On October 6 I moderated a discussion between Oregon State Legislators and the heads of 15 agencies funded by United Way of Lane County.
More than 15 chiefs of Lane County’s largest nonprofit organizations, a total of thirty five participants, asked hard questions regarding how each of the legislators on the panel would support their priorities in the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session.
Included on the panel were veteran legislators Senator Lee Beyer (D-Springfield), Representative Phil Barnhart (D-Eugene and Brownsville), Senator Chris Edwards (D-Eugene), Representative John Lively (D-Springfield) and Representative Nancy Nathanson (D-Eugene).
Each legislator had an opportunity to introduce themselves and their priorities before the start of questioning. While each talked of ranges of issues, their main focus was on the business likely to come before the committees they chair (each of the representatives is standing for reelection in November). Beyer chairs the Senate Transportation Committee; Barnhart is chair of House Revenue; Edwards chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources; Lively chairs the House Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee and Nathanson is co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee.
Questions and comments largely centered on budgetary priorities and each legislator talked about the difficulty of funding all projects and agencies that they would like to fund. Rep. Lively summed up the budgetary question with the response, “As our economy continues to slowly improve, we have much work to do to make the incremental changes we can with the resources we have.”
The main focus of everyone’s attention was the lack of housing at all levels in Lane County. The low vacancy of rentals combined with the high expense of building new residences have combined to cause more families and individuals to fall into either impossibly expensive housing or homelessness.
Beverlee Hughes, Executive Director of FOOD for Lane County succinctly stated, “Four years ago when we asked clients ‘What single thing would help you most?’ the response was overwhelmingly, ‘Affordable health care.’ Today the response is, .Jobs and affordable housing’.”
Agencies represented (not all are UW funded agencies) in the room included, ARC of Lane County, Volunteers in Medicine, Planned Parenthood, Lane County Human Service Commission, Kids in Transition to School, Oregon Social Learning Center, Salvation Army, Lane Independent Living Association, Boy Scouts of America, Parenting Now, Looking Glass, Centro Latino Americano, Direction Services, Housing and Community Services Agency of Lane County, City of Springfield, Community Sharing of Cottage Grove, HIV Alliance, YMCA, FOOD for Lane County, Goodwill Industries, St. Vincent DePaul of Lane County, NEDCO.