Although the “red wave” was a wash this November, the GOP did gain seats in the state Legislature. Democrats still hold majorities in both chambers but they no longer have the supermajorities they need to pass tax bills without some Republican support. Senate minority leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) joins us to talk about Republican legislative priorities and how he’s planning to approach the next session.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. We talked to Dan Rayfield, the incoming Democratic speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. We turn now to the other legislative chamber and the other major political party. Tim Knopp is a Republican state senator from Bend and the Senate minority leader. He joins us to talk about the upcoming legislative session. Senator Knopp, welcome to the show.
Senator Tim Knopp: Thank you. Great to be with you.
Miller: What do you see as the most urgent issues facing the state right now that the legislature needs to tackle?
Knopp: Well, I think this is going to be a budget session and if you talk to people who are low or middle income, they’ve been in recession for the better part of the year. Our economists from the state tell us that the whole state will be in recession within six to twelve months. And as I said, I think a good portion of Oregonians are already having trouble paying for their groceries, their gas and their rent. I think it’s really important that we do what we can in the legislature to help them with their family budgets. One of the things we can do is return a substantial kicker to those families who have paid taxes - we would say overpaid - and now it’s time for them to get their money back in the form of a stimulus. I’d love to see it go back as a check as quickly as possible. So that’s one item.
Miller: A check as opposed to a rebate on taxes?
Knopp: Yeah. It’ll be roughly a four to six month delay if we don’t make it a check again because right now, it is scheduled to be basically a tax credit on your income taxes.
Miller: Right. What would it take to actually change that?
Knopp: It took a bill to turn it into a credit and it will take a bill to reverse it back to a check.
Miller: Is that something that you see bipartisan support for at this moment?
Knopp: It is still too early to tell. We will obviously make the case for it, but we would hope that Democrats care as much about people in the family budget and they’re struggling as we do and we think we can get that money out earlier to people. We have done it in the past.
Miller: Sticking with economic questions. In addition to the recession that state economists have told you to expect at some point in 2023 - they’ve called it a mild recession but a recession nevertheless - the estimate also is that lawmakers are going to have a lot less money for the next budget in the next two year budget cycle than for the current ones. Something like $3 billion. How are you envisioning the way the budget is going to be put together over the course of a number of months, given that big difference in the money you’ll have to spend?
Knopp: Well, my hope is that the Democrat majorities will work with the Republican minorities all along the way. If they don’t, they’re not likely to have votes for budgets, which could be problematic because if we’re talking about some budget reductions in areas, then I think that could become problematic for them. So I think it’s all about prioritization. And I’ve said for the last couple of years that if you had a program that you just started up, you should consider that a one time expenditure, whether it was agreed that was the case or not, because you could see that this recession was likely to come. We didn’t know exactly when. But let’s just say that the Biden administration hasn’t done a lot to help keep us out of recession and probably done more to drive us into one. That’s why I think it’ll probably be a little worse than what the state economists are saying. I liken it to the pilot who comes on and tells you that it’s going to be a 15 minute delay whereby they then come on a half hour later and say it’s going to be a half hour delay and you’ve all been on flights where that’s happened. And I feel like we may be in that situation with the economist and they don’t want to over-exaggerate that it’s going to be bad news, but I think it will likely be worse than what’s being portrayed.
Miller: Are you saying that you don’t really trust the reports you get from state economists?
Knopp: No. I’m just saying that they, I think, like to be more conservative in their estimates. I just see a lot of trouble signs ahead and the federal government no longer has the ability to just print money. They printed about $5-6 trillion dollars during the couple of COVID years. And normally we would only print, I say only print, a trillion dollars in deficit spending. And so $5 trillion to $6 trillion in an 18 month, two-year period, definitely started overheating the inflation aspects of our economy. And they no longer have the ability to do that because it will just simply make things worse. So their tools are much more limited than they otherwise would be and that’s why I think there is more cause for concern. I’m not saying that I don’t trust economists, but if you have 12 economists, you’ll get 12 different opinions.
Miller: Let’s turn to the political dynamics of this session. Democrats still have majorities in both chambers, but lost supermajorities, three-fifths majorities in both of them. That means essentially that they cannot pass bills to increase taxes unless they get at least one Republican vote in each chamber. I think that they would now need one in each chamber to get to that point. So what do you see as the political dynamics in terms of how they’re different now as a result of that loss of supermajorities?
Knopp: I believe that they are less likely to want to try to move multiple tax increases forward. They are still likely to move some, but realistically, I think they can assume that there is no support for raising taxes on Oregonians. And in fact, we want to lower taxes on some small business owners and we want to lower taxes for low and middle income Oregonians because we think they’re paying too much right now. So, we will certainly be talking about that as the session heats up in January.
Miller: You’re also going to have a new Senate president in your chamber. Democrats have said that they have chosen Rob Wagner, a Democrat from Lake Oswego, and the current majority leader as the new Senate president. This will become official when you all meet. You wrote in a statement, “Senator Wagner has shown he is untrustworthy, deeply partisan, and doesn’t have the necessary skills to run the Senate in a bipartisan fashion.” What exactly are you expecting from Senator Wagner?
