By editorial board • 

Governor prescribes a healthy dose of reality

The core message in Gov. John Kitzhaber’s State of the State Address, delivered Monday as a blueprint for the looming legislative session, was one of the world’s enduring truisms — nothing comes free in life.

If you want to reverse Oregon’s recession-fueled disinvestment in public education and help revitalize its economy in the bargain, he told lawmakers, you need to embrace some politically perilous pursuits:

1. Reducing over-generous Public Employees Retirement System benefits, which are gobbling up an ever-larger share of funding for local government, state government and, most tellingly, public education.

That’s a tough sell for Kitzhaber’s fellow Democrats, because their campaigns depend on infusions of money and manpower from Oregon’s powerful public employee unions. It’s a sale that must be made, however, as both chambers are under Democratic control.

When he was elected to the Legislature from Roseburg in 1979, Kitzhaber noted, a local dropout could land a timber industry job that promised handsome pay and benefits the rest of his working life. As a result, the earning boost of a college degree averaged only 38 percent.

These days, dropouts are lucky to land dishwashing jobs, so the pay disparity is up to 75 percent. That puts a premium on education and makes Oregon’s education system the key driver in its economy, the governor said.

But it’s virtually impossible without reining in PERS. That’s because runaway PERS costs, on top of the pay and benefit increases that educators routinely enjoy, figure to add $930 per student to Oregon’s public education bill this coming biennium without producing anything in return in the classroom.

2. Reducing Oregon’s ever-escalating incarceration rate, which, if unchecked, promises to demand 2,300 new beds at a cost of $600 million over the coming decade.

This one’s a hard sell for Republicans. If there’s any label they fear more than “soft on taxes,” it’s “soft on crime.”

Kitzhaber makes a compelling case, though. As he notes, a year of incarceration costs the state three times as much as a year of education. So, if carried out with sufficient care, diverting nonviolent offenders promises a big payoff.

3. Getting a handle on rising health care costs, one idea being to move public employee health coverage from private carriers to the state’s new coordinated care system.

According to the governor, a former emergency room physician, that change could result in $5 billion worth of savings over the next 10 years. But it’s an anathema to public employee unions and their foot soldier members, which Democrats rely on at election time.

4. Weeding out some of Oregon’s more generous tax credits, incentives and deductions on a “progressive” basis, meaning higher taxes for the better-heeled. The rub here is that taxes represent the third rail of politics for Republicans, and Democrats are skittish about trimming tax breaks themselves.

The governor’s pitch is the essence of simplicity: Make the tough cuts, and you free up enough to make a real difference for education and the economy. Fail, and you settle for muddling along in the grip of a perilous post-recession hangover.

Here’s hoping the governor prevails. A dose of reality is just what the doctor ordered.


troy prouty

I would agree with all those things. I think the State took advantage of PERS, it reminds me of the CEO cutting employees wages so he can have a bigger bonus at the end of the year.

troy prouty*

Don Dix

The governor is pointing in the right direction, saying the things the public wants to hear. He may prevail on some of his ideas, fail on the remainder.

Adding to the list of savings -- how about all PERS recipients receive a retirement based on their actual average pay? As is, retirement pay is subject to many incentives and advantages. Margaret Carter served in the legislature for 25 (?) years. She (at 72 yrs.) was appointed to a high paying position in DHS (approx. $120,000/ yr.), and that number is the base salary (after 3 years) for her retirement (her pay in the legislature was $25,000 - $30.000/yr.). I'm confident there were other candidates much more qualified, as well as much younger. It appears she was 'gifted' this position only for being a loyal party member. This 'gifting of positions' is standard practice within Oregon's government, costing taxpayers millions in extra benefits at retirement.

However, there is little chance of any meaningful reform to PERS. The Demos in the legislature are bought and paid for by the public unions. Voting for any PERS reform is most likely to cost some their position next election cycle, and the legislators know it. And very few will be willing to take that chance.

Some voters complain about corporations and private enterprise using campaign contributions to have their way with lawmakers -- but in Oregon, public unions far outspend the private sectors each election cycle. So far, it's money well spent!

Don Dix

Just today (Jan. 240) an article relating to a bill designed to hide the pensions of public employees from view (us). Neither the governor or legislative leaders have fostered a response. Gee, I wonder why?

In what other situation would an employee have the right to shield his retirement from those who have made the payments into the fund? None come to mind!

And if these retirement packages are not completely out of line, why all the desire to keep them secret? Embarrassment, shame, getting away with something not deserved? The actions of the public employees on this issue are not those of people who are thankful to have a secure, well-paying job. In fact, the attempt to hide the pensions raise suspicions that something is badly amiss.

In this case, maybe the public employees should remember who is actually paying the bills. I hope they realize the charade will not last forever -- and when things come to light, the 'boss' might be quite angry!

troy prouty

posted "Some voters complain about corporations and private enterprise using campaign contributions to have their way with lawmakers -- but in Oregon, public unions far outspend the private sectors each election cycle. So far, it's money well spent!"

I think you will find Unions (related to employees through the State) have a bigger influence on State government and Big Corporations on Federal Gov't. Neither in my opinion is right.


Don Dix


In my opinion, those who are supposed to represent the people should never be allowed to take campaign money from anyone, period. Today most elections are won from the pocket book -- spend more than the rivals -- win the election. And the real winners are those who stuff the most pockets. How can the public expect to be represented when the politician is 'owned' by entities who expect favorable legislation for the monetary support?

And while on the subject, let's lose the political parties altogether. Their most visible achievement is keeping the partisan divide alive and festering. In all the decades of such bickering, what good has come?

Instead of how much money spent, or what consonant follows the name, let's elect representatives on merit and good intentions. Take away those options (campaign contributions and partisan politics), and just possibly the people might have some true representation.

troy prouty

I agree.

If I decide to run for office, I will not run with a party. My campaign will be charity work within communities with donations and 50% going to non profits of ther choice another 10% towards the cause within the community and 40% to my campaign. I wouldn't even be that interested in my vote, because I would take a pay cut, hire more staff to get the district's opinion and have a web-site to poll laws and bills so they can vote. I would vote only the way my district wants. Not anyone else.. Like this was suppose to be, not what it became. AND hopefully by leading, others would take note and bring about serious change (unlike today) that would finally give people to voice they deserve (equally).

troy prouty*

Don Dix


Your idea would resound with most, but wedging the way in might be the most difficult. But wow, would the political parties get their pretty panties in a bunch if they were to become irrelevant? What would all those people who never had a real job do? Move to Portland?

Speaking of pay cut, our new commissioner Allen Springer declined the pay raise that was due all three commissioners. He told me it just didn't seem right, with others struggling to make just make it.

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