Oregon has come a long way over the last two years, but as I said in my State of the State address, our great challenge is ensuring that economic recovery reaches every corner across the state. The word “recovery” loses all meaning if it describes a state where urban areas return to pre-recession employment levels while rural Oregon continues to suffer the economic and social consequences of double-digit unemployment, outdated infrastructure and an aging workforce.

That’s why my proposed 2013-15 budget includes specific investments aimed at strengthening rural communities. Over the next year, I’ll be working with the Legislature to rebuild a strong middle class and expand economic opportunity for every Oregonian. My budget includes $4.5 million to increase the pace and scale of federal forest restoration through local collaboratives that get people to work in eastside forests, $22 million for water resource initiatives that show promise for irrigated agriculture and fish conservation,and continued support for marketing that promotes agricultural products grown in Eastern Oregon to local, domestic and international markets.

Led by local small business owners, county commissioners, mayors, farmers, ranchers and forest products industry leaders, we have replaced top-down, state-driven economic development strategies with locally driven priorities to accelerate efforts to create jobs and boost incomes in Eastern Oregon and across the state. I’ve budgeted $2 million each to ten Regional Solutions Committees to remove barriers to local community priorities and leverage additional resources. In addition, the budget includes nearly $1 million for project and infrastructure planning and establishes $30 million in Regional and Community Infrastructure bonding authority to dedicate to projects important to future growth.

My budget is also an education investment budget. It is based on the idea that we must deliver better results for students, and better prepare our workforce for the 21st century economy, to restore our shared prosperity. With strategic investments in early learning programs, K-12, and higher education, we can and will meet Oregon’s ambitious education goals. And because jobs of the future will require post-secondary degrees, certification, or training, we’re also investing in workforce development. My budget allocates $10 million to ensure more Oregonians have the skills to gain industry-specific training and compete for jobs.

To free up resources for strategic investments in education and local economic development, I am determined to reduce the cost of government. Health care reforms begun in the last two years will free up $100 million this biennium while improving the quality of care. I’m proposing adjustments to public pensions that maintain benefits while generating an additional $253 million for K-12 education. We can also avoid spending $600 million in new prisons by reserving state prison beds for violent offenders and reinvesting in community corrections programs and best practices.

Oregon is on the right track. But our work is far from done. It will take all of us working together to reinvest in education, create jobs today and position Oregon to be more competitive in the global economy of the 21st century. It will take all of us working together to drive the state’s per capita income back up above the national average. And it will take all of us working together to erase the troubling income disparities that have existed for far too long between our urban and rural communities.

As we prepare for the Legislative session beginning in February, I look forward to all of us moving forward together toward a shared vision for an enduring prosperity for all Oregonians.

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Gov. John Kitzhaber can be reached by mail at 160 State Capitol, 900 Court Street, Salem, OR 97301. His phone is 503-378-4582. The governor’s website is www.oregon.gov. It contains an email contact form on the site.

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