On Tuesday, Sept. 15, three Oregon State Legislators, Rep. Mark Owens, Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson and Sen. Lynn Findley; who each represent different parts of Lake County, were in Lakeview to talk to local people, leaders and elected officials about some of the major issues facing the area and what is happening in Salem.
Owens and Findley talked about natural resource issues and the need for the state and federal governments to come to an agreement on managing forest health. Though Gov. Kate Brown talks about climate change and its impact on fires across the state, especially the recent fires that have burned through communities, Owens said it is time for the federal government to do a better job and to work on a more regional basis.
“I spent three years as a Harney County Commissioner working on natural resource issues and recent events tell us we have a lot of work to do and that there is no silver bullet,” said Owens.
Owens was adamant that forests need to become more resilient, and to do that forests need to be better managed. While the three representatives avoided talking about logging in general, they noted that forest health had not really become a priority and that working toward healthy forests is something that should not be controversial, though it would require forests to be logged to keep them healthy. Owens said that overall plans need to be made for each individual forest, and that Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) is doing a good job at managing forests, but that federal partners in headquarters of national agencies have not been doing a good enough job. Still, Findley said that he and other legislators have been losing trust in ODF, because of its myriad budget issues and with the recent fires adding additional costs. He said it will not be pretty after the fires, but ODF will need the money.
Breese-Iverson, Findley and Owens spoke about the importance of saving Warner Creek Correctional Facility (WCCF). While Brown can take executive action to close any prison she so chooses, she has not done so since threatening to after the latest short session.
Findley told the audience that there is no support in the Senate to close any prison in the state, let alone WCCF, though he did say that tough decisions will need to be made on the state budget heading into the next biennium as revenue continues to decrease. Owens, Findley and Breese-Iverson were in agreement that looking forward to the next budget cycle the state does not have a revenue problem, but rather a spending problem and needs to work on stopping unfunded mandates to the towns and counties.
Findley wants to get to a zero based budgeting, where departments start each budget cycle at zero dollars and have to make an argument to the state legislature on why they need to be funded. He also wants to go back to fund what is constitutionally mandated. He said that protecting the budget for public safety is important, and is a priority going forward; Owens and Breese-Iverson agreed with him.
One item that all three agreed on is taxes that hurt businesses are too high, and they would not support any proposal that would raise taxes on businesses and individuals that are already hurting due to COVID restrictions and forest fires. Findley said a surgical approach is needed and that services will need to be cut to a minimal level.
Breese-Iverson said that it is important to look at all the services that are offered by the state and to determine whether or not the state is responsible for providing them.
“Budgets are not going to be pretty; the latest revenue is down 52% as of a couple of weeks ago. The Governor has line item vetoed some low hanging fruit,” said Findley.
Owens said that the state needs to stop decriminalizing drugs and to hold people accountable. Breese-Iverson could not fathom why Brown wanted to look at closing one of the newest prison facilities in the state.
One of the major highlights of evening was the three representatives talking about building an eastern Oregon coalition in the state legislature, to remain together and to work together on pushing certain issues.
“I have found a lot of value in the Eastern Oregon Counties (EOC) Association, and have been working on forming an eastern Oregon coalition. There is strength in numbers,” said Owens.
Looking forward to the next legislative session Owens and Breese-Iverson said that building relationships with other legislators is important, but at the same time the Republican party will need to play defense, and work really hard to get positive change.
“We are no good to anyone if the only reason we are needed is just for a quorum,” said Breese-Iverson.
She said that she looks forward to forming true relationships and building coalitions with Democrats, as it is important to figure out how to work together with Democrats on certain issues. Without support from the Democrats in Salem nothing that the Republicans would like to pass will come to fruition.
Findley said that it is important for all legislators to work together to improve the state and have a strong voice and work collaboratively to make items possible.
Owens represents the 60th District in the Oregon House which covers the southeastern portion of Lake County and the entirety of Baker, Grant, Harney and Malheur counties. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breese-Iverson represents the 55th District in the Oregon House which includes northern Lake County along with portions of Deschutes, Jackson and Klamath and the entirety of Crook counties. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Findley represents the 30th District in the Oregon Senate which covers the southeastern portion of Lake County and either the entirety or portion of Baker, Grant, Harney, Jefferson, Malheur, Wheeler, Deschutes and Wasco counties. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.