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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 13 May 2009

In his Friday address to the City Club of Portland, Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced an emergency jobs program to help put at least 12,000 unemployed Oregonians back to work this summer.

An Oregon Emergency Jobs Program Hotline also will be available starting Monday, May 18 at 8 a.m. That toll free number is: 1-877-692-6111.

"President Roosevelt gave hope to millions of unemployed Americans when he created the Civilian Conservation Corps and other jobs programs. We need to take the same kind of immediate action in Oregon," Kulongoski said.

If approved by the legislature, jobs under the Governor's plan would begin July 1 and target unemployed Oregonians seeking a salary range of $8.40 - $10.00 per hour.

Currently, there are 80,000 unemployed individuals with active profiles with the Employment Department that have expressed an interest in being hired for a job that pays within this hourly wage range. Furthermore, the average unemployment payment right now is $250 per week. Under the Governor's plan, a full-time job paying $8.40 an hour would be $336 per week.

The plan, called the Oregon Emergency Jobs Program, requires legislative approval for a one-time redirection of approximately $90 million in future payments to the state's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The fund currently amounts to $1.5 billion and has a dedicated funding source through regular payments by employers through payroll taxes.

"This is not just about helping out-of-work Oregonians put bread on the table. This is also about restoring pride and dignity to the human spirit," the Governor said. "A job can do that, especially when the job demands a skill that benefits the places we live – and the neighbors we live near."

The kinds of jobs created under the Governor's plan include restoration of wetlands to construction of trails in parks, improving watersheds and removing brush from fire-prone forests and adjacent home sites or could be to help fill a public service such as delivering food for a food bank. The Oregon Food Bank network has identified more than 1,000 jobs statewide that could be added to help families in need.

The Department of Community College and Workforce Development will administer the program dispersing the funds to non-profit organizations, cities, counties and contracted partners with temporary jobs that can be filled quickly.

"The Oregon Emergency Jobs Program – which is designed to start in July because many of the new jobs can only be done in the summer – needs quick action by the legislature," the Governor continued. "I know the Legislature, too, wants to create jobs and hope they will be my partner so that together we can put thousands of Oregonians back to work. Delay is not an option!"

The Governor also addressed the May revenue forecast, which reported that the state is facing an approximate $4 billion shortfall for the 2009-11 biennium.

"A budget of 13-billion dollars – down from over 17-billion – isn't just a new number:  It is a new reality that will require changing a lot of what we want to do – in order to protect what we absolutely must do," the Governor continued. "Some government functions have to go – at least for the foreseeable future.  Oregon state government can no longer be all things to all people."

Among the potential changes in what state government does, the Governor outlined possible suspension of some state agencies, boards and commissions that include: The Board of Massage Therapists, the Board of Occupational Therapy, the Commission for the Blind, the Board of Licensed Dietitians, the Consumer Advisory Council and the Advocacy Commissions.

The Governor also called for consolidation of the Aviation Department and all of the health-related agencies, boards and commissions. Consolidation of the Oregon Student Assistance Commission into the University System will also be considered.

"Working with the legislature, I am working hard to find the right mix of new revenue, budget cuts, governmental consolidations, and suspensions that will produce a balanced budget for the 2009-2011 biennium," the Governor said.

The Governor also reiterated his commitment to the priorities that guided the budget he released in December, including education, health care, transportation and climate change.

"I originally proposed $6.3-billion for K through 12.  That number was based on last November's revenue forecast," the Governor said. "I want the 2009 – 2011 budget to get as close to my original number as possible – and I will work with the Legislature to achieve that objective."

The Governor continued by pointing out that while education remains a critical priority of state government that there are many priorities to fund during good times as well as difficult times.

"The reality is: Education is not the only responsibility of state government. The state must also look out for our most vulnerable citizens, keep the public safe and secure in their homes and communities, and protect our pristine environment," the Governor said.

The Governor also made another call to the legislature to maintain a significant reserve fund in the event that revenues continue to decline after the legislature adjourns. Unlike many other states, Oregon still has money in reserves. Currently the state has approximately $900-million in federal stimulus funds, and another $900-million in the Rainy Day Fund and Education Stabilization Fund for a total of $1.8 billion in reserves for the 2009-11 biennium.

"The end of this legislative session is a long way from the end of the biennium. The economy has not stopped its decline – and we do not know what a recovery will look like when the current economic decline ends," the Governor said. "If we don't hold onto the reserves, we're setting ourselves up for hundreds of millions of dollars – if not more – in additional cuts early next year and no money put away to cover the losses."

The Governor added, "We've seen this movie before:  It's called five special sessions in 2002. We do not want to go there again."

The Governor ended his address by announcing his plan to assemble a cabinet to examine all budget mandates the currently control state spending. This includes a look at previous ballot measures that have tied the state's hands when in comes to making investments in the services and programs that are essential to Oregonians.

"If we want to preserve quality education in Oregon; if we want to save family-wage jobs; if we want to stop having to make wrenching choices between protecting children and protecting seniors; and if we want to end the insanity of waking up every few years trying to dig our way out of a deep budget hole – we must do something different," the Governor said.

The Governor said he will have more information in July on the cabinet and its charge and will expect a report back from them on December 1, 2009.

"The vise of these ballot measures leaves government with a shrinking General Fund and very little flexibility when economic conditions change – as they did suddenly at the end of 2007," the Governor said. "The time has come to have a discussion with the public about the reality of our budgetary vise.  It won't be an easy conversation.  But if there was ever an appropriate time – it is after we manage through this legislative session and chart our path forward."

The cabinet will take a comprehensive and strategic look at all of the mandates – state and federal – that control budget and revenue decisions. Once the cabinet reports back to the Governor, he will determine whether to recommend to the legislature constitutional changes in these critical ballot measures and the kicker.

"Because at the end of the day – it is the citizens of Oregon who will decide.  They must be masters of their own fate, and builders of their own future," the Governor continued.

The Governor finished his remarks by acknowledging the state had more difficult days to come but with the message that Oregon is still a great place for new ideas and new thinking and that prosperity will return.

"If I could, I would lift the dark veil of this economic downturn immediately but I can't do that. So today our minds are focused on putting our citizens back to work – and protecting the core services state government must provide," the Governor said.  "But around the corner is a different future – with Oregon creating thousands of green energy jobs, investing millions in green energy technology, and leading America's green energy revolution. 

The Governor then closed with an optimistic outlook for Oregon: "I promise you there is a better day coming for Oregon. Because this is still the place where hope begins and the trail to America's promised land ends."

To view a copy of the Governor's speech, click here.

Click here for a fact sheet on the Oregon Emergency Jobs Program.

Additional information on the Oregon Emergency Jobs Program is also available at: www.worksourceoregon.org

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