Gov. Kate Brown unveiled a $23.6 billion budget proposal for the next biennium on Wednesday, saying she wants to boost education funding, push campaign finance reform, ensure continued access to health insurance coverage and fund legal counseling for immigrants facing deportation.
Besides $2 million for that legal counseling, Brown is dedicating another $2 million in funding for legal action against the Trump administration and prevent retaliation for the state's more liberal policies. Brown told a news conference Wednesday that Oregon is involved in 15 lawsuits against the current administration.
"Oregon must work independently and with other states to navigate our relationship with the federal government when protecting the values Oregonians hold," Brown said.
Brown added a $2 billion education investment package that's in addition to her base budget. Property tax limitations adopted in the early 1990s have resulted in decreased funding per student, her proposal noted, adding that the governor expects the Legislature "to reform Oregon's revenue system to adequately fund our education system."
That means taxes.
In the Nov. 6 elections, Democrats gained greater power to impose taxes without Republican support when they won a three-fifths supermajority in the Legislature. Democrats say they aim to pass a multibillion-dollar revenue measure in the 2019 legislative session, which starts in January and runs to early July, to fund public education.
Senate President Peter Courtney said in a recent interview that it could be a value added tax or a gross receipts tax, but not a sales tax.
House Republican Leader Representative Carl Wilson called Brown's budget proposal "a call to drastically increase taxes on everyday Oregonians."
"Oregonians should be worried that this year, the governor proposes and the Legislature imposes massive tax increases on them," said Wilson, who's from Grants Pass and was selected Monday to be the House Republican leader.
The governor also proposed the creation of a new agency to align Oregon's climate and energy policies while ending operations of the Carbon Policy Office and the Oregon Department of Energy. The new Oregon Climate Authority would be responsible for implementing the state's climate strategies and tracking progress toward climate goals, including a new carbon marketplace and greenhouse gas emissions reporting.
With wildfires getting more severe, Brown said in her budget proposal and policy agenda that she will sign an executive order to establish the Governor's Council on Wildfire Response with the task of evaluating Oregon's current system for responding to large fires, and whether it should be changed. The council must make recommendations next September.
Senate Republican Leader Jackie Winters said she was pleased to see the creation of the wildfire council, but criticized a proposed 22 percent decrease to the fire protection budget.
"But, most concerning of all are the increased taxes peppered throughout the budget," Winters said.
And with scientists saying a huge earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone will happen sooner or later, the budget dedicates $12 million to implement a statewide earthquake early warning system by 2023. It also funds a study of vertical evacuation options for schools and hospitals in the tsunami inundation zones. A Cascadia quake is expected to cause a tsunami that will hit low-lying coastal areas, many of them populated.
On the heels of a gubernatorial race that generated the biggest war chests for Brown and her Republican rival Knute Buehler, Brown said she'll refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot to impose campaign finance limitations in Oregon elections. She also wants lawmakers to pass legislation to allow Oregonians to follow the money in real time for candidates and ballot measures, saying the technology already allows reporting of campaign transactions almost immediately
She also aims to expand Oregon's pioneering motor voter program, in which those doing business at the motor vehicles department are automatically registered to vote.
"Any state agency interaction should allow eligible voters to easily register," Brown said in her proposal, whether it is signing up for classes or getting a fishing license.
The Democratic governor also wants to make it easier for Oregonians to vote by mail, by not requiring a postage stamp.
Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, a Republican who is the state's top elections official, said on Twitter that he has already recommended the move.
"This will help our military members, people experiencing disabilities, and those who live far from ballot dropboxes," Richardson tweeted.