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Gov. Kate Brown Demands Big Educational And Environmental Changes

For the first time in her tenure, Gov. Kate Brown has a full four-year term stretching ahead of her — and the State of the State address she gave Monday reflected an ambitious agenda, from raising billions to stabilize the state’s public schools to curbing carbon emissions.

“Health care, housing, protecting our environment, defending our democracy and investing in our children. These are the fundamentals,” the governor told a packed room full of current and former lawmakers, including former Govs. Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski.

The governor, who took over when Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned in 2015 and was elected to complete his term in 2016, is facing her first and final four-year term. She's made it clear she believes this is the best chance in decades to address systemic issues Democrats have wanted to tackle for years. She’ll be working with supermajorities in both the House and Senate, which means Democrats can raise taxes without a single Republican vote.

Her inauguration speech urged lawmakers to move quickly to address the state’s housing crisis. She mentioned her proposal to spend $400 million on housing. She’s also pushing a $20 million bonding package to speed up the construction of 200 units of permanent housing to target people who are currently homeless.

“If we move now, we can get results,” Brown said, also mentioning legislation that’s already been floated to limit how much Oregon landlords could increase rents and prohibit no-cause evictions of long-term tenants.

The governor also hopes this legislative session, which begins in full next week, is an opportunity for lawmakers to make broad, systemic changes to the state’s often-failing public schools.

“At one time, every Oregonian was proud of our education system,” Brown said, according to prepared remarks. “It was a promise that if you chose to put down roots in Oregon, your children would receive a world-class education and have the opportunity to achieve their dreams. But over the past couple of decades, we have failed to deliver on that promise.”

Brown has called on lawmakers to raise about $2 billion to fund a host of education improvements she’s outlined, from boosting career-technical programs to lengthening the school year.

Lawmakers also want to pass a cap-and-trade plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The governor said watching the impact of climate change on Oregon has been devastating. She said the Rogue Valley was covered in smoke for over eight weeks last year.  Last year was the warmest in the state since 1895, she noted.

The governor is pushing for campaign finance changes, raising taxes to fund the state’s expanded Medicaid program, hiring more internal auditors and requiring employers to provide paid family leave. Brown touched just briefly on another of the state’s most pressing problems: How to solve the state’s public pension shortfall, a $22 billion unfunded liability.

<p>Oregon State Police troopers prepare to enter the House chamber before Gov. Kate Brown's inaugural address at the state Capitol in Salem, Ore., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.</p>

Bradley W. Parks


Oregon State Police troopers prepare to enter the House chamber before Gov. Kate Brown's inaugural address at the state Capitol in Salem, Ore., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Lauren Dake is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before OPB, Lauren spent nearly a decade working as a print reporter. She’s covered politics and rural issues in Oregon and Washington.