Senator promises to keep pushing for funding in Washington, D.C.

by: TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden speaks Monday during a Westside Economic Alliance forum in Tigard. Among other things, Oregon's senior senator pledged to push for reforms to Medicare when he returns to Washington, D.C. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden demonstrated his knowledge of federal, state and local issues during a wide-ranging appearance in Tigard last week before the Westside Economic Alliance.

Among other things, the Oregon Democrat promised to help secure federal funds to pay for safety repairs to Scoggins Dam, a key component of the county’s water supply system. It is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and creates Hagg Lake, which feeds the Tualatin River.

“Scoggins Dam is a federal facility that needs to be fixed,” Wyden said. “The uncertainty is taking a toll on economic development.”

He also pledged to seek out federal funds to ease traffic congestion in Washington County.

“Obviously, 50 years ago Sherwood was a hamlet and (Highway) 217 was a service street that started in Aurora,” Wyden told a crowd at the Embassy Suites. “Fields that were once home to new crops are now the site of businesses like Intel, Nike and others, and boundaries between Portland, Beaverton, Tigard and Tualatin are almost indistinguishable.”

All that growth has led to a fair amount of gridlock on the streets and highways, Wyden said, that need to be addressed.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in the infrastructure areas,” Wyden said. “The challenge is how do we pay for it? I can tell you that there are not a whole lot of rallies outside my office calling for an increase in the gas tax in this economy, and I’m sure county commissioners will tell you there aren’t a lot of rallies for additional revenue raising at the county level as well.”

Both Clackamas and Washington counties are considering imposing a motor vehicle registration fee of up to $34 a vehicle to help pay for infrastructure improvement, and Wyden said he would push for more help from the private sector to help pay for large projects — a plan he has used in the past.

In 2010, Wyden used the administration’s Build America Bonds program to raise money for infrastructure improvements. The bonds gave generous tax credits and subsidies to issuers and raised about $180 billion in bonds sold.

“(That program) established once and for all that the private sector is willing to step up and put dollars into the equation for a well-constructed program,” Wyden said. “My judgment is, once again, for some of those enormous sums sitting on the sidelines in the business sector, a well-constructed program using Build America Bonds, or a similar approach, might be the way to proceed.”

During a brief address and lengthy question-and-answer session, Wyden discussed a wide range of topics, including pushing the U.S. Department of Defense to buy and install more American-made solar panels — a move that would help support SolarWorld’s manufacturing plant in Hillsboro — and repeatedly stressed the need for Congress to find bipartisan solutions to the problems facing the country.

In recent days, Wyden has been most closely identified as a critic of the National Security Agency’s sweeping domestic surveillance program.

As a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Wyden has been a longtime critic of such programs, although he said he was prohibited from discussing them in detail. But now that former National Security Agency consultant Edward Snowden has revealed them, pressure is building on Congress to restrict them, he said.

Wyden predicted that Congress would soon act to scale back the programs to the original intent of the Patriot Act that authorized them. He said the act required the surveillance be in support of specific investigations, not simply the mass accumulation of all available telephone and Internet communications.

“As the terror alert over the weekend proved, the world is a dangerous place,” Wyden said. “But to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, those who are willing to trade liberty for security don’t deserve either.”

Wyden was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996. Before that he represented Oregon’s Third Congressional District from 1981 to 1996.

Westside Economic Alliance

Tigard Times reporter Geoff Pursinger contributed to this story.

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