I-5 Bridge Funding
Following the Joint Committee on Transportation’s failure to act on HB 2098, essentially a $1 billion promissory note to fund Oregon’s share of the I-5 bridge replacement, transportation stakeholders have been trying to determine what comes next and what will satisfy federal grant requirements for the project to be eligible for up to $3 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The next move is likely the inclusion of a portion of the funding in a session-end budget bill. Because multi-biennial funding commitments cannot be made in a single biennium’s budget bill, the initial funding commitment is likely to be in the $250 million -$300 million range, perhaps with policy language elsewhere or in a budget note to explain the state’s commitment to the remainder. The current consensus is that, while a bill committing to $1 billion is the best-case scenario for a successful grant application, a commitment of less than that would not disqualify the project from federal funding.
Within the last few days, the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program released renderings for six potential bridge designs. At this point, it’s unclear what each of the design options would cost, but all are presumably within the updated cost estimates provided by project staff a few months ago, which is between $5 billion and $7.5 billion. The bridge designs will be evaluated in the federal environment impact statement (EIS) process required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The current timeline for issuing a draft EIS is late 2023, which would initiate an opportunity for public comment.
Amendment Mitigates Harm of Animal Agriculture Bill
The Senate Committee on Rules adopted SB 85 with the -7 amendment last week. The original bill was an attempt to regulate all animal agriculture by establishing strict regulation of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The -7 amendment passed unanimously and scales back many of the burdensome regulatory requirements proposed in the original bill. Although CAFOs are already heavily regulated, the -7 amendment would prohibit issuing permits to new facilities in groundwater management areas, require the submittal of a water supply plan, mandate that permit applicants notify neighbors within one-half mile of the operation during the public comment period, and prohibit increasing the number of animals at a facility. While the need for legislation remains questionable, OBI is pleased to see more reasonable requirements than those in the original bill, which would have set arbitrary limits on the number of animals allowed at an individual CAFO.
Bill Aligning Leave Laws Heads to Governor’s Desk
SB 999, which begins the process of aligning Paid Leave Oregon and the Oregon Family Leave Act by ensuring the benefits available under each program run concurrently, using the same definition for when a person is a family member through affinity, and eventually applying the same definition of “benefit year” to each program, passed the House May 25. It will now head to the governor’s desk to be signed. This serves as only the beginning step. Much more work is needed to consolidate the programs. OBI will host a webinar with officials from Paid Leave Oregon Aug. 4 to discuss statutory change and other operational items. The webinar will run from 10-11 a.m. Stay tuned for details.
Key Retail Crime Bill Passes
The House passed SB 340 on May 23. The bill, which now heads to the governor’s desk, will make it easier to combat organized retail crime by changing how those thefts are charged, prosecuted and penalized. Two companion bills, SB 318 and SB 900, have been assigned to the Joint Subcommittee of Ways and Means on Public Safety. SB 318 would fund an analyst and two investigators in the Oregon Department of Justice to support prosecution efforts, and SB 900 would provide grants to local governments to fund strike forces. Referral to a subcommittee is a good sign, and these bills have support.
Legislative Leaders Propose Big Increase in K-12 Funding
Following the better-than-expected June revenue forecast, legislative leaders announced their support for a massive increase in the state K-12 education budget. The initial legislative budget targeted $9.9 billion in school funding for the 2023-25 biennium. Legislative leaders are now proposing $10.2 billion. This would constitute a $700 million increase over current service levels. Current service level refers to the estimated funding required to maintain existing services given various cost increases. In addition to the increase in K-12 funding, legislative leaders are also now calling for $140 million for early literacy programs. New spending at this level for early literacy has been a priority for Gov. Kotek but had been largely sidelined by the Legislature until the recent revenue forecast. Some are concerned that this level of spending may not be sustainable.
Universal Health Plan Bill Remains Alive
SB 1089 is scheduled for a May 30 work session in the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development. The bill would create a Universal Health Care Governing Board to continue the work of the Task Force on Universal Health Care. The bill would require the board to present a comprehensive plan for a single-payer universal health plan, including a funding plan, by Sept. 15, 2026. The Senate Rules Committee passed the bill last month. As a reminder, the final report presented by the Task Force on Universal Health Care suggested that such a system would require new and increased taxes amounting to more than $20 billion per year.
Bill Would Impose Nearly Impossible Apprenticeship Requirements
Unfortunately, a bill that OBI opposed earlier this session in the House Committee on Business and Labor has been assigned to the Joint Subcommittee of Ways and Means on Transportation and Economic Development. HB 2649, which would increase the number of apprenticeships required on certain public projects to 15% and broaden the types of projects to which that requirement would apply, is seemingly on track for a floor vote. This requirement would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to meet, and the bill would penalize contractors for failing to meet it.
Bill Would Weaken Valuable Opportunity Zone Program
OBI continues to lead the opposition to HB 3039, which would disconnect Oregon from the federal Opportunity Zone program. A second public hearing on the bill took place last week, this time in the Joint Committee on Tax Expenditures. The program was created in 2017 and is designed to bring investments into communities suffering from economic blight and insufficient job opportunities. The program encourages these investments by allowing investors to defer capital gain taxes if those gains are reinvested in qualified areas. There are more than 80 designated zones in Oregon, 76% of which have received investments to date. This is the highest rate in the country, according to a recent study by the Economic Innovation Group. The path for the bill is unclear given opposition of most (if not all) Republicans on that committee as well as the skepticism expressed by some Democrats.