Demand Statesmanship

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Demand Statesmanship

InsideCapitolDome
This CenterPoints column is by Tony Van Vliet, former State Representative, District 35, Corvallis. He served 20 years in the Legislature, and 16 of those were on Ways and Means Committees dealing with Human Resources and Education. He was the Republican Co-Chair of Ways & Means in 1991.

Demand Statesmanship

This CenterPoints column is by Tony Van Vliet, former State Representative, District 35, Corvallis. He served 20 years in the Legislature, and 16 of those were on Ways and Means Committees dealing with Human Resources and Education. He was the Republican Co-Chair of Ways & Means in 1991.

Here we go again cutting State budgets. Last time, it took six special sessions of the Legislature and nearly seven years to extract Oregon from the sudden recession of 1979-80. Now, as it was then, the job of the Legislature and the Ways and Means Committee is to look for every source of available funds and review every agency budget in microscopic detail. In the eighties, even after cutting budgets and using any source of available cash, we fell short by half! It was a daunting task.

In 1982, it took a high level of bipartisanship to seek a temporary tax increase rather than decimate programs any further. Governor Atiyeh and the leaders of both parties are to be thanked. Twenty years later and we find ourself in the same situation, but a few things have changed:

  1. There are a million more people in the state. That is almost 30% more folks who use government services in some way.
  2. Many state agencies never did recover from the cuts of the 1980’s. Some current legislators are unaware that mental health programs, special education, and city and county cooperative programs have never caught up. Most state and educational facilities are in need of serious repair and seismic retrofitting, including highway bridges.
  3. In 1990 the voters decided that school control should be shifted from local districts to Salem. The State would return limited funds to cities and counties to partially replace their lost revenue. Lower property taxes were the carrot used to entice voters into making this historic shift in Oregon’s tax system. Proponents of the shift downplayed the ugly fact that some benefited much more than others!
  4. We gained a very unbalanced and unfair tax system that is constantly manipulated by a few deep-pocketed folks, paid initiative writers and signature collectors.
  5. We’ve also instituted the “kicker” tax rebate. State budget analysts do their best to develop an accurate forecast of future revenue, to make sure that the state budget stays in balance. If they underestimate revenues by 2% or more, the state has to return the entire amount greater than what was forecasted. Because Oregon’s economy in the year 2000 grew so much faster than anyone could have reasonably predicted in 1999, in 2001 we are returning revenues that could have been used to ease the current slow-down. Would you run your home or business like this?

As legislators prepare for a special session, there are a few comments I would pass on to my former colleagues. Put the political slogans and pronouncements on the back burner. Your job will be tough enough and will affect more people than you can imagine. Look for every possible solution. “Expect the unexpected.” Provide for additional funds in case the forecast gets worse. Seek out thoughtful agency managers. Finally, you may have to raise revenues. Above all be Statesmen and Stateswomen!

To the public and the press I say it is time to ignore the threats made by a handful of individuals that they will stop any statesman-like solution from the legislature. The media bears responsibility for putting the anti-government genies back in the bottle before they do any more damage to the state.

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Written by staff at the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

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