2016 STATE OF THE STATE
[REMARKS AS PREPARED]
By GOV. KATE BROWN
Good afternoon, and thank you, Portland City Club, for inviting me to share my 2016 state of the State address.
I appreciate the opportunity to share this “snapshot” of the past year; assess the progress we’ve made, and convey my vision for the future.
But before I do that, I wanted to share a snapshot from another year, another Governor.
The year was 1973, a watershed year for Oregon.
Under the leadership of Governor Tom McCall, Senator Hector Macpherson and Senator Ted Hallock, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 100, creating, in a time of great change, an innovative system of statewide land use planning.
That system, the first of its kind in the nation, protects Oregon’s beauty, bounty, and livability to this day.
This achievement appropriately generated several glowing editorials in the New York Times, all lauding Oregon as one of the last great places.
In a November 1973 episode of Bill Moyers Journal, he himself even said, “The people out here seem to think they have a patent on the good life …”
That was 1973. Now, let’s fast-forward to 2016.
It’s been a little more than a year since I unexpectedly took office – a year best characterized, in fact, by the word “unexpected,” from jumping into the legislative session at a dead run, to responding to the mass shooting at UCC, to managing historic drought – followed by wildfires – followed by floods, turning large stretches of our state into disaster areas.
But in my twenty-plus years in public office, in the Legislature, as Secretary of State and now as your Governor, I have never been prouder of my state than I am today.
Earlier this year, Oregon spent six weeks in the national news, and the people of Harney County spent forty-one days in chaos. An uninvited, heavily armed, out-of-state gang took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, threatening the community and intimidating residents.
And, confronted by adversity, Oregonians rose to the challenge.
So did local law enforcement. For their calm and determination, I thank Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, and Sheriff David Ward. I am also grateful for Oregon’s other sheriff’s departments. Already squeezed themselves, they sent officers from around the state to help preserve the peace.
Oregon State Police rose to the challenge as well. In a dangerous situation in a remote part of the state, they worked 24 hours a day to protect the public.
Vicious threats to the lives and families of these public officials continue even today. I am deeply grateful for their dedication to protecting and serving Oregonians.
I am also grateful to the people of Oregon. Throughout the 41-day ordeal, many Oregonians, both online and in person, rose to support and encourage our fellow residents.
We may have disagreements about individual issues, but we stand together against any outsider who would claim to speak for us, who threatens our fellow Oregonians, and whose presence disrupts the well-being of our neighbors.
More than four million strong, spread out over 36 different counties, when the chips are down, we unite as one state.
We are Oregonians. And that is indeed something to be proud of.
We have other reasons to be proud today. Oregon has the lowest unemployment rate in 15 years. Ninety-five percent of Oregonians who want a job, have a job.
And over the last year, our job growth was the best in 20 years, far exceeding the national average.
The sun has definitely come out from behind the clouds of a protracted economic downturn. And when the sun shines, that’s the best time to make hay. The day I was sworn in as Governor, I promised to roll up my sleeves and get to work, and that’s exactly what I have done.
I know your vision for Oregon is uncompromising; so is mine.
I first entered public service over 20 years ago on a mission: to give voice to voiceless, and bring opportunity to those whom equity and prosperity have left behind.
This is the lens through which I view our world – and our state. It informs everything I have done, and everything I will do.
I am committed to an Oregon comprised of healthy, vibrant communities.
I am committed to an Oregon that offers opportunities for all Oregonians to reach their full potential.
I am committed to a thriving Oregon that is resilient and able to sustain the well-being of current and future generations.
And over the past year, in spite of emergencies, a hostile occupation, and natural disasters, we have made good progress toward making that vision real. And we have expanded opportunities for all Oregonians to thrive.
To continue our economic growth in every single corner of Oregon, state government must find additional ways to add overall economic value.
I want to see Oregonians get the level of services that they expect. And I will hold the government accountable in the delivery of those services, which should be effective and efficient.
That’s why I championed legislation that expands the reach of the Office of Small Business Assistance. Together with my newly formed Small Business Advisory Cabinet, we will work with government agencies to provide troubleshooting and customer service to our small businesses.
People’s expectations have changed in the last few years regarding the speed and efficiency of the delivery of information and services.
State government needs to change with them.
If I ship a package via FedEx, for example, I can track it practically in real time. And as Secretary of State, I concluded that a voter’s ability to track their ballot, once it was mailed, should be at least as easy as tracking a package. I believe every vote counts. That’s why I made online ballot-tracking available to every eligible voter.
