Oregon Blog Updates

Syndicate content
Latest entries from BlueOregon
Updated: 2 hours 27 min ago

Epic moment: Six year old asks a question that leaves Hillary Clinton speechless

April 8, 2014 - 10:32pm

Tonight, Hillary Clinton spoke in Portland. The final question of the night came from a six year old student at Glencoe Elementary. It was... a stumper.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

How Portland can reduce the wage gap between women and men

April 8, 2014 - 7:00am

By Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

Today is Equal Pay Day. That's the day each year when American women finally earn what their male counterparts earned during the prior year. This year, it took women a shocking three months and eight days to catch up. That's because women across our country earn, on average, 77 cents for every dollar earned by men for equivalent work. This gap is wider for women of color: African-American women are paid 64 cents and Latinas 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

There are many reasons why pay gaps exist -- and persist. One piece of the gap can be explained by how we undervalue work that is traditionally done by women -- even when it is comparable to higher paying work done by men. Another piece is due to the wage and promotion penalties women face after time away from the workforce due to family caregiving responsibilities (work that is still more often done by women). And some of the gap is due to persistent gender discrimination in hiring, pay and promotion -- despite laws that discourage the practice.

Reducing pay gaps and improving the economic security of women will require broader change than what's been tried in the past. I believe it is my job -- and the job of elected leaders at every level of government -- to commit to reducing it in the ways we can. It is with that in mind that I wish to highlight a few steps that I believe are critical to improving economic conditions for Portland women and their families in the near future:

  • First, I support efforts to overturn an Oregon law passed in 2001 that precludes cities from creating their own local minimum wages that exceed the state's (now $9.10/hour). And I support a raise in our state's minimum wage that brings working families above the federal poverty line. We know that nationally two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women -- so raising minimum wage standards has a broader -- and much needed - positive impact for women.
  • Second, I am proud to support the work of my colleagues, Commissioners Nick Fish and Steve Novick, as they prepare to conduct a robust pay equity audit as part of an upcoming city-wide classification and compensation study. As an employer, the City of Portland has an obligation to ensure that we are regularly identifying inequitable hiring, pay and promotion practices -- and resolving them. I am committed to ensuring that we are giving equal opportunity to the women and people of color who work for the City and paying them equitably for equal work.

  • Third, in early 2013 our City Council voted unanimously to support a protected sick time law that ensures that everyone working in the city can earn up to 40 hours of sick time during the course of a year to take care of themselves or their family members when illness strikes, as it inevitably does. And now this must happen at the state level.

    I am very proud of the impact this new law will have on Portland women especially, who have more caregiving responsibilities and are more likely to work in service-sector jobs where sick days have been historically rare. Due in large part to the leadership of Commissioner Amanda Fritz, this law was an important step toward creating workplace standards that help women keep their jobs. No one should be fired or lose needed pay because they get the flu or need to take care of a sick child -- regardless of where they live or work. I commit to doing all that I can to ensure that all Oregonians have this right and support my colleagues in making sure this is a legislative priority for the City of Portland in the 2015 legislative session.

  • Fourth and finally, if mothers are to stay connected to the workforce and earn what they are worth, they need affordable childcare. Without it, it's nearly impossible to get and keep a job. Yet childcare in Oregon is unaffordable for many.

    I created and continue to champion the Portland Children's Levy to ensure that kids have better access to opportunity -- and remain committed to ensuring that their mothers do, too. I support the initiative led by Mayor Charlie Hales and Multnomah County Chair Marissa Madrigal to maintain and grow funding for the in-school, wrap-around services provided by SUN Programs. Additionally, over the next year, my office will be looking for new and concrete ways the City can make child care more affordable for more Portland families -- without compromising quality or reducing already low wages for child care workers (who are mostly women). Together, and in partnership with Multnomah County, I believe we can find new models for making this critical service more available to and affordable for those who need it most.

