This legislative session was an opportunity to meet the needs and priorities of struggling middle-class families. Unfortunately, most efforts to protect regular Oregonians were blocked by Republican Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) and the corporate lobbyists who hold influence over him.
When legislators began this session, Oregon families were still reeling from the worst recession in generations. Despite record corporate profits, middle-class families were stuck with the recession’s worst effects. Oregonians are in desperate need of protection against the worst aspects of the recession—but instead, Bruce Hanna stood with large corporate interests and said, “You’re on your own.”
Many critical bills that would have helped middle-class families received overwhelming—even unanimous—support in the Senate. But when those same bills got to the Oregon House of Representatives, Bruce Hanna refused to allow a vote.
One of the most egregious examples of this can be found in a pair of bills aimed at addressing the housing crisis in our state. These two bills would have imposed much-needed oversight of the predatory mortgage servicing industry and given homeowners a fighting chance to save their homes from foreclosure. Despite receiving widespread public and political support, the bills stalled in the House under Hanna’s heavy thumb and the massive weight carried by Salem’s banking lobbyists.
The state’s largest business associations spent the session lobbying for tax breaks for corporations and the rich. They succeeded early on when Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted for a $93 million tax giveaway to corporations. In a show of their priorities, these legislators scrambled to give out corporate tax breaks before even considering a budget for schools or health care.
But there was good news. Thanks to public outcry, Democrats were able to block the corporate lobby’s attempt to cut taxes for the rich through capital gains tax breaks or by undoing Measures 66 & 67.
Still, the 2011 legislature will be remembered for passing budget cuts that led to thousands of teachers being laid off, schools closing around the state, college tuition increases, and critical services cut for the unemployed.
Overall, this session proved how out of touch the corporate lobby’s agenda is with the values and priorities of Oregonians. Lobbyists for out-of-state chemical companies killed a bill that would have kept toxic chemicals out of baby products. Lobbyists for large, out-of-state banks killed bills that would have protected families undergoing foreclosure, and reined in predatory lending practices. When Oregon families needed help, these large corporate interests and their Republican allies said, “Too bad.”
For struggling Oregonians, however, there’s still hope. Thanks to the annual sessions law passed last year, legislators will have another chance to make things right in just a few months. The question remains: Will legislators in 2012 make decisions that support regular Oregonians, or will Republican leadership continue to side with the corporate lobby by blocking good, desperately needed bills?