A Season of Change

Are Oregonians ready for new leadership?

The 2006 gubernatorial election presents a clear choice with a significant impact—a choice between the status quo and a new direction. It is a clear choice between leadership and “going along to get along.” It is a clear choice between whether Oregon state government will be run for the benefit of the public employees unions or for the benefit of the citizens who pay their wages.

It is a clear choice between unchecked government growth and managed fiscal discipline. (What is the Fiscal Cliff?)It is a clear choice between higher taxes or systematic tax reductions.

Our choice, and the choice we recommend to our readers, is Ron Saxton.

Incumbent Democrat governor Ted Kulongoski represents Oregon’s status quo. Since the election of Neil Goldschmidt in 1986, state government has been run by a succession of Democrat governors.

For 20 years Democrat governors have driven a relentless course toward bigger government, more spending, higher taxes, and more government employees. The first biennial budget (1987-89) adopted by this nascent Democrat dynasty was $3.8 billion. Now, 20 years later, the most recent biennial budget has reached $12.5 billion dollars—an average biennial increase of 23 percent. During that same period of time, Oregon total personal income grew at an average rate of about 13 percent per biennium.

As a result of this unrestrained growth, the Democrat governors, starting with Barbara Roberts and continuing through John Kitzhaber and now Ted Kulongoski, have supported a series of massive tax increases, including a sales tax, increased income taxes, increased corporate income taxes, reduction of historic deductions, and withholding the return of Oregon’s popular “kicker” or earned tax refund. Only direct voter intervention has stopped these tax increases from becoming law.

Governor Kulongoski has shown his intention to continue this trend by announcing that he wants to increase the cigarette tax and keep the $880 million “kicker” in addition to the $1.2 billion in increased revenues. As an election promise, he has pointedly stated his intention to increase government expenditures. This unrestrained spending will inevitably lead to yet another demand for tax increases to sustain government growth that continues to outpace total personal income growth.

In contrast, Ron Saxton has announced three steps to fiscal discipline: first, no new programs or expenditures until existing programs have been reviewed for need and efficiency; second, imposition of operating efficiencies sufficient to reduce government expenditures by 10 percent; and third, a systematic determination of the “core” functions of state government and a conscientious decision as to whether to outsource or retain those functions internally.

The chief beneficiaries of this substantial government growth have been the public employee unions. With each employee added, with each salary increase obtained, and with each new agency or program subverted to compulsory public employee membership, the funds of the public employee unions have increased through the state’s payroll deduction system. Currently, state government remits approximately $29 million each biennium to Oregon’s public employee unions. Add to this a like amount from county, municipal and school districts across the state and the public employees unions have a political war chest exceeding $58 million per biennium.

Nowhere in the private sector is there a comparable accumulation of political funding available. The net result has been to dramatically tip the political balance in Oregon in favor of public employee unions and their candidates, such as Kulongoski.

Kulongoski has embraced this imbalance and declared that this year’s gubernatorial election is “us against them.” Clearly the “us” for Kulongoski is himself and the public employee unions, and the “them” is the rest of us Oregon taxpayers.

In contrast, Saxton has stated, “My goal isn’t to run government so the bureaucracy is all happy. My goal is to run it so it meets the needs of the citizens.” Consequently, Saxton has stepped up as Oregon’s chief critic of the abusive Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) that allows current employees to retire with benefit payments in excess of their current salaries. Kulongoski, in turn, has vowed to veto any attempts to reform that system.

Saxton has vowed to cut government expenditures by 10 percent. In turn, Kulongoski has vowed to increase government expenditures. Saxton has promised to examine every union contract and to eliminate provisions that allow abusive practices and bar outsourcing. Kulongoski has promised the public employee unions, “...I’ve never lost sight of who I represent, and that’s you.” For all of that, Saxton has earned the public employees union bosses’ sobriquet of “Public Enemy #1.”

Kulongoski stated during his first gubernatorial campaign, “Oregon doesn’t need an income tax increase now.” Kulongoski then promptly campaigned for an $800 million legislative tax increase referral (Measure 28). When Measure 28 was defeated, Kulongoski said during his inaugural speech, “I'm not going to ask the citizens of Oregon to raise taxes for the general fund in this biennium.” Less than six months later Kulongoski supported and then signed into law a $1.2 billion tax increase, which the voters subsequently rejected again (Measure 30).

Since that time, Kulongoski has advocated imposing a sales tax, raising the corporate income tax, increasing cigarette taxes, imposing a tax on insurance premiums, and keeping your “kicker.” And while he has failed in each of these ventures, it is not for lack of trying.

In contrast, Saxton has vowed to cut public expenditures and advocates reducing Oregon’s death tax, which is so high that it routinely forces Oregon’s farmers and small businesses to obtain crippling mortgages in order to pass the family business from one generation to the next. He has also vowed to reduce Oregon’s excessive capital gains tax that discourages investment and capital growth in Oregon.

It is not hard to see the future for Oregon if the succession of Democrat governors continues unchecked and the public employee unions gain control of the legislature. One needs only to look south at the mess in California and the era of Gov. Gray Davis. Despite some of the highest income, sales and property taxes in the nation, California is in a constant fiscal crisis. Every year there is a call for tax increases. Every year there is a refusal to exercise any fiscal discipline. Oregon is rapidly racing to that same point of fiscal and political irresponsibility.

It is time for a change, a time for leadership. We endorse Ron Saxton for governor of Oregon.

BrainstormNW - Oct 2006

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