Survey: Oregonians Prioritize Investment in Infrastructure, Farm/Forest Protection, and Water Quality

Oregonians are sending state leaders clear priorities to drive the economic recovery:  invest in good long term bets, like world-class infrastructure, a reliable resource economy, and healthy rivers and aquifers.

That is according to a new pair of surveys released by the Oregon’s Kitchen Table project. The consultations were commissioned to help inform Governor Kitzhaber’s 10 Year Plan for Oregon and the 2013-15 budget. This release is the third topic area to be covered, following surveys on Education and Justice, and Healthy People and Revenue.

In these questionnaires, Oregonians were asked to imagine they had $100 to spend on a variety of strategies for promoting economic growth and for environmental protection, respectively. Averages were taken of each respondent’s opinions to create an overall picture of Oregonians’ spending priorities. In both areas and both surveys, Oregonians rated infrastructure investments and protecting farm and forest lands very highly in both surveys.

In the economic growth category, the clear winner was “invest in public infrastructure to provide jobs and ensure Oregon has the necessary transportation, power, water and other resources to support growth,” scoring above other options like more job training and capital availability. Among respondents in the DHM poll, infrastructure investment was a very clear leader, while respondents in the second consultation rated it roughly equal with financial and tax incentives to attract and retain businesses.

When asked to rate strategies for a healthy environment, respondents in both polls placed the highest priority on ensuring communities’ access to safe drinking water and healthy rivers, and managing land development “in ways that maintain our working farms and forests.” Preserving open space nad parks also ranked highly. Other, lower-ranking categories included reducing toxic air pollution, managing water use, and improving wildlife habitat.

Oregonians still value all these efforts. But good land use planning is the foundation of making many of them successful. As one of the representative comments with the survey argued, “If we don’t manage development appropriately, these other concerns can’t be resolved.”Although it’s easy to chase the latest economic fad or pave over farmland for houses, state and local leaders should focus on the best bets for future Oregonians. Oregon’s long-term health, productivity, and livability depends on making good land use choices today.

Farms and forests provide reliable (and growing) economic contributions to Oregon—farming alone supports almost a fifth of Oregon’s economy and over 260,000 jobs. Converting working lands for warehouses or subdivisions can often cause a double-whammy for Oregonians: new infrastructure must be built and maintained. Since there is often no revenue source for long-term maintenance, and many land uses cost more to service than they provide in tax revenue, this converts productive land to a long-term liability for taxpayers. With a massive infrastructure maintenance backlog facing cities throughout the state, leaders should be careful not to dig a deeper hole as they look for strategies to get Oregon’s economy back on track.

One survey was administered online to 2,790 Oregonians by DHM Research. This poll was not intended to be representative. A second survey, administered by Knowledge Networks, surveyed a representative statewide sample of 423 Oregonians. The polls were commissioned in tandem for comparison purposes, and returned similar results. To read the full report, click here: http://oregonskitchentable.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Economy-and-Jobs-and-Healthy-Environment-Outcome-Areas-Findings.pdf.

Oregon’s Kitchen Table is an experimental program to give all Oregonians a voice in setting priorities and suggesting policy for the state on a variety of issues. To learn more about the Oregon’s Kitchen Table project and to sign up to participate, please visit oregonskitchentable.org.

To learn more about land use in your life, please visit www.friends.org/LandUseIs.