Kotek may veto money for Salem streetcar study, career education

Gov. Tina Kotek may veto state money legislators set aside to study a streetcar project for Salem and fund a career academy serving high school students on Northeast Lancaster Drive.

Kotek announced Friday that she was considering vetoing three policy bills and four budget items passed by legislators during the 2023 session. They include two projects in Salem.

She has until Aug. 4 to sign or veto bills passed by the legislature. Anything not signed by the deadline becomes law without her signature.

Her proposed vetos include $250,000 allocated to Cherriots for a feasibility study for a street car between west Salem and downtown. The research, planned for before 2025, would have been done by the state departments of Transportation, Energy and Environmental Quality, the city of Salem and the Salem Area Mass Transit District.

Rep. Tom Andersen, a Salem Democrat known for biking to the Capitol, introduced the original bill which was later worked into the budget. Supporters say the project would ease traffic jams for west Salem commuters, limit climate impact and spur economic development on the route. Andersen’s spokesman did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Cherriots Board President Maria Hinojos Pressey said the news was disappointing.

“Salem is growing and we definitely need some more affordable, accessible and clean options to travel around the city,” she said, but added that there were other encouraging steps taken during the session.

“We do have lots of other great things that are going on, like Cherriots’ fleet of electric vehicles, and I’m definitely really optimistic of the other investments in the bill, specifically the ones that are focusing on safety for pedestrians and bicyclists,” she said.

Salem Health, Travel Salem and local legislators Sen. Deb Patterson, D-Salem, state Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, and state Rep. Kevin Mannix, R-Salem supported the study.

“The Governor does not believe this study is a top priority for the state at this time,” Kotek’s office wrote in a news release Friday explaining her proposed vetoes.

She also said she may veto $1 million allocated toward the Willamette Career Academy, a high school program that brings students from a dozen school districts in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties to Salem. The academy is run by the WIllamette Education Service District and offers programs in cosmetology, diesel technology, construction, health science and other in-demand careers.

Kotek objected to the funds being allocated to the state Department of Administrative Services.

“The Governor supports career and technical education programs, but technically the funding should be distributed through a local school district or education service district,” the news release said.

A spokesman for the Education Service District and the academy’s principal did not immediately respond to questions from Salem Reporter Friday about how the money was to be used or their response to the proposed veto.

The two projects are among millions legislators allocated to Salem in the final days of the 2023 legislative session, which ended June 25. Other funded projects include renovations for a new west Salem preschool, a Vietnam War memorial on the Capitol grounds, and Marion Polk Food Share’s operations.

Kotek also said she may veto HB 2763, creating a task force to study establishing a state public bank, and two other budget allocations: $100,000 to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission for a study on the impact of decriminalizing prostitution; and  $500,000 to Oregon Health and Science University for a public health study about the impact of state laws on sex workers.

The Oregon Constitution allows the governor to veto bills in their entirety, as well as line items in appropriation bills, or emergency clauses which make a bill take effect as soon as it’s signed.

Legislators can override a governor’s veto by a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate, but doing so would require reconvening the Legislature.

“My commitment to Oregonians is that I will dig into the details and ask hard questions to make sure our state government is delivering results,” Kotek said in a statement. “Over the last month, my team and I have been thoroughly reviewing every bill, agency budget, and appropriation. While I understand and support the intent behind several of the items I’m considering vetoing, I am weighing concerns about implementation and budget prioritization.”

Update: This story has been updated with comments from Cherriots Board President Maria Hinojos Pressey.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241. Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.