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State Rep. Rich Vial and Democratic challenger Courtney Neron appear at Washington County Public Affairs Forum.

COURTESY OF RICH VIAL - State Rep. Rich Vial, R-SchollsState Rep. Rich Vial and his Democratic opponent in District 26, Courtney Neron, agree that relieving traffic congestion and boosting state aid to public schools are important.

But Vial and Neron disagreed Monday at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum on how to resolve those issues.

Vial, a Republican from Scholls, is seeking a second term in a district that skirts southern Washington County — it includes Sherwood — and extends into Clackamas County. Neron lives in Wilsonville, which straddles both counties.

Vial said he will continue to advocate for a way local governments can join with private contractors in a special district to build a toll road, popularly known as the westside bypass, through Portland's growing western suburbs.

COURTESY OF COURTNEY NERON - Courtney Neron, Democratic nominee in House District 26"A limited-access highway on the west side, which allows those suburban communities to connect with one another without having to use the local farm-to-market roads, is the only real solution we have to this problem," he said.

His bill to create such an authority got a hearing but failed to advance through the 2017 Legislature. It is modeled on the E-470 toll road that loops around Denver's eastern suburbs.

"I am a realist," Vial said. "We have a very strong environmental sensitivity in Oregon. Given that fact, we do have to spend the time right now to make sure we answer the necessary questions."

As chairman of the Washington County Planning Commission, Vial has pushed for a study of expanded road capacity in the county's land use plan, although county commissioners removed a reference to "primary arterials."

Though she did not flatly oppose it, Neron said such a road would open up rural reserves that are supposed to be off-limits to development through 2060.

"We do feel we need to respect Oregon land use laws that exist, not skirt them, and make sure we are involving state, regional and local governments," she said. "We are talking about laying down a huge road that is going to cut through family farms and change the landscape completely."

Neron said she favors a balanced approach.

"The constituents of this desirable and rapidly growing district want long-term transportation solutions that address congestion and inadequate mass transportation — and are equitable for all income levels," she said.

Neron grew up in Tigard, and she has taught Spanish and French in Yamhill-Carlton, Tigard and Tualatin high schools.

"My heroes were always my teachers," she said. "It came to no surprise to anyone in my life that I also gravitated toward teaching."

But Neron quit regular teaching, partly in frustration over continued large class sizes and inadequate state support, which accounts for the lion's share of school operating budgets.

"Schools have not recovered and class sizes continue to be overwhelming for a majority of teachers and students," she said. "We are no longer setting out our teachers to be the heroes of my childhood."

Neron is the replacement nominee for Ryan Spiker of Wilsonville, who withdrew after the May 15 primary for health reasons.

Neron advocates raising Oregon's corporate tax rate to generate more money for schools. Corporate income taxes account for a small share of the state's two-year general-fund budget of $20 billion, which supports state services and aid to public schools. Personal income taxes account for the largest share of general-fund revenue.

Vial, who began his public involvement on the board of the former Groner School District — it was merged into the Hillsboro district in 1996 — had a differing view of how to raise more money for schools.

"It's getting more of the money we spend on education in Oregon to the classroom," he said. "We've got so much of that money right now going into administration," particularly in the state Department of Education.

Also running on the Nov. 6 ballot is Libertarian Tim Nelson of Wilsonville, who was absent from the forum.

By Peter Wong
(503) 580-0266
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