By Lori Chavez-DeRemer
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 Employees 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 generations to try. PERS employees have contracts 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, due mostly to expansion of Medicaid and growth in personnel and PERS costs. The state's budget deficit comes at a time when we have record growth and record expenditures. A solution to balancing the budget is simple, and we do it annually in Happy Valley. 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 education courses. Governor Kate Brown is breaking that promise as well by not pledging to fully fund it.
Transportation: 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 special interests derail priorities. One of our state representatives held a transportation town hall in Happy Valley, only to walk away telling us there is a need. We know that. 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 losing $1,400 a year due to time spent in traffic, according to one recent study by Inrix, a transportation analytics firm. 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 has been mayor of Happy Valley since 2011.
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