 96 was intended to address these problems.

More than 240,000 Oregon veterans are not part of the Veterans Affairs’ system. This means more than half our veterans don’t receive help and benefits they have earned. Existing Federal programs return about $250 for every dollar invested. That means the $18 million this measure will provide will help us unlock as much as $4 billion in national benefits, health care and services for Oregon military families.

I was an enthusiastic yes vote in Salem and this referral received unanimous support in the legislature.

Measure 97 is an initiative that would raise the corporate tax to 2.5 percent on sales in Oregon over $25 million. Companies would only be taxed on business they do in Oregon, and only when that business exceeds $25 million.

We currently have the lowest corporate tax in the United States. This measure would move Oregon to roughly the middle. And it is important to understand that 99 percent of Oregon businesses will not be affected. It is estimated that only 1,000 firms will be subject to the new tax and that 80 percent of those are based outside Oregon.

Without Measure 97, the Legislature will have to cut roughly $1.3 billion from current programs. With this measure, Oregon will have roughly $5 billion for schools, seniors, roads and bridges, public safety, and health care.

I’m a small business owner. When I talk to neighboring businesses, Chambers of Commerce, or the many business owners that have appeared before my legislative committees, the concern I hear most frequently is the shortage of qualified, motivated, job ready employees.

For me this is largely a reflection on our schools, our crowded classrooms, and the fact that the Oregon school year is three weeks shorter than the national average. How do we prepare students for work, and for a successful future, when we graduate them with a year less time in the classroom than average states?

A central question should be, how will the proposed new tax affect what you pay for products and services? There are conflicting studies. But what we know is that most prices are set regionally and will not be affected. A Big Mac costs the same in Salem as it does in Seattle. To those who argue that new taxes will dramatically increase costs, I ask, since our taxes are currently lower than other states, why aren’t our prices now lower??

I would prefer a legislative plan that addresses a number of broad revenue reforms. But our Constitution requires any tax measure in the legislature to pass by a “super majority”. That makes any progress there very, very difficult.

The “Yes on 97” campaign continues to be validated by non-partisan endorsements, including the League of Women Voters, the Citizen’s Initiative Review Commission, and Governors Barbara Roberts, Ted Kulongoski, and Kate Brown. I support it as well.

We can’t wait any longer for critical investments in Oregon’s schools, healthcare, and seniors. And it’s time we more fairly balance our tax system by asking larger businesses to pay their share.

I take my responsibility as a legislator seriously and am committed to properly and fairly implementing any initiative passed by Oregonians. Measure 97 is not without its problems and the legislature may need to fine-tune it in order to better protect industries like agriculture and dairy.

Measure 98, an initiative, would require increased state funding for specific programs in Oregon high schools.

Every Oregon high school should provide students with real-world skills and hands-on, professional training that connects to local, good-paying jobs. Students should also have access to college-level classes. But these options are no longer as available to most Oregon students because of deep budget cuts over the past two decades, and now our graduation rate is nearly the worst in the entire country.

Measure 98 dedicates additional state revenues to fund career and technical education, dropout prevention and improved graduation rates. These programs will cost $800 per high school student each year on top of the approximately $10,000 that Oregon currently commits to K-12.

These are important goals and I plan to support the measure. But please note that, if Measure 97 fails to pass, implementing Measure 98 will be challenging.

Measure 99 would create an “Outdoor School Education Fund,” using $22 million a year in lottery funds to send our fifth-and-sixth-graders to camp.

Outdoor School helps students foster higher self-esteem, teamwork, and confidence. These benefits are key to preparing Oregon students for the 21st century workforce, where demand for environmental and science-literate workers is on the rise.

However, the Measure would also reduce lottery-generated economic development funds by about two-thirds, from roughly $33 million to $11 million annually. Those funds are currently used for activities like ports and dredging, job-creation, film and video recruitment, small business marketing, and similar projects in rural areas.

I like Outdoor School. But I think they need to find a different funding strategy than dramatically reducing our job-creating resources.

Measure 100 would prohibit the sale of products from 12 species of endangered animals.

It sounds crazy, but this is a major issue in Oregon where illegal ivory, horns, animal paws, turtle shells, and shark fins are exported to Asia. I strongly supported this bill in the legislature but time ran out to pass it. Advocates then collected signatures to place it on your ballot. I remain a strong supporter.

The Humane Society of the United States is a major sponsor of this initiative, and has three times named me Oregon Legislator of the Year.

Ballots should arrive in late October. You will also receive your Oregon Voter Pamphlet. This is a unique election where nearly all of our statewide offices will be selected. We will help choose a new President. And across the state, we’ll fill offices for county commissions, judges, city councils, school boards and a variety of other important local positions. Remind your friends and neighbors to be sure and vote!

Rep. Gomberg is seeking re-election to the State House, District 10.

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