I commend the Lake Oswego Review for last week's editorial calling for voters to ask candidates for real specifics, not platitudes. As a Democratic candidate for state representative in this district (38), I have been campaigning on a very specific platform, and I welcome the chance to share it here. Below I address the issues posed by your editorial:
Oregon's tax structure. Comprehensive tax reform must be one of the Legislature's top priorities in 2009. Oregon has the most unstable revenue structure in the nation. This is attributable to our excessive reliance on a single source of revenue, the state income tax, which makes Oregon uniquely vulnerable to economic swings. Voters will hear a lot of talk about 'fixing' our problems by repealing the corporate kicker and raising the corporate minimum tax. I support both of these concepts, but any candidate who believes this is enough to solve Oregon's structural deficit is not facing the facts. Our tax structure has systemic problems that require comprehensive change. A legislative commission has been appointed to study precisely that, and the 2009 Legislature needs to be ready to act. This will take political courage. The best predictor of political courage in Salem is political courage in the campaign. I am the only candidate in this race who has been willing to say publicly that Oregon needs to consider all major options, including a sales tax. Whether I will ultimately support a sales tax depends on a number of factors (such as easing the potential impact on low-income Oregonians), but I am not willing to rule it out just because it is controversial.
As a product of Oregon's public schools, I am as committed as anyone to ensuring that we provide our children with a strong education. I would love to see us appropriate the amount of money called for by the state's Quality Education Commission. But these extra billions of dollars are simply not available within our existing revenue structure without devastating cuts to services for the sick, the mentally ill, abused children, and other vulnerable Oregonians. To make more classroom dollars available, we need to tackle Oregon's structural problems by enacting (1) major revenue reform, and (2) health care reform aimed at lowering the cost of all public sector programs, including education.
Oregon loses hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity because of our inadequate transportation infrastructure. We have an enormous backlog of deferred maintenance to existing roads and bridges, to say nothing of the new and costly projects needed to accommodate Oregon's expected population growth. Federal transportation dollars are drying up at the same time that infrastructure costs like steel are rapidly rising. In my campaign, I am talking openly about the need to consider a range of funding sources, from a gas tax increase, to tolls, to congestion-based pricing. This will not be an easy discussion, but we cannot afford to avoid this issue.
One in six Oregonians has no health insurance. The ramifications of this coverage gap are well known. We must move toward universal access. I will support legislation to lower health care costs by requiring more transparency and accountability from providers, by improving preventive care to promote better health, and by allowing individuals and businesses to pool their purchasing dollars. We spend about $17 billion on health care in Oregon. I am not sure we need to spend more in order to improve the quality of our system. We need to spend our money differently. I am actively following the work of the Oregon Health Fund Board under Senate Bill 329 and look forward to acting on its proposals in 2009.
Oregon needs real leadership, and that means being willing to speak some difficult truths. The Review and its readers are absolutely right to demand specifics from candidates. Every voter should demand the same.
For more information on my campaign, please visit www.chrisfororegon.com .
Chris Garrett, Lake Oswego, is a Democrat candidate for House District 38.