Throughout my life in public office I have committed to creating better services for women and children. By focusing on these and other concrete steps to improve economic conditions for women, we will strengthen our entire city and help to finally reduce persistent pay and opportunity gaps.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Return-free Filing Is Taxes Done Right

April 7, 2014 - 2:14pm

Economic Fairness Oregon and the Oregon Center for Public Policy have an important tax filing message for Oregonians.

Every year tax preparation and refund products drain millions of dollars from Oregon families who can least afford it. That’s why we support policies such as “return-free filing” proffered by Senator Wyden that will make it easier for low- and moderate income Oregonians to file their taxes.

We have long supported policies to make the tax system fair and easy to comply with. We have worked to expand and protect the Oregon Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which helps low-income working families make ends meet. We also strive to reduce the cost of filing taxes, thus enabling families to retain the full-value of the credit.

The current reality, however, is that rather than devoting the full value of the EITC to meet their families’ basic needs, many EITC recipients have to resort to products that take a bite out of their tax credit. In 2010, about half of Oregon EITC recipients paid for tax preparation, a figure that does not include those who paid for online preparation or purchased software. That same tax year, more than one quarter of EITC recipients in Oregon paid for a "refund anticipation check."

That is why proposals such as Senator Wyden’s return-free filing legislation serve the interests of Oregon families. The idea is simple: using filing status and earnings information already available, the IRS would pre-populate an individual’s tax return. The taxpayer would then review the calculations and make any necessary changes or prepare their own return, with or without the use of a paid tax preparer. The choice would be theirs to make.

A public relations firm contacted several Oregon non-profit organizations in an effort to get them to oppose return-free filing. The PR firm doesn't introduce itself this way, but it represents the corporation Intuit, one of the largest sellers of tax preparation software.

While return-free filing may not serve the pecuniary interests of Intuit, the proposal advances the financial interests of Oregon families. There is widespread agreement that the expense and complexity of filing federal and state tax returns can be a tough for low- and even middle-income families.

One response has been to establish a broad network of professionally trained volunteers to staff free tax preparation. Groups like CASH Oregon and Oregon AARP have helped tens of thousands of Oregonians with tax preparation services. However, the scale and scope of largely volunteer run programs will never match the reach of the paid tax preparation industry.

Another response is the establishment of the Free File Alliance, a public/private venture aimed at making free federal tax preparation available to people below a certain income threshold. Opponents of return-free filing point to the Free File Alliance as the solution.

The Free File Alliance, however, is not a substitute for polices aimed at easing the cost of compliance. Only those with Internet access and computer literacy can avail themselves of Free File. This “free” service, moreover, also functions as a marketing tool for costly tax and financial products, including paid state tax preparation.

Low-income families spend millions of dollars every year to access the money they’ve earned through the EITC; helping them to retain the full value of their tax refund is an important policy goal that cannot simply be left to volunteer programs.

On behalf of Oregon working low- and moderate-income families, we hope our entire delegation in Congress will advance policies such as return-free filing that reduce the cost and complexity of complying with federal tax law.

This post was written by Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy and Angela Martin, executive director of Economic Fairness Oregon.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

$15 How

April 7, 2014 - 12:40am

By Nicholas Caleb of Portland, Oregon. Caleb is a professor, an activist, and a candidate for Portland City Council.

As the Portland Mercury first reported, despite taking the nation by storm and dominating Seattle's psycho-sphere, the discussion of raising the minimum wage was completely absent in Portland politics until I entered the City Council race advocating for a $15/hr minimum wage. Since then, both Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish have issued vague statements in support of raising the minimum wage (Saltzman says somewhere between $10 and $15). Other local candidates have also started to express interest in raising the minimum wage, which is not surprising considering its rapidly growing popularity in more and more cities. Not to mention the fact that $15 Now makes good economic sense and is fair(er) to employees whose productivity has steadily increased for 40 years while wages have stayed stagnant. In Portland, there doesn't seem to be much dispute about these facts.

