Brown Highlights Health Care, Housing In Inaugural Address
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown expressed hope and urgency in outlining her agenda before lawmakers during her State of the State address in the House of Representatives at the Capitol on Monday after being sworn in for her second and last term as governor.
As expected, she named health care, housing, the environment, campaign finance reform and education as her top priorities.
During her address, which was greeted with resounding applause by the Democratic majority that now controls the House and Senate, Brown alluded to a need for universal health care, an issue the Legislature has tackled over the past year in a task force.
She said Oregon is facing a crisis of affordability in both health care and housing.
“Health care is a fundamental right,” she said. “Let’s work together to make sure every Oregonian has the health care they need.”
At the same time, she praised the progress that has been made in expanding care in the state: 94 percent of adults are covered along with all children thanks to the expansion of the Oregon Health Plan and the program Cover All Kids, she said.
To bring that home, Brown mentioned Oregonian Jacob Burris, 17, who designs clothing for the Doernbecher Foundation. He has a pre-existing health condition that might not be covered had he lived in another state, she said.
“His life decisions, including his profession, will be dictated by his ability to get health insurance,” Brown said. “The good news is that unlike many states, Oregon protects people like Jacob.”
One of the big issues the Legislature faces when it convenes Jan. 22 is plugging the $950 million hole in the Medicaid budget. Brown said in a press conference after her address that she expects that issue to be settled early in the session though agreement on keeping existing taxes on premiums and providers. She also expects a tobacco tax to help fund the plan.
Brown’s agenda for 2019 includes a $400 million investment in housing, including a $20 million bonding package to help build 200 units of permanent housing for the chronically homeless. The governor said that package would need to be approved by the Legislature early in session to get construction underway.
She also addressed the lack of affordability in rent prices.
“Oregon families are counting on us,” she said. “They are counting on us so they don’t have to make a choice between paying the rent and staying home with their newborn.”
Oregon’s homeless problem is widely considered to be a health problem, too, that affects outcomes and drives up costs. It’s part of the so-called social determinants of health that’s included in the Oregon Health Authority’s next round of Medicaid.
In her address, Brown also discussed the health of the ecosystem, referencing 2007 carbon emissions standards set by former Gov. Ted Kulongoski. She said Oregon has not met those goals.
With 2018 the hottest year in the state since 1895, Brown said it was imperative to pay attention to droughts and wildfires that have devastated the state in recent years. She added in the press conference that her administration would unveil a more thorough strategy to address those issues at the end of January.
“We stand at a turning point, with an opportunity to put Oregon on a better path forward,” she said. “Our young people deserve to inherit an Oregon as beautiful and bountiful as the one we cherish today.”
You can reach Alex Visser at [email protected].