Lawmakers began the process last week of allocating federal coronavirus relief funds, though they balked at distributing $50 million for rural hospital stabilization loans. Signs now point to a legislative special session in June. And the Oregon Supreme Court says limits on campaign contributions are constitutional, upholding a $500 contribution cap approved by Multnomah County voters in 2016.
The Emergency Board, which acts on state financial matters when the full legislature is not in session, approved 10 allocations, some tapping funds from the federal CARES Act and others from the state’s General and Lottery funds. The biggest allocation authorizes the state Department of Administrative Services to spend $300 million from Oregon’s share of the Federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. This funding is intended to cover unanticipated expenditures to deal with public health emergencies between March 1 and December 31. The $300 million is only part of $1.3 billion allocated by federal legislation to Oregon and another $300 million to larger Oregon municipalities.
Meeting virtually, lawmakers withheld money for rural hospitals after a vigorous debate over whether spending restrictions are too burdensome. Some lawmakers from both political parties questioned whether financially strapped rural hospitals could even qualify. Several suggested turning the loans into grants. House Speaker Tina Kotek urged restraint, which led to a motion to table the funding allocation. The Emergency Board could take up the matter again as early as this week.
Homeless Oregonians and immigrant workers will benefit from $12 million in allocated funds – $3.5 million for vouchers or temporary shelters and $8.5 million to help low-income residents pay rent and avoid eviction. Unemployed Oregonians who don’t qualify for standard unemployment insurance will receive wage-replacement benefits of up to $590 per week from as $10 million set-aside administered by the Oregon Community Foundation.
Another $10 million was allocated from General Fund and Lottery Fund dollars for an Oregon Worker Relief Fund to support small businesses that failed to get Paycheck Protection Program loans before it ran out of money. Congress has passed legislation replenishing the PPP with another $310 billion.
The Department of Human Services received $3.5 million in spending authority from the General Fund for COVID-19 testing and training of long-term care workers. Many long-term care facilities have become hot spots for the virus. The Department of Justice was given authority to spend $2 million from the General Fund for emergency housing for victims of domestic and sexual violence. The Public Defense Services Commission gained $3.8 million in General Fund spending authority. The Department of Forestry was allowed to move ahead with expenditures related to seasonal fire protection.
Governor Brown signaled a legislative special session won’t occur until after release of the quarterly economic and revenue forecast, which is expected to project a sharp dip in tax revenue and expose a hole in the state’s approved two-year budget. State agencies have reportedly been asked to identify 8 percent cuts in their respective budgets. State officials anticipate there may be another federal coronavirus financial relief bill enacted by then that, if it follows the outline of a House Democratic plan, would provide additional funding for states and local governments.
The Supreme Court ruling permitting campaign donation limitations is expected to open the door to more restrictions, stripping Oregon of its distinction as one of the most permissive states in the nation. Opponents of campaign contribution limits have argued they violate the state constitution’s free speech provisions.
The ruling specifically sends the contribution cap in Multnomah County back to a lower court to determine whether $500 is the right amount. Of greater import is the ruling’s effect on the City of Portland campaign contribution limit approved by voters in 2018 and limits set by Measure 47 approved by a statewide vote in 2006.
The Measure 47 campaign contribution limits of $500 for statewide offices and $100 for legislative races have never been enforced because voters in 2006 failed to pass a separate measure to declare campaign limits were legal. The Supreme Court decision last week didn’t specifically address Measure 47, but Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Secretary of State Bev Clarno are both reviewing the ruling to determine “appropriate next steps.” A former general counsel for Governor Brown said Measure 47 may not instantly go into effect until a corresponding limitation is put in place to limit campaign expenditures.
The Oregonian coverage of the ruling reported Mayor Ted Wheeler’s re-election campaign has accepted contributions exceeding Portland’s limits and noted competitive Oregon House races now can run up to $1 million in campaign spending and $40 million was raised in the 2018 governor’s race.
Implementation of Measure 47 was on the agenda during the 2020 legislative session, but no action was taken. Business groups concerned about the effects of campaign limitations have urged a delay in implementing any statewide donation caps until the 2021 legislature can address the issue.