- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The 2016 legislative session officially kicks off Monday, but don’t be fooled by the mere 35-day length. Multiple proposals are in the pipeline that would have sweeping effects on Oregonians.

The Republican minority has been especially vocal about concerns that there isn’t enough time to solve big issues. While many Democrats agree, they say a number of ballot measures proposed for November are forcing them to act.

Those ballot proposals are also some of Oregon’s biggest political issues for 2016, and they’d change everything from how much money people earn and the taxes they owe, to how much they pay to keep their homes warm - and even where they buy booze.

A look at the ballot proposals, alternatives and what’s at stake:

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MINIMUM WAGE

Ballot Proposals: Two separate initiatives, backed by labor groups, take similar approaches to raising the statewide $9.25 hourly minimum wage. “Oregonians for 15” wants a $15 per-hour minimum by 2019, while “Raise the Wage” seeks $13.50 by 2018. Wage increases under both proposals would be statewide and implemented gradually, starting January 2017.

Lawmakers’ Alternative: Gov. Kate Brown’s proposal is touted as an urban-rural compromise, and she made last-minute tweaks on Friday that would raise wages six-months sooner than initially planned but the increases overall would be smaller. In July, the minimum would go up slightly to $9.75 statewide. By 2022, the Portland area’s minimum would be set at $14.50 and the rest of the state at $13.25.

What’s At Stake: Higher wages for low-income households, especially in metro Portland where living costs are soaring, and heavier burdens on smaller businesses and communities, particularly in rural areas where local economies still are struggling.

Bottom Line: Even if lawmakers pass a minimum wage package next month, there are no guarantees the two labor groups, which have already been critical of certain elements of Brown’s proposal, will drop out from the November ballot.

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CORPORATE TAXES

Ballot Proposal: Initiative Petition 28, a union-backed proposal, would raise the tax that large corporations pay annually on their gross sales receipts - meaning, their business activity - in Oregon. A business would owe a minimum $30,000-tax if its annual sales reach $25 million, plus another 2.5 percent on any sales above that threshold.

Lawmakers’ Alternative: There isn’t one yet, at least not officially. Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, who’s been spearheading an alternate proposal, plans to release details Monday.

What’s At Stake: A roughly $2.6 billion-annual boost in corporate tax collections for the state if voters pass I-28. While that extra cash would offer much-needed help to public education, health care and senior services, opponents say the costs to private-sector jobs and, ultimately, consumers far outweigh the benefits.

Bottom Line: Unions and businesses have waged bitter fights over corporate taxes before, and this year will likely be no different. So far, unions appear hard-pressed to go to the ballot regardless, leaving business groups to focus all energy on blocking the measure entirely and lawmakers without anyone at the negotiating table to find a compromise.

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RENEWABLE ENERGY

Ballot Proposals: There are four separate, yet similar coal-to-clean initiatives proposed by Renew Oregon, a consortium of environmental groups. Each initiative requires Oregon utilities to phase out coal power by 2030 and mandates that half of the energy served to customers come from renewables by 2040, double the current standard. Beyond those core principals is where the initiatives differ. One proposal, for instance, would tie utility executives’ salaries to compliance, while another would boost energy efficiency standards for newly built homes and buildings.

Lawmakers’ Alternative: House Bill 4036 is the alternative package negotiated behind closed doors between Renew Oregon backers and the state’s two largest utilities, Pacific Power and Portland General Electric. The bill would only apply to Pacific Power and PGE. Goals for coal elimination and renewable energy would be the same, but the utilities would have more flexibility in the coal-to-clean transition.

What’s At Stake: The ultimate goal is combatting the effects of climate change, but state utility regulators aren’t convinced the negotiated bill effectively accomplishes that. Utility regulators are also concerned Oregonians would see a huge spike in electricity costs. Others at the Legislature are concerned that pushing through a massive overhaul to Oregon’s energy supply during a 35-day session is a public disservice.

Bottom Line: If lawmakers fail to pass the negotiated proposal, Renew Oregon has been adamant about going to the November ballot.

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LIQUOR PRIVATIZATION

Ballot Proposal: Initiative Petition 71, backed by grocers, would end the state’s liquor monopoly starting July 2017 and allow consumers to buy liquor at grocery stores and other outlets that already sell beer and wine. The initiative does not, however, propose an alternative way for the state to make money off of liquor, which grocers intentionally left to the Legislature to figure out.

Lawmakers’ Alternative: House Bill 4026 is the “contingency” bill to I-71 that would restructure the state’s revenue methods in a privatized liquor market. One of the biggest ways the bill would accomplish that is by targeting wholesalers with a 71.7 percent-sales tax on the prices they pay for liquor.

What’s At Stake: Roughly $1.15 billion in distilled liquor sales revenue that’s projected for the upcoming 2017-19 budget cycle. That money is at risk if I-71 passes and lawmakers don’t find an alternative revenue vehicle by the time privatization would take effect in July 2017. Privatization could help grocers’ bottom lines and give consumers far more places to shop than the limited number of state-run liquor stores available today. Smaller, craft distilleries worry that big-chain grocery stores won’t give them enough shelf space.

Bottom Line: Unlike the other initiatives, the issue here isn’t really about finding a legislative compromise in lieu of a ballot measure. Grocers have made their intentions clear for November, and with the money issue up to lawmakers, the debate will more so center around consumers and the prices they’d ultimately pay at the register.

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