Friends and Neighbors:
The 2017 Legislative Assembly has finished. We balanced a two-year budget, passed a massive transportation package, secure healthcare for over 350,000 Oregonians who may be at risk because of the shenanigans in Congress, established new protections for workers, and kept faith with the voters – voters who asked for more funding for innovative education, veterans outreach and services, and for K-12 workforce preparation.
In truth, this Legislative Session was a hard, long slog. We fought for greater protections for our environment, renters, and for working families. We won some big victories, small victories, and we found a way to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of a $1.6 Billion difference between baseline services costs and projected revenues. Most of this gap was eliminated through reduced baseline services, and improving revenue forecasts.
Ultimately, we prioritized K-12 funding, implemented an innovative strategy for healthcare availability, and made minor tweaks in existing fees and taxes. In simplest terms, we did the best we could with what we had. It was a divisive, often frustrating session. But given the circumstances I am proud of the outcome, and certain Oregon is better off because of the work accomplished.
Despite our progress, many of us remain focused upon the work left undone – we are cognizant of the inherent and unavoidable challenges facing us because of our ageing and misaligned tax structure. We need comprehensive reform of our tax system, and we failed to overhaul it: we were just one vote short – one senator – from securing revenue stability as well as sustainability.
After nearly two years of compromise, development, and discussions we crafted a model (based upon Ohio and Washington) that will promote small business growth, improve fairness for taxpayers, and provide certainty – for all. This strategy will give our private industry and our public service providers increased stability and sustainability over time.
Together we fashioned a plan for Oregon; together we shall continue to build support for the comprehensive reforms necessary for keeping faith with the next chapter of our Oregon Story.
On a personal note, I am grateful for all who played a role in making the 2017 Legislative Session my best, so far. It was an honor to be asked to chair a committee; a responsibility I took seriously. And as the chair of the House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness, I led an eight-member committee (4 Democrats, 4 Republicans) that completed our work without a single "nay" vote: a testimony of what open, bipartisan discussion can accomplish.
It was an honor to work with my counterpart in the Senate, Senator Brian Boquist, on facilitating a strategic investment plan for veterans' outreach and services. Together we worked with the Ways and Means Committee, and our respective party leaders, to protect the $18.7 Billion in anticipated Lottery Revenues associated with the passage of Ballot Measure 96 in the 2016 General Election.
Given the $1.6 Billion budget gap we started with, and the Governor's earlier budget recommendations, we faced a steep climb. However, Legislators from both parties made veterans funding a priority, and we found a way to get the job done. In the end. $47 Million will be spent on providing veterans housing, expanding outreach, and improving services. A historic investment more than doubling the investment in the previous biennium.
We were also successful in securing capital investments for seismic preparedness: HB 2687 will provide $ 5 Million for pre-disaster placement of critical equipment; HB 3427 will improve safety at privately owned dams; and HB 2140 establishes a new requirement for home owners to disclose seismic risk. Our committee made real progress, and our Interim Work Groups will continue the work.
This session was remarkable for local progress as well. Within the transportation package we secured $60 Million for seismic upgrading the Center Street Bridge; increased support for Salem-Keizer Transit District restoring evening and weekend services; and expanded "safe routes to schools" sustainability. The Legislature also included a $ 1 Million award of Lottery Bonding for the completion of the Independence Landing park complex project. These critical investments will transform economic opportunities throughout our community.
In addition to economic development, we passed a few bills targeting specific problems for our friends and neighbors: HB 3409 will help resolve issues with the US Government over foreign students who study in Oregon; HB 2022 tax clarity for small business owners; public bonding for an improved Salem YMCA facilities, and HB 3067 establishes a pilot "Court Care" program for parents during court proceedings in Marion and Polk Counties.
Now that we have concluded the work of the session it is time to share what we accomplished, to pass along lessons we learned during the process, and to listen to what we need to be working on in the coming months. It is my sincere hope that this brief update has helped explain at least some of what happened, and why. I look forward to our upcoming forum and town halls – and hope you can find time to participate.
Paul L. Evans
House District 20