Oregon City Club of Portland Speech 2007

PORTLAND, Ore., April 6 - Following is the text of Gov. Ted Kulongoski's 2007 address to the City Club of Portland.

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Thank you Susan for your generous introduction.  And thanks to the members of the City Club of Portland for giving me this opportunity to talk about the 2007 legislative session.
If the session were a football game, Coach Kulongoski would be heading for the locker room to give his halftime speech.  The session is going well enough that I wouldn’t need to quote Casey Stengle, who famously asked, “Doesn’t anyone know how to play this game?” But I’d have in the back of my mind Knute Rockne’s quote that, “One loss is good for the soul, too many losses is not good for the coach.”  In the end, I’d probably resort to quoting Yogi Berra who – when he was managing the Mets back in 1973 – summed up the 2007 session with these words:  “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Actually 1973 is a very good place to begin my remarks because the session that year was one of the most productive in Oregon history.  The changes we made then continue to benefit the people of Oregon.  Everything from land use planning to laws requiring open meetings and access to public records.
The question – and challenge today – I put before the Legislature and the public is this:  What will Oregonians 30 years from now say about the 2007 session?
That we chose mediocrity – when we could have chosen excellence? 
That we were satisfied with getting by – when we could have insisted on getting better?
That we walked away from our responsibilities and left a legacy of unsolved problems – when we could have moved Oregon forward and left a legacy of solutions.
Perhaps four years ago, getting by – or finding ways to do more with less – was all that could be expected.  But not now.  With the session at its midpoint – and both parties, both houses, and both leadership teams – planning their second half moves, there are two possible futures for this session.
One is a vision of partisan bickering, opportunities squandered, and dreams dashed.  The other is a vision of hope – where this great moment of opportunity becomes Oregon’s longest and strongest period of prosperity. 
In the first, politics stymie policy.  The budget is treated as a zero sum game.  Progress grinds to a halt.  And critical bills affecting our economy, the health of our children, and the preservation of Oregon’s quality of life are left on the table as legislators rush to get out of town by July 1st..
In the second, we seize the opportunity presented by a stronger economy, increased revenues, and the backlog of priorities that a recession prevented us from addressing.  And in doing so, we make the 2007 legislative session not just a winner – but one we will look back on and say:  great job!
We can seize this moment of opportunity.  But only if the public becomes the 12th player on the team – and joins us on the field.  That means being a cheering, demanding, and noisy crowd that makes its voice heard inside those thick walls of the capitol.  You’re the citizens.  You know where Oregon needs to invest.  But the fact is:  The Legislature doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
So I say to you:  Set the bar high, demand accountability – and tell everyone in Salem, and that includes me:  Between now and sine die,  think of our children, think of our future – do what is best for Oregon.
Teams deserve recognition when they’re scoring points.  And I can tell you that the Democratic leadership team is delivering.  They’ve changed the philosophy in Salem from:  “Let’s get as little done as possible” to “Let’s get as much done as possible!
But the Democratic leadership is not doing this alone.  Many times since January, I’ve seen a spirit of cooperation much like I remember when I was in the Legislature 30 years ago.  Nevertheless, at mid-session we face this question:  Is the wind at our back – pushing us toward a budget that invests in renewable energy, health care, our State Police and education?
Or has the wind shifted – slackening our sails and leaving us dead in the water?  The next three months will tell.  But this much is certain:  The Legislature has already achieved one major accomplishment – using the corporate kicker to seed Oregon’s first Rainy Day Fund.
Today, Oregon has a roof over its head.  That roof is hundreds of millions of dollars – in the bank, locked away and available when the next economic storm rolls in.  I have also signed a bill that will create a common health insurance pool for all 198 school districts in Oregon. 
The adage – attributed to none other than Calvin Coolidge – is true:  Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.  This is the third straight session that I’ve asked the Legislature to take this sensible step to reduce health care costs – and make our schools more efficient and accountable.  They’ve done it – and every child and taxpayer in Oregon will benefit.
As for measures that have passed at least one chamber, and will likely reach my desk – here are a few highlights.  Bills to cap fees at check-cashing stores, extend payday-lending regulations to cover out-of-state and Internet lenders, and to regulate car title loans have all passed the House.  They should become law – as should a bill that establishes a one-stop, statewide, electronic permitting system. 
Companion bills that will create Domestic Partnerships – and ban discrimination in employment and housing against gays and lesbians – are moving through the Legislature.
Together these bills are the biggest step toward equality for all Oregonians that we have taken in at least three decades.  Let this be the year when we do what’s right, decent, fair – and best for Oregon.
If this session was a hike up a snow-capped mountain, we’d be standing at the timberline, a long way from where we started – but also a long way from the summit.  To reach that summit, we have four steep climbs ahead of us.
