Gov. Kate Brown called on lawmakers to approve more money for job training, lower-cost housing and child care in her final state of the state address Thursday.
In her seven years as chief executive, Brown has governed during the 2020 Labor Day wildfires that devastated Oregon, racial justice protests and a coronavirus pandemic that sent the state’s economy into a tailspin — but now is at near record-low unemployment.
“Too many Oregonians have struggled to find good-paying careers,” she said, particularly the poor, people of color and rural residents who have not shared in the recovery. “Our economy is strong, and we must keep it humming. Most importantly, we have to make sure that every Oregonian feels it.”
Brown renewed her call for $200 million for Future Ready Oregon — a plan to target job training in health care, construction and manufacturing — plus $400 million more for housing initiatives and $100 million more for child care.
Although governors usually deliver state of the state addresses to a joint session of the Legislature or another live audience, the pandemic has forced Brown to do so virtually the past two years.
One more year
Brown was secretary of state when, seven years ago this month, she succeeded John Kitzhaber, who resigned under pressure amid an ethics scandal just 38 days into his fourth term. (There was a 12-year gap between his second and third terms). Brown is barred by term limits from running again this year; she will leave office Jan. 9, 2023.
"In my last year as governor, I view every day, every moment, as one more opportunity to focus on the big and bold work we still have to do for Oregon’s working families,” she said.
“I am dedicated to building a strong workforce for Oregon. I will bolster that workforce by providing access to child care so that parents can go to work knowing their kids are cared for. And I will marshal my colleagues to once again make a significant investment in affordable housing. These three investments work together to ensure every working family can thrive.”
She has called for spending of an unanticipated $1.5 billion in tax collections generated by a strong economy. But she and legislative leaders have agreed to set aside $500 million, mostly from federal pandemic recovery funds, to balance the 2023-25 budget. That budget will be put together mostly while Brown is still governor, although her successor will have until Feb. 1 to propose changes.
Brown also touched on the private accords, which she and her staff mediated between the timber industry and environmental advocates to resolve disputes going back four decades over the fate of 10 million acres of Oregon’s forests. Both sides agreed to protect sensitive species and create a habitat conservation plan. Brown has asked for $35 million to start work on streamside habitat, plus $121 million to sever the link between the Elliott State Forest and the Common School Fund, earnings from which are distributed to schools. The State Land Board seeks to transfer the south coast acreage to Oregon State University for a publicly owned research forest.
Pandemic affects popularity
Brown has the lowest popularity ratings of any of the nation’s governors, although other recent Oregon governors such as Republican Vic Atiyeh and Democrats John Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski also saw sharp declines late in their second terms. One factor has been state coronavirus restrictions, which have drawn sharp public criticism and even Capitol protests. State police troopers turned away all but a handful of unmasked people who sought to enter the Capitol as the Legislature opened its 2022 session on Tuesday.
Brown lifted most of her executive orders on COVID back on June 30. But her emergency authority remains in place, as does a requirement for wearing masks indoors.
More than 6,000 Oregonians have died of COVID-19. But Brown said it could have been far worse:
“Oregon has fared better than most,” she said. “We remain third in the nation for lowest cumulative case counts. If our response to COVID matched that of the average state, more than 4,000 Oregonians wouldn’t be with us today. We continue to be among the top states for getting shots in arms and administering boosters.
“And all three branches of government came together to get money to renters in need. In less than a year, we have helped more than 90,000 Oregonians stay safely in their homes.
“That’s not to say it hasn’t been hard. It has been utterly heartbreaking at times.”
But Brown — who said last week she does not plan to endorse a candidate in the May 17 Democratic primary — had a closing message.
“To all the future governors of our state. To the elected leaders who will come next. To our future business and community leaders, and youth who will follow our footsteps. Let me leave you with this: find the opportunity, even in times of crisis. Especially in times of crisis.
“That’s how we continue on this journey of transformational change for Oregon. That’s how we pursue justice. That’s how we heal divides and collaborate in ways that serve our state. That’s how we honor this beautiful place we call home.”