Speaking on Jan. 6 at the 12th annual Oregon Leadership Summit, Senator Wyden outlined an ambitious economic agenda for 2015 that he boiled down to five words: “bigger paychecks for working families.”
Senator Wyden told hundreds of business leaders gathered for the annual summit at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland that the state economy is enjoying an uptick at the start of this year.
But he added that the focus must continue to be on the still-too-many unemployed or underemployed Oregonians looking for work to lift them out of poverty and on the thousands of Oregonians eager for more opportunities to climb up the career ladder.
“I have always said government does not create jobs,” Senator Wyden said. “Jobs come from all of you in the private sector. Our role at all levels of government is to help set the temperature right so the private sector can grow, and do what you want to do—hire Oregonians at good wages.”
He said elected officials at all levels can help meet Oregon’s economic challenges by providing the tools that help with what he calls the “five T’s” -- technology, tough trade enforcement, tax reform, transportation and timber.
In the area of technology, Senator Wyden stressed how tech jobs pay better on average. And he discussed the policy needs to keep discriminatory taxes far away from innovations, to keep monopolies from controlling the Internet and to ensure young men and women graduating from college can get those good-paying tech jobs in Oregon. He noted that technology is inseparable from education, both from the standpoint of his bipartisan “Know Before You Go Act” that would gather data to show which schools and programs produce higher graduation rates, lower debt rates, and specific labor market outcomes like salary; and from the standpoint of strengthening partnerships between high schools and local businesses such as the one he visited in Yamhill County between Yamhill-Carlton High School and Meggitt Polymers and Composites.
On “tough trade enforcement,” he said it is all about opening global markets to Oregon goods, and then enforcing the rules that already exist. “I believe we should grow things here, manufacture things here, improve them here, and ship them around the world,” he said. He touched on the many outstanding export businesses in Oregon that compete by the rules in international markets and are justly rewarded with job-creating business when those rules are enforced. He highlighted two among the many he has visited recently: MetOne in Grants Pass and Straw Propeller Gourmet Foods in Redmond. Both companies are creating red-white-and-blue jobs right here in Oregon--jobs that Senator Wyden said are why he has fought so hard on the Senate Finance Committee to shape America’s export strategy for the 21st century. He emphasized that export strategy must always ensure Oregon export businesses -- and the jobs they produce here at home -- can compete and win when there’s a truly level playing field. Senator Wyden cited his strong and successful advocacy against illegal foreign competition for the U.S. solar manufacturing sector, including SolarWorld in Hillsboro.
His third T is tax reform. Senator Wyden said achieving “bigger paychecks for working families” requires certainty that doesn’t come with Congress’ stop-and-start tax policy. He said nearly three decades after the last comprehensive tax reform that the tax code has become a “rotting economic carcass” that must be healed.
On the topic of transportation, Senator Wyden said you can’t have a big-league quality of life with little-league infrastructure but that unfortunately, Congress has relied on little-league, stop-and-go infrastructure policies for far too long. He noted that the real tragedy is that we know some of the tools that can work – such as “Build America Bonds,” part of a bipartisan bill he introduced to help states like Oregon to complete critical infrastructure projects. He introduced to the summit audience Max Holtzman from the U.S. Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund, a very promising $10 billion partnership dedicated to investing in energy and infrastructure projects in rural America.
And on the final of his five Ts, timber, Senator Wyden said he is not going to settle for the status quo stalemate in Oregon surrounding timber and natural resources policy. He said timber is the proxy for nearly every other rural issue that has divided Oregon for far too long and that natural resources policy has always required heavy lifting, be it efforts to update the Oregon and California Lands Act or to settle water wars in the Klamath Basin. Senator Wyden said he knows Oregon can have a better rural future when he looks to eastern Oregon and sees how environmentalists and timber came together to create the Malheur stewardship contract and when he looks to southern Oregon and his work with partners such as the Klamath Tribes, Basin water users, Interior officials and the state to write a broadly accepted Klamath Basin settlement.
Senator Wyden concluded his remarks by challenging business leaders in the year ahead to give a young person a chance to prove themselves, or to hire an older person who simply wants to get back in the workforce. And he made one final ask on behalf of the very special men and women who have already sacrificed so much for all of us. Hire a veteran.