Southern Oregon business and labor leaders joined elected leaders in our region in celebrating the passage of the Jobs & Transportation Act by the Legislature in 2009. Heralded as the largest jobs and infrastructure investment in our state's history, the Jobs & Transportation Act promised 5,000 jobs a year and a billion dollars in new transportation infrastructure to rebuild Oregon's economy. Southern Oregon was to be a primary beneficiary. Today, those jobs and investments in our future are at risk.

Southern Oregon business and labor leaders joined elected leaders in our region in celebrating the passage of the Jobs & Transportation Act by the Legislature in 2009. Heralded as the largest jobs and infrastructure investment in our state's history, the Jobs & Transportation Act promised 5,000 jobs a year and a billion dollars in new transportation infrastructure to rebuild Oregon's economy. Southern Oregon was to be a primary beneficiary. Today, those jobs and investments in our future are at risk.

The new proposal in Salem to take funding for the Oregon State Police Patrol Division out of the Highway Trust Fund breaks the trust of Oregonians who supported increased gas taxes and fees in exchange for the promise of jobs.

OSP is a vital state service and as such is a general fund responsibility even though full funding represents only 1 percent of the state budget. Voters have been asked five times since 1980 to raid the trust fund for other uses, including twice for the state police, and rejected the attempts each time. In fact, the state police measure failed by a 2-to-1 margin as recently as the year 2000.

The Highway Trust Fund is one of the few revenue sources in government unavailable for bait-and-switch efforts by the Legislature. It actually has to be used for the purposes for which the revenue was raised. It is doubtful Oregonians would have approved the new gas taxes increase this year to fund OSP. But that is exactly what the proposal would do.

Here are the facts: The proposal would spend $93 million from the trust fund in the last part of the 2011-13 biennium. But the current service level for OSP is actually $144.9 million for the two-year period. The $93 million this biennium is only because the Trust Fund money couldn't go into effect until next year after the constitutional amendment was voted on by Oregonians. After that it will likely siphon twice that amount by 2015 just to maintain current services.

Ironically, the Jobs & Transportation Act requires the nearly identical $140 million a biennium of trust fund dollars to pay debt service on the $1 billion in statewide projects. Raiding the trust fund for OSP essentially siphons off the dollars that are needed to fund the JTA projects and the jobs associated with them. Local projects include $100 million for improvements on Highway 62 and $25 million for Interstate 5 at Fern Valley Road.

ODOT has made it clear in testimony in support of passage of the Jobs & Transportation Act that despite the increase, the trust fund is still not large enough to meet the backlog of basic maintenance and preservation needs of the state, county and city systems. ODOT could not spend those dedicated dollars on new projects at the expense of maintenance and preservation work on existing highways, roads and streets. Those dollars are needed to allow the Jobs & Transportation Act to move forward. The OSP proposal deletes those new dollars by next year.

Oregonians are counting on the promise of thousands of jobs to be fulfilled. Here in Southern Oregon, we understand how critical transportation infrastructure is to making our businesses competitive in the marketplace.

Passage of the Jobs & Transportation Act was a remarkable achievement, made possible only because of the tremendous coalition that was built in support of the deliverables promised in the legislation. To break Oregonians' "trust" in the Highway Trust Fund likely will destroy the coalition support that has been more than a decade in the making.

Public safety is a primary government responsibility and should be treated that way in the state budget process within the $14.5 billion in tax and lottery dollars available. If a dedicated OSP fund is needed, it should be created and funded with a new funding stream, not by raiding a Highway Trust Fund that has been protected by voters since 1942.

John Watt is a former state representative from Medford. He now owns a governmental affairs firm that represents Southern Oregon businesses.