GOP’s Sprenger says economy is top issue now

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Since House District 17 Rep. Sherrie Sprenger’s primary campaign, she says, she has seen her constituents’ priorities shift in recent months, and they are most concerned now about the economy.

Earlier this year, Sprenger was hearing about public safety and education, she said. She says she hasn’t heard anyone mention public safety in weeks.

“What I’m hearing from my constituents has changed. People are talking about their pocketbooks,” Sprenger said. “People are making tough choices on their family budgets. Certainly, that needs to be on the front burner. That felt like a different campaign in the primary. Now we’re talking about paying bills, keeping gas on and buying food.”

The economy and accountability are the lenses through which she’s looking now, she said last week as she campaigned to retain her seat against Democratic challenger Dan Thackaberry in the Nov. 4 election.

Not every piece of legislation has a financial component, but most do. On every piece of legislation in the next session, she’ll be asking, “What’s this doing to our taxpayers?”

The state needs to be careful to avoid increasing taxes, she said, at a time when heating oil and gasoline costs are rising.

To help ease the burden on family and small business budgets, Sprenger says she would like to pass a tax credit for families who pay for their own health insurance and small businesses that provide their employees with health insurance.

She wants to make sure small businesses aren’t forced to choose between providing health insurance or laying employees off so they can continue providing health insurance, she said.

“I’d like to see some relief to businesses that are doing it.”

There still needs to be a conversation about where to draw the line on the size of the businesses eligible for the credit, she said.

Most of the businesses in District 17 are small, she noted, although there are a few larger businesses.

“We have a national economic issue here,” she said. “We can’t solve that at the state level. However, we in Oregon have to take some steps to alleviate some of the pressure.”

The health insurance tax credit is something that would help, Sprenger said. Also, the state should avoid over-regulating businesses and reward innovation in the energy industry, whether it is wind power or ocean waves, something a professor at Oregon State University is working on.

With energy, “we need to be careful not to pick the winners,” which is something government tends to do, she said. This is an area where the state could pick up new jobs.

“One of the things that can happen and occurs is over-regulation,” Sprenger said. “I’m not saying regulation is a bad thing. We need to make sure they’re appropriate and common sense, not to the point it’s cost-prohibitive or pricing them (businesses) out of business.”

Over-regulation can “translate into people in my district losing their jobs,” she said, and she wants to look at regulation the same way she looks at legislation in general – whether it causes more problems than it is intended to solve.

As she goes to work next session, fiscal wisdom will be foremost on her mind.

A week ago, a constituent made a reference to “the state’s money,” she said. “I said, I want to remind you the state doesn’t have any money of its own.”

Every penny the state has comes from the taxpayers, she said. “It’s the state’s responsibility to spend that money wisely.”

For Sprenger, who entered politics through the Lebanon School Board, education is a main interest, she said. “I’m really excited to be appointed to the interim education committee, working on some of the tough issues we have in Oregon.”

She has heard from constituents that they would like a way to compare the performance of schools in an apples-to-apples and oranges-to-oranges way, she said. That means comparing demographics as well as performance. People want to make informed decisions about education.

She and the Republican Caucus would also like an earlier education budget, she said. Next session, a bill will require the Legislature to establish the budget by the 81st day of the session. Districts usually don’t know how much money they have to work with during their spring budget sessions the first year of the biennium because it isn’t settled until June or July.

They have budget projections, she said, but the final amount remains uncertain while the legislature uses the education budget as a political football.

“We talk about education being a priority,” she said. If it is, “then fund it up front. Don’t let it wait till the end and use it as a political football.”

One superintendent told her he could stand receiving less money from the state if he could plan better, Sprenger said, instead of starting a new program one year and having to cut it the next.

“Doesn’t it make sense to know how much money you’re budgeting?” she asked.

This piece of legislation falls into wisely handling taxpayers’ money, she said. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Sometimes, “we’ve got to make those tough decisions,” she said, and sometimes that means standing alone. She’ll take that stand if she thinks a bill is a good idea.

Sprenger said she has worked hard to introduce accountability and common sense to the political process. One of the questions she always asks herself is, “Does this cause more problems than it’s intended to solve?”

She also wants to consider how it affects the majority of her constituents, she said.

For instance, the first week of the special session this year, she voted against a bill to remove lead toys from stores. She supported the intent, but the bill, as originally presented, would have caused more problems than it was intended to solve.

It would have had a devastating impact on small businesses, she said. “The concept was good, but it didn’t have common sense.”

It would have allowed attorneys to take stores to court if they saw one of the toys on the shelf without having any claim to damages, for example, she said. The bill also didn’t allow enough time for businesses to comply.

