Over the last two years, working people have kept Oregon and the rest of the country up and running, making sacrifices in the face of much uncertainty. But during the pandemic, it's the wealthiest families in the U.S. who have doubled their wealth, benefiting while working families have struggled.
Oregon's State Legislature is a "citizen legislature." The 90 people who serve as state legislators are also your neighbors in communities all across the state. We come from working families, we own and operate small businesses, we've had to balance second jobs when money was tight, our families have experienced housing insecurity or homelessness. We do this work as legislators because we care deeply about the people of this incredible state. As we recover from the pandemic, we're committed to fighting for economic opportunity for every single Oregonian — not just the wealthiest individuals or the largest corporations.
Last year we made record investments in education and housing, prevented tens of thousands of evictions, provided grants for small businesses to keep them up and running, as well as funding for child care, education and community safety. We know there's so much more to be done.
During the 2022 legislative session, Oregonians want us to work together to tackle the most pressing challenges in our state. That means fighting for our small businesses and working families — the backbone of our economy. We'll build on our coordinated response to address homelessness. We'll drive down the cost of living for working families by investing in affordable housing, child care and health care. We'll support our local districts to help keep schools open by addressing teacher burnout and workforce shortages so we can better support students, parents and teachers. And we'll prioritize ways we can keep our communities and neighborhoods safe from the national trend of rising gun violence and illegal cannabis activity.
We know too many families are still struggling from the ramifications of the pandemic. We need to take swift action to deliver on a robust recovery that reaches every corner of the state. Here's how we'll do that:
• Fighting for small businesses and working families. We need to build an economy that works for working families and small businesses, not just big corporations. That means investing in skills training, reducing barriers to people starting and expanding small businesses, and requiring corporations to pay their fair share.
• Addressing our homelessness and housing crisis. We need to create a coordinated response to homelessness by partnering with local cities and counties across Oregon. We can do that by providing funding to get struggling Oregonians into housing or shelter, connected to critical support services, and on the path out of homelessness. We'll also continue making investments in affordable housing so working families can become homeowners and build generational wealth.
• Driving down the cost of living. For too many families, covering monthly and even daily expenses has become a challenge. We need to make targeted investments to drive down the cost of everyday necessities that eat up the largest portion of Oregonian's paychecks, like paying rent, covering mortgage payments, picking up prescriptions and ensuring access to safe and affordable child care.
• Stronger Schools. Students learn best when they are learning in healthy, safe classrooms five days a week. We need to make sure that teachers and schools have the resources, support and staffing they need to be successful. One of our top priorities this session will be addressing teacher burnout and educator workforce shortages. We must also work to make sure that school environments are free and safe from intimidation and harassment.
• Investing in community safety and violence prevention. Our communities need law enforcement to be able to focus on preventing and solving serious crimes. We should reduce traffic stops for infractions like broken tail lights that aren't dangerous, so police can focus on stopping real crime. We also need to reestablish trust between communities and police and to continue investing in proven community violence prevention programs and mental and behavioral health services.
Republicans in the Legislature have opposed education funding, refused to act on common sense public safety measures that decrease crime and violence, favored the wealthy in our tax system while leaving small businesses and working families behind. We know our communities are feeling fatigued 1 — we all want the pandemic to end. We also know that many of the challenges we face today have existed since before the pandemic.
Our legislative session this year is designed for moments just like this: we must take action to address emerging challenges, make investments in our communities, and ensure that working families are supported through these difficult times. We cannot wait until next year to take action on the challenges before us. We know that communities across the state are counting on us. We're here to get the job done.
Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner is a Democrat serving Lake Oswego, West Linn, Tualatin and portions of Portland. House Majority Leader Julie Fahey is a Democrat serving West Eugene and Junction City.