By Eileen Griffin
Just 24 hours after being sworn in, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek (D) declared a state of emergency to combat homelessness across most of the state in three executive orders, East Oregonian reported.
Kotek plans to allocate $130 million of taxpayer money to reducing homelessness. The funding is expected to provide 36,000 new homes per year and pay for an advisory council responsible for ongoing budget matters and policy recommendations on homelessness issues.
“No one should have to live in a tent on a sidewalk,” Kotek said in a campaign press release. “Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis in our own backyards. Our state’s housing crisis requires a comprehensive, collaborative approach.”
The budgeted dollars are intended to fund transitional shelters and provide services to people living on the street, Oregon Capital Chronicle reports. Approximately 1,200 people will be removed from the streets at the cost of $100,000 per person.
Kotek declared that much of Oregon is in a state of emergency due to homelessness. The order will affect several counties in the state including Portland, Central Oregon, Jackson, Marion, and Polk counties, the Chronicle reports. Those areas have a 50 percent increase in homelessness between 2017 and 2022.
More than 60 percent of the homeless population in Oregon sleep on the streets or in cars. Oregon has the highest rate of homeless families with children in the nation and the 4th highest rate of homelessness in general.
Kotek’s order directs state agencies to prioritize the homeless, using all their authority and resources to deal with this singular problem.
“It will take an ongoing commitment from local, state, federal and private sector partners to move towards this target,” states Kotek’s declaration. “The housing construction goal is ambitious because Oregonians are demanding bold solutions to address this crisis. I set this target to reflect the level of need that exists knowing that we will not get there overnight or even in one year but we will ramp up over time and keep pushing for partnerships that will increase housing construction as much as possible to start meeting the needs of Oregonians.”
Emergency declarations allow an executive official to assert unusual authority and waive regulations that impede implementation of policy goals. Rather than working through the state legislature, the Oregon executive orders allow one individual, the Governor, to have unilateral authority to create policy throughout the time of the declared emergency.
Samantha Filmore, state government relations manager for The Heartland Institute, has testified in front of state legislatures about the overreaching authority governors claimed under the guide of emergency powers at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some governors refused to release the power long after the emergency was over.
Testifying in Arizona on behalf of The Heartland Institute, Fillmore described the importance of maintaining checks and balances in government.
“There is a clear appetite among the lawmakers in Arizona to restrain any governor’s emergency powers while ensuring safeguards to prevent future gubernatorial tyranny under the guise of emergency declarations,” Fillmore said. “Co-equal governance checks and balances, and the decentralization of power are bedrock American principles. Yet, these fundamental principles have been AWOL in Arizona since the pandemic. Fortunately for the cause of freedom, Arizona lawmakers are standing up to gubernatorial overreach by reasserting their rightful place as a much-needed check against the executive branch.”
Emergency declarations, whether to address a pandemic or an alleged housing crisis, allow for the same potential authoritarian power imposition.
“Houselessness is a humanitarian crisis in our own backyards,” states the governor’s website. “Everyone has the right to live somewhere in security, peace, and dignity. But safe, affordable housing is out of reach for too many Oregonians. This challenge has two parts: the long-term lack of an adequate supply of affordable housing, and the immediate crisis we see on our streets.”
Oregon Watchdog, a taxpayers’ association, responded to Kotek’s announcement, citing several concerns.
“Churches and charities cannot repair broken lives fast enough,” the association writes for Oregon Catalyst. “When Tina Kotek and Kate Brown’s liberal policies create a crime wave by releasing 1,000 criminal early and vote for reduced prison time for countless crimes that have set free thousands of additional criminals on our streets early.”
The group claims that liberal policies and burdensome government regulations are causing the problems Kotek purports to fix.
“Simply put, politicians break things faster than Oregon volunteers can build it,” the taxpayer group writes. “Liberal politicians tax people out of their homes and then raise property taxes higher to pay for government to build affordable homes for people who cannot afford to buy one.”
In addition to the governor’s office, Democrats hold majorities in both chambers of the legislature. Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) was elected speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives as Kotek left the role for the governor’s mansion.
Rayfield voiced support for Kotek’s plan to prioritize the homeless, East Oregonian reports.
“All too often we look back on a session and focus on the problems we faced,” Rayfield told the paper. “When we look back on this session, I want it to be remembered as the session we seized unprecedented opportunities and helped government deliver on its promise.”