Gov. Kate Brown, visiting Seaside on Thursday, stressed Oregon's booming economy, low unemployment and some of the fastest job-growth rates in the country.
The problem is, she said, that growth “hasn’t been inclusive.”
“There are a lot of communities and families that have been left behind,” Brown told the Seaside Rotary Club at Angelina’s Pizza. “A lot of families are struggling to pay for housing, struggling to pay for health care, struggling to pay for the cost of higher education and child care.”
Brown sees the role of state government as tackling the affordability issues for Oregon families. “That’s what I see first up on the agenda for the legislative session,” she said.
About 20,000 Oregon children are without housing or “housing insecure,” living in cars or doubling up with families, she said.
The government has invested $300 million in her first three years in office in meeting housing needs, and during the new legislative session, she will propose a $400 million package to double the number of affordable units.
“Our children can’t learn to read, do well in school, if they don’t have a warm place to go to bed at night,” Brown said.
Addressing needs of the chronically homeless and homeless veterans are also among her priorities, with a goal of housing every homeless veteran within the next 18 months.
Pension reform and the unfunded liability in the Public Employees Retirement System remain key administration concerns, Brown said.
Last year, the state invested $100 million to stabilize PERS rates for public schools. This year, Brown wants to double that.
Legislation that creates matching funds for local jurisdictions could ease the burden; for every $4 a city or public agency invests, the state would match $1 of that.
Increasing the amount public employees contribute could also be a part of addressing future pension costs.
“Do we want public employees to have more skin in the game, to bear in the risks and the costs of the market?” Brown asked. “I think we do. We’re having a conversation now in terms of legislation and other ways to make that happen.”
Emergency preparedness funding is also far short of the need to withstand a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami. Of the coast’s 135 bridges, in a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, “about 100 of them would be toast,” Brown said.
State funding is focused on “key priority areas,” she said. “In addition to public transit, our purpose is to ensure seismic resiliency of those bridges.”
The federal government shutdown will add to the state’s financial burden. With 9,600 federal employees throughout Oregon affected by the shutdown, the state must meet food stamp funding at the state level, an $80 million monthly state expense, she said.
The governor also seeks to ensure that federal workers have access to unemployment benefits.
Education a centerpiece
The visit to the Seaside Rotary preceded a visit to Seaside High School, where Brown received a tour of the school district’s career and technical education programs.
Seaside School District Superintendent Sheila Roley and high school Principal Jeff Roberts introduced the governor to the school’s new culinary program and members of the “CYBORG Seagulls” robotics club.
Career-oriented programs are “a game changer,” Brown said, making education relevant for high school students. “It connects classrooms literally with their career, and at the same time we’re providing employers with a skilled workforce,” she said.
The governor said the best way to improve high school graduation rates is through access to career and technical education.
“The state is at a turning point in preparing for education,” Brown said. “The economy is good right now. It is time for us to make a significant investment in our education system. If we wait, we’re likely to face a recession. The time is now. I don’t think our children and families can wait any longer.”