Yesterday, State Senator Mark Hass authored a guest column defending his rather contentious decision to vote against House Bill 3405 on the Senate floor Wednesday. As was to be expected, his vote as well as his explanation behind it have been met with a fair amount of criticism on this site. Some readers, however, have suggested that the less than enthusiastic response to the post is somehow harmful to the Democratic party. Vocal opponents of Hass' vote have been characterized as purists who demand that Democratic officeholders constantly toe the party line; the liberal equivalent of the infamous Club for Growth.
I absolutely disagree. It is important to understand the rationale behind the anger that many BlueOregon readers have voiced in the past few days. It is not simply the fact that Hass voted against the rest of the caucus that has led to the criticism, but the circumstances surrounding his vote.
House Bill 3405 raised corporate taxes in order to plug 733 million dollar hole in the state budget. It is a proposal that the state is dependent on; without the revenue generated by these increases, services across the state would have seen massive cuts. Tuition would have increased at public universities, teachers would have been laid off across the state and the school year would have been shortened. Prisons would have been closed, in-home care for seniors would have been all but eliminated, and employment-related daycare would similarly have faced major cuts in funding. These are but a few of the programs that would have faced deep cuts without the tax increase. Suffice to say that the stakes were high.
Despite this, Senator Hass chose to vote against the bill. He was the only Democratic Senator to do so, resulting in only 17 votes to pass when the bill required 18. On Wednesday, he explained that his opposition to the bill was based on the grounds that corporations with annual revenues of over $10 million would face permanent tax increases, rather than temporary increases as favored by the Oregon Business Association. The Oregonian wrote:
Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, broke ranks, apparently after long discussions Tuesday with Portland business leaders. Hass said he wants the tax increases to be temporary, which is what a plan promoted by the Oregon Business Association calls for. He likened the tax increase to a homeowner getting flashlights and blankets from a neighbor during a storm, then not giving them back when the storm passes. "Sorry, but that's not the Oregon way," Hass said.
Similarly, the Statesman Journal quoted Hass as stating on Wednesday:
I'm OK with it, except for the permanent tax increases. If there were no economic emergency, would we raise these taxes on business?
On Thursday, HB3405 was again brought to the floor and this time it passed with Hass' support. He reiterated that his original nay vote had been based upon the tax increases being permanent:
[Hass] said he disagreed with higher permanent rates on corporations netting more than $10 million and higher-income households.
Then, in his post on BlueOregon yesterday, Senator Hass completely changed his tune. He explained that he had opposed the bill based on the grounds that HB3405 did not permanently distribute funds from corporate taxes into the Rainy Day Fund. The Senator's original explanation, that corporations making over $10 million a year shouldn't face lasting tax increases, itself deserves scrutiny. But at the very least, Senator Hass should have done the honorable thing and defended that position in his post here at BlueO. Instead, he chose to say one thing on the floor of the Senate and say something else to a different audience in the hope that nobody was paying attention. It is this action, just as much as his original vote, that has prompted a flurry of negative comments.
Castigating Senator Hass for these actions is not going to hurt the Democratic party. Democracy requires voters to hold public officials responsible. When politicians choose to turn a critical bill into political theater, then they should be held accountable. When politicians act two-faced then they deserve to be criticized, regardless of their party affiliation. Blindly following Democratic officials simply because they are Democrats will be more harmful to progressive causes than questioning legislators when they break party ranks.
There are a number of Democratic legislators who vote against the party line more often than Senator Hass, yet are rarely if ever chastised on this site. It is the circumstances surrounding Senator Hass' vote that have led to the strong criticism he now faces. Knowing that he was the deciding vote for a bill upon which Oregon depended, Senator Hass decided to hold the state budget hostage. He voted against the bill (after meeting with well-funded corporate lobbyists) on the principle that multimillion dollar corporations should not be burdened with a permanent tax increase. He then didn't even have the courage to defend this principle a day later and instead chose to give an alternate explanation for his vote. Political gamesmanship has it price, especially when the stakes are so high. Characterizing opponents of Hass' vote as being opposed to independent thought amongst Democratic legislators is simplistic and inaccurate. He has brought this criticism upon himself.