State Leaders Face Many Challenges
By Krista Rinehart
Each year’s The Council of State Governments’ leadership program, the Henry Toll Fellowship class selects one of its own to serve as class representative. The 2008 Toll Class representative, Oregon Rep. Sara Gelser talked recently with Toll Fellows Program Manager Krista Rinehart about the challenges states are facing, as the process begins to select a new Toll Fellows class.
Q: Obviously, dire financial times are weighing heavily on the minds of all public officials. What impact do you see the current economic downturn having on your state?
“Oregon is already struggling, and I anticipate that our revenue shortfall will grow. In 2009, we face at least a $1.3 billion shortfall from current service levels. Due to the responsible budgeting of the 2007 legislature, we have so far avoided some of the cuts that other states have already been forced to make. Although Oregon is better off than some states, as the recession came later here, things are likely to get worse before they get better. … Our challenge will be figuring out how to protect important investments in our future, such as education and work force development, protecting families struggling to survive the economic downturn, and still meeting the growing needs of our neediest citizens who are hit hardest by the recession.”
Q: What issue(s) do you see requiring the most attention from leaders in your state, the region and the country looking forward one, five and 10 years?
“Oregon is not alone in its need to get a handle on a long-term strategy for caring for our most vulnerable populations. Whether the economy is good or bad, states will always have people with severe disabilities, people with mental illness, and frail elderly who need costly services to survive. As the baby boomer generation ages, the states will be hit with a tsunami of seniors needing services at the same time we have a lower ratio of workers to those needing substantial supports. States need to find a way to define how they want to care for their neediest citizens and how they will finance it. They also must grapple with how to handle Medicaid options. Too often, states end up chasing Medicaid match to the detriment of the people they are trying to serve. Part of human service reform should include a frank discussion with the federal government about how states can be better supported to provide compassionate, quality and appropriate human service programs.”
Q: Oregon is known for its wildlife, natural beauty and dedication to the environment. What are your thoughts on President-elect Barack Obama’s pledge to build a new green-collar economy while tackling environmental and energy issues? Are there any programs in Oregon that could be used as national models?
“Oregon is a national leader in green energy production and incentives. In 2007, we passed many groundbreaking environmental and energy initiatives with bipartisan support. Oregon has some of the most aggressive tax incentive programs in the nation to lure green jobs to our state. Our renewable energy portfolio is one of the most ambitious in the nation, requiring that we generate 25 percent of our power from renewable energy sources by 2025, including wave and wind energy. We also passed strong incentives to encourage the production and use of alternative fuels.”