Oregon lawmakers expect to include $100 million for infrastructure in the state’s rural areas in their spending plans, money available thanks to a nearly $1 billion surplus.
Majority Democrats handed $100 million to Republicans to spend as they please in an attempt to counteract some of the acrimony that has existed between the parties in recent years.
“It’s a good day when Republicans and Democrats can come together for the good of all Oregonians,” Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said. “This money will help move forward important public projects throughout Oregon.”
Republicans’ priorities comprise infrastructure projects in rural areas, that will include repairs to roads, bridges and sewer systems.
“As our infrastructure ages, small towns are looking at big price tags to replace or repair water and sewer systems, bridges and public buildings,” Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis said. “Now with the state’s help and federal dollars on the way, we can bring lasting change to rural communities across our state.”
Lawmakers have until March 7 to agree on a spending plan for a $789 million revenue windfall revealed in the February forecast by the state’s Office of Economic Analysis for the 2021-23 biennium. The forecast showed personal and corporate income taxes, lottery sales and other sources are all outpacing projections from its December forecast.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, who will be termed out this year, called the availability of the surplus “a pivotal moment” for the state when the forecast was announced.
The excess revenues are in addition to $179 million of unspent money from the last budget carried over to this session, for a total of $968 million of unanticipated funds.
Lawmakers have just a 35-day session that began Feb. 1 to make changes to the state’s $25.5 billion general fund budget approved for the 2021-23 biennium last year.
Priorities identified by the Democratic leadership are behavioral health, public safety, homelessness, energy efficiency and education.
Another $100 million will go for climate resilience projects, such as energy efficiency improvements, solar energy and drought relief. Sewer upgrades, wastewater and drinking water treatment are included in the mix.
Some of that funding will also help reduce transportation emission by building charging networks for trucks and include incentives for Oregonians to purchase electric vehicles. It also earmarks money for upgrades to the aging fuel storage systems that are vulnerable to earthquakes.
“Drought, fire and other climate disruptions put the most vulnerable Oregonians at great risk,” said Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment. “By investing in resilient homes and clean energy, we can build safer and healthier communities, reduce the cost of energy for consumers and create good paying jobs.”