Thank you, Madam Speaker and thank you for your extraordinary service to Oregon.
I am inspired by the leadership that’s earned you the Speaker’s office for a third consecutive assembly.
Exactly 50 years ago today—January 9, 1967—Tom McCall stood where I stand and took the oath of office as Oregon’s Governor. Oregon has changed in countless ways in the past half-century, but one principle that has endured can be found in the words Governor McCall spoke at the beginning of his inaugural address.
They are words about the importance of a strong relationship between the Governor and the Legislature.
“To the extent it is humanly possible to do so,” said Governor McCall, “let us put aside the temptations to be guided by regionalism, factionalism, or anything which fragments the public interest. May we pledge to one another….to work not in partisanship, but in partnership.”
It is in that spirit that I address you, the members of the 79th Oregon Legislative Assembly; and it is that spirit that I address all Oregonians.
Let me start by congratulating my fellow statewides: Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, State Treasurer Tobias Read, and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum
And congratulations and welcome to all our legislators. This freshman class includes Representative Teresa Alonso Leon, who personally knocked on more than 4,000 doors during her campaign, and Senator Alan DeBoer, who won his election by just over 500 votes. Given the fact that I won my first legislative race by 7 votes, I consider a 500 vote victory to be a landslide!
I know this is a very exciting and special day for you and your families, and I am so grateful for your commitment to public service.
Speaking of public service, I believe it is worth noting that the legislative assembly that begins today is the eighth assembly in which Peter Courtney will preside as President of the Senate—a number that is unmatched in Oregon’s 158-year history. Nobody loves this building and the Legislature more than Peter Courtney. Please join me in saluting him on his historic service.
Two final notes of personal privilege: I’d like to thank my family and friends for all their love and support, which encourages and motivates me daily.
And secondly, courage is defined as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”
Personally, I define courage—and I suspect that many of you do as well in just three words: Representative Vic Gilliam. Representative Gilliam, your presence here today inspires all of us.
Members of the Legislature and my fellow Oregonians, I am honored to stand before you as your duly elected Governor. I take the oath today in far happier circumstances than I did nearly two years ago in February 2015.
Despite those circumstances and the fact that the 2015 session was already underway, we worked together in the months that followed and achieved some important accomplishments.
We adopted meaningful ethics reforms needed to regain the trust of all Oregonians.
We invested in a seamless system of public education from cradle to career, including early childhood education, all-day kindergarten, and our community college access program, the Oregon Promise.
We expanded the Oregon Opportunity Grants to help more Oregon students pay for college.
We passed paid sick leave so that more workers would no longer have to choose between keeping their job or paying their rent.
We also got stuff done during the 2016 short session. We raised the minimum wage, thereby supporting Oregon families struggling to make ends meet, and making the statement that no one working full time should be living in poverty.
We responded to the tragedy at Umpqua Community College by providing $6 million to address campus and community needs.
We upheld the tradition of leading on environmental stewardship by making Oregon, once again, a national and global model with the passage of the nation’s first coal-to-clean law, eliminating coal-fired electricity for good.
As I’ve often said, future generations will judge us not on the fact of climate change, but how we responded to it. Under my leadership, we will continue to move Oregon forward.
But for me, and I suspect for Senator Chuck Thomsen and Representative Mark Johnson, one of the most memorable days of that session was the day when we passed legislation forever proclaiming March 28 as Minoru Yasui Day in Oregon.
Born in Hood River a little over 100 years ago, Minoru Yasui was the first Japanese American to graduate from the University of Oregon School of Law School and the first Japanese American member of the Oregon Bar. He made national history by challenging the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, which required persons of Japanese ancestry to remain in their homes between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.
On March 28, 1942, at the age of 25, Mr. Yasui put his personal liberty on the line for justice, as he intentionally violated the curfew by walking the streets of Portland. He was be arrested and imprisoned for nine months in solitary confinement at the Multnomah County Jail before being ordered to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, where he would remain until near the end of the war.
Mr. Yasui eventually established a law practice in Denver, and, until his death in 1986, continued to fight for civil rights for all and for the courts to rule that Executive Order 9066 was unconstitutional. Mr. Yasui’s ashes are buried beneath a pair of giant cedars in a Hood River cemetery.
In November 2015, President Obama awarded Mr. Yasui with the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest award that can be bestowed upon an American citizen. He is the only Oregonian ever to receive this award.
I share this story today because America has just come through the most bitter and divisive national election in memory; an election featuring rhetoric questioning the very citizenship and civil rights of Americans.
And I want to make it very clear that here in Oregon, where thousands have fought for and demanded equality, we can not and will not retreat.
We must guard against prejudice based on race, ethnicity, religion or belief.
