Ferrioli, GOP skeptical of Oregon stimulus

By ED MERRIMAN, Baker City Herald January 29, 2009 01:57 pm

The Oregon Senate approved two bills Wednesday containing a $176 million package of deferred maintenance and capital construction projects expected to create as many as 3,000 jobs statewide.

The projects, which are slated to begin by April 1, are located in all 36 counties, at all seven state universities and all 17 community colleges, according to a report issued by Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.

Senate Republicans led by Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, opposed Senate Bills 5532 and 338, calling the legislation a “borrow-and-spend stimulus package” that “doesn’t do enough to ensure the creation of long-term jobs for families across Oregon.”

A procedural motion designed to send the bills back to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee to craft a more bipartisan stimulus effort failed by an 18-12 vote along party lines.

Both of the bills subsequently passed the Senate by 20-10 votes and now move to the House for consideration next week.

The Democratic leadership is hoping to have the bills on Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s desk in time for a scheduled Feb. 10 bond sale, according to a press statement from Courtney.

Courtney said the package will create 1,890 direct jobs and 1,144 indirect jobs.

SB 338 incorporates several budget notes that ask state agencies to use Oregon companies, employees, and products whenever feasible. Additionally, agencies are encouraged to contract with minorities, women, and emerging small businesses to the greatest extent possible.

However, instead of selling bonds to pay for the stimulus package, Ferrioli, who represents Baker County, said Republicans are fighting for a different approach that they believe would create more long-lasting jobs in the private sector.

“While this bill (SB 338) contains some investment in infrastructure, it also wastes a lot of tax dollars on petty projects and busy work without providing long-term job creation,” Ferrioli said. “Oregonians recognize that pork barrel spending is a poor way to stimulate the economy.”

He said the bills borrow money, and encumber taxpayers to repay the debt, to fund deferred maintenance projects at state agencies.

Ferrioli described that as a financial maneuver most businesses would avoid.

Deferred maintenance projects include sealing cracks on walls, pulling up juniper bushes and installing light bulbs. Many of the short-term projects end after a few days or weeks, sending Oregonians back to the unemployment line, Ferrioli said in a press statement.

Long after the paint has peeled and the light bulbs have burned out, he said taxpayers will still be paying the bill on the long-term bonds.

Republicans proposed a plan last week that they contend would create 2,453 new, and long-lasting, jobs.The Republican plan would give Oregonians part of their tax refunds now, rather than next year, and put $100 million directly into the Oregon economy.

Ferrioli said the Republican plan would start creating jobs quickly, without burdening taxpayers with more debt during a recession, when many in the private sector are being laid off, foregoing raises or seeing their incomes drop due to reduced work hours.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office echoed the views of many economists who say the most effective way to stimulate the economy is to provide money either through tax cuts or direct payments, which Ferrioli said is a cornerstone of the Republican stimulus plan.   

“Our proposal will give families help with their electric bills and grocery budgets, and at the same time creating thousands of jobs,” said Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas. “Oregonians are hurting, and paving new agency parking lots shouldn’t be our first priority. Our priority ought to be making sure families have the means to feed and clothe their children.”

In addition to giving Senate approval to the Feb. 10 bond sale, Senate Democrats approved over $50 million Wednesday in lottery bonds for community college projects.

“Unemployment in our state is rampaging. These projects are an investment in our infrastructure that will create jobs in every part of the state. Putting Oregonians back to work is the best way to get our economy going again,” Courtney said.

Oregon’s seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment in December was 9 percent, the sixth-highest rate in the nation. The unemployment rate in 15 Oregon counties is greater than 10 percent – topped by 15.9 percent in Grant County.