They are:  Make Oregon the leader in alternative and renewable energy. 
Provide affordable health care coverage to Oregon’s uninsured children – and add more working Oregonians to the Oregon Health Plan. 
Restore 24/7 patrols for the Oregon State Police.
And make the critical investments we need to give Oregon the best educated, best skilled, best trained workforce in America.  In other words, invest in the Oregon Education Enterprise, which provides adequate and stable funding from pre-school to graduate school.
A former Chinese leader used to say – it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. 
My budget makes proposals for critical investments in these four issues.  If the Legislature wants to follow a different path to reach the same destination, I welcome the opportunity to see what they come up with, and to negotiate in good faith so that – together – we really can leave a legacy of solutions.
The co-chairs budget, which the public is getting its first close look at, aligns with my budget in many ways.  But in important respects, it veers off course and will leave Oregon with an economy less competitive than it could be; thousands of Oregon children more at risk from illness than they should be; and families and students paying higher tuition than they need to be.
Here is how I’m proposing to meet the four goals I mentioned – starting with making Oregon a leader in renewable energy.
When it comes to ramping up green technology and dealing with climate change – the science is ahead of the policy, and in Oregon the public is ahead of both the science and the policy.  Oregonians know this problem cannot be ignored.  They know that switching to clean energy is an economic winner.  And they know that leading on this issue is who we are as a people.  That’s why this session I put forward a strong package of legislation that focuses on sustainable technologies and renewable energy.
I’ve proposed the most ambitious Renewable Portfolio Standard in the nation:  25-percent of Oregon’s electricity coming from renewable energy sources by 2025.  Establishing an RPS is the best way to grow a sustainable economy, and it will give predictability to the many businesses and individuals who want to invest in our energy future.  A separate biofuels package creates new incentives for consumers and producers of biofuels. 
Other energy and climate change bills that I proposed – or have my support – include:
Expanding the business energy tax credit, reducing greenhouse gases to below what they were in 1990, investing in wave technology, and tax incentives to retrofit dirty diesel engines.  Together, these bills will cut our dependence on foreign oil and strengthen our economy.  They deserve bi-partisan support – and a quick trip to my desk for signature.
Earlier this week I sent a letter to Senators Bates and Westlund – and former Governor Kitzhaber – about their proposal for a Healthy Oregon.
I support many aspects of their reforms that are designed to expand coverage, control costs, increase access and improve care.  But I think a note of caution is in order on two fronts.  First, we cannot afford to abandon one of the pillars of our existing system – employer-financed health care coverage. 
And second, we have to be careful not to overreach and ignore what we can – and should – do now:  Provide affordable health insurance for the children of Oregon.
I intend to find ways to reconcile recommendations from my Health Policy Commission with the ideas of Senators Bates and Westlund – and former Governor Kitzhaber. 
But in the meantime, let’s solve – in this session – those pieces of the health care crisis for which there are attainable solutions.  That means investing 45-million dollars in state funds to leverage 67-million in federal dollars – which will put 15,000 working Oregonians back on the Oregon Health Plan.
It means expanding the Oregon Prescription Drug Program to include private employers.
And most important, it means making sure that every Oregon child – up to age 19 – has health insurance.  The policy debate on this is over.  Everyone agrees that insuring children is not only the morally correct thing to do, it is the economically smart thing to do.
So what’s the hang up?  I want to raise tobacco taxes up to the level in Washington State, and use the additional dollars to cover 117,000 uninsured children in Oregon. 
This is my Healthy Kids Initiative.
My proposal will save lives, reduce health care costs, and increase opportunity for our children.  Healthy kids mean better students and better students mean better citizens.  Legislators should stop listening to the tobacco companies – and start listening to their consciences and the vast majority of Oregonians.  To the Legislature I say - pass Healthy Kids now!
Rebuilding the capacity of the Oregon State Police is another policy goal that brings cries of “me too” – but so far has not brought a solution.        The time is past for restoring 24/7 patrols on Oregon’s major highways.  The OSP is a far smaller force than it used to be – while our population is far larger than it used to be. 
This cannot continue.  My proposal was an assessment on auto insurance.  I hear voices in the Legislature saying, “No way.”  I have always been open to other plans.  What I’m not open to is leaving the OSP short staffed and without a predictable source of revenue.
The Oregon State Police is the one state agency whose job is to protect each and every one of us.  These courageous troopers are dedicated to us.  The least we can do is find a dedicated source of funding for them – and their families.
Every lawyer knows that definitions matter.  When I talk about education – I mean the continuum of education that starts at pre-K and moves to K through 12, and then community colleges, four-year institutions, and workforce training.