We must not allow the rights of any one person or class of people to be degraded in any way.
We must continue to fight to preserve the Oregon tradition of respecting the treaty rights of the nine sovereign Tribal nations. And of working with all the native peoples who join us in calling this great State Home.
We must champion women’s rights and fight for our struggling families.
We must stand up for our veterans.
We must defend the rights of LGBTQ Oregonians.
We must preserve and strengthen the Oregon tradition of working with our nine sovereign Tribal nations and all native peoples who join us in calling this great State Home.
In short, we must always remember the words of Mr. Yasui, who said, “If we believe in America, if we believe in equality and democracy, if we believe in law and justice, then each of us, when we see or believe errors are being made, has an obligation to make every effort to correct them.”
The guiding principle of my public service is to fight to bring opportunity to all Oregonians. Especially those who haven’t had a fair shot or who have been left behind.
This has been and remains the guiding principle of my public service career. This principle can be seen in the priorities and programs I have outlined in my proposed budget.
It is a budget that prioritizes what I believe are the three requirements central to building a successful life: the opportunity for a good job; the opportunity for good health; and the opportunity for a good education.
Let me briefly touch upon each of these:
For those living in urban Oregon, it seems like the economy is growing like a gangly teenage boy: overnight and out of control. For the first time in almost two decades, the statewide unemployment rate dropped below the national average. News outlets from Forbes to Fortune to Bloomberg are writing glowing profiles of Oregon’s job-producing economy.
But for rural communities such as John Day or Powell Butte, as Republican Leaders Ted Ferrioli and Mike McLane know so well, there is a disturbing gap between the unemployment rate in urban Oregon and rural Oregon.
For families living in Columbia, Coos, Crook, or any of our rural counties, we must bust open the doors of opportunity so that individuals can find good paying jobs right where they live.
To accomplish this, and to ensure the economy is humming in every single corner of Oregon, we need to take a multifaceted approach, leveraging investments in workforce development, infrastructure, collaboration, and innovation.
As I have traveled across Oregon, countless employers and business owners have told me that they’ve struggled to find the employees to meet their needs. One way we can help them is to make Columbia County—with an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent — the national role model for 21st century workforce training.
Based on a model created in England—and bolstered by the determination and drive of the indomitable Senator Betsy Johnson—we have reallocated resources at Business Oregon and partnered with the private sector to build the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center. It’s a place where high school graduates will learn the technical—and sought after—skills that successful businesses need; skills that will enable them to find good-paying jobs as welders, electricians, and builders.
These are jobs that provide financial security that goes beyond the next paycheck.
The center is not even finished, and it is already a model of success. Twelve large manufacturers have made commitments to the center and some are expressing interest in opening their own facilities in Scappoose.
Like Columbia County, Coos County also knows the struggles of rural Oregon all too well. This is despite creative efforts to expand access to good jobs, an internationally renowned golf resort, and extensive state investments in the port. In spite of all this, the region is still struggling with an unemployment rate of 6.4 percent.
I believe, however, there is an opportunity to create jobs right now. That opportunity is in the 135 bridges we have on our coast.
Experts tell us that 100 or so of those bridges will either be totally destroyed or severely damaged in the event of the major earthquake that many geologists believe is inevitable.
Let’s create more good-paying, family-wage jobs in Coos and Curry counties and all along Highway 101 by investing in seismic retrofitting of our coastal roads and bridges.
Just like seismic retrofitting creates jobs on the coast, it can also create economic opportunity in Central and Eastern Oregon. I have heard from truck drivers who are starting to use U.S. 97 as an alternative route to avoid the traffic congestion we are facing in the Portland metro region—congestion that has led to metro commuters spending 52 more hours a year in their cars.
U.S. 97 is also the alternative route through our state in the event of that major earthquake. It is a crucial artery for safety that can also create jobs.
Let’s make the investment to make U.S. 97 functional right now.
Improvements to coastal bridges and Highway 97 are just parts of a transportation package that I have been working on with legislators and community and business leaders. And I am confident that before this session adjourns, this Legislature will have passed, and I will have signed into law, a bi-partisan transportation bill that will move Oregon forward in the 21st century.
But it will take more than a transportation package to bring the economic opportunities that will help rural Oregon thrive.
It will also take investments in our water. In the Umatilla Basin, we’ve shown that getting water out of the Columbia River and onto the ground helps grow crops, which, in turn, helps grow jobs. That’s why my budget includes $32 million in bond funding in grants for local water projects, which will help meet the needs of rural communities, agriculture, and the environment.
