SALEM — Some Oregon Libertarians want Republican legislators to "walk out" of the impending special session if lawmakers try to do more than its stated purpose: providing tax relief to certain business owners.
Lawmakers are slated to meet Monday, May 21, at the behest of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, to expand a state-level tax break to businesses structured as sole proprietorships.
The potential protest — during a one-day special session that is appearing to conjure little enthusiasm from either legislative Democrats or Republicans — has support from at least two Republican lawmakers.
Details of the proposed tax bill are still being negotiated among leadership in both parties.
In the recent session Democrats, over Republican objections, passed a bill, SB 1528, to disconnect Oregon from part of the federal tax overhaul signed into law in December.
Connecting to the federal tax overhaul would have allowed certain business owners to deduct 20 percent of qualifying business income from their state tax returns.
Last month, Brown signed the measure, but called a special session to expand a state-level tax cut to sole proprietorships.
Oregon allows owners some "pass-through" businesses — whose owners pay taxes on their personal income, rather than paying at the corporate level as well — to take a lower rate, provided they meet certain stipulations. Owners of sole proprietorships aren't eligible.
But if lawmakers change the law as the governor proposes, about 12,000 sole proprietorships would be eligible for the break, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office.
"...We are challenging the Republican Party, because we do not yet have legislators in the House or Senate, to make a public statement saying that their participation in the special session does not constitute an acknowledgment that 1528 is constitutional," said Richard P. Burke, Secretary of the Libertarian Party of Oregon. "We are also calling on Republican legislators to walk out of the session, denying the Democrats a quorum, if an attempt is made to expand the scope of the session beyond tax relief."
State Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, supports the expansion of the sole proprietorships tax break, but is wary that other bills or concepts could be introduced during the special session.
"The plain fact is that a special session does not have to be limited to one thing," Thatcher told reporters at a press conference at the Capitol Monday. "We can have a gentleman's ... agreement that it won't be expanded beyond a certain bill or action, but the fact remains that any member could introduce bills on any topic."
Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Beatty, also supports a walkout should lawmakers attempt to do more than the sole proprietorships tax break.
Asked whether her caucus supported walking out, Thatcher said, "I could not speak to that."
A spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans said special session plans are still in the works.
"We are still, as a caucus, talking with Democratic leadership to try to figure out exactly what the plan looks like," said Tayleranne Gillespie, spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans. "A walkout's not totally off the books, but at this point it's not our plan to do that."
Preston Mann, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus, said leaders from both parties have been meeting since Brown announced her plan to call a special session.
"There continues to be disagreement about what should and should not be considered," Mann wrote in an email to the EO/Pamplin Capital Bureau Monday. "In the end, as (House Republican) Leader (Mike) McLane has said before, the tone and tenor of the session will be defined by whether Democrats are able to stick to their word."
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, has said he wants legislators to stay focused on the issue at hand. Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said last month that she and Courtney planned to appoint a bicameral committee to meet before the session to start hearing proposed legislation.
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