Lawmakers set ambitious plans heading into the session, with goals of fast-tracking packages for housing and semiconductors in the first 60 days. While these issues are undeniably important for the state, we may soon find out whether those timelines are achievable or aspirational.
At this point, the legislature's response to housing is moving faster than semiconductors. Gov. Tina Kotek (D) told legislative leaders she wants lawmakers to quickly advance a housing policy and spending package to boost the state's housing supply and tackle homelessness. These include plans to extend eviction protections, release early money for manufactured homes, and create a new loan program to increase the supply of middle-income homes. The legislature seems to be on track to meet the governor's target of dedicating $130 million towards housing by March 17.
The progress on the housing initiative does not mean the legislature has grown silent on semiconductors. On Wednesday, the joint committee focusing on the state's policy and incentive response released its initial outline of the legislature's offer to the industry. The proposal centers around $200 million in forgivable loans the state would offer to successful applicants of federal CHIPS Act money and, given comments from committee members, seems close to a fast-track to move through the legislature.
Despite the quick action on these priorities, some believe the legislature is coming up short on both initiatives, prioritizing sizzle over substance. In particular, the legislature seems to be avoiding the controversial topics of land-use and tax incentives. Oregonians take pride in our land use system; it targets growth in the cities while preserving high-value farmland. On the other hand, it inhibits the rapid growth needed to tackle our most significant challenges and pursue our most promising opportunities. Likewise, the legislature seems to be sidestepping the notion of tax incentives for chipmakers and advanced manufacturing. For now, it seems the legislature is shying away from the difficult conversations in pursuit of momentum.
Housing and semiconductors are unequivocally the talk of the town right now—it is hard to find an issue not connected to one of those issues in some way. Still, the legislature cannot sit idly by for those issues to get out of the way. This week, the policy committees began holding hearings on proposals to create a framework for universal healthcare, set strict limits on single-use plastics, and establish a new climate initiative offering financial incentives to natural resource landowners who prioritize carbon sequestration. Each of these discussions features robust support and opposition.
Although lawmakers still have four months left in their session, the timeline for moving bills out of their policy committees will come quickly. We are a mere month away from the chamber of origin deadline, requiring committees to schedule votes on the bills they want to keep alive for the session. A month can seem like an eternity in state politics, but navigating controversies and crafting amendments takes time. By March 17, the playing field will finally narrow, simultaneously crushing dreams and bringing sighs of relief to those working the building.
What We're Reading This Week
- By and large, the most reported story of the week is the scandal concerning high-level staff at the Oregon Liquor & Cannabis Commission setting aside rare bourbons for themselves and legislators, leading to the resignation of the agency's director.
- For the second time since 2019, Oregon lawmakers are considering a proposal to ban styrofoam to-go containers. Oregon Public Broadcasting suggests the debate is mostly the same as before, but turnover in the legislature could change the politics.
- Idaho's legislature passed a nonbinding resolution calling for Oregon and Idaho to engage in formal talks over moving a large swath of eastern Oregon into Idaho. U.S. Congressman Blumenauer told Willamette Week he's open to the idea, so long as Oregon gets Boise and Sun Valley.
- The legislature has been slow to roll out controversial tax proposals this session, but they still exist. A new report from the Tax Foundation says that 70 percent of some Oregon small business owners' income could go to taxes to the federal, state, and local governments under recently introduced legislation.
- Politico writes about state legislatures, including Oregon, using artificial intelligence to help state lawyers write bills and amendments. Oregon expects its new system to be up and running by the 2025 session.
Next Week 📆
The legislature faces its first deadline of the session. After Tuesday, lawmakers are only allowed to introduce five "priority" measures for the session, meaning there could be a rush on Monday and Tuesday to introduce last-minute ideas.
The legislative revenue committees will receive the updated quarterly economic and revenue forecast on Wednesday. In some ways, the February forecast is the ugly stepchild of revenue forecasts. It gives us a sense of available revenues but not enough information for lawmakers to make any real headway in settling disputes over revenue and budget decisions.