We have found another path in places such as Grant County, through the “Good Neighbor Agreement” we have signed with the U.S. Forest Service. Thanks to this partnership, we have seen a 14 percent increase in timber harvests, and a 16 percent increase in timber-related jobs. We must continue to search for similar innovative programs that are good for both the economy and the environment.
That’s why I’ve invested in the Rural Entrepreneurship Development Initiative—or REDI. This is a program to help rural entrepreneurs get the capital and expertise they need to build their small businesses into thriving economic engines.
I’ve also invested in the technologies that inspire these entrepreneurs. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and cross-laminated timber aren’t just the hot tech trends of the moment. They are brilliant innovations that can’t grow without space and trees—two items that rural Oregon has in abundance.
I believe that by investing in workforce development, roads and bridges, and innovative partnerships; by leveraging the human, material, and natural resources that once made our rural communities the most prosperous in the state, we have a real chance to tackle the economic fault line that has split our state in two.
It takes a constellation of approaches and the work of all of us to build a bridge to one another and ensure our entire economy continues to thrive
In every county.
Rural and urban.
Let me turn now from economic health to the physical health of Oregonians. We all know that good health is fundamental to the well-being and self sufficiency of every Oregonian.
I am so proud to report that we have made great progress in the equitable delivery of health care. Over the past several years, Oregon has expanded health care to 95 percent of adults and 98 percent of children.
These are numbers worth repeating! Here in Oregon, 95 percent of adults, and 98 percent of children now have access to healthcare.
We should not and cannot stop until every Oregonian is covered. Health care is about more than just seeing a doctor. Every child in this state deserves the opportunity to be healthy and successful.
One of the families who now has health care is the Camacho family in Medford. Kelleni Camacho grew up in a family that struggled with abuse and addiction, which influenced her to make lifestyle choices she knew were detrimental. She was referred to Jackson Care Connect, a Coordinated Care Organization. In their 12 week “Healthier New You” program, she was able to transform not just her life, but the lives of her husband and son.
Before starting the program, Kelleni was overweight and facing a host of related health problems. Her entire family, including her husband and her son also struggled with obesity.
Once she had access to care, Kelleni took what she learned and taught her family to read nutrition labels, chose foods that were good for them, and begin to exercise more. They all each lost a significant amount of weight.
Carlos, her son, was the self-described “chubby kid” who would think nothing of eating a bag of chips in one sitting. He began to exercise with his mom, and they even grew fresh vegetables in their apartment. Carlos gained strength, and eventually became a successful athlete, which, in turn, made him want to be a successful student. He says his wrestling coach is strict about grades, and won’t let them practice if they have behavior issues or miss class.
Carlos sums it up by saying that the program makes him want to, “do good.”
As impressive as Carlos’ story is, we still have more work to do.
We still have children and families in our state who do not have health insurance. And they don’t have access to the services that transformed Carlos and his family’s lives.
As their story demonstrates, health care coverage is foundational to health and well-being.
This is why I have proposed investing additional funds to expand health insurance coverage to all children in Oregon. With this, we can provide the opportunity for good health to every single Oregon child, and ensure every child is able to reach their full potential.
It was once said that “A school is a building with four walls on the outside and tomorrow on the inside.” And there can be no doubt that the opportunities for a successful life for our children and our grandchildren depend upon our ability to provide an education of the highest possible quality.
And there is no doubt, the investments we have made in the past two years in our early learning, K-through-12, and post secondary education systems have made a difference. Yet, there are still some statistics that should disturb us.
Our schools continue to be among the nation’s leaders in all the wrong categories—the largest class size, the shortest school year, and the highest drop-out rate. And in some rural counties such as Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson, despite heroic efforts by local educators, fewer than half of young children are meeting early milestones indicating that a child is “school ready.”
To be sure, there are bright spots. One can be found in the fact that The Oregon Promise program has opened doors of opportunity by making higher education more accessible and affordable for more Oregon students.
Take Nia Sanders, for example. Nia is a first year, full-time student at Portland Community College. Nia says the financial help she receives from Oregon Promise covers most of her tuition, leaving her to pay about $300 to cover books and fees per term.
Nia says the Oregon Promise has given her the space to plan for her future. In addition to school, she now works about 32 hours a week to save money, so she can eventually transfer to a four-year school. She says the Oregon Promise is helping her achieve her goal of majoring in psychology and becoming a therapist.
Let’s ensure that Nia’s story isn’t unique. Let’s make sure that every student in Oregon—especially historically underserved students–has the chance to achieve their own dreams.
And let me be clear: My top priority is improving Oregon’s high school graduation rates. That is why my proposed budget creates a graduation equity fund. It will be used to address school attendance, help students who are experiencing trauma, and make investments in underserved communities.
