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Johnson, King talk accomplishments, shortfalls, goals at Chamber's quarterly Grow With Us luncheon

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Rep. Mark Johnson and Sandy Mayor Bill King gave updates and fielded questions from chamber members at the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce's Grow With Us Luncheon on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Several Sandy movers and shakers came out to the Chamber's Grow With Us Luncheon last week, including Rep. Mark Johnson from Hood River and Mayor Bill King, who both gave updates on what their constituencies have going on.

Sandy's own fire chief Phil Schneider also made an appearance to accept the department's newest accolade: the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce's Sandy Area Sensational Business award.

The fire district was up for the award alongside nominees Mountain Moka and The Sandy Post. The nominations period for the next quarter's award opened Monday, Aug. 28, on the chamber's website, sandyoregonchamber.org.

Mayor Bill King spoke about the plethora of projects the city has in the works, and the "significant changes in department heads" that have occurred in the past year.

"Lots of new faces, but I'm happy to report that the transition in personnel has been very seamless," King said. "I think things are getting better actually — if that was even possible — so I'm very happy with the way things are going."

He was equally optimistic about the city's ongoing rebranding initiative. He couldn't divulge much about the direction the committee in charge of the project has taken, but he did say "We're looking to really jazz up and excite people about Sandy."

"It's much more than just a logo and a tagline," he added. "We want to make something that says 'Sandy. This is us.' We want something that not only the city can use, but the business community as well, so we're going to build partnership. There's some really exciting stuff coming out."

The mayor also boasted about the city's recent urban growth boundary (UGB) expansion, which has garnered quite a bit of respect from other groups and local governments, such as 1,000 Friends of Oregon, which even wrote a letter in support of the city's plans. The conservation group has not been known as a great supporter of similar projects in the past, but Sandy was an exception.

"We involved people early on," King noted. "We asked ourselves: 'Who can oppose this? Who can give us grief on our way to what we want to end up with?' … The city's been very proactive with working with people. That is one of the just shining examples that I'm very proud of."

Johnson himself added his own praise of the effort, before diving into his own update about the recent legislative session.

The legislative session which ended July 8 was one Johnson characterized as "one of missed opportunities."

Of utmost importance on this session's agenda was the state's budget, which started with a deficit of $1.8 billion.

"The irony of course, at the same time the economy is going through the roof," he explained. "Oregon's economy is producing revenues (and) our employment rate is at an all-time low right now. ... We have cost drivers that are greatly responsible for that deficit."

In the time Johnson has been in office, he said the size of the state budget has increased by 40 percent. PERS, he added, is a significant contributor to this issue. At the moment, the PERS reserve is in the red by $25 billion.

"Our benefits are generous," he said. "This problem is not going to peak for another three biennium," after which the representative noted it probably won't get better, but perhaps just level out.

Also a topic of discussion for the Legislature was Measure 97: a gross receipts tax, which voters turned down in the last election. Legislators analyzed Ohio's tax system as a model. A gross receipts tax is like a sales tax, but imposed on the seller rather than the buyer of a commodity.

"(In Ohio) everybody has a little skin in the game, and you'd have a more broad-based source of revenue that isn't so cyclical as Oregon can be," Johnson admitted. "We're pretty much based on income tax rates — corporate income tax, personal income tax. And, when things are going good like they are now — we have two chickens in every pot — the economy slows down and suddenly we get impacted by a debt, whereas some states don't. ... At the end of the day, that issue died in its complexity. ... You just can't do all of this in a short five-month session."

One major effort that Johnson supported and did in fact pass was House Bill 2998. The bill, explained Johnson, aims to make it easier for students transferring from a community college to a university by establishing a set of curricula, which will be universally transferable.

"It's lost credit (and) it's lost time," he added. "It does nothing good for anybody. ... (We're) going to bring our community college, university folks together. We're going to sit down in a room for however long it takes and agree on a bucket of credits."

As for the future, Johnson suspects "you're going to see a lot of ballot measures ... PERS reform on the ballot." He also said the state's new transportation package could mean good things for places like Sandy.

"The good thing about this package is ... half of the money comes back to local jurisdictions: counties and cities," he explained. "You know how to spend your money as well as anybody. ... The gas tax is becoming a less and less of an effective means of raising money for transportation, because we're using fewer gallons of fuel."

With this package, Sandy is expected to receive $269,000 a year for 10 years because of fuel tax increases. Tolling was also offered as an answer to transportation funding needs. Johnson explained that the areas expected to see tolling would be "a way to make those folks who live in more congested areas pay more percentage of the costs that will relieve that congestion.

"Why should people in Baker and Burns have to pay for widening roads in Portland?" he asked.

The chamber's Grow With Us Luncheons take place every quarter and include a catered lunch and a special speaker.

For more information on the chamber's upcoming events and efforts, call 503-668-4006 or visit sandyoregonchamber.org.

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