Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As we begin Oregon’s 77th Legislative Session, I want to take a moment to share my key legislative priorities for 2013.
In my meetings with community members, families and small business owners all over southern Oregon, I hear a clear directive: Focus on rebuilding Oregon’s strong economy by creating and retaining good paying jobs and supporting small businesses, and improve our public education system. Education and job creation work hand in glove, and they are my top priorities for 2013.
For too long, we have balanced Oregon’s budget at the expense of fully funding our schools. This must change. Further, there must be a close examination of PERS with an eye toward making it sustainable for public employees in the future. Savings created through fair reforms can be then redirected into the classroom, where our teachers and students are laboring under unprecedented class sizes. But what does “fair reform” look like? Specifically, I support adjusting out-of-state benefits and capping cost-of-living increases for high-benefit recipients, which will allow us to gain savings, ensure the long-term viability of the PERS system, and help to adequately fund education. Let’s give our children the investment in their education that they deserve.
When it comes to healthcare reform Oregon is at the tip of the spear. (See the Washington Post blog.) The newly passed Coordinated Care Organizations are off and running; they are locally accountable, integrated across the health spectrum and focused on primary and preventative care. Already, they are lowering costs and improving patient health. Going forward, Oregon’s health insurance exchange and its programs, known as Cover Oregon, will serve as a conduit for both small business owners and individual consumers to save money on health insurance and take advantage of tax credits through the Affordable Care Act. Because of federal and statewide reforms Oregon will soon be delivering healthcare to more of its citizens while providing a higher quality of care and bending the health insurance cost curve. This healthcare reform remains some of the proudest work I’ve done in service as a senator and practicing physician of over 30 years. It is also evidence that lawmakers in Oregon can remove partisan labels and make the right decisions for the people of Oregon. I will continue to follow healthcare legislation and do everything that I can to support a healthy Oregon.
As to the local economy, there’s still much work to be done in southern Oregon. We can do just that by helping small businesses grow in Jackson County, investing in schools with excellent teachers and manageable class sizes, and increasing job skills training and education by better linking businesses and community colleges.
I am also reminded of the adage that the best jobs in a community are already there. That truism seems to fly in the face of a stubbornly high unemployment rate in Jackson County, especially compared to other parts of Oregon like the Willamette Valley. While fighting for new job opportunities for our area, we must be vigilant in retaining the businesses that currently call Jackson County home. The second paycheck—that is our air quality, easy commutes, beautiful scenery and abundant recreation, cannot be overlooked as a drawing card for businesses and families to our area. Too often, in the name of immediate jobs, government and communities allow ‘the few’ to compromise the livelihood of many. This is a mistake and to that end, I will remain vigilant in protecting our natural resources that enrich our lives in so many ways.
Please come and visit us at our Salem office in the Oregon Capitol. We are happy to arrange tours, store a wet jacket, or just say hi anytime. We’re located on the second floor of the Senate, S-205.
Follow our progress and contact my office in Medford or Salem to discuss any issue or idea you may have. Together, we can meet our challenges.