Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Okay Everyone, You Can File Your Taxes Now

With the fate of a pair of tax increases waiting in the wings, the Oregon Department of Revenue earlier this month asked taxpayers to cool their jets. Even though relatively few taxpayers will have to pay more as a result of the measures, officials at the tax collecting agency figured it would easier if everyone held off for a few weeks. Of course, many of us don't get around to filing our taxes until March or April, but people expecting a refund often file as soon as possible.

According to Department of Revenue spokesperson Rosemary Hardin, some 57,000 Oregon taxpayers ignored the agency's request to hold off from filing until after the election. Hardin says those returns "sat in the hopper" until today, when the Department began to process them. As for everyone else, Hardin says there's no time like the present to file your tax return.

Governor Kulongoski's Post-Election Press Conference: Raw Audio

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski spoke to reporters at the capitol today. Kulongoski said that while he was pleased that voters approved Measures 66 and 67, lawmakers must tackle "long-term solutions that prevent us from having to make drastic cuts or raise taxes during Oregon's next recession." Kulongoski is proposing changes to Oregon's unique kicker system, which requires the state to refund taxpayer money when revenue collections exceed projections by more than two percent. The Governor wants to create an emergency reserve fund in the Oregon Constitution that is funded by a portion of the kicker. Listen to the governor's press conference here:

Was Steve Novick Channeling Russ Hodges Or Howard Dean?

As one of the chief public proponents of Measures 66 and 67, Steve Novick spent a lot of time over the past few months making his case to civic groups, editorial boards, and just about anybody else he met. So it's understandable that he would be especially thrilled at yesterday's election results, which saw both tax measures cruise to victory with comfortable margins. Novick isn't known for being shy, and his enthusiasm was readily apparent to revelers at a Vote Yes victory party last night in Portland:

Novick was clearly referencing baseball announcer Russ Hodge's famous play-by-play call of Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World:"

But Novick's full-throated yell at the end of his faux play-by-play call was eerily humorously reminiscent of the famous "Dean Scream" unleashed by former presidential candidate Howard Dean after the 2004 Iowa Democratic caucuses:

To be fair, Novick's scream was more of a "Yee-Ha" whereas Dean's was a straight-on "Yaaaaah." And while Dean quickly earned a spot in pop-culture history for his election night exuberance, Novick will probably continue to be known--in Oregon, at least--for other things.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vote No Leads...In Election Night Parties

This is probably not a particularly good indicator of how today's tax election will turn out, but the people opposing the two tax increases seem to be planning a lot more election night parties than supporters. Oregonians Against Job Killing Taxes is planning an event at the Phoenix Grand Hotel in Salem, though that group's website offers no additional details. The Oregon Republican Party is planning a separate "Victory Celebration" at an undisclosed location in suburban Portland. I say "undisclosed" because the media advisory says "for planning purposes only" which is code for "please don't tell the public." The Oregon Republican Party's website does not mention the event, so I suppose you'll have to contact them directly to get the details.

The Libertarian-leaning Cascade Policy Institute is talking up a party at the Monarch Hotel in Clackamas. The website doesn't specifically mention it, but it's a good bet the folks there will be rooting for the measures to fail. That event is also mentioned on the website for Americans for Prosperity, an organization associated with the Tea Party movement. That group's main shindig will be at the Keizer Renaissance Inn in Keizer. Local AFP chapters will hold events in Tillamook, Lincoln City, Philomath, and La Grande.

Clearly, if you're against Measures 66 and 67, you won't have to look hard to find people to rub shoulders with tonight. But what about the people who'd like the measures to pass? The only event I'm aware of is sponsored by the Vote Yes campaign, and will be held at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland. There may be other events planned, but if so, organizers sure are keeping a low profile.

