ONTARIO—Residents are readying for the opportunity to have their say in how state lawmakers spend the budget for the next two years as the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee stops in Ontario. The legislative committee will appear in public session at the Four Rivers Cultural Center on Friday, April 28, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Testimony will be limited to two minutes.
Hosted by Treasure Valley Community College, the influential Ways and Means Committee sets the state’s biennial budget, governing spending on everything from state police to child welfare to highway work. State Sen. Lynn Findley, a Republican from Vale, serves on the committee.
State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, one of two budget co-chairs, said in an emailed statement Thursday, April 20, that the community hearings held across the state are an excellent opportunity for people to talk directly to representatives about how they spend their tax dollars.
The public sessions were on hiatus during the pandemic. Lawmakers last held face-to-face meetings in 2021. Legislators typically finalize the state budget in May and June before it takes effect for two years beginning July 1. Anyone interested in testifying could sign up online at the Oregon Legislature’s website.
Written testimony submitted so far includes comments on Senate Bill 610, which expands food stamp eligibility to undocumented immigrants in Oregon and would use state funds to open access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Among Ontario residents supporting the change is Eddie Melendrez, an Ontario city councilor, who said he spoke to an undocumented worker who could not afford to keep her pantries stocked, with wages not keeping up with rising food costs.
“I thought for a moment how can a country that heavily relies on a workforce that many times is undocumented allow folks to go hungry who are the very backbone of this country,” Melendrez wrote.
The legislation would use state money to provide food stamps for those who cannot meet federal citizenship requirements. Federal food benefits typically require those who need them to be citizens or U.S. residents for five years.
Ron Verini, former Ontario mayor and chair of Veterans Advocates of Ore-Ida, a nonprofit veterans group, urged the lawmakers to fund Senate Bill 5524 and House Bill 2908, Verini wrote that both would allow the Treasure Valley Community College Small Business Development Center to continue to support nonprofits like Veterans of Ore-Ida and small business in eastern Oregon.
Additionally, the Ontario Recreation District is asking the state to fund House Bill 2410, introduced by state Rep. Mark Owens, to help pay for the construction of the Ontario Community Recreation Center.
Andrew Maeda, district executive director, said in December that to begin renovation of the aquatic center, the district needed $2.4 million in hand to start the bidding process. The total price for the project is $6.4 million.
The renovation is in the second phase of the district’s six-phase plan for the downtown Ontario site.
The Malheur County Development Corp. is looking to get $8.5 million to complete the Treasure Valley Reload Center.
In March, the county, at the direction of Owens and Findley, submitted an $8.5 million request to the state to rescue and complete the project.
In a joint letter from Owens and Findley the legislators wrote to county officials that “because of the history of the project and the taint surrounding it, we have reached out to determine the level of support for the request.”
“For the most part, everyone wants the project to be completed but there are issues that must be completed before any additional funding commitments and support is received,”
For her part, Steiner said hundreds have come to the public sessions the committee has held around Oregon and the lawmakers have listened to testimony on “many important projects and programs being considered by the Legislature this year.”
However, Steiner said the state couldn’t fund everything.
“Economically, we are in a tight budget cycle with a lot of uncertainty,” Steiner said.
She said lawmakers have heard the priority should be funding vital services that ensure “long-term budget sustainability” and investing in critical areas, such as schools, health care and housing.
Residents will also have an opportunity to talk to legislators after the session at a no-host dinner at Fiesta Guadalajara in Ontario at 336 S. Oregon St. That event is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
On Saturday, April 29, representatives of the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board, the public body put together by the governor to spur economic activity on the eastern Oregon border, will present a report from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario.
From 10:30 a.m. to noon, Layer Line 3D, a company based in Huntington, will give the committee a tour of the company’s spec 3D-printed homes at 4720 Highway 52 in Ontario.
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