SILVERTON, Ore. (AP) Gov. Ted Kulongoski said he will propose a major transportation package in January that could create thousands of family wage construction jobs, but left up in the air how the state would pay for it.
The aim, the governor said, is to give more people the chance to earn a living amid the economic downturn.
“This is the time when you start investing in things that put people to work,” Kulongoski said Oct. 6 at an economic development forum.
Kulongoski said the transportation package would be larger in scale than a $2.5 billion program the 2003 Legislature approved mostly to replace or repair cracking bridges. That package, which created an estimated 5,000 new jobs a year, was financed with bonds paid off with increased vehicle registration and license fees.
Now, there’s growing momentum for a comprehensive transportation package for 2009 that would include road and bridge improvements to keep up with wear-and-tear and increasing traffic congestion around Oregon.
A state task force is studying ways to pay for such an expansion in the coming two years. And Kulongoski said a higher state gasoline tax should at least be considered as one of the funding sources.
“For me, it is part of the mix. I’ve said nothing is off the table,” the Democratic governor said.
The leader of the Oregon Senate Republicans, Sen. Ted Ferrioli of John Day, said he’s all for new jobs, but added that he is “extremely leery” about funding such a major program.
“Oregon families know they can’t borrow and spend their way through this recession, and neither should state government,” Ferrioli said. “Rather than taking the easy road of increasing taxes and adding debt, new spending should be offset by reductions to unnecessary and wasteful programs.”
Senate President Peter Courtney, a Salem Democrat, said he’s hopeful both parties will be able to agree on a package that would not only create jobs but result in infrastructure improvements at college campuses and mental health facilities as well as roads and bridges.
“We can get people working on huge projects throughout the state and help get us through this thing,” Courtney said.
In his remarks to business and government officials who attended the forum, Kulongoski said the state must look beyond the current financial crisis.
“If we want to move Oregon forward in good times, we have to stay optimistic and make the right choices in bad times,” Kulongoski said.
For that reason, he said his 2009-2011 budget proposal to the Legislature will focus on investing in the state’s economic future.
He said his next budget will propose to maintain progress in education because of its role in work force training. Extending health care to children younger than 19 and a continuing focus on renewable energy also will be key, he said.