Much of the commentary rising out of the conclusion of the latest Oregon legislative session paints a picture of a testy, partisan affair. Mike McLane, who represents our community and others in the House, said the session displayed a lack of leadership and was one of the most divisive sessions he has personally witnessed since taking office in early 2011.
That division is evident in the way each party leader in Salem described the conclusion. While Democratic leadership proclaimed victories in health care and workers' rights among others, their Republican counterparts focused on what they in the minority were able to stop from passage, namely environmental mandates, a hidden sales tax and partisan gun bills.
Yes, there is certainly plenty of negative energy emanating from this session, but let's take a time out from that for a moment, because in the midst of it all, the Crook County community actually benefitted in a big way from two developments during the session.
First, the Legislature finally passed a long-awaited transportation package — a $5.3 billion one that provides the Crook County and Prineville area roughly $3 million with which to make needed upgrades and fund projects.
The City of Prineville is breathing a sigh of relief as this package dedicates $1 million to the local roundabout project, which faced a $300,000 shortfall. What the rest of $3 million pledged to the city and county will fund remains to be seen, as does city plans for a roughly $300,000 bump in annual gas tax revenue, but mention of the transportation package at a city council meeting was met with high praise.
The county will likewise see an increase in gas tax revenue — about $475,000 — and another $928,000 is earmarked specifically for county use. Again, plans for the additional money are not yet known, but this comes at a time when the county is staring down a possible end of its Secure Rural Schools dollars. The program has provided around $1.25 million for roads in recent years, so its absence leaves a big hole that this package helps backfill.
The other big gain goes to the Crook County School District. CCSD leaders opted to budget for $7.8 billion in state school funding, but were pleasantly surprised to learn that the legislature approved $8.2 billion instead, resulting in the local school district receiving $1.5 million more than expected. Superintendent Duane Yecha has said before that the district is always in need of additional funding to meet education goals. Not surprisingly, it was welcomed news and school district board and staff found itself in the unusual position of figuring out what to do with unexpected extra money.
It is nice to see some silver lining from a legislative session that has been characterized in such a gray-cloud sort of manner. And while we are not suggesting that the criticism isn't warranted, it is good to see some positive impacts land in Crook County. Hopefully the next session is less partisan and divided — and the community continues to reap the benefits.