By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
October 18, 2006
Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, is being challenged for his District 26 seat in November by Hood River District 1 County Commissioner Carol York, a Republican.
Both candidates stopped at the Hood River News office last week to discuss their respective campaign platforms. Following are the six questions they were asked and their responses:
1) How would you help the Legislature stabilize school funding?
York: The first thing that we need to do is establish a rainy day fund by saving money during the boom years to spend in the lean years. We have to fund education first; it really is the elephant in the state living room. The budget for schools needs to be set within the first 90 days of a legislative session. That will also help in the planning for other essential services, such as health and safety needs.
People say that government spends whatever it has but I don’t believe that should be true. The county has reserves that are managed with fiscal discipline and accountability. I think voters deserve to know what we are doing with their money.
Metsger: Most people don’t know that the state already has a rainy day fund of $224 million – and I would like to see that fund keep growing. The Education Stability Fund sets aside 18 percent of all lottery dollars up to a cap that is 5 percent of the general fund budget. It is expected to reach the $600 million limit by the 2009-11 session. I would like to see the cap increased to 10 percent and retain the safeguards that allow the money to be used only during a true recession.
I co-chair the Senate Commission on Educational Excellence and we are coming up with a plan to reduce K-3 class sizes to give kids a better start and save money in “catch-up” costs. I think the expense of that plan can be offset by increasing the $10 annual corporate tax that has remained unchanged since 1932.
2) What are your stands on social issues, such as civil unions?
Metsger: I strongly supported Senate Bill 1000 that approved civil unions. I believe every citizen in this state should be treated equally under the law. I think marriage comes from a religious background but that doesn’t mean the state should not allow two people to enter into a civil agreement that grants them the same privileges.
I am pro-choice and against Measure 43 requiring parental notification. It is interesting to me how that is spun. Fifteen is the age of consent in this state for any other medical procedures. So, an abortion would be the only medical procedure that could not be done without parental consent until the age of 18. And there are just not the stats out there to show this is a problem.
I don’t think you can legislate family relationships; you either have a good relationship with your parents or you do not. And, if a teenager is not talking with her mother and father, there could be a reason for that. I understand the feeling behind the measure but I think it’s a solution looking for a problem. The key is really taking preventative measures through education and promoting loving and supportive families.
York: I supported Measure 36 (defining that marriage is between a man and a woman). But Hood River County offers benefits for domestic partners and I also support that. We should not discriminate.
Roe versus Wade is the law so we need to make sure abortion clinics have to follow health and safety rules. I believe that Measure 43 is intended as an “escape clause” for parents. If a teenager has to get permission at school just to have an aspirin shouldn’t she also need permission for any medical procedure? It is just common sense.
What a horrible decision for any woman of any age to have to make. I think it is so much better for us to focus on education and prevention through birth control. And then be reasonable and respectful of people’s decisions.
3) How did you vote on Measure 7 and 37, respectively, and how do you think state growth will now be affected?
York: I was against Measure 7 because it had the potential of bankrupting all agencies. Measure 37 had a waiver built in so I supported it.
It’s obvious that the people of Oregon care very much about this issue. It’s also obvious that we need more flexibility in our land-use system. What farmer wouldn’t want the ability to divide his/her land among two to four kids?
I think we need to give local governments more control over land-use because they know the topography better. They know which areas are farmable and which would be better developed. We could give counties a range of options to protect resources and then allow for some flexibility.
I think Measure 7 was a huge wake-up call and the Legislature could have done something better than what we have with Measure 37. A smoother plan would have worked statewide instead of every county doing something different with the same set of rules.
The voters have spoken and I believe we need to honor their will with Measure 37.
Metsger: No and no. Clearly, the voters wanted fairness and our land-use system needs to be re-evaluated. In polls, people still overwhelming support land-use planning. I think with Measure 37 they wanted Dorothy English, a senior citizen, to be able to carve off lots for her children and not 250 homes on a subdivision in the Hood River Valley.
I respect the voter’s need for fairness and think the Legislature has to come up with a workable solution. We tried to do something last session in the Senate but couldn’t get past the enmeshed interests that would rather take their case to court than participate in the discussion. So, it will be interesting to see what recommendations the state Big Look Committee brings back to us after further studying the issues involved.
4) What would your legislative priority be for the 2007-09 session?
Metsger: I would like my Senate education committee to successfully move a plan ahead to fruition. We are going to vote on that plan within the next month and introduce it at the next session.
I would also like to see the Oregon State Police have 140 more troopers back on the road. And a continuation of investment into the state’s transportation structure because that is so critical to economic development.
York: Education, health care and public safety should be the top priorities. The defeat of Measures 28 and 30 made it clear that the voters don’t want more taxes. So, we need to focus on accountability and how our tax dollars are being spent; to look for ways to reduce the tax burden. This “boom and bust” cycle of budgeting is not healthy and we need to stabilize our revenue streams. We need to prioritize spending to take care of our most vulnerable citizens, the old and the young. There also needs to be more of a focus on economic development through business retention. It’s easier to keep a customer than going out to get a new customer.
The Legislature should set a goal to put 15 percent of any extra money into the rainy day fund. We also need to require that immigrants show proof of legal residency before gaining driver’s licenses or obtaining other state services. I think the state should have a guest worker program because so many industries in the state rely on these workers.
Many of our laborers are getting an education and going on to other jobs so I believe teaching bilingual skills to our children is also very important. America is behind the rest of the world in languages and that’s an important issue right now on a global scale.
5) Do you have a plan to improve access to health care for all Oregonians?
York: I am interested in having more rural health care because that is such a big problem. Cascade Locks doesn’t even have a doctor or pharmacy.
We, in this county, are so fortunate to have Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital. And I think the new PHRMH mobile clinic could be used as a model in communities like Cascade Locks for the treatment of standard illnesses.
I helped the county provide a 20-30 percent discount card for residents of all income levels who do not have prescription insurance. I am excited about helping other counties enact that program.
I think malpractice insurance costs are so high we need to take a look at torte liability reform. And some way of creating more competition among health care providers to lower insurance rates.
The Oregon Health and Science University programs – education, research, patient care and community service -- are important to this state. OHSU also provides spin-off jobs to small research companies that are good for our economic health.
Metsger: I support asking the federal government for greater flexibility in how Medicare and Medicaid funds are spent today. It has been 40 years since these programs were established and we need to better address the needs of today. I would also like to see the 10-cent-per-pack cigarette tax restored to provide $15 million each biennium to provide children with more health care.
This is really our biggest domestic program and Oregon needs to be a leader. We can expand our bulk purchasing of prescription drugs to keep the prices down. And look for other ways to spend our health care dollars more efficiently.
6) What is your stance on Measure 48?
Metsger: I’m opposed to it. It’s clearly designed by those who want to ratchet back services for citizens. Measure 48 is a political answer to no real problem – but it could create a huge problem.
Oregon is one of only two states that have both a revenue and spending limit. Under the “kicker law” if property tax collections exceed a two percent increase, then taxpayers get a refund. The state’s expenditures in a biennium can be no more than eight percent of the projected personal income growth.
York: The devil’s in the details on Measure 48. The concept is good but this isn’t quite the way to go about it. If the Legislature had taken some action back in the boom of the 1990s we probably wouldn’t have this measure. But there are no real perimeters around the measure and that could bring problems.