Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, was scheduled to speak this morning about Oregon health care at the Ashland Community Building. But rather than deliver a stock speech about health care reform, Bates turned the Rotary Club of Ashland-Lithia Springs meeting into an open forum.




"I want to open the room up to questions," Bates said. "Today we talk about what you want to talk about."




Through most of the hourlong discussion, questions centered around two themes: health care and state revenue. Members of the Rotary Club wanted to know about the rumored Oregon sales tax, which will be discussed in the next congressional session as well as proposed health care coverage for state residents.




"We need to go to the voters [about the sales tax]," Bates said. "We need to see if this is something they would want. Right now our income tax is unfair."




Bates explained that under the current system Oregon residents are subject to a flat-tax system that favors the wealthy. A sales tax, Bates said, would be a more equal way to collect taxes and shore up the state's revenue problems.




"We need to get serious about the handling of revenue in this state," Bates said. "The libraries closing are just one symptom of not doing this."




All 15 Jackson County libraries, including Ashland's, closed this year due to a lack of operational funding.




Bates also fielded questions regarding health care in Oregon. Nearly 650,000 Oregonians are uninsured, Bates said.




"We have a situation where the very rich have health care, and the very poor get health care," Bates said. "But the people in the middle get left out, and that is what needs to be reformed."




Another health care issue was the debate between preventative care and near-death care being offered by most practices in the state. Bates argued that rather than wait until a person is near death, bankrupt and requiring hundreds of thousands in medical expenses, we should focus on spending the smaller fee in preventative care months ahead of time.




Bates also took time to praise the success of the most recent meeting of the state Legislature calling it "a landmark session" thanks to bipartisan cooperation. Among the successes Bates listed were a balanced budget, the creation of a rainy day fund, expansion of the bottle bill and more funding for higher education.




The town-hall-style forum pleased the Rotarians.




"This gives me an opportunity to see him in person," Bob Saunders said. "I don't go to the community forums, and this is a place I am already at, so I feel comfortable here to discuss the issues."




"A crucial part of service is to be informed," said Jim Larsen, president of the Rotary Club. "It's great for Alan to come and help us see the issues a bit clearer."