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Session wrap: Local legislators share thoughts

Johnson, Witt praise education spending


The legislative session in Oregon ended Monday, July 8, and Columbia County’s state senator and representative expressed satisfaction with much of lawmakers’ work this year.

Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose and Rep. Brad Witt of Clatskanie, both Democrats, heralded the huge education budget to which the Legislature agreed as a sign Oregon is serious about “reinvestment” in its public schools. The $6.55 billion contribution to the State School Fund for the 2013-15 biennium is the largest in state history.

“We have begun to reverse the disinvestment in education that has gone on for, oh, the last 10 years,” Johnson said. “I was very pleased to support the highest number in history.”

“I think that it was a session that will probably best be remembered for the money that we have reinvested in the education of the state,” Witt said. “We defunded education for the better part of a decade, and we turned the corner and have actually added back a billion dollars over the previous two sessions and invested the largest amount of money we have ever had in the state of Oregon.”

Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber has vowed to improve Oregon’s education system, making it a top priority during his third term in office. The state consistently ranks near the bottom in most comparisons of states’ school systems, coming in at 42nd out of 51 (including the District of Columbia) on Education Week’s “state report cards” earlier this year.

I agree with the governor when he announces his philosophy ... that with education, from early learning all the way through college and career, you put in place the recipe for a vibrant economy,” Johnson said.

Witt echoed the senator’s sentiments.

“Those dividends are going to pay off handsomely for us,” said Witt.

But overall, Johnson gave the legislative session a mixed review.

“I think that this legislative session perhaps started out with more promise than it ended up with,” Johnson said, noting that plans for a “grand bargain” on taxes and public employee pensions “never came together.”

She added, however, “There will be that school of thought that says it was a big missed opportunity, and then there’s another school of thought that says that we did pretty well.”

Witt attributed the Legislature’s ability to craft generous but balanced budgets to the ongoing economic recovery in Oregon.

“The nice thing, and I think we’re seeing that across our state as the economy begins to pick up, not only are individual families able to afford many of those things that they’ve had to put off for the past half-decade or so, but the same is true for virtually every level of government. And I am quite certain that, had the economy not picked up, we could not have afforded the additional billion-dollar investment in education,” said Witt.

“It’s a reflection that things are picking up generally in the state, and I think the investment that we made here today is going to have large payoffs.”