Lots of issues are on Oregon's plate in 2014
Will Oregonians ever grow weary of John Kitzhaber as governor? His desire to seek an unprecedented fourth term in office provides an opportunity for voters to assess just what the state can accomplish in the next several years.
Kitzhaber's announcement that he will seek re-election - which was hardly a surprise - came on the same day as the annual Oregon Business Plan's Leadership Summit at the Oregon Convention Center. The governor also was keynote speaker at that gathering, and he has embraced the business summit's stated goals, which include smart public policies such as strengthening rural economies to benefit the entire state.
The business plan's policy playbook could, in fact, serve as the legislative agenda for any candidate - Democrat or Republican. That's because it has been developed using a nonpartisan approach and with voluminous input from the very business leaders who are creating and sustaining jobs in Oregon.
As the 2014 election approaches, we hope to see a vigorous challenge to Kitzhaber from whoever becomes his Republican opponent. Oregon benefits from a competitive race that features a healthy exchange of ideas and inspired debate. Yet, no matter who is elected, we also expect that the state's economic agenda will retain some consistency.
The Oregon Business Plan has helped the state make steady progress in the past decade on issues that are of direct concern to the economy. In 2013, for example, the business plan's three top goals were to fix the Public Employees Retirement System, invest wisely in education and build the Columbia River Crossing.
The Legislature responded positively - if not always completely - to all three of those imperatives. At the recent business summit, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney - both Democrats - appeared alongside Republican leaders Sen. Ted Ferrioli and Rep. Mike McLane to discuss how they were able to cooperate in both the regular 2013 session and a fall special session to accomplish shared goals.
As the 2014 legislative session approaches, the Oregon Business Plan again has identified strategies for continuing the state's economic progress, including:
-- Replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River. Despite the Washington Legislature's unwillingness to go along with the Columbia River Crossing as designed, Kotek and others made it clear the matter is not closed. The Legislature is likely to pursue an Oregon-only financing package that will qualify for the federal dollars needed to complete the bridge.
-- Addressing the need to invest in other forms of infrastructure - not just one bridge project. These other priorities include university research centers, road and transit improvements, energy production and transmission, and water and sewer facilities.
-- Making sure students and workers receive the education and training necessary to meet the requirements of current and future employers. Too many people in Oregon are earning less than they should because they lack the skills that would land them a better-paying job.
-- Helping to revive rural Oregon's economy by unlocking natural resources and allowing those communities to grow their own economies through expanded timber harvests and farming.
This latter priority is one that receives too little attention in the region. As Ferrioli pointed out, however, the entire Portland area has a great deal to gain from a stronger rural economy.
Thousands of port-related jobs in the region depend on the export of agricultural products such as wheat from Eastern Oregon. Also, if rural communities generate more jobs and income taxes, that will mean more school funding for all of Oregon.
These issues should be important to all candidates for governor next year, but the 2014 Oregon Legislature and current governor must pursue these goals in the meantime.