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When "America Speaks," What Will Oregon Say?

June 24, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - On Saturday, dozens of public get-togethers will be held across the country to discuss America's financial future. One of them is in Portland. Organizers of "America Speaks" say they don't want to dwell on the current recession in these town meetings. Instead, their goal is to gather ideas for what to do about the looming fiscal crises predicted 10 or 20 years down the road.

The problem with that, says Sharon Hills, executive director of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, is that many Oregonians are preoccupied, out of necessity, with today's crisis. She says requests for emergency food, rent and utility money are up 35 percent from a year ago.

"The people who are in need, all they need is a place to live and some food to eat. The last thing that they think about is whether our government has to balance their budget, whether it's the state or federal level."

Hills hopes some of the discussion will focus on job creation. Participants also should keep in mind that every dollar cut from social services will affect Oregon families who are struggling, she adds.

Janet Bauer, policy analyst and federal budget coordinator with the Oregon Center for Public Policy, says people who attend these events don't have to be economists to participate and learn.

"These conversations are absolutely possible for most Oregonians. I expect that walking into those meetings with a sincere desire to understand our challenges and to do the best for our country would be sufficient."

The "America Speaks" organization says it is nonpartisan, although it has been criticized for its backing from well-known political conservatives. Bauer says the group also has invited those with other viewpoints to attend.

The public meeting in Portland is from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Oregon Convention Center. Other events are planned in Ashland and McMinnville.

More information is available at www.usabudgetdiscussion.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR