Q & A

Editor's note: The Outlook held the following Q&A with the candidates for House District 49 — incumbent Rep. Matt Wand, R-Troutdale, and Domecratic challenger Chris Gosek.

We gave both candidates a limit of 200 words for responses to each question. Without exception, Gorsek stayed within that limitation. Wand, however, wrote longer than the word limit on some questions.

We pared these responses down to accommodate our limited space in the newspaper. But we have posted the full-length Q&A.

OUTLOOK: Describe your road map to consistent and adequate funding for Oregon’s schools.

GORSEK: First, we have to make funding education the top priority in the budget. Second, we must ensure efficiency within education. Fundamental staffing should be with teachers, teacher’s assistants, and the core administration. As a teacher, I have seen that too often money is spent on overly heavy administration costs, which we should reduce and transfer that money back to the classroom. Third, we need to evaluate whether the current tax expenditures given to companies are working as they were intended. For those that are not helping to create jobs here, we should sunset the tax breaks and put that money toward education. Lastly, I am in support of the corporate kicker being used to fund education rather than being given back to corporations, which will give us some funds to work with in order to enhance our education.

WAND: First, it requires political will. In the last session, Human Services took some reductions, but ultimately the education establishment did not advocate on its own behalf for adequate funding, choosing instead to compromise with Human Services with the current $5.9billion total package (base funding added to Education Stability Fund), and the only proposals from these groups for more money were from increased taxes. I asked many individuals in the education community to work with me on bills that would create private sector jobs as a means of reducing the burden on the Human Services budget and also as a means of increasing revenues without raising tax rates. They refused.

The path is to increase funding for education even if it means reductions in some other areas. At the same time, we must reduce the burden on Human Services and other budgets by aggressively creating private sector jobs in international trade, agriculture and natural resources, and light manufacturing. Raising tax rates did not stabilize our school funding, or our state economy in 2009. If raising taxes was a successful strategy in a recession then Oregon would have the best economy in the country. It doesn’t work, and Oregon does not have a strong economy. In addition, we need to make legal reforms to PERS that will reduce the burden on school boards as well as allowing local school districts to opt out of OEBB, which will substantially save them money that can be directed to students.

OUTLOOK: How will you make sure you represent the interests of a variety of constituents?

GORSEK: My experience as a police officer and now as a teacher at Mount Hood Community College has allowed me to work with people in our community from all different backgrounds. The classroom has always been a place of differing opinions, and my experience listening to students and working with fellow colleagues to find solutions to challenges is a skill and attribute I will take with me to Salem if elected as State Representative. In addition, I will continue to be a teacher at the college because that experience is what got me here and what I believe will continue to equip me in making decisions to better East County.

If elected, I will work hard to be accessible to East County residents. I will first arrange for public sessions to hear from constituents and continue these regular constituent meetings, which would ensure everyone has a chance to express their interests and concerns, and also allow me to answer any questions about the work of the state government. I also know the important role of local chambers of commerce and plan to attend whenever possible their meetings in order to hear from a diverse group of leaders in our business community.

WAND: The first strategy is to listen and be a part of the community. I meet with as many constituents as possible, as often as they ask. During the 2011 Regular Session I hosted and heavily advertised two in-person townhalls that were very well attended. I answered every question and stayed as long as anyone wanted to talk with me. I‘ve also hosted a telephone town hall discussion throughout my term and had thousands of people participate. In addition, my family and I stay active in our community and I participate as much as I can both during the session and when we are out of session. For me, the listening never stops. Neighbors email, call my personal cell phone (that I widely distribute), and see me at community events and meetings of non-profits and other community groups. It is a constant and ongoing effort to be a part of the community so that you are always exposed to your neighbors’ points of view and so that you are accurately reflecting what they want and need in their state representative. When conflicts arise, as they always do because no two people will always agree on every single issue, you have to balance the various interests and make the decision that, in your judgment, is best for your entire community and ultimately best for the state. The needs and input from all sides are valued by me.

OUTLOOK: List three things that need to happen in the Legislature to promote economic development within District 49 and the state as a whole.

GORSEK: We know that the state of our economy is connected to many things, especially education. We have to improve our education system for true economic growth, which means investing in Oregon’s community colleges and universities to ensure students have the ability to study, train, and update their skills to compete for good-paying jobs. It also means investing in transportation and infrastructure projects which will provide living wage jobs well into the future and make the state more attractive to companies looking to move here. Finally, we must help create Oregon jobs by making sure local companies get first crack at all state contracts, so our hard earned tax dollars create jobs here at home.

WAND: The Columbia River Crossing provides a substantial opportunity for jobs throughout our area. It is time to stop planning and arguing. After ten years and more than $150 million in planning and professional fees, it is time to agree on a funding plan and get started to work. This will be taken up by the legislature in November, and a decision announced in December at the earliest. Thousands of construction jobs will be created by this project in the short term and long term it will open up substantial industrial areas with freight capacity that is sorely needed for creation of permanent jobs.

Second, many of our small businesses do not have sufficient capital to expand. In a complex market, their customers can easily go elsewhere (on the internet or otherwise) if a small business is too busy or cannot accommodate their customers’ needs. So when capital is scarce, as it is now, small businesses stagnate when they would otherwise grow and create new jobs in our community. My Invest in Oregon Act is a limited duration reduction in long-term local capital gains tax rates that will create 1,000 new jobs in five years and has no reduced revenue impact in the next budget (in fact in the second year it increases revenues because of the jobs growth). This would help create additional capital opportunities for Oregon small businesses looking to expand.

Finally, it is time for people in our state to come to agreement on how to balance environmental protections with the economic needs of our struggling rural communities. For too long we have allowed trees to rot in the forest, Columbia River water to be used only by our neighbors to the north, and we have romanticized predators at the expense of livestock. All of this has created rural poverty and prevented rural Oregonians from being successful in their communities. Freeing them to work both increases income tax revenues and also reduces the burden on social services paid for by urban Oregonians whose jobs are not directly at risk by these policies.

OUTLOOK: What’s wrong/right with the Oregon tax system?

GORSEK: Income tax fluctuates too much, which makes funding state operations more difficult. When the economy slows, as we have seen over the last few years, the state receives less tax revenue, yet more state services are needed.

WAND: The Oregon tax system does not promote or encourage location of new businesses in our state or encourage enough Oregon-based businesses to grow jobs here at home. When businesses compare our tax system to Washington, from income taxes to the gross receipt tax, to property taxes and central assessment, Oregon is simply more expensive. The tax system effectively runs higher income people, retirees, and small business owners to other states if they can possibly move, leaving us without the benefit of their citizenship or their revenues. This ultimately hurts everyone. Decades of changes by initiative, band-aid changes, and tax policy changes (such as the gross receipts tax) made without adequate consideration for the larger economy and effect on jobs growth in our state have left a muddled mess. We can and must do better.

Some of the things that are correct include protections for people on fixed incomes and the senior property tax deferral program that I helped save from insolvency due to the 2009 and 2010 legislature revenue sweeps.

OUTLOOK: Name one bill that came from the opposing party in the last biennium that would have led you to break ranks with your caucus and vote with the other party.

GORSEK: There was a bill that republicans introduced that would have done away with government spending on things like billboards and other advertising, and reduced the number of public relations staffers within government agencies. It makes sense to me that in times like these when we should be trying to get every possible dollar into school classrooms to stop laying off teachers and overcrowding classrooms, which means we shouldn't be spending money on billboards and unnecessary public relations staff.

WAND: 1) I stood with homeowners and challenged the banks to push for reform of foreclosure laws - eventually succeeding in securing a revised bill that helps all Oregonians instead of the original proposal from the Senate that left many Oregonians without any help at all.

2) Rep. Garrett sponsored a bill in the Judiciary Committee that would have allocated unclaimed settlement proceeds from class-action lawsuits for use in funding legal aid and other programs. I supported this even though many in my party opposed it.

3) I would have voted in favor of more funding K-12 than what was ultimately enacted. In fact, I opposed the education budget because our schools need more than what it offered.

OUTLOOK: Describe why you agree, somewhat agree or disagree with this statement: The PERS retirement system needs revision.

GORSEK: I somewhat agree. I would be open to reviewing any state program including PERS. However, any proposed changes to PERS would have to be fair to the employees involved. It also must be legal, which is important in order to ensure we don’t waste taxpayer money fighting a losing battle in court. Finally, it must actually save the taxpayers money.

