On December 2, Governor John Kitzhaber unveiled a proposal to raise taxes by $170M to help pay for vital services our members provide, and for schools.
His proposal would hit wealthiest Oregonians the hardest by reducing by 5% the itemized deductions taxpayers could use. The Governor also reiterated his support for a 30% increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit which reduces taxes for low-wage families with kids.
The Governor made a brief presentation at the SEIU CAPE Council meeting, and then took a number of questions from union members.
Kitzhaber tackled the issue of PERS by explaining his decision to push for the reduction of cost-of-living adjustments for retirees who have above-average pensions, meaning those receiving more than $24,000/year. While stating that PERS is an “earned benefit” that workers have sacrificed to protect over the years, he was clear that he wants to balance the budget by, in part, reducing employer contributions to PERS.
This proposal, which would likely be found unconstitutional by the courts, creates a dangerous precedent of reducing promised benefit levels for workers who have earned those benefits and made the life decision to retire. The Governor thought this was a fair way to achieve significant savings to employers, but also stated his openness to other approaches. While he built in the continuation of the employer 6% pick up into the budget, he said that negotiations on this would be hard. The Governor also has pledged to end furloughs so that workers can get paid for a full year of work.
The Governor reiterated that health care is a much more significant cause of the state’s budget problems than PERS, and described his efforts to stop profiteering by the health care industry in order to pay for improved and expanded care for low-income Oregonians.
In response to questions regarding short-staffing, the Governor pointed to the proposal in his budget to hire 200 more workers to protect neglected and abused kids. Right now, two workers are trying to do the work of three in this area. The Governor also expressed support for increased staffing for care providers, especially in Employment Related Day Care, where he wants to expand subsidies to an additional 500 families. More than 2,000 SEIU members lost their jobs in 2011-12 in this field.
The Governor had a very strong response to issues around publicly-funded contractors engaging in union-busting, and expressed continued strong support for the right of workers to organize in emerging health care occupations like community health worker, and enhanced homecare worker positions.
Finally, the Governor was also very supportive of drivers’ licenses for non-citizens and for tuition equity for all Oregon high school graduates.
In the discussion after the Governor left, members expressed satisfaction, but some skepticism, with the Governor’s presentation and responses. There was a lot of positive response to increased funding for care providers, and for a progressive tax increase. There was also a general sense that the Governor showed union members a lot of respect and approached us as partners rather than adversaries. Clearly, there are going to be extremely tough fights with theGovernor in contract negotiations, and around PERS, but there were a number of areas of agreement as well.
Did you like this? Share it: