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Controversial Business Tax Hike Hits Roadblock In Oregon Senate

<p>The Oregon State Capitol in Salem on March 18, 2017.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

The Oregon State Capitol in Salem on March 18, 2017.

A controversial bill to hike taxes on some small Oregon businesses has quickly run into trouble in the state Senate.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, is reportedly reluctant to move forward on a measure passed by the House Friday that would curtail a business tax break, raising about $200 million for the state budget.

Courtney's reticence comes after Senate Republicans threatened not to cooperate on other key bipartisan priorities if Democrats moved the business tax break through the Senate.

The House-passed bill "threatens to derail a transportation package, among other things," said Jonathan Lockwood, a spokesman for Senate Republicans. "We will not tolerate it. We will not allow Democrats to hike taxes on the smallest businesses in Oregon."

Republicans charge that Democrats are reneging on the 2013 "grand bargain" approved by legislators that included the business tax break along with several revenue increases. GOP lawmakers are also angered that Democrats passed the measure, House Bill 2060, on a bare majority vote instead of seeking the three-fifths majority constitutionally required for tax hikes.

Democratic leaders say a 2015 Oregon Supreme Court decision opened the way for bills that produce additional tax revenue if they don't raise rates or impose new taxes.

Senate Democratic sources say Courtney has sought to avoid moving forward on bills that threaten to derail the session's other priorities.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.