So why not just pass a minimum wage increase? Well, in 2001, the Oregon State Legislature, at the behest of the restaurant lobby, passed Oregon Revised Statutes § 653.017 which preempted cities from raising the minimum wage because of, as Dirk VanderHart put it, "the fear of a patchwork nightmare of local wage laws." In other words, the restaurant lobby sees local democracy as bad for business. This is particularly annoying in Oregon, which was the first state to enshrine home-rule authority into the state constitution and trust cities and counties to make the right call on issues of local importance.

Ending the minimum wage preemption is right and important because ORS § 653.017 is anti-Democratic, against the spirit of our home-rule state constitution, and the restaurant lobby's rationale is pathetically weak. Cities must have the tools to maintain wage equity. Lobbying the Oregon State Legislature to remove the preemption is one way to pursue a change in policy. But, the preemption is not nearly the obstacle that it is has been made out to be. Those insisting that nothing can be done to raise the minimum wage right now in Portland are overlooking a host of available strategies for achieving the goal of giving workers fair(er) wages. The city has the power, preemption or not, to act right now to create a new livable wage standard in Portland. And they should start with $15/hr.

Here are three ways get it done:

(1) Pay all city workers at least $15/hr. The first exception to the minimum wage preemption in Oregon Revised Statutes § 653.017 is that "[a] local government may set minimum wage requirements [...] for public employers." This is truly straightforward and doesn't require a change in state law. The City of Portland is a public employer, so council can pass a law to raise the minimum wage for those employees that aren't currently earning $15/hr. This is what Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposed immediately after Kshama Sawant was elected on the $15/hr platform.

(2) Ensure that at least $15/hr pay is a condition of any contract that the city enters into with a business or contractor. ORS § 653.017 also contains an exception where "[a] local government may set minimum wage requirements [...] [i]n specifications for public contracts entered into by the local government[.]" This means council can and should make a policy that any contracts entered into with any businesses or contractors contain provisions that employees, including those categorized as subcontractors (a common way for contractors to evade primary contracting responsibilities), be paid a $15/hr minimum wage.

(3) Use city taxing authority to create a fund to subsidize workers earning less than $15/hr. This option is not as straightforward as simply utilizing an exception to the minimum wage preemption, but it is just as viable. Instead of setting a minimum wage, city council should enact a living wage tax on employers who aren't paying $15/hr and create a fund for employees that don't earn $15/hr to collect from. Ideally, this would be a progressive tax with top earning employers paying a higher tax rate to subsidize lower earning small businesses that might otherwise struggle to adapt. You could call this the reverse WalMart policy. Instead of big corporations paying employees so little that they have to rely on government services, you tax large corporate employers who won't pay $15/hr to subsidize our city's small businesses who would love to see their employees' quality of life improve. Currently, the City of Portland applies a tax of 2.2% to any business that has more than $50,000 in revenues per year. You could pair the living wage tax with an adjustment in the city tax so it kicks in at a higher revenue threshold which could ease the burden of a living wage tax on small business. And legally, there is precedent that a tax like this is distinguishable from a penalty system like traditional minimum wage enforcement. One has to look no further than the Supreme Court's recent decision that Obamacare's healthcare mandate should be categorized as a tax rather than a penalty. Similarly, a living wage tax is qualitatively different than a minimum wage and would evade preemption under ORS § 653.017. In fact, a progressive living wage tax might actually be more attractive than a simple minimum wage adjustment because of its potential redistributive qualities and the protections for small businesses that could be built in.

There's absolutely no reason why Portland's elected leaders can't begin implementing these solutions. Everyone has a right to the city, and increasing the minimum/livable wage to a $15/hr is not only necessary, but feasible, fair, and makes sound economic sense.

You can sign the petition demanding that city council take immediate action on raising the minimum wage to $15/hr. For more information about my campaign, please visit CalebforCouncil.org and contact me at info@calebforcouncil.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs