Just before Oregon Governor Kate Brown addressed delegates Sept. 9 at the Oregon AFL-CIO convention, she sat down for a 10-minute interview with Don McIntosh of the Northwest Labor Press, with labor liaison Elana Guiney and communications director Chris Pair looking on.
You’ve been governor two and a half years. Which laws have you helped pass that helped working people? The minimum wage increase. Oregon constructed it differently than any other state. From my perspective it reflects the different economic regions of Oregon but it also moves us on the path to ensure that people who are working full time are not living in poverty. I’m also very proud of the paid sick leave bill that passed during the 2015 legislative session.
If you’re elected to another term, what kinds of legislation would you help enact to help working people? My focus is around workforce training and job training. … We want to give our students in high school and middle school access to hands-on learning opportunities, whether it’s welding, manufacturing, computer design, 3D printing, graphic design. It truly awakens them to the power of their own potential. And we end up with a really skilled and qualified workforce.
Labor is starting to get involved on the issue of affordable housing. It’s a statewide problem. What would you do to make housing more affordable? And do you favor repealing the state law preempting local rent control ordinances? This is a national problem. My fellow governors and I talk about this all the time. In Oregon it’s impacting every community around the state. I know from talking to my folks at Business Oregon [the state economic development agency] that businesses are struggling to move into smaller communities because there is no housing available for their workforce. Since I became governor we’ve invested close to $200 million in building affordable units and preventing homelessness and providing rental assistance. Is that enough? Statewide it feels like a tip of the iceberg. But it’s certainly significant to the families that have been able to get housing as a result. The other piece is making sure local jurisdictions have the tools that they need to provide more access. The third piece for me, and we’re working this right now: Our regional solutions team and our economic development team are working with the private sector to come up with innovative solutions about how we build more housing. So just to give you an example, we partnered in ’15 and ’16 with a private developer in Pendleton to build housing for the workforce in Pendleton. We’re looking for creative solutions about how we can leverage state and federal dollars to build workforce housing. Because that’s the key to making sure that our communities are healthy and thriving.
One of the priorities for [Oregon House Speaker] Tina Kotek was lifting the preemption on rent control. Do you have a position on that? I have fought to make sure that our local jurisdictions have the tools that they need. I haven’t taken a position on that particular issue.
One of the perennial issues Oregon faces is insufficient revenue. And we’re still the state that has the lowest overall tax burden on corporations. What would be your approach? My first priority is to make sure that we’re tightening our belts in state government, that we’re spending every single taxpayer dollar effectively and efficiently. We made some steps in that direction this last session.… The second piece for me is figuring out a path forward that doesn’t unduly burden working families but ensures that the business community, that corporations throughout the state pay their fair share.
And that would be more than they’re paying now? Yes. This has been an ongoing struggle for Oregon for decades. … I’ve had a conversation with a number of folks in the business community: They want to do this. The question is how do we do it in a way that ensures that Oregon’s economy continues to thrive and that can create good-paying jobs in every corner of the state.
What did you think of the idea of Measure 97, the gross receipts tax like Washington has, as the way to do it? I certainly supported it. The voters disagreed. We used that as the frame for the conversation this last session. I think it’s definitely the beginning point of a conversation about how we ensure that large corporations pay their fair share in Oregon.
— Don McIntosh