What I've witnessed from the Oregon Legislature
A new legislative season has started and the chickens are coming home to roost. Legislators need to act on promises made on the campaign trail. Here are the biggest issues in our state:
Public Employee Retirement System
There is nothing more pressing than finding a solution for the "promised deal" that will eventually break Oregon. While that may seem extreme, it's the truth.
Today, PERS is running a $22 billion deficit that is unfair to all. Lawmakers need to recognize this and enact a solution. This situation that seemed like a distant problem is now a guarantee of generational debt that will strap our kids and grandkids if we let the only solution be a complete reset after bankruptcy.
We owe it to future generation to try. PERS has a contract to be honored, but we might need to work together to redefine "honored." Along those lines, the public-employee unions can step up and be heroes to their members, and to their state since they are in the driver's seat.
Balancing the budget
The legislature faces a $1.7 billion shortfall this session, mostly due to PERS, but the rest of the state's budget deficit comes at a time when we have record growth and expansion balanced by record expenditures. A solution to balancing the budget is simple, and we do it annually in Happy Valley. Only spending what you have and not wasting millions of dollars in bureaucracy isn't hard to do if you directly correlate money spent to NEED instead of WANT. Cuts can also be identified through agency audits, deregulation, re-prioritizing, and incentivizing financial freedom from the government.
There are many disconnects between voters and legislators as witnessed this last election season. Voters in 2016 overwhelmingly rejected Measure 97, but Democratic leadership is now saying, "You didn't mean that so let's craft a new corporate tax." In addition, Measure 98 passed, allocating funds to career-technical courses. Gov. Kate Brown is breaking that promise as well.
Transportation is one of my top priorities here in Happy Valley and it should be for the Legislature. Oregon has one of the worst traffic problems in the country, and legislators are letting the special interest derail the priority. One of our state representatives held a transportation town hall in Happy Valley, only to walk away telling us there is a need. The need for new infrastructure is "old news" and Oregonians expect a solution. The congestion on I-205 affects everyone in the Portland metro area with citizens spending $1,400 per person a year to sit in traffic. We can solve this issue if legislators move forward with a revenue package that directly fixes roads. It may not solve the whole problem, but it sticks to the priorities and promises made by both sides.
These issues are lost causes if we don't make hard decisions. Talking the talk makes a good legislator; walking the walk makes a good leader.
Lori Chavez-DeRemer is the mayor of Happy Valley.