Friends & neighbors,
I am proud to represent portions of Beaverton, Washington County, Aloha, and Southwest Portland in the Oregon State Senate. Below is an update as to what I’ve been up to:
We recently rolled out the Oregon Promise – the concept of creating two years of community college for Oregon high school graduates at no charge. This could be transformational for thousands of Oregonians.
In February, during the short 2014 Legislative Session, we passed Senate Bill 1524 which directs the state to study the idea and report back by September of this year. The study will settle a multitude of technical details, including financing, logistics and criteria. It would be up to the 2015 legislature to vote to implement the plan.
The driving force behind this idea is the mounting college debt faced by Oregon students and the growing population of young people facing a life of poverty due to a lack of training or education.
Poverty is very expensive.
The Oregon Youth Council estimates the number of young people aged 18 to 24, who are unemployed and not in school, hovers around 66,500. And that each one of those individuals cost taxpayers an average of $14,000 in government services or direct costs to society.
That’s a lot more than the $3,500 annual tuition for a full time community college student.
This proposal would allow high school graduates to take two years of community college classes to get an associate's degree in specialized training such as welding or health care – or it would allow them to take two years of "core" credits that would be transferred to our four-year universities. Either option will help thousands of Oregon kids who, as of right now, are being priced out of a higher education. To me, there's just no viable path to the American Dream in the 21st century without some kind of technical or special training or higher education after high school.
Here are a few news stories on the plan:
- MSNBC: Community college for free?
- Associated Press: States Looking at $0 Community College Tuition
- The Huffington Post: Free Tuition - Answer To Growing College Debt?
On March 7th the second Short Legislative Session in Oregon’s history adjourned.
From Oregon’s entry into the Union in 1859 until 2010, the Legislature met once every two years. That changed in 2010 when Oregon voters approved a measure that directs the Assembly to meet annually. This change allows us to make budget adjustments and address problems quicker, so we no longer have to wait two years until the next session.
There were efforts by some lawmakers to pass major changes in our short session (gun control, marijuana legalization, liquor in grocery stores, funding the Columbia River Crossing) but in the end, time ran out on those efforts.
As I mentioned, I was gratified to see overwhelming support and passage of the Oregon Promise. I intend to be critically involved with the technical work during the interim by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC).
As to the other bills, of which just over 100 were passed, here’s a highlight:
This was, by far, the most significant bill passed; $200 million in bonds to help a major expansion of cancer research at Oregon Health & Sciences University – Senate Bill 5703
Provided relief to families impacted by the problems of the Cover Oregon exchange website’s rollout – House Bill 4154
Dedicated $500,000 to fund summer programs that will add at least 60 hours of learning time for over 5,000 of Oregon’s most vulnerable students – House Bill 4117
Supported small businesses by eliminating unnecessary barriers, expanded access to loans and financial support, and made it easier for small businesses to work with state Government – Senate Bill 1563
Protected our historic $6.85 billion investment in K-12 education to help stabilize school districts across Oregon and began to reverse the trend of teacher layoffs and shrinking school years
You can see the entire list and summaries here.
In early October of 2013 the legislature and the governor convened for a Special Session and passed a package of new laws that will significantly help Oregon schools and universities. It took days of fine-tuning and haggling, but I was proud that republicans and democrats worked together to achieve a “Grand Bargain" for Oregon at a time that the U.S. Government shut down due to partisan gridlock.
The bottom line for me is that, due to the Special Session and Grand Bargain, we now have an additional $100 Million for K-12 schools to shrink class sizes and lengthen the school year. And an additional $40 million for our colleges and universities that will cancel out tuition increases. This comes on the heels of the 2013 regular Legislative Session which resulted in a state budget that increased K-12 funding by over $1 billion over the previous state budget.
The decisions we made during the Special Session were not easy. However, as I voted, I kept in mind the end goal of securing an extra 131 teachers in Beaverton classrooms and $24.8 million extra for Beaverton schools.
I was also gratified after the end of the Special Session to see that the discussion about Oregon’s future is now focusing on reforming our tax code to make it more stable and diverse. As a long time advocate of tax reform, I look forward to working with the governor – and you – on seeing this through. This is something we must do if we want to end this constant boom and bust cycle that results in teacher layoffs, inequities and tax uncertainty.
The 2013 regular Legislative Session came to a close in July.
No session is easy, and this past one was no exception. At the end of the day, we were able to balance Oregon’s budget, achieve landmark legislation and pass thousands of big and small bills.
My highest personal priority was education and passing a state budget that significantly increased school funding; we passed a budget that boosted K-12 funding by over $1 billion – putting the K-12 budget at $6.75 billion for the next biennium. That doesn’t include the additional $100 million from the October Special Session. This reinvestment in education will help to stop constant layoffs and reduce our unacceptable class sizes. We still have much more to do, however. I was also proud of the discussion and buzz surrounding tax reform during the 2013 session– a longtime priority for me and many of you. My proposal would have cut income and property taxes by 50% and replaced them with a consumption tax. It would be revenue neutral for Oregonians. Yet it would raise nearly a billion dollars a year more by taxing tourists and people who don’t report their income. I’m not going to give up on fixing our extremely volatile tax structure. And now we have many more people exposed to the problem and the potential solutions.
My legislation sparked a statewide conversation about our broken tax code, and now we have the Governor on board and I’m looking forward to working with him for a solution next year.
As always, I'm happy to hear your feedback and to answer any questions or concerns you might have. Just send me an email or give me a call.
Thanks for the continued honor of representing you in the Oregon State Senate.