Oregonians have a little over a year to decide if we believe in ourselves.
Next year, Oregon voters probably will be asked to vote on whether we want to arbitrarily restrict public investments. We should reject this approach.
Oregonians want a government that confronts the common problems that none of us can handle on our own. We want clean water, good schools, affordable health care and child care, safe neighborhoods, outstanding universities, fire protection, fair and just courts open five days a week, children protected from abuse and neglect, and quality care for our elderly and our disabled neighbors. And we want these things delivered efficiently, at a fair price.
That is not too much to ask. We can do it. We have only to take responsibility for the common good, and then to work together to make sure our public institutions are efficient, up-to-date expressions of our highest ideals.
An arbitrary “spending limit” would do absolutely nothing to produce public institutions Oregon can be proud of. A cap would not force our political leaders to lead us more boldly or more wisely. It would not create good ideas for the more efficient delivery of high-quality state services. It would do nothing to improve the technology or training available to public employees, who generally want to serve the public well. In fact, arbitrary restrictions on state spending would make it harder for these good things to happen. Oregon would be run by a formula, not by the best ideas. We would be giving up and handing over control of our state budget to a cold, mathematical equation.
Contrary to the misinformation put out by anti-government true believers, Oregon’s problem is not runaway government spending. Over the last generation, state spending has grown in line with the aggregate incomes of Oregonians. In other words, state services are as affordable to Oregonians as a whole as they were a generation ago.
For three good reasons, people think they are paying more or getting less. First, Oregon households now pay a much larger share of Oregon’s tax bill. Corporations have pushed most of their responsibility off on to the rest of us. Second, while most households have seen their real incomes stagnate over the last generation, the wealthy have seen extraordinary gains. Too many Oregonians are not sharing in the fruits of Oregon’s economic expansion. Last, the typical Oregon household has seen its overall tax payments as a share of their income increase slightly, while wealthy households have seen a decline.
It’s no wonder some Oregonians are tempted to give up on the whole notion of the common good and try their luck fending for themselves. But the ideologues offering this temptation know who will win if this happens – only those who can easily afford to make it on their own without the support of government. Can everyone afford private school and private college tuition? What happens to the increasing numbers of people who need medical care but can’t afford it?
Next year, Oregonians will decide if we believe in ourselves enough to reject the defeatist views of anti-government ideologues in favor of working together for a better, common future. Arbitrary spending constraints are a cop-out. Oregonians are more responsible than that.