Incumbent Barnhart says schools, tax loopholes need attention

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Phil Barnhart is the incumbent running for state House District 11 against Republican Jim Oakley.

District 11 includes the area southwest of Sweet Home along Highway 228 along with Brownsville and parts of Eugene.

Barnhart is a graduate of South Eugene High School. He earned his bachelor or arts degree at the University of Oregon and graduated from the University of Oregon Law School. He earned a Ph.D. at California School of Professional Psychology.

His previous governmental experience includes service on Eugene 4J School Board and the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners. He was a deputy district attorney.

He is president of Emergence, a nonprofit alcohol and drug treatment agency. He served as president with the Lane County Soccer Referees’ Association and Lane Association of Mental Health Professionals – now the Oregon Mental Health Association. He is a member of the Eugene Rotary Club and several chambers of commerce.

“I got into public life because I was concerned about my own kids, your kids and their education,” Barnhart said. “Between the school board and the Legislature, I have been active in public life for 12 years as an elected official. These jobs have been difficult because our state has many problems we need to address; and government, even when operated by smart people of good will, is often slow and halting. I want to speed up the process of reform.

“I have been blessed to have made many friends I would never have met if I had stuck simply to my career as a psychologist. I have learned about the good will and honesty of Oregonians of all income levels, liberals and conservatives alike.

“The work is often hard, but I get enormous gratification from making a difference for people, sometimes in large numbers and sometimes one at a time. I hope you will allow me to continue that work. My standard is and will always be what is good for Oregon and Oregonians.

“We have a lot of work left to do. Our schools are not properly funded, our state police and county law enforcement do not have the tools they need to do their jobs, and our health care system is in crisis. I am committed to seeing Oregon address these problems. I love Oregon, and I’m determined to see us get back on track.”

Top issues

Barnhart identified education, public safety and healthcare as his top concerns.

“We are not properly investing in our public schools, community colleges and universities,” he said. “We have half the number of state troopers we need, and our district attorneys in many counties cannot prosecute property crimes. The Oregon Health Plan is no longer able to meet the needs of low-income Oregonians.

“By closing tax loopholes for wealthy individuals and out-of-state companies, raising the corporate minimum tax, and repealing the corporate kicker, we can generate more revenue to properly fund these institutions without raising taxes on Oregonians with normal or low incomes.

“This will strengthen the economy and attract good-paying jobs. We must also make our health care system more affordable and efficient, by improving access to prescription drug pooling programs and rural health clinics. We must make sure all Oregon children have insurance coverage and all low-income groups cut from the Oregon Health Plan have their coverage restored.”

Education

On charter schools, Barnhart said, “I do not believe that diverting taxpayer dollars to private schools at the expense of our children’s public schools is the answer to the challenges we face. We must do a better job of preparing students for a rapidly changing, increasingly knowledge-based economy for family life as a spouse and parent and for civic involvement in our communities.”

Most of the problems with the state’s student assessment testing and 21st Century Schools plan arise from the failure to fully develop the plan, Barnhart said. “This process began with great fanfare a decade and a half ago. Almost immediately basic school funding was cut around the state under Measure 5 and the development of the 21st Century Schools plan has been hampered ever since. I think with the proper modifications, this remains a good idea.

“We have to be careful to avoid the mistakes of the federal No Child Left Behind plan, which is a good idea in concept, but a disaster in practice. It labels schools as failures when they do a great job educating most students.

“NCLB is helpful when it reminds us we need to do better for some students. It is not helpful when it scares parents and citizens unnecessarily. It is important that we don’t put all of the emphasis on testing and take away the ability of teachers to teach and students to learn information and skills that will be useful for real life not just for passing tests.”

Education remains under-funded in Oregon, he said. “We are currently 5 percent below the national average on education funding. Our K-12 schools have been significantly under-funded since the property tax cuts of Measure 5 in the 1990s that were never replaced.

“The financial crisis in the state budget resulting from the state taking over so much of the funding for our schools caused the state to cut funding for our community colleges and universities. We don’t have enough surveyors, truckers, doctors, nurses and workers in the skilled trades because programs at community colleges and universities are no longer accessible and affordable.”

Barnhart referred voters to his responses on “the top three issues” listed above “for my solutions.

“One of them is how to raise the revenue we need without increasing the tax burden on Oregonians with low or average income.”

Taxes and budgets

“The state does not have enough revenue,” Barnhart said. “The governor has led us through an economic recovery, but because of the way the corporate and personal income tax kickers are structured, the increased revenue that the state brings in as we emerge from the recession is not able to be used to fund basic services. I am in favor of changing the way the state economist estimates the kicker so that we have a more accurate picture of how much money we will have and can do a better job of budgeting for each biennium.

“The money the state brings in from taxes and fees are used almost entirely to fund public schools, community colleges, universities, roads, public safety, health care for the very poor and the social safety net. I believe we must adequately fund these programs if we are to have a strong and vibrant economy. Sound infrastructure and a high quality of life are imperative to attract new businesses and family wage jobs.

“We need a real rainy day fund, not the phony plan proposed by supporters of Measure 48 that would save money while wrecking our schools, and other basic services. A real rainy day fund, filled with money we now send out of state to New York and London stockholders through the corporate kicker refund would help stabilize our tax system so that we can help Oregonians during bad times rather than cutting the budget.”

Illegal immigration

“The federal government has not done an adequate job of addressing the problem of illegal immigration. The president and Congress also must enact comprehensive immigration reform that will not only protect the borders, but remove the economic incentives for immigrants to enter this country illegally and streamline the process for applying for legal entry to the country. In Oregon we should crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and stop companies from using undocumented workers to drive down wages.”

Raising the speed limit

“I do not support raising the speed limit. I think Gov. Kitzhaber was right when he stopped this proposal in the late 1990s. In my opinion our current speed limit allows for drivers to make good time without going dangerous and deadly speeds. We definitely need more state troopers so that we can provide a 24 hour patrol and reduce crime and accidents.”

Field burning

“I am committed to working for a solution to the field burning issue in the 2007 session. The Department of Agriculture has done their best to implement the field burning program and to prescribe burns only under particular weather conditions. This seems to be a nearly impossible task.

“It is not right that a large percentage of Linn and Lane County citizens should have their health compromised by a small number of farmers. It is very important that we do our best to help the farmers in this state continue to be successful, but there appear to be a variety of alternatives to burning the fields which many farmers already employ.

“I think we can find a solution that will work for all parties involved, including reducing dangerous smoke in our valley every summer.”

Last word

“I have shown a commitment to working for all parts of my district and to addressing the most pressing issues facing our state. I have accomplished a lot in my past three sessions, including making sure Oregon’s veterans are properly looked after when they return from overseas, making our government run more efficiently, and protecting the towns in my district from state overregulation. I will continue to fight for fairness in our tax code and proper funding for schools, public safety and other vital public services.”

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