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OP-ED: 2016 elections are over – where do we go from here?

OP-ED: 2016 elections are over – where do we go from here?

SC2013_DJC_320x320Mike Salsgiver, Executive DirectorNearly 50 years ago, another Republican President-elect, Richard Nixon, spoke of the “silent majority.” He described these Americans as a large and normally undemonstrative cross-section of the country that just went about their business. These Americans worked hard and didn’t talk much. They followed the law and generally supported their government. And with all the turbulence, violence, and anger of 1968, these Americans did not feel they were being heard.

Today’s “silent majority” finally broke its silence. These Americans looked at the world and didn’t like what they were seeing. Once again, these voters came to the polls and the result of their votes moved the American political pendulum in yet another direction.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, there are already intense debates and disagreements about what it has meant. But the dust is settling and the results are becoming more clear. There are several initial conclusions we can draw.

From a national perspective, under the constitutional rules we follow, this was a “change” election. Although there are still millions more votes to count, this appears to be the fifth time in US history when the presidential candidate who received more popular votes will lose the Electoral College, and therefore the election. The candidate who spoke out against the media, the Washington establishment, and the policy direction of the past eight years has won. The Republicans will continue to control both the House and the Senate. Across the nation, the number of Republicans winning governor’s races continues to grow. In 2008, there were 21 Republicans elected as governor. Today, that number has increased to 31.

In Oregon, our state continues to buck the national political trend, but is not immune from it. Our state remains heavily influenced by elected Democrats, but there are signs that over 30 years of heavy single-party dominance has its limits. For the first time in a generation, a Republican has won one of the five key statewide partisan elected offices. With the defeat of more than half of the bond and other money measures on the ballot, it also seems clear that pocketbook-driven decisions can still drive voters, especially in communities not yet feeling full economic recovery.

In our view, good government comes from balanced government. When all the votes are finally tallied, it is likely there will be no supermajority in either the Oregon House or the Senate. The Senate Democrats will lose their 18–12 supermajority if, as expected, Republican Alan DeBoer (Ashland) is formally declared the winner in that race.

In the Oregon House, the balance will remain 35 Democrats and 25 Republicans, one vote shy of a supermajority needed to unilaterally approve tax measures. That means in the supercritical area of tax policy, the House and Senate Republicans will need to be an active part of the discussion and the solution.

Two other indications that voters were changing direction were the votes on Ballot Measures 97 and 98. Ballot Measure 97, which proposed a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on sales, was soundly defeated 59–41 percent. AGC was an early opponent of this ill-conceived measure and was an active partner in the opposition campaign to defeat it.

Voters clearly and overwhelmingly spoke with their pocketbooks and rejected what was estimated to be a $600 per year increase in taxes per household with no guarantee of how the legislature would allocate those funds. This defeat came despite the support of the governor (who in the same election was chosen to complete John Kitzhaber’s unfilled fourth term) and key state legislative leaders.

The failure of Measure 97 means the legislature will still face a $1.3 billion budget deficit driven by the costs associated with PERS and the Affordable Care Act. AGC will continue its role as a part of a coalition of business leaders and associations that will work to find a way to meet the state’s ongoing needs in education, services, health care, and infrastructure, while looking for sustainable revenues through economic growth and real tax reform, control of state government costs and spending, and through targeted investment priorities during the 2017 Legislative Session.

On another front, the voters also made clear that funding career technical education and improving high school graduation rates was a priority. Ballot Measure 98, which established career technical education funding and high school graduation mandates, passed by a two to one margin (65–34 percent). Driven primarily by our industry’s future workforce needs, AGC financially supported the ballot measure and actively engaged in the campaign.

For us, Measure 98 was the logical extension of our work over the past six years to reinstate funding to rebuild our state’s vocational education programs. These programs are essential for students who do not want to get a four-year college education, but instead want to move immediately into high-paying skilled trades. Voters sent a clear and resounding message to Oregon’s legislators that the state has a dire need to support programs that will help fill highly-skilled, well-paid construction, manufacturing, and forestry jobs. Career technical education is one of the strongest tools to do that.

AGC will work diligently with our partners and Oregon’s elected leadership in the 2017 Legislative Session to fulfill the will of voters and advocate for the full funding and implementation of Ballot Measure 98’s career technical education programs that have proven so successful and so critical to our industry.

AGC will also continue to work with our partners and all members of the legislature to advocate for the approval of a long overdue, robust transportation infrastructure funding package. With the massive funding hole facing us, and with economic concerns expressed through the failure of many bond measures, passing infrastructure bills will be difficult. But the needs are still there, they are not going away, and delay will only be more costly to all of us.

In a year when the “experts” (me included) were almost all wrong, voters have demonstrated they still have their hand on the wheel. It’s now our responsibility to help drive the state in the right direction.

This article originally appeared in the DJC and can be found here (subscription required).

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

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