Editorial: Legislature-funded construction helps recovery

Published Jul 23, 2013 at 05:00AM

Central Oregon’s long, slow climb out of the economic doldrums got a shot in the arm this spring from the Oregon Legislature, as did other regions of the state. Lawmakers approved about $1 billion in construction spending as they wound up the 2013 legislative session, and while it wasn’t labeled “economic development,” it well could have been.

More than $618 million will be spent upgrading the state’s four-year schools, including the $20 million earmarked for OSU-Cascades Campus expansion. That figure includes $4 million in local fundraising and $4 million from the university.

Another $125 million, including $5 million-plus for Central Oregon Community College, is earmarked for community colleges, and $307 million will be spent on miscellaneous projects around Oregon.

Longtime Central Oregonians know what this kind of money can do for a soft economy. A recession here in the mid 1970s brought on by sharply rising fuel prices may not have ended because the city of Bend launched a multi-million dollar expansion of its sewer system, but those millions certainly did not hurt. Nor did the building of at least two new schools, Cascade and Mountain View, hold the economy back.

In fact, spending on public works to boost economies is nothing new — the old Civilian Conservation Corps of the Great Depression is perhaps the best-known example. Even the 2008 recession saw spending on public building projects increase. Here, the highway between the north and south entrances to Sunriver is a far safer drive than it used to be as a result.

Now, we’re about to be at it again. Bend-La Pine Schools will put up two new facilities in the next few years; COCC will take over the building now occupied by OSU-Cascades and the latter will purchase or build, or some of each, buildings of its own. Meanwhile, work continues on Bend’s multi-million dollar road improvement projects, and the park district has projects of its own in the works.

Republican lawmakers, in particular, ended the 2013 legislative session bemoaning the fact that they had not done all they hoped to do to boost local economies. Perhaps they did not, at least in the way they had intended. But help they did, and the payoff will come in the next few years.