By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
October 14, 2006
Republican incumbent Patti Smith and her Democratic challenger Suzanne VanOrman visited the Hood River News this week to share insights on their respective campaign platforms.
Following are a list of the questions they were asked regarding the House race for District 52:
1) How would you help the Legislature stabilize school funding?
Suzanne: I look at setting up a rainy day fund as a stabilizer; that above all. The most difficult thing with Oregon funding is that we’ve done it to ourselves. We have taken funding for the Oregon State Patrol away from gasoline taxes and we’ve built more prisons. In addition, we don’t issue a revenue report until March so schools don’t have enough time to plan ahead for the next year. They need to know that there will be enough money to meet inflation and other continuing operational costs.
Patti: I wrote House Bill 2450 to dedicate a certain amount of the general fund for schools but I couldn’t get it approved by the Senate last session. School funding is the biggest part of the general fund so everyone plays political games with it and I think it is time to end that. It hurts all of us; it hurts our children and our grandchildren. In addition to reforming the way money is budgeted, we need to give local schools more say over how the money is spent since they know best.
2) What are your stands on social issues, such as civil unions?
Patti: I am a pro-choice woman but I do believe in parental notification (before a teenager has an abortion). I voted for Measure 36 that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. And I think it was too soon after that vote for the governor to come back to the Legislature and push for civil unions. However, we do need to take the time needed to address any issue of discrimination, however we can do that.
Suzanne: I’m definitely for civil unions and I believe the sacrament of marriage belongs to the church. I think social issues become partisan when it comes to revenue and I am supportive of programs that help families help themselves. Young families today are under so much pressure and the Republicans divert federal funds from programs such as welfare and homelessness that could help them. And that is a huge problem. There is a perception out there that people are on welfare because they don’t want to work and I haven’t seen that. I think the state government is closer to the people and better understands the needs that are out there so it should be making more of the funding decisions.
3) How did you vote on Measures 7 and 37, respectively, and how do you think state growth is now affected?
Suzanne: One of the reasons that I voted no on both measures was the revenue piece; the idea that if you made a claim you could get compensation that I knew wasn’t going to happen. I am concerned about development on farm and forest land and the burden on our water and sewer services. When I was an Oregon City Commissioner we had to upgrade infrastructure following a Department of Environmental Quality fine over sewage that spilled into the Willamette River.
We ended up with the highest tax rate in the state to meet those expenses. We also had to annex Park Place to the city sewer to address a health hazard from failing septics. That was also costly to the city and people. Those are the kinds of costs that could happen if Measure 37 ends up with big developments connected to an urban system.
Patti: I voted for both measures because I really believe in private property rights and this was an issue of fairness. I think we got to Measure 37 because the Legislature didn’t address Measure 7 properly. I have tried several times to get support for development rights using lots of legal record but that has just been one of those political issues that never gets dealt with.
I do believe that neighbors have a right to comment on a development resulting from a Measure 37 claim and that leaves some tough issues to resolve. The Legislature could have incrementally restored what was wrong with our land use system between Measure 7 and 37 but they didn’t. So, the citizens took the issue to the ballot and now the Legislature has an obligation to act.
4) What is your legislative priority for the 2007-09 session?
Patti: Alternative energy. I serve on the Governor’s Renewable Energy Working Group and chair the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, both of which will be setting policies to diversity our energy needs. That will reduce our dependency on foreign fuels and put people in the natural resources industries back to work. It will also open up more economic development opportunities — and provide more money for schools. This is something that we should have done 25 years ago and it should be a top legislative priority.
Suzanne: Education. I want to go back to when we had 180 days of school. I’d like to see classrooms where kids don’t sit on the floor and have the textbooks that they need. We need to stop playing the blame game, to stop pointing fingers because the bottom line is that kids need the education so they aren’t condemned to low-wage jobs. We need highly productive people for taxing purposes if we’re going to support government.
As the superintendent of Head Start programs in the Mid-Columbia I am familiar with the needs of public education and the stresses on children today. I will have to see how convincing I will be in the Legislature. I don’t think the state should tell local districts how to spend their money because they know better what the classroom needs are.
5) Do you have a plan to improve access to health care for all Oregonians?
Suzanne: I think we should extend the 10 cent per pack cigarette tax and use that money to provide health care for the most vulnerable populations, our old and our young. When I was working under a fellowship at UCLA we used grant funds to train Head Start parents in basic medical skills. That cut down on the number of emergency room visits and costs. I would like to see that type of program, which would also include dental care, provided to all families with young children.
I would like to see more of a need evaluation before a new hospital is built in an area that will create competition for other medical centers, driving prices up. I also think the state needs to provide assistance for small businesses that will help them keep up with employee premiums.
Patti: This is really a huge national issue and I think former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s plan makes a lot of sense and we need to look to it for reforms. Our Medicare/Medicaid programs were established 40 years ago and it is time to find a different way of determining eligibility. The Oregon Health Plan also didn’t work because it tried to cover too many people with too many different types of treatments.
Oregon is a small business state so we are getting more employers that want us to help stop the rising cost of premiums for their employees. This is an important issue since more and more people are staying with jobs based on the benefit package. The state should also look at pooling drug purchases to get better discounts.
6) What is your stance on Measure 48? This initiative seeks to amend the state constitution so that the biennial percentage increase in state spending is tied to the percentage of population growth, plus inflation.
Patti: I think it’s a bad idea and I will vote no. I just don’t think the Legislature needs to deal with all of the complicated problems it would create at this time. It would set back our ability to deal with other issues because of huge budgeting concerns.
Suzanne: I’m absolutely opposed to Measure 48. We’re in trouble now and we’d probably have to close the doors if that passed. It is a loss of revenue for the state that is based on a Colorado model that has almost destroyed everything. They are practically at the bottom and Measure 48 would further jeopardize Oregon’s health care plan. I’m not sure the people who are talking about this are knowledgeable.