In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week Lindsay Jacques, City of Hillsboro, Oregon, writes about moving from Texas to Oregon.
As you might imagine, moving from Texas to Oregon comes with quite a bit of culture shock. What I didn’t quite anticipate as I boarded my one-way flight from DFW to PDX was how much of that culture permeates into the local government realm. Unsurprising to hear from anyone who has followed their career across state lines, as many of us do in local government, this newly graduated professional has discovered some major differences in the culture and issues faced by Texas and Oregon municipalities.
- Red v. Blue: It probably comes as no surprise, but Texas and Oregon state politics are a bit on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I overheard in a Portland café recently, “This November the Democrats might get a supermajority and then they’ll be able to raise taxes,” and I was a little floored. This statement describing what might happen in the Oregon legislature was the furthest reality from what might happen in Texas’. It has been fascinating for me to uncover just how much the political climate of the state effects how local government operates, including local autonomy, environmental regulations, building official tension, and recreational drug use.
- Plastic bag bans galore: I’m not trying to imply that no one cares about the environment in Texas, but in relative terms to Oregon regulation, there’s no question who is stricter. With very firm Urban Growth Boundaries, erosion control measures, and species protection, building in Oregon has a few extra environmental layers than their Texan counterpart, keeping their growth largely urban and dense. However, when you look around it’s not hard to see why Oregonians place a high importance in protecting the lush green forests and farm land surrounding their municipalities.
- Regional Reps: In North Texas, municipalities opted into the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), a regional government funded through dues, grants, and donations (between the Council and League of Cities we local government nerds sound a little like superheroes). NCTCOG focuses more on planning and coordination efforts in the region, as not all municipalities are members. Portland area’s regional government is Metro, a tax funded entity of which all municipalities in the area are obligated members. The funding of the regional government create differences in municipalities relationships, and Metro is a much more present force to Hillsboro, OR than NCTCOG seemed to be to Southlake, TX.
- Dolla’ Dolla’ Bills: Texas and Oregon municipalities both rely heavily on property taxes in a very similar way, but while Texas municipalities’ budgets rely significantly on a portion of the statewide sales tax, Oregon municipalities don’t have that option. In many Texas municipalities, 2% of the sales tax help fund their yearly budgets. Oregon, however, does not have sales tax to help prop municipalities up financially. Many municipalities in Oregon provide additional funds through voter-passed bonds called a Local Option Tax, where residents agree to add a percentage to their property tax to help fund additional programs. For example, Hillsboro has a local option tax dedicated to help fund police, fire, and parks and recreation initiatives. Many cities are unable to pass Local Options Taxes, having large effects on what they can fund.
- Missing the bus: It turns out in Oregon not everyone owns the 4-wheel drive pickup truck I had become so accustomed to in Texas. With regional transportation in the form of a light rail, streetcars, and buses, many more people opt to not have a vehicle at all, myself included. This creates a higher priority for pedestrian and bike traffic in many Oregon cities, with advocates much more involved in transportation efforts. Something I came to realize was how important lobbying and planning becomes when regional transportation is the norm. Many hours in the City are spent advocating for service through a regional transportation provider, something that wasn’t a priority in many of the municipalities I encountered in Texas, especially in the smaller ones.
- Casual Friday: In Oregon, it kinda feels like every day is casual Friday. On my first day I spotted sandals, shorts, and tattoos (oh my!), all sights I was not accustomed to in the realm of local government coming from Texas. My coworker looked at me as if I was crazy for asking when I inquired if I could wear sleeveless top in my first week (gasp). It has been refreshing to see gauges and colored hair normalized, and employees having a bit more freedom to express themselves in their outward appearance. Coming from Texas, I’m sure people think I dress a little funny too (cowboy hats and boots have nothing to do with it, I swear).
- Work Hard, Be Kind: Despite all of the funny quirks I’ve found between working in local government in both states, there is no difference in the passion found in the professionals themselves. I don’t need to spend time convincing ELGL members that this profession is full of amazing individuals and I’m inspired everyday here in Oregon in exactly the same way I was in Texas by these dedicated individuals.