As Governor, I want to bring that same level of transparency to state services.
State government also needs to be more accountable to its people. As public servants, we should conduct ourselves as though the people are watching us every minute.
In addition to taking steps to improve state agency handling of public records requests, I successfully fought to require lobbyists to disclose publicly whom they represent – and do so within three days.
I introduced changes to Oregon’s ethics laws that increase penalties for knowingly using public office for private gain.
Upon taking office, I immediately put into place a directive that precludes me, my spouse, and all of my staff from accepting payment for speaking engagements. Each of us is now required to file an annual statement of economic interest (SEIs) with the Oregon Ethics Commission.
I have more work to do. I look forward to receiving the recommendations of the Attorney General’s public records working group and further developing my proposal for an Office of the Public Records Advocate for the 2017 session.
These enhancements to Oregon’s ethics and public records laws respond to commitments I made in this room a year ago to restore public trust in state government.
That day, as part of my State of the State report, I also committed to creating a seamless education system from cradle to career, making sure our public schools have the tools and resources they need to deliver better outcomes.
And this past year, we made the largest investment in public education in Oregon’s history. We increased funding for important wrap-around services that support student success, including early childhood education. For the first time in Oregon’s history, we funded all-day kindergarten statewide.
We know an opportunity gap exists for children whose families have lower incomes and are from historically underserved communities. This opportunity gap starts early, a tiny crack in the system that widens over the course of their educations, undermining student success.
These critical early investments such as Head Start, preschool, and all-day kindergarten help nip that opportunity gap in the bud.
Another crucial resource for our kids’ academic success is excellent teaching. Committed and talented educators make a difference in the lives of Oregon students every single day.
That’s why I formed the Council on Educator Advancement; its membership was announced last week. The Council will develop a continuum of professional development to make Oregon’s education workforce the best and strongest it can be.
Because who in this room has not been inspired by a truly great teacher? I know I have.
This past year, we also invested in CTE and STEAM – thank you, Congresswoman Bonamici, for adding the “A” for “arts.” These programs are proven to improve test scores, keep students in school, and better prepare them for college and careers.
CTE and STEAM experiences meet students where they are. They connect them with interests they are passionate about, and set them on a path that is meaningful for them.
When students can envision their future, education becomes relevant.
Take, for example, Austin Smith, born in Warm Springs, now living in Bend.
As a high school student, Austin took an internship with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ Natural Resources Department.
After graduating from high school and completing his tour of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, he returned to study at OSU-Cascades, graduating in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science degree.
Today, Austin works as a wildlife technician in the same department at the Confederated Tribes of Warms Springs where he had his high school internship.
That early, hands-on learning experience was Austin’s first step on the path to his future. Every Oregon student should have experiences that awaken them to the power of their own potential and help them find a career path.
And if, like Austin, that path leads to higher education, we have an obligation to ensure access by making sure college is affordable.
This past year, we increased funding for higher education by 16 percent – the largest increase in the nation. Of course, Oregon had a lot of lost ground to make up.
We provided significant tuition relief for Oregon students attending our public colleges and universities. More than 16,000 additional students now have access to Oregon Opportunity grants in support of their college educations.
And, the new Oregon Promise program will reduce community college tuition to as little as $50 a term for eligible students. The response has been tremendous, with more than sixteen thousand applications statewide – and this is just the first year.
Higher education creates opportunity, and I am committed to opening the doors of opportunity to all Oregon students by making college affordable and accessible.
In addition to creating a seamless system of education from cradle to career, I am also working for a safer, healthier Oregon.
At a time when many states are struggling to address gun safety, Oregon passed two bills that enhance background checks and keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
In the February 2016 session, I also secured $6 million to address campus and community needs in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at Umpqua Community College.
These funds will support important changes such as enhancing the presence of security officers on campus, and facilities upgrades to make buildings more secure.
The events of that October day in Roseburg changed me forever. After looking into the eyes of Oregonians who lost family members in that act of senseless violence, I will never be the same. Neither will they – neither will any of us.
I don’t want anything like that to happen again. So in addition to working on gun safety measures, I formed the Campus Safety Working Group to develop recommendations that will enhance the safety of all of Oregon’s college campuses, public and private.
Their report will be informed by the good work of the School Safety Task Force that released its recommendations for K-12 schools last fall, including the creation of an anonymous tip line. The Campus Safety working group will consider best practices already in place in Oregon and nationally, and take into account what we learned from the tragedy at UCC.
There is much work still to be done – work we will do together.
