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Oreon lobbies for nanotechnology center, SAFETEA

By Matthew Daly
The Associated Press

Oregon's congressional delegation joined with Gov. Ted Kulongoski last week to urge the Bush administration to locate one of 10 national nanotechnology research centers in Corvallis.

The move follows passage of a bill last year boosting research and development of nanotechnology, which uses matter as small as atoms to create new materials, drugs and machines.

Kulongoski and the congressional delegation also agreed to press for more transportation spending and improved conditions for Oregon National Guard troops serving in Iraq.

The annual meeting between the governor and the delegation, which followed Kulongoski's attendance at the National Governors Association meeting, touched on issues ranging from health care to forests to higher education.

But the overwhelming emphasis, in a state where the unemployment rate continues to be among the highest in the nation, was on jobs. Lawmakers believe both nanotechnology and transportation have potential to create thousands of new jobs for the state.

"Nothing produces more good-paying jobs more quickly than does the transportation bill," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who hosted the morning get-together.

Wyden sponsored the nanotechnology law, which is expected to boost federal spending on such research by nearly $3.7 billion over the next four years. The law calls for creation of 10 nanotechnology research centers across the country.

The Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute in Corvallis, run jointly by Oregon State University and other schools, is home to some of the nation's top experts in the field and is a logical place for a research center, Oregon officials said in a letter to Bush.

"Oregon has a highly skilled work force with the expertise and strong collaboration necessary to make big leaps in the science of the small," they wrote. "At a time when Oregon continues to suffer serious unemployment, the location of a nanotechnology research center in Oregon would be a big boost for our economy."

Job creation was also the key factor as lawmakers backed a big increase in transportation spending.

The Senate has approved a $318 billion, six-year surface transportation bill that would boost highway spending in Oregon by at least $93 million a year. White House officials have called the bill extravagant and said President Bush is likely to veto any bill that goes beyond $256 billion or uses tax increases or deficit spending to finance it.

Wyden and other Oregon lawmakers called the threat unfortunate, citing federal estimates that every $1 billion invested in transportation creates at least 47,000 jobs.

"The most direct way the federal government could put people back to work in Oregon and other states would be with a prompt and robust investment in transportation infrastructure projects," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. "We've got a lot of project ready to go. We just need the money."

DeFazio challenged the Republican-led House to pass a transportation bill with at least as much spending as the Senate. He and other Democrats called the veto threat empty, saying it was unlikely Bush would block a popular job-creating bill in an election year.

"If the president is truly interested in putting Americans back to work, he'll support the Senate version" of the transportation bill, said Kulongoski, a Democrat. "This is a great jobs bill — a great public relations bill for him."

Kulongoski, who took office last year, said he was encouraged at the meeting's bipartisan spirit and cooperation — a sentiment that lawmakers shared.

"I'd say it was the most substantive and free-flowing discussion we've had with any governor since I've been in Congress," said DeFazio, the state's senior House member and a 17-year congressional veteran.