Chamber Corner: Roseburg Chamber speaking up for rural businesses

April 29, 2019

These are very interesting — make that challenging — times for businesses in Oregon, particularly rural businesses like ours in Douglas County.

It’s a message we’ve heard or said before. It came after the spotted owl listing, during the Great Recession and other times. But this is something different. Not unexpected. Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce leadership has been talking about it the past couple of years and a lot, I mean A LOT, since last fall.

When the Roseburg Area Chamber developed its legislative and public affairs agenda for 2019, we already knew business in Oregon was going to face a mountain of unwanted legislation. We knew last October that we’d need to oppose legislation on cap and trade, protected employee status additions, elimination of small business tax cuts, proposed corporate tax on gross sales and paid family leave. Of the nearly 5,000 bills introduced during Oregon’s long sessions, the chamber typically monitors 150 to 200 pieces of legislation and weighs in on 30 to 40 bills, depending on the year.

It’s not just the acidity of national politics, the blame games, claims of bias reporting and intolerance just about everywhere. It’s not just perceived and real threats to civil liberties and held-in-our-hearts beliefs. It’s not just the urban-rural divide that continues to grow and separate us more every day. It’s not just changing, evolving dynamics in communities throughout our state. It’s not just a world where “majority” or “super majority” exists. It’s so much more.

When to that environment you add a little “winner takes all,” “taking my toys and going home” or “when I want your opinion I’ll give it to you” attitudes, peppered with less-than-cordial diatribes or full-on exclusion from the discussion while existing in a world where anyone can say and do anything anonymously, without accountability, via social media, it’s no wonder what’s occurring is debilitating to rural Oregon.

When businesses that simply want to protect their interests in order to grow and provide future economic stability for their business, employees and community, protests a gross sales tax, they are said to be anti-education, schools and teachers. I don’t know a single business owner in our community that feels that way! Just look at how many of them write checks in support of our local schools and student activities.

When businesses plead their case, supported by federal law, to have a drug-free workplace to protect their business and their employees or they argue against weeks — months — of mandatory paid leave, they are called anti-employee. Every business leader I know recognizes their organization’s success is due in large part to their employees. Protecting employees and keeping business in the black in order to keep employees in jobs, is a top priority.

So, what does all this have to do with the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce? First, it’s been a long — and only half over — frustrating session for business so far during Oregon’s legislative session. And there are so many bad bills on the horizon, and a little venting is good for the psyche. Advocating is at the heart of what we do in support of Douglas County businesses every day.

Sadly, our rural businesses, employers of our citizens, are in the crosshairs. When you cross the legislation we face with the fact that the majority of those making the decisions live far from where we are — and not just our physical location — the odds are not in our favor. Legislation and laws that might easily be implemented or absorbed in urban areas such as Portland, Eugene and Salem, are not so easily digested in Oregon’s many rural communities. And while the initial adverse impacts are on business, it is inevitable that the greatest burden will be borne by citizens through taxes, increased costs of products and services and job loss.

How many more taxes can Oregonians take, especially those in more economically-challenged rural Oregon? What is currently proposed in Salem is $5.67 billion (yep, billion with a “B”) over two years in new taxes and revenue. This includes a new consumption tax equaling $2 billion; family leave tax of $1.5 billion; carbon assessments equaling $1.1 billion; employer assessment tax of $500 million; Medicaid tax of $334.5 million; small business tax of $130 million; and kicker cut of $108 million. This does not even include the proposed $500 million raid of our SAIF fund. Oregonians should be outraged; the Roseburg Area Chamber certainly is.

This is just a short list of the kind of legislation that the chamber has joined with other chambers and business organizations around the state to try and stop. Or at the very least make more palatable for rural Oregon. The chamber submits testimony almost weekly in opposition of some bill or other in Salem. Yet, too often, the pleas from rural Oregon seem to fall on deaf ears in the current “we hold all the cards” world.

Still, the chamber will continue to meet and chat with our legislators, take positions, submit testimony and issue alerts to our members to ensure the voice of Douglas County business is heard. No matter the environment, because to not do so would be irresponsible.