Oregon Legislative Week in Review

Redistricting Plans Released
The big news in Salem last week was the release of the House and Senate redistricting plans. Over the next two weeks, the Oregon Legislature will be holding a series of public hearings and soliciting public feedback on the plans. In most recent elections, 86 percent of federal house races were won by double-digit margins. Political scientists call these districts “safe seats.” To look at it another way, only 14 percent of federal house races were somewhat competitive. Even more surprising, 38 percent of state legislative seats went unchallenged. Redistricting is one of the most important issues the legislature will consider this year. The new legislative and Congressional boundaries will strongly impact Oregon’s future, and we will be watching this debate closely.

Gift Card Refunds
Senate Bill 756 will help Oregonians get every dollar out of their gift cards. Earlier this month, the Oregon Senate voted in support of legislation that will allow Oregonians to redeem gift card balances of $5 or less for cash, provided the card has been used for at least one purchase. Senate Bill 756 ensures a consumer has a choice when left with a small balance on a gift card and is not forced to spend more to redeem the amount on the card. Approximately $80 billion is spent on gift cards in the United States each year and close to 10 percent of that amount is never redeemed. In 2007, the Oregon Legislature addressed the preponderance of gift cards by prohibiting cards that automatically draw down balances without a consumer’s consent. S.B. 756 builds on that work by giving consumers an opportunity to receive a full refund on low gift card balances. The bill is now queued up for a public work session for later this week.

Buy Oregon First
House Bill 3000, the Buy Oregon First Bill, passed the House of Representatives in late April, and is scheduled for a work session in the Senate later this week. The bill allows state agencies to give preference to goods and services produced in Oregon when bidding out contracts. In 2009, HB 2763 was enacted allowing contracting agencies to give a 10 percent price preference to agricultural products produced and transported entirely within the state. HB 3000 adds goods fabricated or processed in the state and services performed in the state, which could affect the allocation of state public funds.

Oregon College Savings Network
The success and growth of the Oregon 529 College Savings Network benefits every family that invests in it, allowing them to stretch their college savings. On Thursday, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler will recommend that the state reduce its fees for administering the program by half. The fee reduction became possible because of the record amount of assets invested in the network. The state makes no profit from the administrative fee, which is intended to cover the operating and promotion costs of the plan. With more total assets invested, the fee can be reduced. The College Savings Network is self-supporting, and no tax dollars are used to administer the program.

The Oregon 529 College Savings Network is made up of two separate investment options. Families can invest through a broker in a plan offered by MFS Investment Management, or families can invest on their own through the Oregon College Savings Plan, which is managed by TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing.

The proposed reduction of fees, which will decline from $1 for every $1,000 invested to 50 cents, will benefit investors using both investment options. The reduction will drop the average total fees for Oregon College Savings Plan age-based options from 0.54 to 0.49 percent, which makes Oregon the eleventh lowest level of fees among states that offer 529 plans, according to industry comparisons.

May Revenue Forecast
The May revenue forecast was presented earlier this week by the governor’s chief economist. The forecast will help provide some additional relief in the 2011-13 budget and will help backfill some reductions to key priorities. The forecast shows an increase of $128.8 million to the forecast for the 2011-2013 biennium. This brings total resources available for the 2011-2013 budget to just over $15 billion in total general and lottery fund dollars. Oregon House and Senate leadership are working to ensure timely completion of the 2011-2013 budget and of the 2011 legislative session.

Posted in Advocacy News.