The Fight for Control of Oregon


The 2009 legislative session has ended. The most notable accomplishment was to raise taxes by more than $1 Billion. With the Democrats having a super majority in both houses of the Oregon legislature, the fact that taxes would increase was a foregone conclusion. The general fund budget will increase by nearly $1 Billion while the all funds budget will increase by $5.4 Billion.

Meanwhile, one hundred feet or more from the Capitol Building in Salem, the real world of Oregon is in a deep recession. One hundred thousand Oregonians have lost their jobs. Oregon’s unemployment remains the second highest in the nation at 12.4% – nearly thirty-two percent higher than the national average. Oregon’s personal income fell by 1.5% in 2008 and has continued its decline in 2009. Oregon’s personal income fell to 90.5% of the national average — the worst in the state’s history.

With the help of a renegade Republican, the Democrats managed to avoid referring the tax increases to the voters. Now a group has formed to gather the signatures necessary to allow Oregonians to vote on the largest tax increase in the state’s history.

But let’s understand what is at play in this contest. Sen. Larry George (R-Sherwood) concisely defined the issue when he charged that the Democrats caved to the public employee unions that financed the Democrats campaigns and are the chief beneficiaries of increased government spending.

The battle over the tax increases is really a battle over the power of the public employee unions. The public employee unions, fueled by nearly $60 million each election cycle, collected and remitted by the state and local governments to the unions, will provide nearly all of the campaign financing to retain the tax increases. They have already appointed one of their own to manage the campaign.

And why shouldn’t they? While Oregonians have lost nearly 100,000 jobs the public employees have increased their numbers by 6,000 and, as a result of this budget, will hire at least another 1,100. While Oregonians lost their healthcare benefits with job termination, the Democrats declared that the healthcare benefits for the public employees unions were off limits and, in fact, added $32 million in the final hours of the session, to increase the benefits. And while many Oregonians fortunate enough to retain their jobs during this recession were forced to accept fewer hours and lower wages in order to preserve those jobs, the public employee unions continued to receive their cost of living and step salary increases.

Virtually all of the Democrat’s planning, strategy and orders emanate out of the Second Floor office of Tim Nesbitt, the former head of the AFL-CIO, the parent of most of Oregon’s public employee unions. While he retains the nominal title of Deputy Chief of Staff for Gov. Kulongoski, in reality he is the man in full control of the Democrat agenda and backs it up with the massive public employee unions’ war chest.

With Nesbitt’s assistance, backed by the wealth of the public employee unions, the Democrats have crafted a traditional “class envy” strategy in support of their tax increases. The public employees unions will attempt to sell the tax increase as only a tax on the wealthy — although in this case “wealthy” is defined as anyone making $125,000 per year which encompasses virtually every person who employs another person — you know, small business — the backbone of Oregon’s economy.

But this isn’t really about upon whom the tax falls. This is about any tax increase to benefit a relatively small but influential group — the public employee unions. This isn’t about whether “the rich” can afford to pay more in taxes; this is about whether public employee unions should continue to be enriched at the expense of taxpayers; whether it is appropriate for public employees unions to grow by 7,000 plus members while private employment (including private sector union employment) shrinks by 100,000; whether it is appropriate for the working men and women of Oregon to pay over $14,400 per year per public employee union member for healthcare insurance while they go without; and whether it is appropriate for one special interest group — the public employee unions — to be almost the singular beneficiary of a $1 Billion tax increase while the working men and women of Oregon — those who still have jobs — suffer a reduction in their per capita income.

It is not the increase; it is the purpose for the increase, which should be in question. Oregon voters are going to have to decide whether government exists to serve them, or they exist to serve the government — or more appropriately the public employee unions that control government from top to bottom.

For those managing the campaign in opposition to the tax increases, I hope that you focus on the real issues and not allow the public employee unions to dominate the campaign with their message of taxing the rich.

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 18 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Ralph Branxton

    But Larry, let’s be fair, these union workers work hard and deserve a living wage. What would we do without them? The children are our future and teachers are helping them, so they must be given fair benefits and salaries.
    I am proud of the legislature for taking care of their own.

  • Richard P. Burke

    Larry pretty much nailed it. What I see is a repeat of the 2003 tax hikes which were turned back by voter referral in an early 2004 special election (Ballot Measure 30). This lead to a series of surrealistic special sessions. I think we are seeing a replay now.

  • dian

    Have you looked closely at the education they are giving their children? Why should government and union get their fair share and you and I don’t? Trust me you are not getting your fair share and neither are your children.

  • Tim Lyman

    Shameless Business Plug:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

    If your business is not location dependent, it’s time to leave Oregon.

    I have commercial and residential real estate contacts in Washington and Idaho and will be happy to help you find a new home and business location in a less hostile state. There will, however, be an 11% surcharge on my fee to cover the new gross receipts tax.

    http://www.lymanhomes.com

    www dot lymanhomes dot com

    • valley person

      Tim, Idaho has higher business taxes than Oregon does. Oregon has one of the lowest tax rates on business in the nation.

