Rural Oregon gathers in support of bill

By MITCH LIES Capital Press Staff Writer


SALEM, Ore. – Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, didn’t have to look far to find someone who traveled more than 100 miles to testify at a recent hearing before the Senate Committee on Transportation and Economic Development. Those who traveled more than 100 miles, which lawmakers use as a barometer when deciding the order of testimony, included most of the people in the room.

Citizens from some of the most remote regions in Oregon traveled to the Capitol to testify in support of Senate Bill 448 on April 21. The bill would create an Office of Rural Policy to serve as a liaison between lawmakers and rural Oregon.

The most critical testimony during the 45-minute public hearing, however, may have come from a representative of the governor’s office, who simply had to walk down a flight of stairs.

Ray Naff, director of intergovernmental relations for Gov. Ted Kulongoski, said Kulongoski supports the concept behind the bill, but said funding for the office is not in the governor’s budget.

Gilliam County Judge Laura Pryor, who helped craft the bill, said she was disappointed in the governor’s decision, but held out hope for the bill. “The bottom line is, we’ve got to find the money,” she said after the hearing.

Under current amendments, the bill would create a five-member policy council housed in the governor’s office. The council would include volunteers from rural Oregon, a director and a staff person, Pryor said.

“This bill is not designed to create another agency, but to deal with a whole set of issues that have stymied growth and sustainable economic development in rural Oregon,” said Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, who is sponsoring the bill.

“This bill would allow us a vehicle and a place to go to challenge regulations that don’t make sense in rural Oregon and to develop regulations that better suit rural Oregon,” said Dennis Mills, superintendent of Harney Education Service District in Burns, Ore. He earlier testified: “We don’t think of ourselves as rural, we think of ourselves as remote.”

Ferrioli said that the League of Oregon Cities and the Association of Oregon Counties provide some support for rural Oregon, but more support is needed to ensure rural Oregon is being adequately represented in Salem.

Pryor said the office could operate on a minimal amount of funding.

“We don’t need an intergalactic amount of money to operate it,” Pryor said. “Probably $275,000 a year would do it.”

Possible funding sources include federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and foundations, Pryor said. Naff said the governor’s office would work with bill supporters to identify potential funding sources.

The committee, which Metsger chairs, took no action on the bill.


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