So, why the disparity? I'd imagine supporters of the taxes don't wish to appear too jubilant should the measures pass. After all, regardless of whether you think these are good public policy, the bottom line is that they are tax increases. Secondly, the Vote Yes campaign is no doubt concerned about getting out the vote, even up until the last minute. (Their invitation to tonight's party warns people against showing up early, as campaign workers will be out canvassing for votes until the last possible moment.)

Another explanation:  Supporters of these measures are a more cohesive bunch. Unions, Democrats, education and social service advocates have long shared common goals. It makes sense that they'd enjoy partying together on election night. On the other hand, opponents of these taxes--businesses, anti-tax and anti-government groups--came together with a specific goal this time, but aren't always bedfellows on other issues. Maybe tonight's separate parties are an indication that they don't plan to march ahead in lockstep on other issues. Who knows?

Interestingly, now that county elections officials are allowed to begin to count votes well in advance of the voting deadline, we could have results pretty quickly tonight. The Secretary of State's office estimates that at least 75 percent of votes cast will be tallied by 8 o'clock tonight, and results of those tallies will be available soon thereafter. Unless the vote turns out to be super close, a clear winner for each measure could be known within minutes of the deadline to turn in ballots. While that may make journalists and supporters of the winning side happy, it could mean an early end to election night parties. And you have to think that would be supremely disappointing to the hotel and restaurants that sell beer and wine to election night revelers.

(Obligatory public service note:  You have until 8 p.m. tonight to turn in your ballot.)

UPDATE: "Vote Yes" says additional events are planned in Salem, Eugene and Medford. No additional details were immediately available. These three extra events aren't enough to surpass the Vote No parties. Not that it's a competition, mind you...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Town Hall Timing

President Obama gives his first State of the Union address Wednesday night. After some high-level hand-wringing, the powers-that-be determined that the speech won't come coincide with the season premiere of "Lost." But it potentially could conflict with Oregon's first-ever legislative "telephone town hall." Salem Republican Kevin Cameron and House Minority leader Bruce Hanna will take questions from voters starting at 7 p.m., one hour after the President's speech is set to begin. State of the Union addresses often last more than an hour--but even if this one doesn't, the telephone town hall would pre-empt the Republican response.

I suppose Cameron and Hanna are in pretty good position to offer up a Republican response of their own. I imagine they'll have plenty to talk about, including the results of the previous night's tax election, and the upcoming February special session, which starts a week from today. In fact, many other lawmakers are holding town hall meetings (of the more traditional variety) over the coming week, though I'm not aware of any others that will coincide with the State of the Union address.

I don't know of any master list of legislative town halls, but you can always check out your Legislators' websites to see if they're planning to hold one.  Senate members are listed here, and House members are listed here.

You Say Spadea, I Say ... What?

If nothing else, the campaigns for and against Measures 66 and 67 have taught me a new word: spadea. Evidently, a spadea is an ad that wraps around a section of newspaper--most notably, the front section. The word isn't listed in a couple of online dictionaries I checked (nor does it appear in the 1972 hard-cover dictionary in my office). Wikipedia has a brief write-up, but suffice it to say, the word is not part of the everyday lexicon.

The current kerfuffle started with a pair of spadeas purchased by the Vote No campaign. The Vote Yes campaign objected to some of the assertions made in the ad, and attempted to purchase a spadea of its own. The Oregonian rejected the initial version of the Vote Yes ad, but a revised version appeared in Saturday editions of the paper. Several blogs are offering extensive coverage of what BlueOregon has dubbed "SpadeaGate." I won't attempt to re-create their coverage here. Frankly, this is the type of last-minute campaign brouhaha that quickly fades away once the election is over--tomorrow at 8 p.m., for those keeping track. What I do find interesting is the level of attention being given to a series of newspaper advertisements. Maybe print media isn't dead yet?

One final note:  This guy was a losing Congressional candidate in New Jersey in 2004. Perhaps he should have purchased a spadea?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tiernan: If GOP Can Win In MA...

