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Road repairs lose as session nears closure

SALEM ­ Rogue Valley legislators said Friday the failure to producemore money for road repairs and other transportation needs soured the closeof a 173-day legislative session that proved sweet in many other respectsfor the region.

Rep. John Watt, R-Medford, laid the blame on inappropriate linkage ofthe issue by some senators to an unrelated bill that would have made iteasier to form charter schools free of most state restrictions.

Though Watt voted for it, Senate Bill 628 failed Thursday night on a30-30 vote. The Senate then defeated the transportation plan Friday afternoonin House Bill 3748, 16-13, though the House passed it 41-19 earlier thisweek.

The defeat of the tax bill was one of the last major items, but the Legislaturecontinued to stagger toward adjournment.

Charter schools may or may not be a good idea, said Watt,who chaired the Legislature's budget subcommittee on transportation. Butyou cannot draw a comparison between charter schools and the need to keepup our roads and highways. In the heat of the session, they grew to somelevel of equality and became political trading stock.

When charter schools went down in the House, the Senate leadershipwas determined not to pass the transportation bill. That's my opinion, inspite of what they say.

Rep. Judy Uherbelau, D-Ashland, agreed with Watt's analysis. But shealso said supporters had to do a better job of explaining why the publicwould benefit from higher taxes for transportation projects.

All of us have to get out and get the message across to citizenswhat this really means to them, she said. People do not wanttax increases, and people perceive this simply as an increase.

The Fourth of July is the birthday of Sen. Lenn Hannon, R-Ashland, whoturned 54 Friday. He had planned to be at a barbecue with two of his grownchildren and their families in Portland.

Instead I'm spending it with 89 other legislators _ and the fireworksprobably will happen here in this chamber, he joked.

Though Hannon voted against the transportation tax bill Friday, he agreedwith colleagues that issues such as use of mail ballots in primary and generalelections should have been given more of a chance to stand on their ownmerits. Hannon voted for it, but the Senate voted Thursday to reject a House-amendedmeasure that would have referred the mail-ballot issue to voters.

Too many important issues got caught up in vote trading betweenthe chambers _ that the Senate would approve this if the House approvedthat, he said. It is not a way you generate good ideas.

The agreement between the chambers that finally broke the deadlock onthe state budget relied on such trades. The House prevailed on more stateaid for school districts, but the Senate got an end to tenure for public-schoolteachers and a referral to voters of $150 million in lottery-backed bondsfor school construction.

On the other hand, Southern Oregon legislators secured more than $20million in projects for the region. Among them were $8 million for a runwayextension at the Medford airport, $5.6 million for a visual-arts centerat Southern Oregon University, $2.8 million for Ashland Ranger Districtoffices and a community conference center at SOU, $1 million for improvementsat Miles Field in Medford, and unspecified amounts for a state office buildingin Medford and a rest area on Interstate 5 south of Ashland.

It's a great tribute to the entire delegation, Hannon said.We worked together, and we should be proud of that.

Rep. Eldon Johnson, R-Central Point, said the proposed tax break forintangible property of utilities should clear the way for Southern Oregonto attract a telecommunications service center that could employ up to 500people.

But for the most part, this was a session with the most do-nothinglegislation I have ever seen, he said.