Rep. Rich Vial: Bipartisan leadership accomplished much
At the time of my election to the Oregon Legislature last November, I was not sure what to expect of the culture in Salem. Now that the 2017 regular session has adjourned, I must say that I am genuinely impressed by the degree of thoughtfulness and dedication displayed by my legislative colleagues in both chambers. While I may not always agree with many of them on certain policies, I have never doubted their intentions to do well by the communities they represent.
One credit to lawmakers this session was their ability to pass several meaningful, bipartisan pieces of legislation. I am particularly proud of my work with Representative Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley) on House Bill 3267, which will make it easier for foster, homeless and runaway students to obtain high school diplomas. I am also pleased by the Legislature's work on HB 2005, the Oregon Equal Pay Act, which passed unanimously in both chambers after Republicans and Democrats came together to make the bill more inclusive. Time and again this session, legislators on both sides of the aisle rose above party lines when it was the right thing to do.
The Legislature's most important accomplishment this year, however, was the transportation package, or HB 2017. This legislation will inject $5.3 billion into fixing our roads and bridges and investing in multimodal projects around the state over the next 10 years. The package will also hold the Department of Transportation more accountable and move us closer to a user-pay system that has proven successful in other parts of the world. Although the package will not solve all our transportation woes, particularly on Portland's west side, it is a crucial first step.
More important than what is in the package, however, is the process by which the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization came to propose it. Last year, members of that committee traveled around the state to hear directly from Oregonians about their transportation priorities. Although I was not a member of that committee, I attended all but a few of their meetings this session and can report that the feedback they received around the state was carefully considered at every step in the process. While the final bill was much smaller than I initially hoped, it is a product of necessity, practicality and compromise. In the end, it passed both chambers with bipartisan support.
This is not to say, of course, that the Legislature did not miss important opportunities this session. Although the state had $1 billion more than it did last biennium, lawmakers started the session with a $1.8 billion gap between what was available and what was needed to maintain current service levels. In other words, state spending is increasing far more rapidly than revenues are growing. Recognizing that Oregonians would not accept additional taxes without efforts to show fiscal responsibility, Republicans put forward a plan that entailed setting a goal for economic growth and committing to achieving that goal before considering strategic revenue increases. While that proposal was largely ignored by those in power, revenue will continue to be a contentious issue in the future. It is my hope that House and Senate leadership will learn from the inclusive, bipartisan process that produced the transportation package when tackling this issue. Paying off our state's growing PERS liability, among other things, will depend on it.
Rep. Rich Vial of Scholls is a Republican
whose district includes Sherwood, King City and Tigard's River Terrace area.