Oregon Republican Party chair Bob Tiernan was his usual optimistic self in a conference call with reporters this morning. Today's source of cheer? Yesterday's GOP victory of an open Senate seat in Massachusetts. If Republicans can make inroads in a Democratic stronghold like Massachusetts, Tiernan figures, they should have no problem making gains in Oregon.

That remains to be seen, of course. It's a long time between now and this November's general election. And it's not clear what issues will galvanize Oregon voters this fall. While the Massachusetts Senate race was seen as a referendum on President Obama, and specifically on the Democrats' plans to overhaul the nation's health-care system, it's too early to say whether those factors will be in play 10 months from now in Oregon.

Of course, there's an election right around the corner here in Oregon:  Measures 66 and 67. There are no Republicans or Democrats on next week's ballot, but it's fair to say that Democrats in Oregon have a lot riding politically on each of the measures passing. Tiernan calls the tax election "the next bellwether" on the national political landscape. But although the national arms of public employee unions and the Republican Party have donated resources for and against these measures, the election just hasn't garnered the same level of national attention as the Massachusetts Senate race. I don't expect President Obama to make a last-minute appearance on behalf of the Vote Yes campaign, for instance. Neither have these measures been discussed ad naseum on national cable television. I can't help but think these measures will merit little more than a footnote in the national media next Wednesday morning, rather than the all-out coverage we've seen over today regarding the Massachusetts election.

UPDATE:  Oregon Republicans aren't the only ones taking note of the election result in Massachusetts. The Oregon Democratic Party's Executive Director, Trent Lutz, sent out an e-mail this afternoon titled "Don't let it happen here in Oregon." For anyone paying attention to politics this week, there's no need to spell out what "it" means. In the e-mail, Lutz exhorts the party faithful to help get out the votes in favor of Measures 66 and 67 votes, "Don't let Oregon be the next Massachusetts."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Poll: Tax Measures Enjoy Slim Lead

A newly released poll shows that Measures 66 and 67 are coming down to the wire. The poll--by Oregon Public Broadcasting, Fox 12, and the Portland Tribune--was conducted of 500 likely voters in this month's election. 52 percent of respondents said they'd vote for Measure 66, and 50 percent of respondents said they'd vote for Measure 67. A significant number of people were undecided, and there's a margin of error of four percent, meaning these measures are both too close to call.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mr. Kasell, meet Mr. Courtney

Every public radio listener knows that winners on the program "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!" win Carl Kasell's voice on their home answering machine. I'm not sure anyone would put Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney in the same category as Carl Kasell when it comes to celebrity star power. But around the capitol building, Courtney looms large. It's not clear, however, whether a certain legislative staffer was thinking of Carl Kasell when she got Courtney to record her outgoing voice mail message. Here it is:

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Song Rises In Salem

Former state Senator Margaret Carter declined to comment for my story on an effort in the Legislature to make it harder for retiring lawmakers to get state jobs, like Carter did with the Department of Human Services. In fact, Carter didn't say anything at all at a ceremony in her honor this week in the Senate chambers. But she didn't keep quiet. The 74-year-old great-grandmother is known for her singing ability, and she didn't disappoint those in attendance, belting out a rendition of the gospel standard "If I can help somebody." Take a listen:

Oregon, Translated

It's now possible to view many state government web pages in up to 25 different languages. The Department of Administrative Services announced today that a free Google translating widget will appear in the upper-right corner of any "" website. This free add-on allows web surfers to read state websites in 25 different languages, in addition to English. Want to read Governor Ted Kulongoski's biography in Norwegian? It's easy. And it starts like this:

Som ung mann

Theodore (TED) R. KULONGOSKI ble født på landsbygda i Missouri i 1940 og vokste opp i St. Louis i et katolsk guttehjem. Etter eksamen fra videregående skole, fikk han i US Marine Corps, og på retur fra plikten i Sørøst-Asia, tilbrakte noen år som lastebilsjåfør og en murer i et stålverket i Alton, Illinois. De erfaringer og tilgjengeligheten av GI Bill ga ham fremdrift og finansielle muligheter til å sette seg ved University of Missouri.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A 3-Day Preview

Lawmakers are in Salem this week for another flurry of interim committee meetings. A wide variety of topics will be discussed over the next three days, including tax credits, health care, and affordable housing. Unlike during the previous two rounds of interim committees, lawmakers this time will be mulling specific proposals that will likely be introduced as bills during the February special session. You can read specific bills here, at least from House members. Senate bills will be available next week.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Is It Really A Discount If Everyone Gets It?