In a floor speech, she urged several changes, she said. After the bill went to the Senate and then returned to the House, it had become more reasonable. She voted yes on the bill.

Visit sherriesprenger.com on for further information.

Gun Control

“I stand firm on Second Amendment rights, and I’m endorsed by the NRA (National Rifle Association),” Rep. Sherrie Sprenger said.

Abortion

“I am pro-life,” she said, no exceptions. “That’s an important moral issue to me.”

She has the endorsement of Oregon Right to Life, she said.

Illegal Immigration

“I voted on a bill that required proof of legal presence to get a license,” she said. The overall solution is a federal problem.

She recognizes that the legislation has caused problems for legal residents, she said, and the Division of Motor Vehicles has a liaison working on the bugs in the system, which may need further attention.

Before that, the Oregon driver’s license opened a door to all sorts of services, she said.

Bailout

“That’s an incredibly tough decision they’re making, a tough pill for us to swallow – but we’re making a choice that’s going to impact our kids and our grandkids,” she said. “I guess what’s most important to me in the bailout is the accountability.”

The nation needs to have sideboards and accountability with a bailout to make sure it doesn’t happen again, she said. At the same time, it’s not equitable for regular people to struggle while a CEO on the job for just three weeks gets a multi-million-dollar deal.

Drug Testing

She is interested in looking at drug testing for those receiving public assistance.

“We need to look at it,” she said. “We need to be sure we do it in the right way. I personally struggle with my tax dollars funding drug habits.”

She wanted to make it clear that she doesn’t think everyone receiving public assistance is a drug addict, she said.

But she will support testing for it depending on how a bill is drafted, she said, concerned about whether it will grow government.

“That is a way to support people, to help them live a healthier, better life,” she said.

“Under God” in the Pledge

“I have no problem with it,” she said. “I say it proudly. I loved saying the Pledge of Allegiance in board meetings and standing on the House chamber floor saying it.”

Drilling Off Shore

“We need to look at that,” she said. Being careful of how the environment is affected, “we need to look at that (drilling) as an option.”

She would like to see the nation reduce it’s dependence on foreign oil, she said. That dependence is “why we’re excited to pay $3.40 (per gallon of gasoline).”

Iraq

“I think the most important thing we remember, and it’s certainly a drum I beat, we need to be supportive of our troops,” she said.

Education Standards and

No Child Left Behind Act

Everything the state does must fall under the national NCLB, she said. “One of the biggest struggles is the changes in them (standards). How can we gauge what we’re doing when we change them.”

Standards are a good thing, she said, but everyone is so focused on them that a well-rounded education is at stake.

For six years, she has been in classrooms at least once a week, she said. She sees a lot of stress and pressure to pass tests. She would like to find a balance between that and art, music and other components of a well-rounded education.

Her son is in the sixth grade and has never been on a field trip to the state Capitol, she said. He has been there and been involved because of her but never with his school.

At that distance, from the Lebanon area, every student should be going to the state Capitol at some point, she said. “But time is crunched because of tests.”

Money problems or not, “you also have a lot of stress and pressure to pass a test,” she said. “That’s not a measure of success for everybody. It’s about the balance.”

She supports standards, “but I also oppose kids showing up, and it’s about the test all the time,” she said.

Economic Difficulties

and Tax Revenue

“If the economy’s hurting and people are struggling, I shouldn’t be taxing them higher and pulling them out of their budget,” she said. “Quite frankly, this becomes an easier question almost daily.”

The state has real issues, in transportation with aging roads and bridges, for example, she said. That creates a dilemma. “Any time we’re taxing families, we need to make sure the money they don’t have, that the state has now, is doing something really good.”

Certainly, the last round of salary increases for state department heads was too much, she said, although she is not saying they should work for free. She struggles when people are receiving $40,000-per-year raises, she said.

“It always needs to be about more efficiencies,” she said. It’s government’s job to provide services, but “it’s not our job to just grow government. We need to make sure these are services we need.”

She said she has signed the no new taxes pledge.

So if revenue declines, she said, it means all agencies need to tighten their belts.

She has been there before on the Lebanon School Board.

“There’s always a little you can trim and tweak without drastic effects,” she said. One of her priorities if she is looking at budget cuts is protecting programs like Project Independence, which allows senior citizens to live independently in their homes with part-time help from caregivers.

Projects like that actually save money, she said, by keeping seniors who need some assistance out of homes and more expensive options.

Universal Health Care

“How are we going to pay for it?” she asked.

Speed Limit

She would probably oppose an increase in highway and freeway speed limits, she said, but she is open to her constituents and willing to talk about it.

Ducks or Beavers

Beavers.

Country or Rock ‘n’ Roll

Eighties rock and contemporary Christian.

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