Issues in Salem bigger than just a law people didn’t like

For many of us, it’s hard to remember an Oregon legislative session as wild and crazy as the one that ended June 30.

Among the 500-plus bills signed by Gov. Brown were (in no particular order) caps on rent hikes and increased protection for renters against no-cause evictions, a $9 billion budget for K-12 education, a business tax that opponents called a “stealth sales tax,” the establishment of Daylight Saving Time permanently in Oregon, a paid family leave bill, rejection of the electoral college system for Oregon and bans on plastic grocery bags and straws (unless you specifically request the latter).

The big issue this year, as we all know by now, was HB 2020, the so-called “Cap and Trade Bill,” an attempt to reduce greenhouse emissions in the state, modeled after a 2016 California law. Its intent was to force Oregonians to cut use of fossil fuels by the year 2050, to 80 percent less than what state residents logged in 1990.

With the fireworks coming out of Salem, many citizens who might typically have had their heads in the sand have pulled them out to pay some attention. That’s good.

HB 2020 would have affected us all, in multiple ways. The most immediate effect on the average citizen, if the law had passed, would be at the fuel pump.

As the Republican senators’ walkout woke everybody up last month, the Oregonian newspaper published an analysis estimating that the bill, if passed, would cost Linn County residents $110 annually per vehicle in increased fuel costs.

Sometimes, it is necessary to pay the cost of fixing an environmental problem such as, say, fixing the Westside Interceptor here in Lebanon (see page 1). But this almost seemed like a situation in which our leaders simply wanted to make something significant happen.

While the debate didn’t center on causes for global warming, since, apparently, everyone agrees that it’s beyond doubt that the rising climate temperatures are due to greenhouse gasses emitted by humans, there was plenty of back-and-forth in the legislature over the impacts of the proposed law on citizens.

But Republicans complained that the Democrats were giving little heed to anything but their own agenda. There was that sense of urgency. The GOP minority argued vociferously that the issue should be voted on by the people.

Then, given the apparent lack of attention to anything they had to say and knowing they were outnumbered, 11 Republican senators fled the capital – and some the state, in a successful attempt to block passage of the bill in the Senate, which led to more shenanigans that we won’t recount here.

A LOG TRUCK from Gandee Trucking of Lebanon is parked in front of the state Capitol building June 27, as rural Oregonians turned out to oppose legislation that they said would kill jobs and make their lives more difficult. Photo courtesy of Audrey Caro

 This situation might seem outlandish, but it shouldn’t. It’s the result of increasing roughshod domination by urban interests in Oregon’s legislature, pushing an agenda that has repeatedly set rural Oregonians back on their heels – in areas such as land use, forestry and other agriculture, small business interests, firearm ownership, predator control and more.

What we saw in Salem was frustration and anger that’s spilling over. The super-majority enjoyed by urban Democrats in this session means they can pretty much do whatever they want.

Certainly, there are more than one side to these issues, but it would be nice to get the feeling that the urbanite super-majority in Salem actually cared to listen before dictating to rural Oregonians how we are going to live our lives.

Not to assert that progressive interests in the Capitol are entirely in this for themselves. But whatever their true motives, these moves toward gun control – which fortunately has gotten pushed to the sidelines in favor of Cap and Trade, affordable housing, tobacco taxes, paid family leave and other objectives – will cost all of us. Just like PERS has. Just like the “fair” minimum wage has replaced fast food staff positions with computer terminals and raised prices or reduced package sizes in stores as employers battle to stay profitable.

Earlier this month, Restaurants Unlimited, which owns multiple eateries in the Portland area, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after closing two of its Portland-area restaurants, the Lloyd District’s Prime Rib + Chocolate Cake and Tigard’s Portland Seafood Grill. In their bankruptcy court filing, the company specifically cited the rising minimum wages in several West Coast cities where they operate restaurants – Portland, Seattle, San Francisco. The chain previously drew negative customer feedback for adding a 1 percent “living wage” surcharge to all bills in 2016, according to news reports.

We’ve just celebrated Independence Day, when we remember the birth of our nation and the establishment of principles of our “unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” set forth in the Declaration of Independence, which increasingly appear to be  threatened by our state’s policies that incentivize irresponsibility and sloth, selfishness and entitlement, all paid for by heavy taxation and increasing government regulation.

Taking money from responsible citizens and giving it to others who aren’t does not produce happiness – for anyone other than, possibly, those dictating the laws.

Ultimately, that’s what things are going to come down to in our state Capitol: How many small cuts can rural Oregonians take before they realize those freedoms are ebbing away?

One good thing that came out of this episode was that rural folks suddenly realized they still had a stake in this thing and that they could still make their voices count.  That got the local TV stations busy, actually reporting what HB 2020 contained and why it was a problem for Rural Oregon. It was good stuff.

The key now is to stay engaged.

Republicans are right to call for a popular vote on these issues with such far-reaching consequences – cap-and-trade, tobacco taxes, paid family leave, gun control, etc., decisions we all will have to live with and pay the price for in coming years. Think PERS.

We live in a democratic republic and that means we all have responsibilities. Democracy means we get to help decide what those responsibilities will be. We’re thankful we have that right to decide.