Knopp: It’s really up to him. The Senate president represents the entire Senate, not just the Senate Democrats. And obviously he comes from a place of being the majority leader and being very partisan. It is our hope that he will become much more bipartisan as we move into the 2023 session, but he hasn’t shown that to be true. And as it relates to untrustworthy, many of our members have had issues with him, I would say, being less than accurate on why their bills were dying or what was happening and didn’t like it. There are currently no votes on our side for Rob Wagner as Senate president. I’ve been able to talk with him, but we need to have a partner that when there’s an agreement that’s made, that the agreement is honored. I hope for the best in people and look for the best and if we’re gonna have a bipartisan session, we’re going to be all in as Senate Republicans. If we’re going to have a let’s move the progressive agenda session, it’s going to be a fight for every day until the session concludes.
Miller: I’m curious what you think that fight could look like. You also earlier said it would be problematic if Democrats don’t include you from the beginning and throughout in terms of budget conversations and budget negotiations. As our listeners probably remember at this point voters pretty overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure to limit legislative walkouts going forward. What impact do you think that could have on the session?
Knopp: I don’t think it has a material impact truthfully because we have tools to slow things down that don’t involve walkouts and we will use those to try to get our point across just like a good minority would. I remember when I was the majority leader back in 2003, dealing with a good minority leader, Deborah Kafoury, the Democratic minority did their best to tie us up. And that’s what the minority does when they don’t feel like they’re being heard.
Miller: Asking, for example, for bills to be read in their entirety or other sort of bureaucratic ways to slow the process down?
Knopp: Right, minority reports, lots of speeches given. There are many ways to do it. We would love to have a bipartisan session to talk about homelessness and increasing crime and gun violence in Portland and those types of things that need to be addressed.
Miller: And I’m glad you mentioned some of those issues. Let’s turn back to some policies now. Starting with housing and homelessness, which is obviously not just a Portland metro area issue. These are issues that we hear from employers, from people who are looking for rentals, from people who would like to be able to buy a home. Obviously there’s huge homelessness issues as well tied to housing and also separate from them in some ways. What role do you want the legislature to play in terms of housing and homelessness in the upcoming session?
Knopp: The legislature needs to engage because the public believes this is one of the top issues. I think crime and homelessness are probably the top two issues besides inflation. And I’ve talked about how we should initially deal with that. But that really involves having an adequate supply of land to build on, first of all, because that’s the main thing that and the biggest impact that the state and the legislature can have. We don’t necessarily control prices of goods to construct a home. We don’t necessarily control the labor pool and how that goes, but we certainly can have an impact on the supply of buildable land and that’s for single family on up to multi family. And that’s been a problem for quite a long time in Oregon and needs to be addressed and it’s an uncomfortable issue for Democrats, but you don’t make significant progress without addressing it.
Miller: How are you suggesting that more buildable land is available in the state of Oregon? What exactly would you do?
Knopp: Yeah. Multiple ways. But you have to free cities up to be able to move quickly on UGB expansions. Bend is an example that just took forever to expand at UGB . . .
Miller: It’s urban growth boundary for people who aren’t familiar with that acronym.
Knopp: Yeah, sorry for being too acronym-oriented. But yes, so the city of Bend moved its urban growth boundary and that lasted for about five years and we’re pretty much out of land again. And when you constrict supply and you have what feels and Bend like unlimited demands, you have a market that is artificially high. Those are issues that have to be addressed and there’s multiple ways to address it, but so far there hasn’t been a huge interest from the other side and actually doing that. But until we alleviate some of that issue, we’re going to continue to have high prices and people that are struggling to be able to put enough units on the ground to house everyone.
Miller: You also mentioned crime, focusing specifically on increases in gun violence. Does the state legislature have a role right now in addressing that?
Knopp: The first thing we can do is make sure that we’re keeping felons in prison who have committed gun crime because it seems odd to me that you would talk about gun violence and how devastating it is and then for those who have committed gun violence, the governor goes ahead and just let them out of prison. And we are going to bring forward proposals to limit the governor’s ability to do that, and we’d be doing the same thing if we were looking at Governor Drazan. Obviously we’re looking at Governor Kotek, and this is nothing against her future governorship, but we believe that the governor has too much power in this area. It’s been exercised and too many of the wrong people have been let out. You can’t tell me that you care about gun violence, and then you let someone out who has put two bullets in the back of the head of a teenager and said, “well, they’ve served more than half their sentence and they’re reformed.” And my answer to that is, I don’t think you understand justice because justice is when you have a sentence that’s been imparted by a jury that says you’re going to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole, that’s the only justice that that family has with their relative who has been murdered. You undo the balance of justice when you undo a duly elected jury’s sentence.
Miller: Just briefly. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for bipartisan legislation in this upcoming session?
Knopp: I’m hopeful that we can find some common ground on housing and homelessness, and I really hope that people that are coming in that are new to the legislature want to do what they can to support law enforcement and really all the sectors of public safety, from defense attorneys to district attorneys, to our rank and file law enforcement, because they all need to be supported. This idea that we’re going to continue this assault on police officers and their ability to do their jobs is problematic. People make mistakes, but 99.9% of our law enforcement out there are good people trying to do difficult work. And now our law enforcement agencies are struggling to be able to hire people because they’ve been so vilified. So we want to deal with that in a positive way and we hope our colleagues are going to be there to do that.
Miller: Tim Knopp, thanks for your time today.
Knopp: You bet. Thank you.
Miller: Tim Knopp is a Republican state senator from Bend and the Senate minority leader.
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