One of the hallmarks of a healthy political process is the ability of members of both parties to come together, communicate with each other and solve difficult problems — even when we might disagree about how a problem should be solved. That is what happened earlier this year with the so-called “provider tax package.”
Myself, along with my Republican colleagues, opposed the package for several reasons, but most specifically because it included a 1.5 percent sales tax on health insurance premiums. This sales tax would be borne by school districts, college students and many small businesses who have already seen their premiums increase dramatically in recent years. Republicans did not approve of this approach, so we offered an alternative. However, it became clear quite quickly that Democratic leadership was not interested in any alternatives. They wanted their health care sales tax.
It was at that point that I, together with legislative leaders, negotiated a path forward for their funding package. While I disagreed with the tax itself, Democrats were threatening to kick hundreds of thousands of Oregonians off their health plans if the plan did not advance before the end of the session. That was not an outcome I was willing to accept. So, despite my personal objections to the policy, I agreed to provide a single vote in order to advance the tax package out of the House. I made no commitments about supporting the package beyond the vote that day.
In exchange for providing passage of the provider tax out of the House, Democratic leaders agreed to set aside several policy bills opposed by Republicans and pass a number of Republican priorities. Included in these negotiations were funds to support community projects in Medford like the renovation of the Holly Theater, continued development of Harry & David Field, the Vietnam War Memorial and an important irrigation project. All four of these projects presented an opportunity to improve the quality of life in the Rogue Valley and I heard from many friends and neighbors who were very excited to see them come to fruition.
So, you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that Gov. Kate Brown had decided to veto funding for two of these four projects as part of a vindictive exercise in political muscle flexing and pettiness. The reason for her veto? She’s upset because I agreed to participate in an effort to refer the aforementioned provider tax to Oregon voters. In other words, because I believe Oregonians should have an opportunity to weigh in on a controversial new tax increase, Governor Brown decided to punish Rogue Valley residents.
Truth be told, I had no plans to participate in a referral of the tax when it originally passed the House. But when Democratic leaders in the closing days of session poured millions of dollars into programs like providing free health care for people who entered our country illegally and expanding taxpayer-funded abortion services, I thought Oregonians might like to have an opportunity to make their voices heard.
Before her official veto, Governor Brown said, “the cornerstone of all negotiations, whether they occur in a public or private arena, is the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” The irony, of course, is that trust between public officials in Oregon has hit an all- time low under her leadership.
I kept my word by providing a vote for the provider package. The governor? She proved the word of Democratic leadership in Salem can’t be trusted. Her actions will result in lawmakers thinking twice before negotiating with her in the future.
Medford residents have a right to feel disappointed about the governor’s vetos, but our community will survive without the state’s money. It’s our political process that I fear may not recover from such a blatant breach of trust.
Oregon deserves a governor who will keep his or her word. Gov. Kate Brown has proven she is not that governor.
— Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, represents District 6 in the Oregon House.