Brown, Courtney had private meeting
SALEM — Two weeks before Gov. Kate Brown unveiled her plan for spending billions of dollars in new revenue, assuming a controversial corporate tax measure passes this fall, she did something unusual. On a Sunday, she dropped by Senate President Peter Courtney's home for an informal meeting.
Did they discuss Brown's spending plan for the tax measure, known as Initiative Petition 28? What about a special legislative session meant to provide an alternative to the union-backed measure? Neither camp will say yes. Or no.
"We talked about life, and I'm gonna leave it at that," said Courtney, D-Salem, adding that the union-backed tax measure "has been a part of our discussions for quite awhile. I'm gonna tell you that because I don't want to make a mistake."
But the acknowledgment of the meeting — and its mysterious agenda — adds to the touchy politics around the measure, which could raise as much as $3 billion a year if it survives an expensive campaign fight from some leading Oregon businesses.
Courtney confirmed that the two had been discussing for weeks whether Brown should call lawmakers back to the Capitol. Courtney, who last year compared the measure with the Civil War and called for compromise, said he talks to Brown all the time and "the issue of" the tax measure "and the special session, that's been there for weeks now."
He also said Brown has yet to rule out a special session, at least not when they've discussed it. For many observers, Brown's announcement of a spending plan signaled she'd given up on plans to gather lawmakers before the November election.
The revelation that Brown and Courtney were discussing a possible special session at all is somewhat surprising, given that Brown told reporters in March she did not plan to call one. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, also has said she's not interested in a special session.
"The governor has never said to me 'I will not call a special session,' in all the times I've talked about (an Initiative Petition 28) special session," Courtney said.
Yet neither Brown nor Courtney would disclose what they talked about in that particular Sunday meeting, which Brown's office said likely took place May 22. Brown's calendar lists two redacted meetings that Sunday. Brown's spokeswoman, Kristen Grainger, said neither of those was the meeting with Courtney.
Grainger wrote in an email that Brown "said she hadn't really talked with him informally since the session ended in March, so it was just a general check-in, no specific agenda. She said they had a wide ranging discussion."
On June 3, Brown shared her thoughts for how to spend the estimated $3 billion in annual tax revenue from Initiative Petition 28. The measure would raise the corporate minimum tax by charging certain corporations a 2.5 percent tax on their sales in Oregon above $25 million annually.
And while it's not unusual for governors to visit Courtney at his home overlooking the Willamette River, a special visit from Brown has, apparently, been less common.
"I don't talk to the governor a lot except in a conference room," Courtney said.