DARE TO BE OUTRAGEOUS

Former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm is widely quoted as saying that one of the ways for America to control health care costs was for the elderly to do their duty and die. The justifiable firestorm of outrage that followed ended Lamm’s career (thank God) although not his ambitions. But in the aftermath of an outlandish statement, serious discussion began to take place regarding the impact of science’s ability to maintain life, albeit in some instances in a substantially diminished state, in the final years of our lives. That discussion has led most states to define the requirements for and acknowledge the legitimacy of living wills. People in full possession of their faculties can make intelligent decisions as to the application of medical

procedures in the terminal stages of their lives.Â

So what’s the point? The point is that sometimes an outrageous proposal is necessary to stimulate the debate towards a reasonable solution. Two such proposals are now floating out there in political Oregon. To date, the response from the "play it safe" political crowd has been, "you can’t do that." But let’s give them another look at these proposals and see if there isn’t a bluebird in the bluster.

PERS is a mess that continues to threaten to throw Oregon into a financial blackhole. The politicians, all beneficiaries of its excesses, studiously ignored the problem for years out of fear of the public employees unions. In 2002, Ron Saxton made the issue a central theme of his primary campaign for governor. While Saxton lost the primary, the governor and legislature was forced to acknowledge the problem and participate in a reasonable solution. Unfortunately, Oregon’s Supreme Court, also beneficiaries of Oregon overblown pensions system, axed the major reforms and returned Oregon to a state of fiscal crises. In doing so, the Supreme Court attempted to wall off any further attempts to reform the system.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision, I spoke with Ron Saxton. He was angry and frustrated. He denounced the court’s decision as outrageous and purely political and shortly thereafter authored an article in BrainstormNW that suggested the only solution left was to fire all of Oregon’s public employees and hire them back under a new less burdensome pension plan. WHAM! The politicians and pundits poured out in droves to denounce Saxton’s solution. Curiously, not one of those critics offered an alternative solution to a very real problem.

Did Saxton really mean he would fire all the public employees? I doubt it. Saxton is a pretty sensible person. He’s not going to shut down government to prove a point, but he is willing to go to extremes to force a reasonable solution to a real problem. In his proposal is the germ of a real solution. You can’t fire all of the public employees but you can systematically begin to privatize functions performed by public employees and thus eliminate the burden of PERS as to those employees. At a point in time, the public employees unions, threatened with the continuing loss of membership, will come to the table and bargain for a solution. And don’t worry about the Supreme Court voiding this solution because Saxton was right when he said the court’s last decision was purely political. Once the public employees unions give the nod to a solution, the court will find a way to uphold it.

Sen. Jason Atkinson, now a candidate for governor, has continued to voice his concern over a tactic commonly used by Democrats to boost government spending. The Democrats routinely refuse to adopt a budget to fund schools until all the other budgets are settled. The net result is that the Democrats can spend freely on their favorite programs and then demand that we raise taxes to fund schools. Atkinson’s solution: change the law to require the legislature to adopt appropriations for K-12 by the 81st day of the session or cut off the pay to legislators until they do. School districts can set their budgets with knowledge of what the state has appropriated, well before other budgetary needs are settled. No more balancing the budget on the backs of the schools. It also cuts the legs out from the special interests who argue to fund their programs first, and the Democrats who whine about "the children" as justification for tax increases.

It is a reasonable solution that will never pass the Democrat controlled Senate. But Atkinson has a radical notion. He is promising, if elected, to veto every bill after the 81st day until the legislature funds K-12. Does Atkinson really mean he will shut down the legislative process in order to get his way? Boy, I sure hope so. Atkinson can be pretty stubborn when he believes in his cause. Shutting down the legislature is not what he wants, but he too is willing to go to extremes in order to force a reasonable solution.

A final caution, I do not mean to lump Saxton and Atkinson in with a dangerous character like Gov. Lamm, but like both candidates, sometimes I have to say something outrageous to get your attention so that you might focus on reasonable solutions.

Republished with permission of author. Written 11/20/05

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