Locals prepare for 2007 session
Education, OSP funding among the priorities
By Ty Beaver, H&N Staff Writer
As the Nov. 7 general election nears, area educators, law enforcement officials, government officials and farmers are gearing up for the 2007 Legislative session, planning ways to get their needs and priorities to the ears of lawmakers.
Their priorities include:
Reducing class sizes:
The state ranks second for the highest number of students per classroom in the nation, said Chip Terhune of the Oregon Education Association.
Linda Paddock, UNISERVE consultant for Klamath and Lake counties, said class size is an issue locally as well, and is a priority of educators.
More vocational training in schools: OEA wants to see the return of high school vocational programs. Many Oregon students may not go to college, but want and need skills for the workforce, Terhune said.
Paddock said the Klamath Falls City Schools has discussed increasing the district’s vocational training options.
More funding for the Oregon State Police, community corrections and other public safety issues:
The Oregon Sheriff’s Association and the Klamath Board of County Commissioners are concerned about the lack of funding and ongoing cuts in the number of Oregon State Police troopers. In Klamath Falls, 10 troopers patrol county highways, and there hasn’t been 24-hour coverage since 1999. In 1993, the county had 26 troopers, but budget cuts over the years dwindled that number to the current level.
The sheriff’s association also examines any legislation that affects public safety and watches funding levels for community corrections.
Tim Evinger, Klamath County sheriff, also wants the 2007 state Legislature to provide more funding for public safety.
The state police have inadequate funding and can’t keep enough troopers on the road, requiring the sheriff’s departments to pick up the slack, he said, adding, “Public safety has been bleeding itself dry.”
Water rights and natural resources: Guaranteeing water rights of landowners, especially in the Klamath Basin, is a goal of the Klamath County Board of Commissioners and the Oregon Farm Bureau.
The water supply is a valuable commodity for the agricultural community and needs to be protected, said Tracey Liskey, first vicepresident of the Oregon Farm Bureau. The county commissioners echoed that sentiment.
“I think they could do a lot more there,” said commissioner Al Switzer of the Legislature’s involvement.
Commission chairman Bill Brown said he wants to see more leadership from the state in working with federal agencies on natural resources.
Measure 37: The controversial land-use law has caused problems throughout the state for county governments and landowners. Concerns about its affect on farmland have caught the attention of the Oregon Farm Bureau, Liskey said, particularly for its ability to severely limit the amount of arable land in the state.
All three county commissioners said they also want the 2007 state Legislature to address unclear portions of the law to make it easier for county governments to handle claims.
Liskey said the Oregon Farm Bureau is opposed to raising the state’s minimum wage. Oregon farmers already pay above the current rate and an increase could make it more difficult for farmers to stay in business.
“It puts us in an unfair marketplace,” he said.
Labor and immigration: Agriculture needs the labor a migrant workforce provides, Liskey said, but he acknowledged such labor needs to be legal. The state should work with the federal government to help create a program to solve the problem, he added.
“We need a workforce that can come and go and pay taxes like it should,” Liskey said.
Brown said he wants the Legislature to address the draining of social services that illegal immigrants create.
State budget: Several measures on the Nov. 7 ballot could reduce the state’s budget by millions of dollars if approved by voters, and various interest groups are concerned about possible funding cuts.
Switzer said he’d like to see how the Legislature handles reduced funding while maintaining or improving the services it provides to Oregonians. The state also needs to find ways to help schools and roads in counties that may not receive federal timber payments in the future.
Evinger said the state can’t afford to lose anymore of its budget if it expects to maintain current services.
Education could suffer greatly if Measure 48, known as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, is approved, Paddock said. Local schools could lose 25 percent of their state funding if the measure is passed.
“It will devastate education,” she said.
Drug and alcohol prevention: Commissioner Elliott would like to see the state distribute funding for drug and alcohol services more equitably throughout the state, basing it on the severity of the problem in an area instead of on population density.
Trade licensing: Elliott said an issue facing rural counties with numerous construction projects is a shortage of licensed skilled workers.
Relaxing the prerequisites to license workers such as electricians or creating equivalency standards with other states is one thing the Legislature could do to keep new Oregonians employed and the construction business moving, he said.
Tax reform: Reg LeQuieu, county assessor, said he would like the next state Legislature to make it less costly for counties to collect taxes for districts within their jurisdiction. Perhaps allowing counties to keep 1 percent of all collected property tax for each district would allow counties to perform the task without detriment, he said.