The 2017 Oregon Legislature starts on Feb. 1. Members have been sworn in, as have the people in five statewide offices. Bills have been introduced. Committees have been formed. The work is ready to begin.
Washington County lawmakers will have an outsized role in decision-making this session: The newly appointed treasurer, Tobias Read, is from Beaverton. The Senate's chief budget-writer, Sen. Richard Devlin, represents Tualatin. The Senate majority leader, Ginny Burdick, represents Tigard. Plus, local lawmakers hold chairmanships on committees ranging from education to health care to energy and the environment.
With the 2017 starter gun ready to fire, we offer these bits of advice for lawmakers:
-- Revenue: The state is looking at a $1.7 billion shortfall, and unlike the federal government, states cannot deficit-spend. Cuts alone won't balance the books. Voters in November turned down Ballot Measure 97, which would have increased sales taxes on major corporations doing business in Oregon, following organized opposition by the business community.
OK, Measure 97 is done. Now what? Those who fought against passage of the measure need to join the effort to increase revenue. That, historically, has been anathema for the Republican party.
But people of both parties can agree that Oregon's roads are crumbling and our schools are under-performing. We can make this another year in which we debate gutting social services or education, or we can make this a year in which we try to stop the bleeding and boost revenue.
We urge the latter path.
-- Transportation: It's in everyone's interests to improve highways and bridges in the state. But a proposal in 2015 to raise $343.5 million for highway and transit projects fell apart when Republicans tied it to renewal of the state clean fuels bill, which requires the reduction of carbon intensity of transportation fuel by 10 percent over 10 years.
Both issues should resurface in 2017: the need for major highway and transit projects, and GOP opposition to the clean fuels rule. These two issues share a false connection — they are linked only because Republicans say they are linked. There is no legal or scientific reason why they have to be.
And they shouldn't be. The Legislature originally approved the clean-fuels program in 2009 with a sunset clause for 2015. There is no evidence to suggest it has driven up fuel prices — which are driven by international economic models, and which have hovered at historic lows for a couple of years now. California has had a similar law for years with no measurable impact at the gas pump.
One thing Oregonians on the left and Oregonians on the right can agree on is this: The federal government isn't going to solve our transportation problems. The federal gas tax has been frozen at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1997, and the Highway Trust Fund teeters on the brink of bankruptcy every year. Oregonians, and Oregonians alone, will solve Oregon's transportation woes.
This has been a perennial priority for local elected officials in Washington County.
Republicans: The farmer in rural Oregon needs good roads to get goods to market. This is not an urban-versus-rural issue. Give up the false linkage between these vaguely related topics.
-- For more than a dozen years, all seven statewide offices (governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, commissioner of labor and industries, and two U.S. senators) have been held by Democrats. That changed when Republican Dennis Richardson was sworn in as secretary of state.
Throughout the last two decades, Republicans have had a notoriously weak bench of candidates for statewide office. Show of hands: who can name the GOP candidates for governor over, say, the last six elections? (They're Bud Pierce, Richardson, Chris Dudley — who fled the state after losing — Ron Saxton and Kevin Mannix.)
In fact, the last Republican to win statewide office before Richardson was Sen. Gordon Smith, who won re-election in 2002.
The state needs two strong parties. They balance each other. They allow for the highest number of Oregonians to be heard. We tend to forget that the grand majority of the bills that are passed by the Oregon Legislature each year have a bipartisan flavor. In this, Oregon is much better off than other parts of our nation, in which one party rules by fiat, and the other sits on the side and protests.
Bipartisanship is good. And we won't see much of it in Washington, D.C.
Oregon's way is better.