Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing
did we get to this point? Let’s remember that as this legislative
session opened, the voters of Oregon, by a significant margin, rejected
a smaller tax increase than the one eventually adopted by the legislature.
The governor declared that the state must learn to live within its means
and that leadership did not mean supporting new tax increases. There was
much tough talk from legislative leaders about making the hard choices
and scaling back government to fit available revenues.
happened? With a great deal of sound and fury, the legislature attacked
one of the most visible signs of spending abuse—PERS. Did they fix
it? No. The legislature adopted a series of tweaks to the existing, abusive
system which temporarily reduced the biennial cost of funding PERS but
allowed the fundamental structure—the raison d’etre for future
abuse to remain intact. When presented with the opportunity to, at least,
make a structural change for future public employees, the legislature
rejected a defined contribution pension plan in favor of a defined benefit
plan—the same kind of plans that were and are currently being abused,
resulting in the extraordinary cost to the budget and the taxpayers.
fundamental changes were made to the government system that could reasonably
be expected in a bona fide effort to live within our means? None.
Oregon Industries published a list of 54 suggestions for reducing the
budget to live within our means. Some of those involved structural changes
such as the elimination of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and privatization
of the state motor pool.
of these mild, but fundamental, changes adopted? No.
is the common denominator? In each and every instance, each proposed reform,
impacted directly the domain of the public employees unions. And they
would have none of it. The public employees unions are singularly and
collectively the largest political contributors in the State of Oregon.
The governor is a former labor union lawyer. Many of the Democrat members
of the legislature are union members and those who are not, are, almost
exclusively, funded by the public employee unions (with an occasional
dollar thrown in by their allies, the trial lawyers).
employees unions have become so flush with money that they now fund a
“watchdog” program, the so-called Voter Education Project,
designed to thwart voter initiatives and intimidate those who oppose their
will. Portland Metro Republicans quake at the warning that they have been
targeted by the unions in the next
and that threat is reinforced by the presence of union “goon squads”
at public meetings held by these legislators.
In the end,
the public employee unions control, absolutely, the political process
in Oregon. They elected the governor, they elected the Democrat members
of the legislature, and they have sufficiently intimidated the Metro Republicans
that they possess a working majority when it comes to the budget and the
impact it has on their jobs and benefits.
been written since the adjournment of the 2003 legislative session about
the quality and character of the legislature. But the most intriguing
commentary to date is an excerpt from a recent column in the Medford Mail
Tribune by Ron Saxton who opined that the governor and the legislature
passed a state budget, which requires an “almost unimaginable leap
of faith that voters will approve a tax increase.” Saxton rightfully
notes that, absent voter approval, “the budget won’t be worth
the paper upon which it’s written.”
along with giving the governor and the legislature embarrassingly low
marks, uniformly show that the voters will overwhelming reject the tax
increase at the election slated for February 3, 2004. A poll by Moore
Information shows that between 55 percent and 60 percent of voters oppose
the tax increase–and that’s before any discussion about the
legislature’s failure to fully address the huge deficit caused by
the public employee unions in the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).
Somewhere between 28 percent and 35 percent of voters support the tax
increase. Not surprisingly, this represents approximately the body of
voters that are either not impacted by the tax increase or who are beneficiaries
(teachers and other public employees) of tax revenues.
wants to fundamentally change the direction of government, to live within
its means, to prioritize its services and to examine the delivery of those
services, it must deal with the problem of the dominance of the public
employees unions. The sad note is that it won’t happen soon. When
the voters reject the unprecedented tax increase in February, the result
will be to hand the solution back to a governor and a legislature fully
dominated and controlled by the public employees unions. Do not expect
BrainstormNW - Oct 2003