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Portland's mayor says urban/rural divide untenable

Mayor Vera Katz visited Prineville and spoke to the Chamber of Commerce's Tuesday morning meeting on the state of the state from a Portland viewpoint
To make everything clear, Portland's mayor, Vera Katz told her early morning audience that "I'm not running for governor." Katz, appearing at this week's Public Affairs Forum, talked about the urban-rural divide; the Portland/Metro area and the rest of the state.
   This is a misunderstanding that should be cleared up. "There is great sensitivity around the entire state about the urban/rural divide," she said. "It is a misunderstanding that separates us, and we should understand it."
   Portland metro area is made up of five counties, Katz explained, and for the sake of her arguments, those counties make up the state's urban sector. Throughout the state, she continued to explain, there are a number of myths that exist in people's minds that perpetuate the divisiveness. They range from the perception that Portland's school district drains the majority of the state's school funds to the light rail system taking away transportation funds. Those are myths, the mayor claimed and went on to explain that they are really challenges. The perception, she added, is not perpetuated by the majority of Oregonians.
   On her list, myth number one is that since the 1980s nearly all job growth has been in the Portland area. Not true, Katz said. "In the 1980s and '90s, there were 250,000 more new jobs in the rural part of the state than in the Metro area. In 1982, rural employment grew faster than in the rest of the nation. But it never regained what it lost after the decline of the timber industry."
   During those years, Oregon enjoyed the third best economic growth rate in the nation. That is no longer true, she said. "But all this has changed," Katz said, adding that in Portland, "we've lost thousands and thousands of jobs. City revenues have declined. Who is your telephone service provider," she asked the audience?
   Being told Qwest, she nodded and continued. "Based on a Washington state court, Qwest has decided not to pay its franchise fees. It will end up in the supreme court, but now I had to develop a balanced budget and make up the $6 million shortfall that the franchise fees represented. Neither Portland nor Prineville is collecting that franchise money.
   "The economic future of the state is linked," she said, "we're all in it together. It's just a matter of numbers."
   The question of poverty is myth number two. "The myth is that sixty percent of Oregon's poor live outside Portland. The biggest challenge for us is Portland's urban renewal program, the mayor stated. When the light rail went in, communities were disrupted and then rents went up, prices went up and people moved out. It)s called 'gentrification'. Every big city has this problem and haven't come up with an answer. The challenge is closing the gap between the rich and the poor. We have it, and you have it here."
   One answer, Katz claimed, is to "be relentless about keeping our children in school. Make sure they can read at the third-grade level. We must maintain our high academic standards, and provide our children with an education. Whether they go on to college or not, they must be educated or trained for today's jobs and tomorrow's economy."
   Myth number three: The state government takes dollars from rural communities to pay for services in the Metro area.
   "Portland's taxes support services throughout the state," Mayor Katz claimed. "In 1996, 54 percent of the state taxes came from Portland; 40 percent came back. It's the same with the lottery money and the gas tax. But that's okay, because this is one Oregon."
   Number four: The state's economic development benefits Portland over rural Oregon - urban Oregon gets big tax dollars and rural Oregon gets nothing.
   "Eighty-six percent of all economic development dollars go outside the Portland area," Katz said. "Remember Senate Bill 100? It set urban growth boundaries. That kept Portland strong because it kept jobs there, it didn't let them go out and expand into the farming areas.," she explained.
   Another myth is that Portland doesn't care for its environment, and that's not true, the mayor said. "Before I came into office, the courts ordered the city to clean up the Willamette River. We are on track. It has cost $1 billion so far. Every year we raise sewer rates 10 to 15 percent to pay for it. This means bigger sewer pipes and more treatment plants. It also is being done the )green) way. New buildings with no down spouts that dumps rainwater onto parking lots - lots of green technology."
   Building and development plans, she added, have strict environmental requirements.
   The future of the entire state, Katz concluded, will see major challenges, as it changes from a resource base economy. "We've seen a decline in wages and absent a stable economy in our area will cause a decline all over our state. It is time that we join together," she told the morning audience, "and focus to find a solution that can be accepted statewide so we can protect God's country. So we Portlanders can come out here, because your God's country is more beautiful than our God's country."