Wasco County Clerk Lisa Gambee is trying to get the word out to voters who might be headed south for the winter that they need to request an absentee ballot if they want to weigh in on the Jan. 23 special election.
She said people can sign up for absentee ballots in the clerk’s office at the courthouse, 511 Washington St., or online at www.co.wasco.or.us in the Elections section.
Because the vote will occur in the winter, when there is potential for snowy weather, she said it is unlikely The Dalles Rotary Club will have a ballot drop-off for motorists. Therefore, she said voters need to plan ahead to ensure their ballot is mailed in time because postmarks do not count.
A statewide ballot measure was referred to voters by three Republican legislators who opposed a $670 million health care tax package that the Democrat-controlled state government said was necessary to prevent cuts to the state’s Medicaid program.
House Bill 2391, signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown on July 3, contains new taxes and reporting requirements for Oregon health care providers and insurers. The package imposes a new .7 percent tax on top of an existing assessment on net patient revenue of larger hospitals.
It also created a new 1.5 percent tax on health plans provided by some insurers, as well as the 16 coordinated-care organizations that facilitate the Oregon Health Plan.
The tax plan would have gone into effect Jan.1, but its fate will now be decided by voters about three weeks later.
Oregon provides government-funded health care for one million low-income residents, roughly a quarter of the state’s population. Democrats said implementing the taxes would keep more than 350,000 low-income people on Medicaid.
They said the state needed more money to pay for Medicaid because the federal government would be covering a smaller share of the state’s health care program for the poor.
That decrease was anticipated under the Affordable Care Act, which initially paid 100 percent of states’ Medicaid expansions, but then required states to begin picking up part of the cost.
“This model lowers costs for everyone in the long-term,” says Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, who carried the bill on the House floor. “If fewer people were covered through Medicaid, hospitals would see a drastic increase in uncompensated care, and that would make premiums and other costs even higher for everyone. We’ve had this model before, and it didn’t work. Now we know that everyone benefits when more people are insured.”
Republicans objected to taxing a basic human need like health care, particularly a section of HB 2391 that allows insurance companies to pass on the tax to consumers.
Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, was the only member of the GOP in the House to vote for the bill — and he was one of three opponents filing paperwork to refer the tax package to voters. Democrats needed at least one Republican vote to achieve the three-fifths supermajority necessary to impose new taxes.
Esquivel said he became an opponent of HB 2391 because what ensued after the vote was “major overreach” by House Democrats who expanded insurance mandates and covered undocumented children.
He noted that controversial legislation and “cover all kids” have emergency clauses that limit votes from enacting a referendum in opposition. He said that is why he joined Reps. Julie Parrish, R-Tualatin/West Linn, and Cedric Hayden, R-Cottage Grove, in collecting more than 58,789 signatures to put Referendum 301 on the ballot.
On the Senate side, Ted Ferrioli, who represents Wasco County, was one of three Republicans to vote in favor of HB 2391,
securing the three-fifths
supermajority required for tax hikes. He said the bill had flaws like any other proposal, but is otherwise good public policy.
“The narrative is that Republicans do not vote for more revenue…that we are insensitive to people in need,” Ferrioli told an Associated Press reporter. “Neither of those is true. And that’s what I intend to demonstrate with my vote.”
Parrish and Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, also a Republican, criticized the idea of a January special election instead of having the issue decided in November’s general election.
They said fewer people would vote outside the regular cycle. They also said the Democratic bill would give their party’s legislative majority the ability to write the ballot title instead of giving the job to the attorney general.
Democrats countered that every registered voter will get a ballot in the mail. They said the Legislature frequently writes ballot titles and the election was timed to provide lawmakers with time to figure out what to do if the measure is defeated when they convene for the 2018 session, which begins Feb. 1.