WAND: Every year local governments are required to fund the shortfall in PERS investments to guarantee a minimum rate of return even if the market does not provide those minimum returns for any other investors. This year, the PERS shortfall is a combined $900 million in the State of Oregon. Every jurisdiction, from schools to cities to counties and special districts must cut expenses in some way to budget for this increase even if revenues are not increasing. On this basis there is little doubt that the PERS retirement system needs to be reformed in some manner. Otherwise, many jurisdictions in our state are facing either bankruptcy or catastrophic loss of services. I support legal changes to PERS that will reduce this burden while preserving benefits for instate, modest income retirees who are relying on their fixed incomes.

OUTLOOK: Elaborate on which of these has caused the greatest harm to statewide education funding: powerful unions; measures 5, 47 and 50; or funding that is based on the whims of the economy (income tax)?

GORSEK: I believe the greatest harm has come from Measures 5, 47, and 50 because the result has been for education funding to be put at the whim of state funding cycles, and it has created an unbalanced property tax system. The solution is not going back to the way it was, but we added huge funding burdens to the state for schools and did nothing to offset that so now schools are fighting for funding every cycle and there is a serious lack of stability.

WAND: All three of them have formed a perfect storm resulting in inadequate education funding. We have seen unions, even in recession, strike in order to receive pay raises and other benefits even while knowing that to do so will require the likelihood of a shorter school year, larger class sizes, and/or reduced personnel in the classroom. Ballot Measure 5 ultimately resulted in equal funding throughout the state, which was a substantial benefit, but shifted school funding to income tax revenues. Ballot Measure 50 and 47 capped increases on assessed values, but frankly also prevented wide swings in revenue during the real estate bubble of the last ten years (imagine the cuts needed if assessed value was equal to fair market value with some properties decreasing by as much as 50%). Overreliance on the income tax and their uncertainty don’t help either and have led to painful budget cuts. All three created structural inadequacies that allow elected leaders to make excuses for giving short shrift to education funding. The only way to get to the right place with education funding is to make it the highest funding priority and have courage as elected leaders to fund education first - even if that means that the government cannot be all things to all people.

OUTLOOK: What was your reaction to the news last week the USS Ranger would be scrapped, and what do you think the next course of action should be? Do you propose an alternative to the Ranger?

GORSEK: I was disappointed but we must continue to look for alternatives. One option would be a visitors’ center in Troutdale that would help guide tourists to the many attractions in the area – Sandy River Gorge, Mt. Hood and the Columbia Gorge. Right now, there are a lot of local efforts but nothing that draws everything together in a coordinated way. I would love to see a Museum of the Gorge, which would explain the Missoula Floods, Oregon Trail Migration via the Columbia and the life of Native Americans on the river before Euro-American settlers arrived.

WAND: I was sorely disappointed. I have some understanding about the process, and the USS Ranger Foundation board has a plan of action that I support. It includes congressional intervention to delay and revisit the decision, a final approach to the railroad that is preventing the project from moving forward, and additional support from local jurisdictions including the City of Fairview and neighboring communities. I am not opposed to another similar ship and museum, but I believe it is premature to give up on Ranger.

OUTLOOK: Why are you the best person in this election to represent District 49?

GORSEK: I believe I have the right experience to fight for the priorities our community cares most about because they are my priorities as well. I have lived in East Multnomah County for much of my adult life. My past service as a police officer has given me real world experience and an understanding for the struggles people face every day in our community. For the last 16 years, I have been teaching criminal justice and geography at Mount Hood Community College, and raising my two kids with my wife in Troutdale.

Teaching has given me the great opportunity of getting to know our community from the strength of our students, most of which are working hard trying to get ahead; to the shortfalls we face in providing education that truly equips our students to compete for good paying jobs. For too long the corporate and special interests have come before the concerns of people in East County, and I am running to change that. I will work hard every day for better schools and more opportunities for good paying jobs in our area. And I will always put the concerns of my neighbors and friends in East County first.

WAND: I think I am the best person because of the hard work I have done – and will always do – for the people of East County. From working with local community and business leaders to create jobs to bipartisan efforts to improve our schools and keep local families safe, I feel that I have been on the job for East County. I have proven my ability to work across party lines to build relationships that are delivering results for our community. I am also listening carefully to our neighbors - taking their feedback and viewpoints and pushing for reforms that make East County a better place to live and work. In fact, I was criticized by one liberal news publication for thinking that our area is the center of the universe. But, that’s a bit of an honor to me. I can’t think of a better thing to be criticized for than standing up for the people of East County.

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