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ANOTHER VOICE: Why I voted no on PERS ‘grand bargain’

The end of the 2013 Legislative Session is now imminent, and as we see too often, those in charge down here have waited until the 11th hour to push the most controversial legislation through. Introduced to the Senate was a tax package marketed to all of us (and you) as a “Grand Bargain.” Sounds nice, right?

We worked all session for a bargain to allocate more education dollars to the classroom through the form of an all-encompassing package — one that reforms PERS for its long-range stability, aides the economy and increases some tax revenue. This would make all sides give a little.

That did not happen. What was brought before us was a tax package (HB 2456) and a small PERS COLA readjustment (SB 857), and that second part had a huge risk of dying in the House or even on the Senate Floor minutes after we passed the first — not a compromise.

I think I have built good bipartisan credit over the last two decades in Hood River. Folks in our community know what type of guy I am: a farmer who seeks solutions. I am not ambitious for higher office like many at the Capitol. My goal is to return in good conscience knowing I worked my hardest to do what’s right for Oregon, and come back home to my wife and orchard.

Had I voted “yes” on the tax increase package last week, on a “deal” that ultimately had no bipartisan compromise, it would be impossible to come home proud.

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In this case — on the so-called “Grand Bargain” — there truly was no bargain. Another tax increase on the private sector would only serve the interests of one party and exacerbate our state’s economic problems. Another reason for my vote: We are not supposed to be like Washington, D.C., down here. At the state level communication is easier, decorum is better and agreements are far more likely to happen. Obtaining a true bargain that achieves fair PERS reform or job-boosting incentives was actually possible going into session.

At the beginning, R’s and D’s alike were discussing such a compromise for the solvency of our state since we do not have the revenue to adequately reduce class sizes. I listened and participated because I believe in exactly that. Meetings were frequently happening between the leadership of both parties and I was on board.

However, a few weeks ago the climate down here oddly changed and the joint meetings stopped. That maneuver made me as unhappy as you would be.

Time is running out. We are coming down to our last weekend and I’m very disappointed that we couldn’t achieve our goals of saving the PERS system long-range and funding our schools at the level our kids need in a bipartisan manner.

If you have any feedback or advice for me, please send me an email: Sen.ChuckThomsen@state.or.us.

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Republican Chuck Thomsen is a Pine Grove pear farmer.

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