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OP-ED: Following elections, state issues will mirror federal ones

OP-ED: Following elections, state issues will mirror federal ones

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This column originally appeared in The Daily Journal of Commerce in Buildings Bridges and Roads

By: Mike Salsgiver 

Mike SalsgiverThe big story of the 2014 elections at the national level is the Republicans taking the majority in the Senate and further embellishing its majority in the House. As was predicted, the Republican wave formed and hit the political terrain with overwhelming force.

As President Obama looks ahead to his final two years in office, he will be facing strong opposition to his policies in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It is our hope that the president moves firmly to implement a strategy of constructive engagement and true negotiation with the Republican leaders of Congress, rather than continuously exercising his executive authority without congressional support.

This election, the voters made it clear that they are tired of the status quo; they want action on some key national issues. The 2014 elections create an opportunity to make real, long-term economic advancements. Both parties must leave petty political vendettas and “do-nothingness” by the wayside and produce results, mainly within the economy.

As recently as mid-October, Associated General Contractors was on Capitol Hill meeting with members and staff in the Oregon and Washington congressional delegations to continue our push of an agenda that focuses on growing the economy and producing jobs. Topics of discussion included: the need to aggressively move forward on passing a long-term transportation funding package, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and the Jordan Cove Energy Project. We also raised concerns about a regulatory proposal affecting the “waters of the U.S.” and highlighted again the need for multiemployer pension reform.

The inaction by Congress over the past couple of years on all these issues has created an atmosphere of unpredictability and serious economic concern inside the construction industry. We hope that this Congress proves more receptive to real solutions as we move forward.

Both federally and across the state, the effects of the lack of a viable, long-term transportation funding package are now being felt. The short-term fixes that have been passed as of late are not producing the predictability that is needed by contractors to bid work and actually build projects.

As the federal funding faucet has stopped flowing, state funding has also been sinking. Long-term planning programs, such as Oregon’s Surface Transportation Investment Program (STIP), have been suspended, halting the ability to get work into the pipeline and further adding to a nearly $12 billion backlog in work. Passing a long-term, federal transportation package would get major projects flowing again and give our state legislators the confidence they need to invest in projects at the state level.

In addition to advocating for a long-term transportation funding package, AGC thanked congressional members for taking initiative on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). It is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training and support services necessary to succeed in the labor market, and match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy. It is the first legislative reform of the public workforce system in 15 years, and Congress passed the act by a wide bipartisan majority.

The WIOA consolidates and realigns federal funding, allowing for a greater focus on the benefits of career technical education. This move at the federal level reaffirms the benefit of the nearly $9.5 million investment that the Oregon Legislature made for the 2013–2015 biennium in career technical education and will continue to inspire greater investments in career technical education at the state level.

Finally, AGC again thanked congressional members for their work in getting the first phases of the Jordan Cove Energy Project approved, and reiterated the need to advance it further. The south-central Oregon coast has been the victim of decades of economic depression, and a nearly $7.2 billion project would greatly improve the economy there.

The project would provide work for nearly 22,000 workers and infuse a great deal of capital into a struggling part of our state. We hope that addressing the issues of importance to the construction industry at the national level inspires bipartisan work for Congress and further fuels action at the state level.

Legislative action at the state level will continue to look a little different in Oregon than the rest of the nation. While most of the nation was trending Republican during elections in early November, Oregon took a different path and remains a flashing blue light in a sea of red.

Despite the need to wage a defensive campaign in the last weeks of the election, Gov. John Kitzhaber retained his governorship for an unprecedented fourth term. Oregon House Democrats increased their majority by one seat to 35 out of 60. Senate Democrats appear to have increased their majority by one seat as well to 17 out of 30 – pending official results of the Bruce Starr/Chuck Riley race in Senate District 15. These gains put Democrats in both houses within one vote of the 3/5 super majority required for any tax increase.

With the elections (mostly) behind us, preparations for the 2015 legislative session in Oregon are already in full swing. Issues of importance to AGC and the construction industry will mirror the discussions that took place at the congressional level. These include securing a transportation funding package and making a permanent, sustainable investment in career tech education in Oregon’s high schools. AGC will work with a broad range of coalitions to ensure that these essential investments in our industry and Oregon’s economy come to fruition.

Finally, the campaign calls have stopped. Now it’s time to get Oregon back to work.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or mikes@agc-oregon.org.

To view the column online, please click here (DJC subscription required).

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