By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Stand together, be creative and brace for more.
Those were three of the main messages shared during last week’s Keizer Chamber of Commerce luncheon forum, which was focused on surviving government mandates.
The timing wasn’t surprising, given recent action by the Oregon Legislature to increase the minimum wage in the years to come. Other recent mandates such as mandatory paid sick leave and mandatory heath care were also discussed.
Jason Brandt, CEO of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, referred to the three items as “a three-headed monster” and noted the fines on companies for not providing health insurance.
“They’re all happening at once,” Brandt said. “None of us will have silver bullet solutions for you. The ones who are the most creative are the ones that will survive and thrive.”
Brandt noted a group that had threatened to put the issue on the November ballot backed off following the actions of the legislature.
“The state is preempting any local government from passing laws on the topic,” Brandt said. “They also retained the ability to change the plan in future sessions. We need to gather stories of how these minimum wage increases impact businesses.”
Though it ultimately wasn’t effective, Brandt praised business supporters for protesting the wage hike.
“I’m impressed by how you people mobilized,” he said. “We had 20 percent people more than the other side. To those that stepped up, to stand in front of the legislative committee and talk about what it would do to your business, my hat is off to you. That’s one of most important things you can do.”
Alison Hart, CEO of the Oregon State Chamber, also liked the turnout.
“My message is how we need to work together,” Hart said. “On minimum wage, we had the best grassroots effort ever. We had started the wave of grassroots. We have to change who is in the legislature and we have to do it now. Our strategy will be to target districts that have the ability to be changed. We can have an impact and make a stand for small businesses.”
Hart warned about the proposed initiative petition 28, which she said “should be of far more concern” than the minimum wage increase.
“There are billions of new taxes proposed for the November ballot,” Hart said. “This is of great concern, a hidden sales tax that will hurt consumers.”
Hart, who noted businesses will be forced to pass increased costs to consumers, said local companies in the service industry will be at an unfair disadvantage compared to out-of-state competitors. She also warned there is no guarantee the extra funds will go to education, health care and senior citizens.
“We have some ills in the state that need to be fixed and they need more funding,” Hart said. “Because there is no guarantee, this is a hugely damaging proposal. We need to band together to fight this.”
Michael Morter from the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, talked about health insurance restrictions and regulations, including companies with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees being required to provide health insurance coverage.
“You can work with an insurance agent for the right health care coverage for your employees,” Morter said. “It was designed as a public market place originally. There are hundreds of plans to choose from. At zero cost to your business or employees, a qualified insurance agent can help with choosing the right coverage.”
Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, said there are representatives who want to work together but aren’t allowed to due to political parties.
“It has been building for 27 years,” Post said. “These people believe you business owners are the problem and that you need to share the wealth. There are moderates on both sides that want to work together, but they are taken into the back room and their legs are broken. You will no longer be the chair of your committee.”
Post is convinced a ballot measure for raising the minimum wage would not have passed.
“This ballot measure was at 58 percent in February, which means it was going to lose in November,” Post said. “Polls mean nothing in February. I was not afraid. I wanted us to roll dice on the tax measure. The people in Oregon would not have passed $15 minimum wage.”
Hart said chambers need to get together to get the word out to vote against IP 28.
“Please join the coalition,” she said. “The business community needs to actively take a stand. We were excited to see the turnout this session. On this one, we have to turn out. This is the biggest political battle we’ve ever seen. We have to win this one. We have to.”