It’s not only vital to ensure the safety of Oregon’s schools and college campuses. Making sure Oregonians are safer and healthier also means having a place to call home. And as a state, we are also facing a serious housing crisis.
Last year, there were twenty thousand houseless children in Oregon’s K-12 education system. Twenty thousand.
This is totally. Unacceptable.
It is impossible to think any child can succeed in school while living in chaos, without a dry, warm place to sleep, eat, and do homework.
A home is fundamental. A home helps children succeed and keeps families together.
With vacancy rates averaging about 1 percent across the state, my administration helped secure more than $70 million dollars to build housing and prevent houseless-ness. Leadership from Speaker Kotek and the Legislature provided additional tools for local governments to remove barriers to creating affordable housing statewide.
Renters can sleep easier with additional notice requirements for no-cause evictions. And more families struggling to make ends meet will have access to foreclosure assistance.
Despite these significant investments, we still face major shortages statewide. At all levels of government – federal, state, and local – we must work together, acting swiftly to make sure Oregonians in need can find housing they can afford.
Also critical to the vitality of our communities is access to health care. It makes me incredibly proud to report that a record 94 percent of Oregonians now have health insurance – nearly 98 percent of our children.
But we’re not done yet. The truth is, access to health care is lower among families from underserved communities. Leaders from education and health care are discussing ways to make children’s health services more accessible to all families, including immigrant children. I will continue our efforts to ensure every Oregonian has access to the care they require.
For most of us, it is these basic human needs – shelter, education, health care – by which we measure the well-being of our communities. Yet our communities cannot thrive unless we work continuously to protect the natural environment upon which our way of life depends.
Governor McCall understood this. Senate Bill 100 stemmed from his impulse to protect Oregon against unchecked growth and development.
In 1973, he told The New York Times, “We are facing a shameless threat to the whole quality of our life. Sub-dividers are chopping and thrashing away, making hamburger out of the magnificent landscape of Oregon,” he said.
Today, as you well know, global climate change is the major threat to our quality of life. Addressing it is an environmental and economic imperative.
Over the past year, we took major steps forward to make Oregon cleaner and greener. We adopted landmark clean fuels legislation to help improve air quality and reduce the state’s carbon footprint. We passed the Toxic Free Kids Act and support for Brownfields Cleanup. We increased penalties for poaching. And we accelerated the availability of solar energy in Oregon.
I also have taken action to hold state regulators accountable for air quality programs that protect public health statewide. It’s time the regulation of industrial emissions caught up with scientific evidence connecting environmental quality and public health. In addition to $2.5 million dollars to launch a statewide, interagency Cleaner Air Oregon program, I sought new leadership at DEQ to keep these efforts on track.
Perhaps best of all, just a few weeks ago, I approved the nation’s first “coal to clean” law that gives Oregon a vision for a future free of coal-powered electricity.
Although we are still not on track to meet our greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, we are heading in the right direction.
Future generations of Oregonians will judge this generation not on the fact of climate change, but how we responded to it. And I am not about to let them down.
I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish together this past year, and I am excited about our future.
Going forward, I will continue working to give a voice to those whose voices are not heard in the public policy arena. And I will focus on making our state more equitable and inclusive of all Oregonians.
I will work hard to identify more ways to advance our vision for a thriving Oregon, focusing on the best return-on-investment for our future.
That means continuing the great progress we celebrated this week at the mouth of the Klamath River. It is imperative that we see through the restoration of this river and the Basin. It is an important economic resource for the region, and the heart and soul of area tribes.
This agreement is more than an environmental milestone. It also shows how, working together, we can address the key challenges facing our state today – education and the economy.
I am pleased that, on the whole, Oregon has turned a corner on the Great Recession. But that recovery has been slower across our 36 counties, with some rural counties still struggling with unemployment as high as 7 or 8 percent.
The key to continuing to grow the economy in every corner of our state is Oregon’s small businesses.
Ninety percent of Oregon businesses are small businesses, and they employ over 50 percent of the workforce.
We also know that 70 percent of new jobs are created when existing businesses expand.
To continue building a strong economy, state government must focus on supporting innovative startups and entrepreneurs, and helping small businesses all over Oregon grow and thrive.
Working with my Small Business Advisory Cabinet and Business Oregon, our state economic development agency, I will encourage entrepreneurship and connect more small businesses with the capital they need to expand.
Also, the “digital divide” – a lack of internet access in less populated areas of the state – continues to challenge schools, households and businesses in some of our communities.
