2016 is a year of big changes in our political landscape. What does this mean for opportunity for all of Oregon? How will we use our tools to create a better future, and to open doors for all Oregonians? How will we harness our innovative spirit, our talent, and our energy to invest in people and create a better future for the next generation?
Those are the questions on my mind as I look ahead to the November 2016 elections and the 2017 Oregon legislature.
New Faces in the Oregon Legislature
March’s filing deadline was full of surprises, with many legislators announcing they did not plan to return. Some gave weeks of notice, some only days or hours, and still others filed and then reconsidered just after the deadline. All told, at least twelve Oregon House members will be new faces, and at least three Senators. With “new motor voter” automatic voter registration in effect, there are almost 100,000 new registered voters, and the demographics of who has registered has changed. We don’t know what the full impacts of this will be on the elections. We do know that there will be lots of races to watch as we head into November – and lots of relationships to build while candidates are listening well, and most open to learning what the needs and concerns are in their districts. Keep your eye out for notices of town halls, or coffees, or sign up for campaign emails from candidates in your area. They’d be happy to add you to their lists!
What do candidates need to hear from you? Solutions!
Housing affordability and availability is top of mind for candidates all over the state as we see the housing crisis reach epic proportions in all corners of Oregon. Candidates need to hear what our answers are – protect tenants, build more housing, increase affordability, don’t fall further behind.
Financial insecurity is also top of mind – how do we increase our ability as a state to manage through financial ups and downs. Research shows what we’ve said all along – it’s about income but it’s also about what we do with the money and policy tools we have. We have to figure out how to give consumers real and safe choices, to access resources like the Earned Income Tax Credit, and help people develop a cushion for emergencies.
Come January 2017, we’re certain to see a more diverse legislative body, with a broader array of life experience. We’ll also have a new House Ways and Means Co-Chair writing the Legislature’s budget, with Representative Nancy Nathanson of Eugene stepping in to that role alongside Senator Richard Devlin.
Uncertain Budget Forecast
Other things are less certain. Forecasting the budget is a challenge, to say the least, with three possible scenarios playing out.
First, if nothing changes, we are facing a budget shortfall of dramatic proportions, with increasing costs of employee pensions and health care, and bi-partisan interest in fixing our state transportation system. Agencies are being asked to forecast ten percent cuts in their current budgets.
The second possibility is that if Initiative Petition 28 makes it to the ballot and passes, we’ll see this shift dramatically the other way, with a budget increase of $2.9 billion a year dedicated to education and health.
Third, it’s possible there is still a legislative compromise that will be found between those two alternatives.
But no matter what the budget number that’s available, the final product, the budget that passes next June, must reflect Oregon values and priorities. Housing is the foundation of all we do and are – without housing we cannot learn, work, be healthy, or give back to our communities. Financial stability is the second part of that foundation – allowing each of us to act on our dreams and potential to be part of Oregon’s future. We can invest in a better future for all of Oregon. We can ensure that every person, every family, every community in Oregon can prosper.