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Measure 97, PERS Divide Candidates For Oregon Treasurer, Secretary Of State


State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian (right) and former Oregon Representative Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) appear at the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce candidates' forum in their race for Oregon Secretary of State on Sept. 29, 2016.

State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian (right) and former Oregon Representative Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) appear at the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce candidates' forum in their race for Oregon Secretary of State on Sept. 29, 2016.

Courtesy of the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce

The ballot measure to increase taxes on companies with more than $25 million in annual sales is affecting candidate races.

The Oregon Secretary of State runs elections and audits government agencies, but that didn’t stop Measure 97 from drawing fire from Republican candidate Dennis Richardson, who spoke in front of the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce.  

“The legislature is an addict, and the drug of choice is money. And once they have a resource of money — they’re going to spend it!” Richardson warned the business group.

“When Dennis [Richardson] talks about the legislature being addicted,” argued Democratic nominee and state labor commissioner Brad Avakian, “you have to understand that he had the most powerful chair in Salem, writing the state budget.”  

Avakian also served in the legislature, but he contended Richardson’s position put him in the position to direct revenue to state services, which could have made Measure 97 unnecessary

The Republican Richardson acknowledged he co-chaired Ways and Means for a time, but he said budget troubles are largely the fault of Democrats like Avakian.

Measure 97 is also dividing candidates in the Oregon Treasurer’s race. 

Even when candidates were asked at a forum Thursday about the state’s Public Employee Retirement System, the answers brought up Measure 97.  

“It is a PERS bailout,” argued Republican nominee Jeff Gudman. “The Democratic leadership in Salem has said ‘there are no other options, other than to give us more money.’ That’s not true.”

The Independent running for Treasurer, Chris Telfer, also said she is “adamantly opposed” to the corporate tax measure. She says it’s too much growth of state government at the expense of business.  

But Democratic candidate Tobias Read supports Measure 97 as a way to fund state services. Read told the Clackamas business group he’s frustrated more hasn’t been done in the legislature, where Read represents parts of Beaverton.

When treasurer candidates did get around to confronting the cost of PERS directly, again, they diverted.

The state forecasts billions in retirement costs in the years to come. Lawmakers have seen many of their previous attempts to fix the system rejected in court because the changes would violate contracts with public employee unions.

Read concluded that the best course for the next state treasurer is to focus on boosting investment returns.   

Independent Chris Telfer doubted the state can earn its way out of the PERS problem. She touted a nine-point plan to fix PERS.

“Number one, we need to acknowledge that it’s a crisis. We keep pushing it and kicking the can down the road and not solving, not even paying attention to it to the degree that it should be,” said Telfer.

Telfer said it’s possible to cut costs and fund other causes, like affordable housing.  

Republican nominee Jeff Gudman agreed there are ways to rein in costs, such as changing the annuity rate and setting inflation caps.

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