Sen. Rick Metsger believes the Oregon Legislature has painted a bright brush stroke on a grim economic canvas.
Last week he carried that message of hope to the Hood River Rotary Club. Metsger, the Dist. 26 Democrat, said many policy decisions for long-term gains were made during the longest session in the state’s history.
He said the worst budget crisis since the Great Depression, coupled with the state’s top ranking for unemployment, led to the passage of the following measures:
Approval of two separate bills that streamline regulations for redeveloping abandoned mill sites and other rural industrial properties. In addition, another bill allows the state to identify an additional 25 locations, most likely in urban areas, that will be made “shovel ready” for new enterprises.
Passage of a bill to increase commerce by pumping more than $2 billion into the repair of cracked bridges and other highway improvements. That legislation is expected to create 4,750 family wage jobs each year for the next decade and increase trade opportunties.
Metsger sponsored each of these pieces of legislation with the belief they would build an economic momentum. During the eight-month session, he chaired the Senate Committee on Transportation and Economic Development with a focus on job creation.
“The combination of these pieces (of legislation) has really expanded the industrial growth opportunities in this state,” he said.
Metsger said Cardinal IG is a good example of how redeveloping industrial properties can help stabilize the job base of a community. The glass assembly plant is currently being constructed on 10 acres of the former Lower Hanel Mill property in Odell. Metsger said not only is the environmentally-friendly manufacturer a perfect fit for the area, it has also drawn Homeshield, one of its suppliers, to Hood River.
Between the two companies, Metsger said there will be almost 100 start-up jobs, with more hires expected as production increases. He said many other small firms could also be attracted to Oregon because of recent legislation to dramatically increase their tax credits.
“You get some anchor businesses in an area and all of a sudden growth happens,” Metsger said.
But he contends that in order to accommodate the expansion of the private tax base, Oregon needs to repair more than 400 cracked bridges. Because of weight restrictions on these structures, Metsger said two-thirds of the commercial trucks traveling through Oregon are being detoured onto lengthy secondary routes.
He said many of these roadways were not built to accommodate heavy traffic and, in addition to safety concerns, there are increased driving time and costs.
“If you are going to be able to maintain commerce throughout the state then you’ve got to have efficient passage,” he said.
He said recent indicators appear to show that Oregon’s economy has already bottomed out and is slowly moving upward.
He believes that if an $800 million tax package is not overturned by challenges, it will dramatically aid in that recovery — while protecting school and human services funding. Although a bill to reform the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) is also facing challenges, Metsger believes public agencies will gain needed capital with the changes that cut in half the $16 billion shortfall facing PERS over the next 25 years.
He said these measures have been coupled with the reduction of 900 jobs from the government payroll to streamline operations.
“Historical trends suggest we should be well on our way out of this recession and we’ve got to move the economy forward without abandoning our seniors and kids,” he said.