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Business leaders call for changes to PERS, boost in education funding
Oregons business leaders laid out their top three priorities of the state at their annual summit Monday in Portland.
Whether they can get all of them through the 2013 Legislature was the big question that hung over the Oregon Convention Center gathering.
Priorities discussed at the 10th Annual Oregon Leadership Summit are reducing the drain of the Public Employment Retirement System on state and local government budgets, investing in public education to guarantee a qualified workforce and building the Columbia River Crossing project to replace the aging Interstate Bridge between Oregon and Southwest Washington.
We need to fix PERS without hurting public employees, invest wisely in education with our available dollars and we need to build a bridge to create needed jobs and solve our transportation and freight mobility problems, John Carter of Schnitzer Steel, Oregon Business Plan chairman, told the audience in his opening remarks.
The priorities were backed by hundreds of business owners and executives in all sectors of the states economy who attended the summit to support the annual Oregon Business Plan prepared by the Oregon Business Council. The plans goals are to create 25,000 jobs a year, raise the average Oregon income and reduce poverty in the state. It has long included calls for more infrastructure projects, industrial land, manufacturing jobs and exports. Education and regulatory reforms have also been key elements.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, who delivered welcoming remarks, described the plan as business and legislative leaders working together to build a vision for the state.
State elected officials attending the summit pledged their support for the priorities, even though they face challenges at the next legislative session. Public employee unions already oppose some of the proposed changes to PERS, additional money for education is in short supply and the Columbia River Crossing is opposed by many environmentalists, and by residents in Portland and Vancouver.
Despite these problems, the summit was more upbeat than those in recent years. A new report by the Value of Jobs Coalition showed that the Portland region was recovering from the Great Recession. Around 60 percent of the jobs lost since 2008 have been replaced. Average incomes are growing again, although they remain below the national average.