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March 16: Representative Val Hoyle

Representative Val Hoyle was clear about her priorities as a new member of Congress from the 4th Congressional District: the Coos Bay North Bend container port. In her first visit to the Springfield City Club since her election, she described that project as her “first, second and third priority.” Fortunately, she has positioned herself in the Congress to be a strong advocate for the project. Even though one of the many freshman members of the House, she managed to secure an appointment to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where her predecessor served for many years. It is unusual, she said, for a new member of the House to get such a prestigious committee assignment.

Already, she has spent significant time working on building support for the project. She has been aided by the fact that the private company who would build the project, which involves dredging the Coos Bay channel, building the port, and expanding and improving rail service, is located in the Congressional District of the Republican chair of the Committee. This gives her an opportunity to build bipartisan support for the project.

Even with this project, which she says will create 9000 jobs on the coast as her main focus, she is working to establish a reputation as a congress member who will be willing to work across the aisle when appropriate, by securing support for two amendments to pending legislation which passed with unanimous support. Her focus, she said, “is finding ways to work together with people who want to get things done.”

She was clear, however, that there are significant challenges to working in the present Congress. She reported that while that chair of the transportation committee was clear that he wants the committee to “be boring” and focus on getting work down, her other committee assignment, to Natural Resources, will apparently operate differently. The first meeting of the Committee she said, focused on whether the members could bring guns to the meetings.

One of the first pieces of legislation she has signed on to sponsor is a modification to Social Security which would require high income individuals to resume contributions to the system if they make more than $250,000 a year. (At present no contributions are required on earnings above $160,000.) Were it to pass, which she concedes is doubtful in this Congress, it would stabilize social Security for 75 years as well as support a $250 a month increase in benefits across the board. This is important for this District she said, since over half of the seniors in the district rely on social Security for their retirement income.

Another bill she mentioned is one that tracks her recent experience as State Commissioner o9f the Bureau of Labor and Industries. That bill would offer tax credits to employers who are creative in how they hire and train employees. She focused attention on the apprenticeship model and the successful efforts in Oregon to create certifications in skills that do not require a four-year college degree. She specifically mentioned several of the programs that Lane Community College offers in medical technology, nursing, and traditional trades fields as examples of the sorts of programs that could be developed. It is important she said, “to change the present model where schools are paid for getting butts in the seats” and replace it with models that focus on rewarding successful outcomes.

Asked about the likelihood of success in getting approvals for the Container port project, she pointed to the fact that the current West Coast shipping ports are generally land locked and cannot expand significantly, and that all of them require days to get products from the open ocean to the port facility. “Coos Bay would be 90 minutes from open ocean to port with direct rail connections that could cut as much a s two days off of the supply chain.” She said there was no organized opposition, either in the Congress or locally to the project, unlike the controversial Jordan Cove project, although she acknowledged that work needs to be done to reassure local communities and the fishing industry that the part of the proposal that calls for offshore wind generation of electricity can be accomplished with adverse environmental effects.

Not only would the port project generate jobs by itself, she said, but it would provide an essential stimulation to the housing market. There are simply no homes available, at any level, along the coast. The need to supply housing for up to 9000 new workers would be a massive stimulus to build housing.

Rep. Hoyle was not optimistic about parts of the President’s budget which offer subsidies to help increase pay for child care workers. Unfortunately, she said, the slim Republican majority, and the decision of the speaker to yield much of his power to the extremist element of the Republican Party, make ideas like this, just like the demand for an assault weapons ban, things that are not likely to see success in this Congress.

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