At our monthly Business Advocacy Meeting on June 6, 2024, we received an update on transportation projects and the current funding dilemma for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

We also heard about proposals Oregon Business & Industry is developing that would modernize regulatory processes for businesses and require more transparency, alignment, consistency, and efficiency from state agencies.

We thank everyone who attended this Advocacy Meeting in person and online, especially our panel of guest presenters:

Brian Clem, Partner with NorthPoint Development on the Pacific Coast Intermodal Port (and former Oregon Representative)
Lee Beyer, Oregon Transportation Commission Vice Chair (and former Oregon State Senator)
Rick Metsger, VP of Legislative & Public Affairs at Pac/West Lobby Group (and former State Senator and Transportation Committee Chair)
Paloma Sparks, Chief Operating Officer at Oregon Business & Industry


Transportation Funding

As Oregon lawmakers begin mapping out what will likely be a multi-billion dollar transportation package in 2025, state Transportation Commissioner and former Sen. Lee Beyer said the state finds itself in a dilemma.

Speaking at the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce Business Advocacy Committee Meeting on June 6, Beyer said there simply isn’t enough money for critical road maintenance. Not only has Oregon’s gas tax failed to keep up with inflation, but he added more people are driving fuel-efficient cars, which has reduced revenue to ODOT.

“Everybody’s job and income is dependent on our transportation system working,” Beyer said, underscoring the importance of the issue for business owners.

Beyer was joined on the panel by Rick Metsger, who preceded Beyer as Senate Transportation Chairman and now serves as Vice President of Legislative & Public Affairs for Pac/West Lobby Group in Salem. Together, they discussed several possible sources of funding that could be considered in the upcoming transportation package, including raising the gas tax, vehicle fees, or road user fees.

Some states, such as Texas and Missouri, use revenue from sales tax to fund road maintenance. While the idea of a sales tax for Oregon has previously been political taboo, all ideas are on the table to fund road maintenance in the most equitable way possible, Metsger said.

“We’re not going to be in a situation to solve the problem by just sitting back and doing nothing,” he said. “The question isn’t going to be what you oppose. It is going to be what you are in favor of.”

The Joint Transportation Committee has kicked off a statewide tour to discuss these ideas with local communities. Beyer urged business leaders to be active in those conversations.

Regulatory Modernization

Paloma Sparks, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel for Oregon Business & Industry, also spoke at the June 6 meeting. She outlined proposals that OBI is developing are aimed at making state agencies more transparent in their rulemaking, and overall friendlier to businesses.

A few examples included:

– Requiring agencies to publish regularly how long it is taking for them to process permits, and their metrics for approval.
– Creating a Business Advisory Committee that meets regularly with the Governor.
– Requiring there be economic development representatives on each Governor-appointed Regional Solutions Advisory Committee.

OBI is also considering what additional incentives are needed to encourage business development in Oregon. Sparks described state agencies as having been “distinctly anti-business” in their culture.

“Agencies are not aligned. They’re not consistent,” she said. “We want to fix these systemic problems, not individual regulatory problems.”

Coos Bay Port

Finally, Salem Chamber members heard an update on efforts to build a new container shipping port in Coos Bay.

The Pacific Coast Intermodal Port is a collaboration between the International Port of Coos Bay and NorthPoint Development, a Kansas City-based commercial real estate company. It has garnered support from members of Oregon’s congressional delegation and President Joe Biden to increase trade while boosting investment in rural communities.

Brian Clem, a former state representative and partner at NorthPoint Development, said he was drawn to the project because it will create 9,400 new jobs in and around his hometown of Coos Bay, and is expected to generate $500 million in projected annual revenue.

The port is also being designed with environmental sustainability in mind, Clem said. It will be the nation’s first exclusive ship-to-rail port facility, lowering greenhouse gas emissions from trucks.

For more information about the project, click here.

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