Having a first-rate education system will be the difference between winning and losing in the global marketplace.  Between attracting new businesses – and saying goodbye to existing businesses.  Between keeping our best and brightest young minds here – and watching them leave Oregon for opportunities elsewhere.  Between a state that has revenue to pay for other critical needs – and a state that can’t fulfill its solemn obligation to protect the health, safety, and future of the people of Oregon.  So getting education right – as I’ve defined it – matters to Oregon – and to every Oregonian.
That is why I asked for a dramatic expansion of Head Start, so that when children enter K through 12, they’re ready to read and ready for school.  As for K through 12, I’ve said many times that I favor a budget as close to 6.3-billion as possible.  The co-chairs of Ways and Means came close with:  6.245-billion. 
But here is the rest of the story:  We cannot ignore the needs our community colleges and universities.  My budget reinvests in higher education – while the co-chairs budget continues the disinvestment of the last two decades.
What has this disinvestment cost us?  For starters – proportionately fewer young Oregonians are graduating from our colleges and universities now than just 10 years ago.  To their credit, the co-chairs provide full funding for our “Shared Responsibility Model,” to open wide the doors of higher education to Oregon’s working families.
Under this model, students pay a portion of their tuition and living expenses.  The federal government pays a portion.  And the state pays a portion.  But here is where the co-chairs budget goes astray.
Affordability is an empty promise without first rate faculty, state-of-the-art research facilities, modern buildings and adequate maintenance.  Today, for example, the Oregon University System alone has more than 640-million in deferred maintenance.
I proposed funding 325-million in capital construction projects.  The co-chairs cut that to 50-million.  Without these funds, we will lose matching gifts from private donors – and many existing buildings will continue to decay.
But this is not just about bricks, mortar and maintenance.  Community colleges and universities need operating funds to give students a full course selection, research tools, and training.  The co-chairs’ budget cuts 90-million from what I recommended for these purposes.
The bottom line is this:  My budget promotes both access through the Shared Responsibility Model – and excellence through reinvestment in faculty and facilities.  I was able to do this with my proposal to raise the corporate minimum tax.  I ask you – is raising this tax fair?  You bet it is!  By the way, did you know that in 1929 the corporate minimum tax was 25 dollars?
In 1931, when the corporate minimum was reduced at 10-dollars, a full year’s tuition and fees at the University of Oregon was 78-dollars and 75-cents.  Fast forward to 2007.  Students at the University of Oregon now pay 5,613-dollars a year in tuition and fees.  And what are companies – including many from outside the state – paying as a minimum corporate tax?  Still 10-dollars.
And in case you think these companies are just scraping by, over half the businesses that pay the 10-dollar minimum tax have annual sales in excess of 25-million dollars.  So to students we say:  You have to pay 710-percent more for college than your great grandparents did in 1931.  And to two-thirds of corporations doing business in Oregon we say:  For you – time stands still.  Write the state a check for 10-bucks.
By the way, how many of you only pay 10-dollars in state income tax?  This is obviously about fairness – but it is also about what is good for our business community.  They want and need a highly skilled workforce to compete.
That’s why what was true of the Rainy Day Fund is also true of raising the corporate minimum:  It is an investment in the future growth of Oregon businesses.  There are many business and community leaders in this room.  You stepped up and supported the Rainy Day Fund. 
Now I am asking you to make your voices heard again in Salem.  Tell your legislators they must increase in the corporate minimum. 
There is one last thing I want to talk to you about today.  That is Measure 37.  Let me start with a threshold question:  What do you think Oregon voters had in mind when they voted for Measure 37?  
Here’s my answer:  They weren’t thinking about subdivisions – they were thinking about three bedrooms and a patio!  What Oregonians really want is fairness.  And ‘fairness” means making sure people who bought property to build a home for themselves – or their families – are allowed to do so. 
But fairness requires balance – and balance requires preserving our precious farms and forestlands, and fragile water supplies that support our quality of life.  That balance is simply not possible under Measure 37.
So we have a dilemma:  7,000 claims have been filed asking for billions in compensation.  Measure 37 gives us only two choices:  Pay compensation that we cannot afford – or allow developments that will irreversibly hurt local communities.  Neither choice is acceptable.  We have to come up with a better choice – and find a better balance.
That is why I have urged the Legislature to fix Measure 37.  Measure 37 may be complicated, but my message couldn’t be more straightforward:  Mend it – don’t end it.
We’re about to take the field for the second half of the 2007 session.  We’ve played reasonably well so far – and scored some points.  But if we simply try to run out the clock from now until the end of June, the big losers will be the people of Oregon.
We need big plays – in energy, health care, public safety, and education, and smaller ones including cultural reinvestment, transportation, and drug abuse prevention. Coaches, players and fans know in their hearts when it is their year to win it all. 
This is Oregon’s year for a championship session.  And with your loud and persistent voice – we will seize it.
Thank you.

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