A Dangerous Servant and a Fearsome Master
January the citizens of Oregon will vote on Measure 28, a three-year increase
in the income tax. The State of Oregon is in a fiscal crisis, (What is the Fiscal Cliff?) resulting
from years of gross mismanagement. With revenues less than anticipated,
the organizations allied and dependent on government are clambering for
more revenue, including this “temporary” tax increase.
Governors Roberts and Kitzhaber failed miserably as chief executives.
Roberts was so overwhelmed, she hid in the Governor’s Office with
a couple of advisors. The departments, agencies and self-interested organizations
created policy and regulations. Kitzhaber, an arrogant emergency room
doctor, rarely managed the government. Rather than exerting positive leadership,
he vetoed the work of others. For over a decade, the agencies and allied
interest groups operated government for their self-interest. On the occasions
Kitzhaber attended to Oregon, he bargained and bartered for his health
care program and the environment.
budget doubled in a decade. Why? The self-interested organizations badgered
for more money and programs, resulting in dramatic increases in state
spending. Worse, the budgets could never be sustained by normal annual
revenue sources. The legislature created additional programs using money
from one-time sources, such as tobacco settlements and welfare reform.
Or, as with the Oregon Health Plan, they created programs that cost little
in the beginning but exponentially increased year by year. During most
of the time the Republicans controlled both the House and Senate, and
a few conservatives proposed fiscal discipline. But the media and self-interested
organizations harangued about citizen’s needs, and the legislature
created and enlarged programs. Today, Oregon has more centrally controlled
government programs, more subsidies and more employees.
Only government could be so poorly managed and still be in existence.
Only government, armed with the coercive power to tax and imprison a resisting
citizen, could ask for more money.
Governor-elect Kulongoski and the legislature have an acute dilemma: raise
taxes or reorganize and eliminate programs. Judging from the past, Oregon
in the year 2003 will experience the politicos and the media issuing sound
bites, demagoguing, posturing and polling public opinion. Ultimately,
a few cuts will be made, accompanied with a sizeable tax increase. The
tax increase will be deemed temporary, but ultimately will be permanent.
Unfortunately, Oregon is inherently incapable of effectively planning
and administering its vast array
of programs. For starters, how could any organization with 91 voting members
(30 senators, 60 representatives and a governor)create policy and manage
a $34 billion organization. Worse, every two years there is at least a
20 percent turnover in managing members. How can a rotating congregation
of 91, with no long term personal or financial interest, properly account
and manage such diverse concerns
as roads, schools, employment, salmon, economic development, abortion,
prescription drugs and meals on wheels? Poorly at best. Socialism and
central planning failed in Russia, Eastern Europe and right now socialism
is crippling Europe. Central planning has also failed in Oregon.
centrally planned schools, child welfare services, government forests
and the Public Employee Retirement System are poorly managed. Yet Oregonians
continue to believe that these are services that can only be provided
by government. If we spend the right amount of money and hire the right
people, Oregon will be okay.
The Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) is an example of the failure
of central planning, Oregon style. Why are teachers retiring at age 55
with benefits above full salary, and some are temporarily rehired to their
previous position? Why is PERS $15 billion under-funded, and exponentially
growing? What did Kitzhaber and the legislature do to recognize and correct
Nothing. Neither the governor nor the legislature took steps to correct
the system. A year ago a group of business leaders confronted Gretchen
Kafoury with this statement: “PERS is a time bomb that will devastate
Oregon.” Kafoury merely stared. Her political support groups—public
employees and teachers—were reaping exorbitant benefits at the expense
of the working citizens of Oregon. She, the legislature and the governor
were not going to anger teachers and public employees.
Not until Ron Saxton raised the issue in the gubernatorial debates did
Oregonians begin to understand the PERS fiasco. And Saxton was criticized
by his fellow Republicans for addressing a politically difficult subject.
Meanwhile, PERS has critically wounded school districts, fire districts
and municipal governments. Most egregious, the PERS fiasco is seriously
diminishing the quality of education. Belatedly, the media has reported
on its ill begotten history and problems. Still the governor and the legislature
have not corrected the problem. Five special sessions and the governor
and the legislature have merely appointed a couple of
to study the fiasco.
America and Oregon are experiencing the problem of politicians promising
and creating too many programs without adequate funding. We just witnessed
the Portland School Board, probably the most liberal political body in
Oregon, being booed from their seats at a hearing. Angry parents and teachers
were outraged that the board could not deliver more resources. This is
reminiscent of the French farmers blocking roads when the government attempted
to reduce farm subsidies. This is mob rule. The parents and the teachers
want more money from the working public. They do not care how the money
is collected. They want money from the working citizens to pay for their
children’s education and extracurricular programs.
As shoddy as the elected leaders’ performance has been, the problem
is more than Roberts, Kitzhaber, and Kafoury. It is more than which party
is in power. Kitzhaber, Kafoury, the Republicans and Democrats are typical
pols participating in government as it has accreted during the previous
150 years. From a beginning dedicated to limited government, protecting
people and their property from fraud and coercion, the State of Oregon
has become the dominant decision maker in education, medicine, employment,
environment, transportation, banking, business, insurance, property and
civil rights. Government has become the cauldron where self-interest,
organization, and the politically ambitious fuse, using the coercive power
of government to force their agenda. Each tax and each resulting regulation,
at minimum, indirectly affects each citizen.
Overall, government becomes dominant and our individual freedom declines.
Fortunately, unlike most of the world in the 20th Century, America and
Oregon did not embrace total government control. However, America and
Oregon believed elected officials created wise policy enabling the bureaucrats
to make a better America and a more just society. America is slowly recognizing
that government policies and programs are ineffective and even harmful.
Many programs are in crisis. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cannot
be sustained. Compared to the developed world, America’s education
is failing. In Oregon, schools, health and welfare, and roads are all
It is time that Oregonians debate what is the mission of government. Is
it freedom, with government’s prime mission to protect people and
their property from the fraud or force of others? Or, do we believe in
a knowing and benevolent government that knows best how to use our resources?
A “Yes” vote on Measure 28 would reward mismanagement and
retard a debate on the proper responsibilities and functions of state
Vote “No” on the temporary tax increase.
A vote for a tax increase will be a vote for government to continue to
centrally plan and control your life. The congregation of 91, the self-interested
organizations and the public employees with their unions will continue
to create policy and manage the state of Oregon. The quantity of government
programs will grow, and quality of government products will continue to
deteriorate. The quality of life of all Oregonians will also deteriorate.
Obviously, this debate is as old as humans. Washington, Jefferson, Madison,
Hamilton, Franklin, Adams and hundreds of others were well educated in
the governments of ancient Greece and Rome. They were well aware of their
English ancestors struggle for freedom—from the Magna Carta through
the Glorious Revolution. They debated the political philosophy of Thomas
Hobbes, John Locke, and Adam Smith. They recognized that government was
seldom effective and too often oppressive. Ultimately, the Founders produced
The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and The
Bill of Rights which attempted to limit government to enumerated powers
and generally to protect Americans and their property from the force and
fraud of others.
President George Washington, reflecting on the Founders’ philosophy
said, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is power.
Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master.”
It is time for Oregonians to vigorously debate what is the mission of