Smith, Metsger prepare for budget challenges

Hood River’s legislators have moved into strategic positions and are planning to tag-team Oregon’s giant economic problems.

Last week Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, was unanimously chosen to chair the Senate Economic Development and Transportation Committee. His appointment follows that of Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, in December to the House Trade and Economic Development Committee.

The respective District 26 and District 52 elected officials believe they are now in top leadership roles to tackle tough budget challenges and bring more family wage jobs to struggling rural counties.

“I’m looking forward to the important work we will do this session, Rep. Smith and I have a great opportunity to move legislation forward because we’re at both ends of it,” said Metsger.

“Sen. Metsger and I are going to make a concerted effort to focus on improving Oregon’s business climate, promote tourism and develop some new markets for agricultural value-added products,” Smith said.

As her first order of business, Smith has asked Hood River County Economic Development Coordinator Bill Fashing to help educate her urban constituents about the financial realities facing outlying communities. Fashing, who was hired in September, will make a short presentation today in Salem to highlight the fact that unemployment rates are significantly higher in rural sectors of the state than in major metropolitan centers.

“The economic cure for Hood River County and all of Oregon really comes down to the question, ‘how do you create more family-wage jobs?’”said Smith.

Both she and Metsger also want to bring the “urban/rural divide” problem home to newly elected Gov. Ted Kulongoski. On Thursday, Metsger has a private meeting with the state leader and plans to issue an invitation for a tour of the Gorge county that he and Smith will jointly arrange.

“I think if he understands the challenges, he’ll be very open to the solutions we might suggest,” said Metsger.

Metsger’s now oversees the consolidation of two key committees that the Senate believed were too closely interconnected to remain separate. He said it is vital to fix the 487 cracked bridges throughout Oregon to eliminate safety threats for both commercial and personal transportation.

“We must improve our transportation infrastructure to ensure the safe transport of goods and services and to help in our economic recovery,” said Metsger.

In addition to chair duties, Metsger has been tapped by the Senate to serve on the Business and Labor Committee, another avenue to help jumpstart the sluggish economy.

“It’s time to get Oregon moving again. I intend to make the most of the opportunities that have been given to me to help lead that effort,” said Metsger.

At the beginning of last week’s biennium session, Smith was also chosen as Assistant House Majority Leader, a position that will help Majority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, communicate with Republican members, manage the floor during key debates and promote the caucus agenda. She will also serve on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

“We’re off and running and I’m looking forward to a productive session that will have many rewards and challenges,” said Smith.

Smith’s new telephone number in Salem is 503-986-1452 and Metsger’s office can now be reached at 503-986-1726.

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