It's easy to understand why businesses in Salem would target state employees. The city is crawling with 'em. But a downtown movie theater/pub recently ran afoul of state ethics rules when they offered state employees a 25% discount on lunch. While technically anyone can offer state workers a discount, the workers themselves would be violating the law if they accepted. The solution? Offer the discount to everybody. Read more at the Statesman-Journal's website.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Gubernatorial Longshot DQ'd

You've probably never heard of Michael Hotchkiss, but the Redmond appraiser filed to run for governor last fall. Unfortunately for Hotchkiss, who lists a two-year term as president of his local snowmobile club as his only prior governmental experience, he came a little to late to the party--the Republican Party, that is. According to the Oregon Secretary of State's office, Hotchkiss registered as a Republican on September 25. But to qualify for the GOP primary ballot, he needed to have been a Republican at least 180 days before the March 9 filing deadline. Hotchkiss missed the deadline by just over two weeks, so he was disqualified from the Republican ballot. Of the 162 people who have filed to run for various state offices in next May's primary, Hotchkiss is the only one to get the boot thus far.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Possible February Vote On Annual Sessions

Oregon lawmakers could decide next month to refer to voters an amendment to the Oregon Constitution that would officially implement annual legislative sessions. Capitol Currents has obtained a copy of a proposed resolution that would ask voters to approve annual sessions starting in 2012.

Supporters of annual sessions have long argued that meeting every-other-year puts Oregon lawmakers at a disadvantage at a time when financial winds can shift in a matter of months or even weeks. Oregon is one of just five states where lawmakers are only scheduled to meet every other year. In 2008, lawmakers convened for a three-week "special session" and they plan to hold a similar four-week session this February. These even-year meetings are made possible through a provision in the Oregon Constitution that allows lawmakers to call themselves into session whenever they like "in the event of an emergency."

Of course, many people wondered if it could really be an "emergency" if lawmakers were planning it months in advance. One lawmaker, Republican Senator Larry George, unsuccessfully fought in court to get the 2008 session canceled. Now, there appears to be a move underway to skip using the "emergency" provision and simply make annual sessions the rule of the land. The proposal--to be considered next week by the Senate Interim Committee on Rules--leaves some key details blank:

Legislative leaders in the past have floated the idea of a four-month session in odd years, and a two month session in even years focused mainly on fiscal issues. Those details will likely be hashed out by lawmakers over the coming weeks. As moving to annual sessions would require a change in the Oregon Constitution, the final stamp of approval would have to come from voters.

The View From Olympia

Last week I was on the phone with a spokeswoman for a Seattle-area governmental agency. Realizing she'd need to call me back later with the information I'd requested, she asked for my phone number. When I gave it to her, she commented that she might not be able to call me back in time to meet my deadline. "You're a few hours ahead of us. 503. I don't know where you are."

But while not everyone in Washington knows the area code for some of Oregon's largest cities, the two states' fates are undeniably intertwined. From tax policies that send Oregon retirees north and Washington shoppers south, to the ongoing tug-of-war over Columbia River water, lawmakers in the Beaver state and the Evergreen state can each impact the lives of those living across the border.

With that in mind, I draw your attention to a new blog created by my public radio colleague, Austin Jenkins. Called the Washington Ledge, it's a round-up of Washington state political news by one of Olympia's most experienced reporters. It's an especially timely read right now, since the 2010 session of the Washington Legislature kicks off next Monday, January 11.