Metsger and Smith head for ’tough times’

Legislators look ahead to next session

Hood River legislators believe that finding a cure for Oregon’s ailing economy during the upcoming budget session is going to hinge on bi-partisan teamwork.

“There are going to be tough times ahead of us but I’m a native Oregonian and we’ve always made good things happen when we pulled together,” said Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, at Monday’s town hall meeting that she held jointly with Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches.

Smith and Metsger both claim that one of the key strengths they bring into their elected roles is the ability to work well with a diverse group of people. And that claim is backed up by their own effective relationship.

“I really enjoy working with Patti Smith and we share a common vision about a lot of the things that should be accomplished to do what’s best for Oregon,” said Metsger.

During the 90 minute forum at the Hood River Valley Adult Center, Metsger and Smith were asked to reveal not only their greatest strength as a legislator but admit to any weakness.

Smith said her most positive assets were her ability to “put a human face” on law-making and forging strong partnerships to get the job done. However, she believed that in order to accomplish her goals she needed to assert herself more boldly.

“I think this session you’re probably going to see me be a lot more aggressive,” she said.

Conversely, Metsger said he sometimes needed to temper his aggression when he became impatient about getting a task accomplished.

“My biggest struggle is that I want something done yesterday,” he said.

On the plus side, Metsger said his background as a journalist had taught him how to build good working relationships with colleagues to better achieve objectives and resolve issues.

Several of the 23 residents and public service providers in attendance at the Dec. 2 meeting urged the legislative pair to support a sales tax. These individuals said the added tax was necessary to stabilize funding for schools, senior citizen programs and family services. Metsger and Smith were also asked to work toward flexibility in regulations that would allow agencies to have more creative options for the application of funding.

“I personally am all for a sales tax, I think it’s the time — if we want services in this state we’ve got to pay for them,” said Rachel Shields, a longtime advocate for seniors.

Both Metsger and Smith said they were hearing more requests from their constituents for a sales tax, although public opinion polls showed that the majority of citizens were reluctant to give up more of their income during a recession. In fact, the legislators said it appeared unlikely that voters would approve a three-year income tax hike at the Jan. 28 special election. If passed, the individual taxable income rate would rise from 9 to 9.5 percent and corporations would see an increase from 6.6 to 6.93 percent. Government officials expect to gain more than $700 million if the referendum is successful.

Metsger said the political climate in Oregon was often difficult to forecast since citizens expressed opposition to any new taxes but were also vocal about not wanting any program cuts.

“I think part of the reason that people are against taxes is because they see the government as a huge bureaucracy with a lot of waste,” said Smith.

Camille Hukari, a local orchardist, predicted that Oregon’s budget problems would not be fixed without lifting burdensome regulations that kept new businesses away and hampered production in the natural resource industries.

With a possible budget shortfall of about $450 million looming ahead, both Metsger and Smith acknowledge that some hard choices will have to be made. They said it was critical to hear from their constituents during a time when firm funding priorities had to be set.

“We have new leadership, we have a new day and I see it is a good opportunity to have those discussions,” Smith said.

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