My administration has enlisted community and industry partners to pursue upgrades and expansion of our technological infrastructure to level the playing field by giving more Oregonians access to the vast resources of the internet.
Our businesses also count on our state transportation system to get goods to market and workers to their jobs.
I will continue to champion much-needed seismic upgrades and other improvements to our roads, bridges and public transportation that enhance safety and address congestion.
Congestion. If it seems to take a lot longer to get anywhere in the tri-county area than it did five years ago, that’s because – it does. Traffic delays in the Portland metro area are rising. Currently, each commuter will waste an extra 52 hours each year fighting traffic.
And until we take action, that number is just going to keep going up.
Together with the Oregon Transportation Commission and a variety of stakeholder groups, I will develop and present a transportation package to the 2017 Legislature.
Each of you has a role in making this happen. Your job is to hold us accountable. Insist that your elected leaders take action in 2017 to address this mind-numbing congestion that degrades our quality of life.
These investments will support the strong business sector Oregon needs to keep our economic engines humming.
Oregon also needs strong public education – from pre-K through university – to provide the workforce businesses need to compete in a global economy.
As everyone in this room knows, Oregon’s high school graduation rate ranks among the lowest in the nation. Currently, one in four Oregon students doesn’t finish high school.
This must change.
I am determined to increase the number of Oregon students that graduate from high school with a plan for their future.
Woodburn School District has an amazing program that gets students thinking about life after high school – before high school even starts.
One of the most diverse districts in our state, two-thirds of Woodburn’s students are English Language Learners, and close to 80 percent receive free and reduced lunch.
And Woodburn School District’s graduation rate has become one of the highest in the state, rising from 59 percent in 2009, to nearly 85 percent in 2015 – a 24 percent increase in just six years.
Through its innovative “school-within-a-school” program, Woodburn High School has achieved an amazing turnaround that is nothing short of enviable.
I’d like to share Giselle’s [“hiz-ELL”] story. Giselle is a 2015 graduate of Woodburn High School.
She emigrated with her family to Woodburn from Mexico when she was 5 years old. Speaking very little Spanish, and no English at all, she was able to join the district’s bilingual program in kindergarten, which continues through high school.
In eighth grade, Giselle, like all of her student peers, had an opportunity to apply to one of four tracks that she would pursue throughout high school.
Giselle chose the Academy of International Studies, and in 2015, she graduated first in her class.
She is now a first-year student at George Fox University, studying public health and Chicano/Chicana Studies.
Giselle is living proof that high school graduation is not a finish line. It is a launch pad to a very bright future.
Giselle agreed to join us for lunch today with her brother, Miguel. Giselle, thank you for allowing me to share your story. Would you please stand and be recognized?
When I look back over my first year, I am proud of Oregon and what we have accomplished together.
After all, Oregon’s state motto is, “She flies with her own wings,” not, “She rests on her own laurels.”
And while this past year wasn’t like 1973 in most ways, this too was a watershed year for Oregon, with several first-in-the-nation achievements of our own:
• Our three-tiered minimum wage increase is the first of its kind to account for regional economic differences – one the state of New York has just decided to emulate. Because no one working full time should live in poverty, no matter where in Oregon they live. And this July, thanks to the leadership of Senate President Peter Courtney and the Legislature, more than 200,000 Oregonians will get a raise.
• In keeping with the vision of putting a ballot in the hands of every eligible voter, Oregon Motor Voter is the nation’s first automatic voter registration system, adding more than 34,000 new voters to the rolls in the first 90 days;
• Also, Oregon now allows pharmacies to dispense birth control pills without a prescription, and is the first state in the nation to require insurance coverage for up to twelve months of birth control pills at a time. What a relief for Oregon women, especially in rural communities;
• And, of course, we passed a first-in-the-nation Renewable Portfolio Standard law that will put an end to coal-produced electricity in Oregon.
I think these first-ever achievements over the past 14 months would have made Governor McCall very proud.
And as he once said, “Being an Oregonian is a state of mind, not an accident of birth.”
That state of mind has rightfully earned Oregon a national reputation for innovation – and for simply getting things done.
Other states’ governors may be stymied, Congress may be dysfunctional. Clearly, Oregon is not.
No, this is not 1973.
It is 2016, and our legacy is well underway. We will go forwards, not backwards. We will protect what makes Oregon great. We will be good stewards for future generations.
We will be who we are: Oregonians – the blazers of new trails, the ones who get things done.
And yes, Bill Moyers, “these people out here” will “live the good life,” this good, Oregon life – patent pending.