An education system that opens the doors of opportunity to all those who represent the Oregon of tomorrow.
A healthcare system that makes sure 100 percent of Oregon’s children have access to care.
An economy that creates the opportunity for good-paying jobs in Portland and Port Orford and every community in between.
These are goals that unite all Oregonians. These are goals that we can only achieve by working together.
I am and always have been an optimist. But I am not naïve. I know there are obstacles that stand in our way of creating a better future.
Chief among them, of course, is a $1.7 billion budget deficit. Three-fifths of this deficit is the cost of expanding health care to all Oregonians. One-fifth is the unfunded cost of three new ballot measures approved in November. And another fifth is the unfunded PERS liability.
The budget I have proposed is balanced. It does account for the entire shortfall. But it is only a short-term solution.
The time for short-term solutions and kicking the can down the road has passed.
For longer than I have served in government, Oregon has faced a revenue shortfall—a little less painful in good times, catastrophic in bad times. We have cut and we have squeezed. Our roads, our public safety, and our schools have paid the price.
And we now have two modern-day Oregon trails to choose from.
One trail is to continue the endless process of slicing and squeezing, of diminishing our hopes and expectations, and shrinking our dreams of what it means to be an Oregonian.
The other trail is to follow the advice of Governor McCall. To not be guided by regionalism and factionalism.
To work in partnership, rather than partisanship.
It is a trail that will involve hard work and painful choices. But it is, my fellow Oregonians, the only path to follow.
We have to come together and know that we are all on the same side. Fighting to make Oregon a better place for all of us to live.
And if we are to win that fight then there are three actions we must take:
First, we must do everything possible this year and every year to ensure that each and every tax dollar is spent wisely and efficiently.
Second, we must change our state’s tax structure so that we have a fair and balanced tax system that provides the stable and adequate funding that allows us to properly fund our schools and to meet our critical needs.
And third, we must address the ongoing PERS liability in a way that keeps our promises to retirees and does not put us back on an endless hamster wheel of litigation.
As Secretary of State I made great progress in cutting the red tape businesses had to navigate to access services they needed to grow. As your governor, I’ve been able to improve services at several agencies and in my own office.
I’ve called on state managers to take specific actions to save money, such as delaying the filling of vacant positions, and eliminating non-essential travel. I have also directed agencies to work to improve business practices and operate more efficiently and at less cost.
A couple of examples:
· Staff at the Department of Administrative Services renegotiated lease agreements, saving nearly $64 million dollars in rent over the course of the leases.
· And Oregon State Police revamped its training programs, reducing injuries and related costs by as much as 35 percent.
But, more must be done.
To identify best practices and make recommendations in time for the 2018 legislative session, I am appointing a panel to engage with stakeholders in both the public and private sectors. The panel will make recommendations on how state government can operate more efficiently, streamline the services that support our economy, and bolster the services that our vulnerable families depend on.
They will seek out solutions to the institutional obstacles that, at times, hinder our ability to serve Oregonians. We deserve smarter government.
This same goal should be kept in mind when addressing the weight the PERS liability puts on our resources.
I’m proposing we manage our investments more effectively, creating greater returns while innovating practices. My Office is working to identify what we can do now, such as bringing investment services in-house, to responsibly carry out our duty to retirees.
I look forward to the other solutions to be proposed in the months ahead. As we consider our next steps, let’s agree to keep our promises to retirees. Let’s ensure that no one can advantage of the system. And let’s seek solutions that are legally viable, so that dead ends aren’t left to languish in court while the challenge of PERS only continues to grow.
We must also rethink the fairness of our tax system and address the burden our families carry to fund state government.
Under my direction, my office will work with stakeholders on potential options to generate the revenue we need so badly.
We will work with all of you to restore fairness and balance to our tax system.
We need solutions that don’t unfairly burden working families struggling to make ends meet.
We need solutions that support economic growth in our rural and urban communities.
We’ve learned, painfully, that there is no painless solution. But we must do this together.
Make no mistake the Oregonians who elected us put their trust in us to lead.
They expect us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
They expect us to work together.
I began my remarks today with a great Oregonian, Tom McCall. I end my remarks with the words used by another great Oregonian—Mark Hatfield—to conclude his inaugural address as Governor in January 1959. May these words guide each of us in this chamber in the months ahead.
Governor Hatfield said, “For those of us who make government policy, our good and bad alike live after us. The seeds we sow, our children reap. Let us prepare for them a good harvest, so that Oregon may have a bountiful future.”
It is my hope that future generations will look back at this legislative session and say, “Here is where bright successes were achieved. Here is where the seeds were sown for a good harvest. Here is where a bountiful future for Oregon was planted.”