2017 Legislative Preview

Mary Kyle McCurdy

The 2017 Oregon Legislative session takes off in February, and 1000 Friends of Oregon will be working to pass several legislative proposals of statewide importance, impacting both rural and urban areas.Transportation Funding. Governor Kate Brown and Oregon’s legislative leaders have promised to pass a comprehensive, multi-modal transportation funding and policy package in the 2017 session. 1000 Friends is working with a broad coalition of transportation advocates – the Oregon Transportation Forum – to craft and pass this package. Our focus in this package is transit. Oregon’s Joint Legislative Committee on Transportation held hearings around the state this past summer and fall, and heard one consistent theme: Oregonians in big cities and small towns both want more transit, and secure and stable funding to support it. 

Transit looks different in different places – residents of the Portland region need improved bus service to under-served areas and transit to relieve congestion, such as increased bus service in the eastern part of the region and the SW Corridor light rail line extending to the south and west. Many rural Oregon communities do not have any transit today, and even dial-a-ride buses would meet many needs. Other towns and smaller cities have some transit, but residents need more to meet essential needs. For example, Northeast Oregon Transit serves Baker, Union, and Wallowa counties. The region’s residents often travel long distances to shop or go to doctor’s appointments.  NEO Transit needs adequate, stable funding to provide more service to meet the needs of older persons and the transit dependent, to provide access to employment opportunities, and to serve the region’s growing tourism economy. 

Better transit service statewide reduces climate pollution, allows people to live more affordably, grows the economy, and meets the needs of Oregonians of every age and income. For more information on the state’s transit needs, visit Better Transit Oregon.

Working farm and forest lands. 1000 Friends is part of a diverse consortium of organizations that has come together to draft and pass the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program bill. Oregon’s land use planning program has protected the land base that has kept Oregon agriculture as not only the state’s #2 industry, but it has maintained a healthy upward trend in value, even during the last recession, proving its resiliency to the cycles that have hit every other part of the state’s economy. Oregon’s diverse agricultural products are valued at $5.4 billion. However, farms and ranches face challenges from increasing production costs, conversion to non-farm uses, loss of processing facilities, conflicts from non-farm users, and succession planning. 

The Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (OAHP) Work Group, which includes the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts, the Oregon Farm Bureau, the Nature Conservancy, the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts, and others, hosted listening sessions around the state and is now drafting legislation focused on:

  • Working land conservation easements and covenants;
  • Support for agricultural land succession planning; and
  • A study of tax issues impacting agricultural land.

For more information, please see Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program Summary of Legislative Concepts.

Defending Oregon’s Land Use Program. 1000 Friends expects legislation will be introduced to weaken Oregon’s land use planning program. This is a common occurrence, usually through attempts to weaken the program in select parts of the state, or to supersite a speculative use on a piece of productive farm land. In past legislative sessions we have seen, for example, attempts to remove land use planning from eastern Oregon and to allow urban sprawl south of the Willamette River in the Portland area to enrich land speculators. And as in past years, we will need your help to defeat these poorly conceived bills. It is certainly true that not all parts of the state have benefited from Oregon’s and the country’s economic recovery – particularly rural Oregon. But taking land from the state’s #2 industry and hoping that jobs will materialize, or that a subdivision will bring growth, is not economic development, it is just wishful thinking. True economic development happens one job at a time, growing from Oregon’s existing small businesses and investing in the state’s assets that are not going anywhere – including our productive farm and forestlands. The state’s agriculture and forest industries need investment in value-added products and production, in transportation systems to move their products, and in marketing.  They do not need the very land base upon which they rely taken out from under them. See the 1000 Friends report, Great and Growing, http://www.friends.org/growing

We look forward to working with all of you to both protect and improve Oregon’s land use program in the 2017 Legislature. We will provide regular updates on bills as the session progresses, both here, in Oregon Stories, and in periodic legislative updates.