Oregon policy and rulemaking update 11/7

By Oregon Business & Industry


Oregon, Beware: Tax Hikes Brewing in Calif.

OBI’s director of tax policy, Scott Bruun, was invited to speak at the annual meeting of the Council on State Taxation (COST), which is considered the nation’s premier taxpayer advocate organization. In addition to joining a conference panel, Scott connected with taxpayer advocates from a host of states, including California, which many Oregon legislators turn to for ideas. Thus, it’s worth noting what’s afoot in the Golden State.

Not a surprise, but tax increases are again gaining traction down south. Of particular concern are a new law that will raise income taxes on high earners beginning in 2024 and a statewide ballot measure (Proposition 30) that would raise income taxes on high earners even more.

Also not a surprise, California’s high-income residents continue to leave for lower-tax states, primarily Arizona, Texas and Florida. Oregon, too, has seen increased outmigration of higher-income taxpayers, especially from Multnomah County (see recent ECONorthwest tax presentation here). If Oregon’s local and statewide policymakers want more private investment and job creation, as many say they do, then they must learn from recent history and stop driving people to other states with harmful tax policy.

Oregon Extends Graduation-Without-Learning Policy

To graduate from high school, students in Oregon will not need to prove basic mastery in reading, writing or math until at least 2029. Despite receiving a significant number of public comments supporting the reinstatement of those standards, the Oregon State Board of Education on Oct. 19 voted unanimously to extend the controversial policy it enacted in 2020 during the COVID pandemic. Proponents of the policy, including leaders from the Oregon Department of Education, say that proving basic skills in reading, writing and math through standardized testing can create damaging barriers, particularly to historically marginalized students. Advocates for content mastery argued that continuing the 2020 policy would be a mistake without providing other effective and equitable solutions, arguing that allowing students to graduate without learning to read, write and do math competently would weaken the credibility of Oregon’s high school diploma.

Federal Enforcement of Workplace Regulations Increases

According to recent federal data, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is taking a tough stance on unlawful workplace behavior. In 2023, the EEOC filed 143 discrimination or harassment claims, which represents an increase of more than 50% over claims filed in 2022. Notably, claims for age discrimination more than doubled year-over-year, and nearly a third of all claims filed in 2023 were over hostile work environments.

During the 2023 legislative session, OBI pointed to the effectiveness of both federal and state laws already on the books to show new legislation was not necessary and would only serve to further confuse employers trying to comply with current laws. OBI was effective in halting misguided proposals regulating hostile work environments and imposing new liability for discrimination based on caste and age, in part by using that argument. While most of those concepts are unlikely to come back during the 2024 “short” session, OBI recently learned that a bill that would define age for employment discrimination purposes likely will be introduced in the Senate. The bill is reported to be as flawed as last session’s concept, creating confusion and adding complexity to Oregon’s already robust age-discrimination laws. OBI is already working to ensure it does not pass this session.

California Bans Food Additives

In other California news, the state recently became the first to prohibit food ingredients deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The California Food Safety Act prohibits manufacturers from adding brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben and red dye 3 to food products by 2027. Not to be outdone, the New York Legislature is vetting a proposal that would ban the ingredients above as well as titanium dioxide. In the event the Oregon Legislature considers such a bill, OBI will point out the importance of federal regulation, as state-level restrictions create a regulatory framework that disrupts supply chains. In no way should Oregon believe it has the capacity, resources or economic heft to outregulate the FDA or even states like California and New York.

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