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Sen. Girod blames financial ‘mismanagement’ for state woes

By Sean C. Morgan

The last legislative session was tough for Sen. Fred Girod.

“I loved my job up until six weeks before the end of the session,” Girod said during a wide-ranging presentation at the monthly Chamber of Commerce Membership Forum Aug. 30.

The Democrat-dominated legislature was passing legislation to create a tax on gross receipts – not on profits – while businesses like Norpac in Stayton were declaring bankruptcy.

That’s a big expense, especially for businesses that have to take prices from the market, Girod said.

The $2 billion gross receipts tax is dedicated to education, he said, and that’s one of his priorities, an area where he often bucks his party, but the other $8 billion budgeted for education is not dedicated, and it can be reduced to cover shortfalls on the governor’s wish list.

He noted that, after 20 years of what he described as mismanagement of state funds, the state is having a hard time keeping education funded.

“It’s a disgrace,” Girod said. “And I think teachers are underpaid.”

It’s a high priority, but money is the problem, Girod said. If the state creates a new program, the funding will come out of education, while the other half will come out of health or public safety.

CHAMBER AMBASSADORS, from left, Shyla Malloy, Jenni Grove and Betty Schmidt draw names for door prizes with Senator Girod’s help.

Girod is the Republican senator who represents Lebanon and east Linn County. His district stretches along the east side of Interstate 5 into Clackamas County.

“I live on the North Santiam,” Girod said. “I really worry about the environment, but cap and trade is absolutely not doable for agriculture and timber. I was one of the senators who walked.”

That was hard to do, he said, adding he’s never walked off a job before.

Meanwhile, the governor threatened to put the absent senators in handcuffs, he said. He had no idea where he was going, but he flew to Las Vegas, Nev., and then on to El Paso, Texas.

The cap and trade bill needed 18 votes to pass, but it also needed a quorum, a majority of the senators.

“It didn’t make a difference how I voted,” Girod said. Only by not showing up could he have any impact on the legislation.

All the Republicans wanted, he said, was to give the public the chance to put it on the ballot and get public input.

The bill had just 38 percent support, and 51 percent adamantly opposed it, Girod said.

There are other avenues, Girod said. “We truly are environmental.”

He said he submitted a bill to turn Portland electric by 2035, for example.

“I have worked with four governors,” Girod said. “This one, I would say, is extremely difficult to work with.”

In other bills, the legislature wanted to tell loggers they cannot log until trees are another 20 years more mature, Girod said, while they faced taxes doubling or tripling fuel prices – with just two projects, Interstate 5 in the Rose Quarter in Portland and Interstate 205, no rural transportation projects, qualifying for funding.

In elections, the legislature wants to limit businesses to contributions of $1,500 while allowing unions to contribute with no limits, Girod said, noting that he spent one of the lowest amounts if not the lowest in the last election, less than $40,000.

During a question and answer period, one attendee thanked Girod, to applause, for leaving when he needed to.

“We did what was allowed in the Constitution,” Girod said. “Kate Brown did exactly the same thing to gerrymander the districts.”

Asked about the chances for a recall, he said Brown won election in seven counties, four of them with 80 percent.

“The Democrats are lining up more than I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. He thinks the chances of a successful recall are probably one in three, not more than 50-50.

The next in line would be the Democratic treasurer, Tobias Read, because the secretary of state, Bev Clarno, was appointed; but that would be a “big improvement,” Girod said.

In relation to other questions, he expressed his support for career and technical education, like auto, wood and metal shop programs.

One obstacle is the dramatically increasing costs of the Public Employees Retirement System, he said. He has seen the percentage of contributions increase from 10 percent to 28 percent. Education is labor, and that makes the labor more expensive.

Those things have been lost, Girod said, “mostly from what I consider mismanagement.”

“You can make a really good living and not necessarily go to college,” Girod said. With classes like these, students can grow up to become craftsmen, like underwater welders. “We’ve done a poor job (on the trades).”

The Oregon Department of Education itself is a “black hole,” and legislators can’t even get an audit of the agency.

He sits on its finance committee, he said. The committee asked for an audit. The next session, ODE presented a progress report on the audit as a footnote. It had made no progress. Because the committee asked ODE to report back, it did not have to actually do the audit. It merely had to report back on its progress.

On housing prices, Girod said the state needs to “make more land available for development.”

In many places, it’s also an issue with sewer and water services, he said.

Former City Manager John Hitt asked if there was anything to help small cities and counties to expand infrastructure.

Yes, Girod said. He secured $7 million for Sweet Home to help pay for a rehabilitation and expansion of its Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The majority leadership wanted $300 million for housing subsidies, he said, and he “guilted” them into adding it to the bill.

Girod said he tried to get some money to help mitigate the wetlands on industrial sites in Lebanon, noting that if it were public, he could probably be able to get money for it.

“Infrastructure is the key to development and the availability of land,” he said.