A plan that would give state government broad powers to step in and bail out struggling timber counties could advance soon in the Oregon legislature. A House panel could vote as soon as Monday on a bill that could lead to a temporary tax hike in counties that are struggling to maintain basic services.
A companion measure was approved in the full House Friday. The bill that passed the House would allow counties to ask the Oregon Secretary of State to basically run their elections, but only in cases of extreme fiscal emergency.
Republican representative Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) says the bill provides a back-up plan for a worst-case scenario.
"It is my hope, and I hope yours, that we do not have to put these tools to use," Hanna says.
But after voters in two struggling southwest Oregon counties rejected property tax hikes last month, some lawmakers and the governor's office think the worst-case scenario is just about here.
A separate measure that's nearing a vote would allow the governor to impose a temporary income tax in counties that can't provide basic public safety services. The tax could only be applied if local government officials agree to it. The state would match whatever money is raised locally.
In Oregon, Josephine and Curry Counties face the most extreme shortfalls after seeing timber revenue dwindle over the past decade.
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