May 2017 Legislative Update
--Charlie Swanson, Chair, HCAO Legislative Committee
We had a successful hearing on our bill, SB 1046, on April 20. They had to open two extra hearing rooms, and also played the hearing to many people in the hallways. More than 60 of our 90 legislators were visited by HCAO constituents. Our next major step is to get a legislative work group to look at policy issues for a state plan. We will be visiting legislators in June to try to get an appropriate group together.
Some bills of interest that have been endorsed by HCAO are still in play. CCO reform (HB 2122) has been weakened but is still a helpful reform, and if things go well, may be out of the house and on to the senate by the time you read this newsletter. We are still helping our allies with Cover All Kids (SB 558 and HB 2726), the Reproductive Health Equity Act (HB 3391), public health emergency coverage requirement (HB 3276), prescription drug pricing protection (HB 2387), and small donor funded elections (HB 2578), all of which are In Joint Ways and Means waiting for budget clarification before moving further. Nonprofit hospital requirements (HB 2115) are in revenue. HCAO will send out information as we get it from our allies who are taking the lead on these bills on how we can help.
Anything you can do to improve revenue for the state of Oregon will be helpful in moving at least some of our bills of interest. Unfortunately, it appears that revenue to the state will increase sufficiently to trigger Oregon’s personal income tax kicker, thereby, in a perverse way, decreasing revenue more than if our state’s economy were a little worse. It is estimated that the kicker will return $408 million to taxpayers, this at a time when the state needs an increase in revenue. This amount alone is sufficient to prevent a decrease in Medicaid funding for the Oregon Health Plan and to fund Cover All Kids.
For those who may have forgotten, the kicker is a strange section in our constitution that makes our personal income tax rates dependent on a revenue estimate made two years in advance. If revenue more than 2% greater than estimated comes in, all of the amount above the estimate is returned, thereby decreasing the effective income tax rates. The legislature can choose to not return the kicker, but this requires a two thirds super majority in each house, a greater super majority than the three fifths required to raise revenue. It is ironic that Oregon tax revenue is great enough so that it will actually be decreased, at a time when many things in the state budget will be cut unless some Republican legislators agree to a revenue increase.
We are beginning to explore what can be done towards a universal health care system within states by several states working together. In particular, a group of western states advocates have started a conversation – from Colorado, New Mexico, California, Hawaii, Washington, and Oregon. We continue to monitor the national scene, looking for opportunities to move forward.