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Lawmakers determined to do better

Sometimes in the Legislature it’s hard to know how to feel. When we fail to pass a “No cuts” schools budget, even though we invested record dollars into our K-12 system, do you cheer or do you scratch your head? When we create new programs to create jobs throughout the state that still will leave too many struggling to make ends meet, do you pump your fists and say “job well done” or do you just shrug your shoulders?

I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel after your first session as a legislator, but I can tell you I feel determined.

I’m determined to keep going, and do better. We haven’t finished the job, but we’re going in the right direction — and I’m optimistic we’ll get there.

After months of trying, an effort to create a $7 billion K-12 schools budget failed on the Senate floor. That means we’re still cutting 28 teachers in Hillsboro, and five school days.

Those cuts made me vote “No” on the education budget, because it’s not enough. I kept working to make it better, and we’re making some progress. I encouraged fellow legislators and leaders in Washington County and Hillsboro to use parts of the local government program called “Gain Share” to direct an additional $10 million to Washington County schools. This agreement will save teachers and school days.

Near the end of the session we passed a bill that will give school districts more flexibility and autonomy with the money they receive through their education services districts, clearing the way for more precious resources to be directed straight to more teachers and days. Another small step.

My goal was to make our schools better. I believe they’re better off now than they were. I wish I could declare a greater victory, but we haven’t solved our problems yet. Real progress will take nose to the grindstone work. We’ll keep working.

Fighting for our schools was job number one, and our work there is incomplete. So is the work on my other priority: creating jobs especially by promoting our rural and agricultural economies.

We did have clear victories on this front. I co-sponsored and championed bills that will help our rural and agricultural economy. My first-ever bill to receive the governor’s signature was one that will expand the customer base for farmers by allowing more people to use their state food benefits at the market. This bill is important because Congress can’t pass the Farm Bill, which means we need to create our own local authority for Oregon farmers.

Just this past week, we passed the “aggie bond” bill that will make it easier for startup and expanding farmers to get the loans they need. This will be a huge help in the capital-intensive world of startup farming. We also expanded the “farm to schools” program, and fully funded Oregon State’s extension services, which provide farmers and ranchers with critical technical assistance and innovative research solutions for the complex problems they face.

These are all very positive steps, but it’s not as if the economic plates shifted and every person looking suddenly has a job, but that is the goal. Moving forward, we have to think bigger about how we use our unique Oregon advantages of land, water and resources to create a vibrant rural economy that complements our growing industrial base — especially in Washington County.

I’ve learned a lot, made some progress, and I leave my first session determined to do better. There were too many good ideas and proposals left on the table. There were cuts to classrooms we couldn’t afford. But there was more than a glimmer of hope that we can work together, and I’d love for you to work with me. Email me about your solutions and ideas at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call and set up a time to talk.

It is my greatest honor to serve as the representative for all the good people of western Washington County. Let’s keep making this place better together.

State Rep. Ben Unger represents the 29th Legislative District, which includes parts of Hillsboro and Forest Grove, in the Oregon House of Representatives.




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