Oregon business group outlines legislative wish list focused on transportation, infrastructure

Associated Press

Influential Oregon business groups are calling for a focus on education, infrastructure and natural resources as they outline their agenda for the upcoming legislative session.

The annual Oregon Business Summit is scheduled for Tuesday in Portland. Gov. John Kitzhaber, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and state legislative leaders will speak to a group of executives, lobbyists and lawmakers.

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The group will unveil the so-called Oregon Business Plan, which represents the collective will of the state's business community. Rather than specific bills, it calls broadly for policies that corporate leaders believe would improve the business climate, raise employment, improve wages and reduce poverty.

With Democrats empowered by expanded majorities in the House and Senate, business officials are pushing issues on which they hope they can find common ground.

"The business plan understands the importance of high-quality public services," said Duncan Wyse, president of the Oregon Business Council. "Infrastructure, especially education — we need those services for the economy to be successful."

The plan calls for making education more relevant to careers. It suggests improving technical education and math and science classes, as well as connecting employers more closely with schools. It also requests more funding for higher education.

The business officials also want more spending on infrastructure improvements, including a package of statewide transportation projects. They call for more state spending on forestry projects, including biomass development and research into using wood products in large buildings.

The Oregon Business Plan was first developed in 2002 by a group of many of the state's most politically active businesses and business groups. It's been modified every year since.

The plan has found an enthusiastic supporter in Kitzhaber, who has worked aggressively to implement many of its top priorities. The Democratic governor successfully pushed for cuts in public employee retirement benefits to reduce the state's unfunded pension liability. He also fought hard for a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River, but the plan fell apart last year.