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This is part 1 of a 2 part series. Read part 2 next week.
Jobs, transportation, health care, cost of power and the state budget were key themes expressed at the Building Industry Group’s Legislative Luncheon on Friday, Apr. 27.
State Rep. Paul Harris of the 17th District recognized the work of Senator Don Benton and Joe Zarelli to secure bipartisan efforts to balance the budget.
“We did balance the budget, but that’s a requirement,” said Harris.
What made it exceptional, though, is that it occurred in an historic moment when the minority took control of the Senate to pass the budget, and it was accomplished without increasing sales tax or adding extra revenue burden on the people of the state.
“We passed a sustainable budget without significant cuts to the most vulnerable in our community,” said Senator Benton.
Harris noted that his work on the Healthcare Committee put him at odds with the committee’s philosophical view. “We need accountability in healthcare reform,” said Harris. That means vesting the decision making power with elected officials — who can be held accountable — and not passing it off to a committee or a board. For that reason he voted no on the Health Insurance Exchange.
Harris went on to review the high cost of power, as a result of I-937, and the predicted drastic fluctuations in power that will make it “really difficult to remain competitive in the world in attracting business.” He noted that high-tech companies in the area have suffered up to a $300,000 increase in power costs.
“We need to address hydro — as a percentage of hydro as renewable” said Harris. He intends to get a bill passed making a percentage of hydro a renewable energy resource. “That will really help us tremendously and get us out of this predicament we’re in.”
Benton referred to a chart he saw two years ago that showed general job loss in the state, and specifically, a 30% hit taken by the building industry.
“The last one on the list, of course, was government which hadn’t suffered any loss of jobs at that time,” said Benton. The result of unrestrained growth in government is that the state could no longer sustain the budget because it was overspending. “It finally caught up with us.”
This year Benton introduced a constitutional amendment to limit the growth of government to a formula which included population growth and inflation, in essence to restore Initiative 601 which would allow government to grow at a sustainable rate.
“Unfortunately, that concept was unacceptable to the majority of democrats who control the legislature and the governor’s mansion,” said Benton.
Rep. Ann Rivers of La Center said she was most proud of the protections she was able to secure in conjunction with the Columbia River Crossing (CRC).
“I was able to get a commitment to no tolls on I-205,” she said.
Rivers also secured funding for a study to review no tolls for two or more in a vehicle, and exempting those who the bridge every day to get to work from the penalty of paying tolls.
“I have grave concern about the discretionary dollars that would be taken from our community, and taken from those folks who are already living on a shoestring. We have to look for protections for them.”
Rivers worked with Rep. Jim Moeller to create a legislative oversight and audit committee for the CRC which is to include a citizen participant “who’s actually a bridge user.” Her finest achievement, though, she saw as securing a cap on the cost of the CRC in order to restrict it from following the trend of other mega U.S. projects that balloon with cost overruns.
“I’ve become very passionate about transportation, said Rivers. “If we have the greatest homes in the world and we have the greatest buildings in the world. It means nothing if we can’t get to them.”
Part 2 coming tomorrow.