    • scat

      but how is the job scene

  • scatcat

    I reach my baking point, I out of oregon

  • eagle eye

    Gee, if the Democrats are so bad, the voters must really hammer them in elections! Right?

    • Steve Plunk

      Why do the Dems keep winning elections when the values of the party are mostly contrary to what what most Americans consider their own own core values?

      Mostly I suppose it’s perception problems with the voters. Big bad conservatives are easily painted with the broad brush of stereotypes. Rich, uncaring, greedy, these words are used by liberals to describe conservatives and Republicans. The conservatives (who in my opinion take the high road more often) describe liberals as misguided and naive. Not flattering adjectives but they don’t make them seem evil. The problem for conservatives is that rich, uncaring, and greedy is just a mistaken choice of words for wealth creator, responsible, and motivated. Fact is conservatives pay the bills in this country.

      Liberals and Dems like to portray themselves as the compassionate people. Unfortunately that compassion often leads to more suffering. When campaigning that fact is forgotten and soon the results of such policies is forgotten as well. With a press corp supporting these stereotypes it’s a wonder Republicans win any elections at all. The undisciplined seem so nice while the disciplined seem so cruel.

      Eventually that lack of discipline will lead to ruin. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

      • camas flower

        Fact is Steve, that 53% of voters with incomes over $250 K per year voted for Obama. So the rich are trending Democratic at the same rate as the average American.

        I think Dems are winning elections in Oregon and nationally for 2 main reasons. First, Republicans had the seat of power and bumbled badly. Second, Republican rhetoric, if not reality, has moved too far right for the majority. Rigid ideology does not hold power in a democracy, because most people are not ideologues. They just want problems dealt with, and ideologues fail to deal with problems that do not compute with their belief system.

        Voters might reject the tax increases passed by Democrats in Oregon. But whether they do or do not, it won’t be the ticket for Republicans to win elections here. To do that they have to become more pragmatic and less ideological.

        • Steve Plunk

          Thanks for the response. I would argue which ever party is in power bumbles some things but it’s how the press portrays the bumbling that makes the difference. As for moving too far right I would also disagree. The press again makes a mountain out of a mole hill. That position on the right is generally mainstream thought.

          Given we have two competing ideologies I don’t see rigidity if those positions as a problem either. Sticking to an ideology makes sense, the voters know what they are getting.

          The ticket for Republicans is consistency, clear message, and the history of liberal failures. All of those are pragmatic. Getting the message out is the weakness facing the party.

        • sybella

          Let’s say you are right about the republicans bumbling things. Do you think the democrats are doing it right or just making things worse.

          I personally do not see the current political situation as helpful. Actually I see it to be destructive.

          So instead of badmouthing republicans, tell me what the democrats did that was so good

          • camas flower

            Not sure if that question is directed my way. I don’t know yet if the Democrats are doing it right. Nationally they are passing legislation to put things in place they said they would, including expanded health insurance, alternative energy, withdrawing from Iraq, and raising taxes on the wealthiest among us. Whether these actions make things better or worse probably depends on one’s perspective. If you lack health insurance, are worried about global warming, are tired of the Iraq war, and you don’t make a ton of money then you might be happy about it. In Oregon they have raised some taxes, expanded health care for the poor, and kept schools funded.

            If enough people are unhappy about all this they will get a chance to vote for a change in a year and a half.

  • Joanne Rigutto

    My dad once tried to blame an increase in taxes, mostly his property taxes, on Bush. I asked him if he voted for the county and city (Portland) people who were in office at the time. He admitted that he had. I reminded him that all of the taxes he was griping about were increased either by the people in city and county office at the time, or were bond measures passed by his neighbors. All I could say was “You hired ’em”.

  • Dave A.

    Richard has nailed it. We will have a repeat of the 2002-2003 Oregon Budget meltdown. Once more the huge tax increases will be defeated at the polls; and we will have a bunch of stop gap measures to try and keep everything afloat.
    Also, once more the idiot in the Governor’s chair has shown no leadership skills at all. Hopefully, some new blood will emerge to take his place in 2010. If it’s that college dropout Bradbury, this state will go the way of California.

  • Jerry

    I believe the numbers speak for themselves as to the business climate in Oregon. Second highest unemployment in the NATION.
    Way to go Ted!!!
    You’re the man.

  • John in Oregon

    In a previous post on fishing and hunting fees I wrote a comment mocking the process in both Salem and DC. I was in a strange mood and it was over the top but frankly it’s all gotten so out of hand its near impossible to react otherwise.

    I grew up in my early years on a farm. As much as city folk think of farmers as hicks in the sticks. Farmers live in communities just as us superior City types do.

    Much of wisdom is learned as a child, often in lessons not recognized as such. That is the case of the “Damn Little Dog”. Damn Little Dog was owned by Mrs Smith (name changed). Palmarian said she, mutt thought I. Jet black, not over 5 inches tall, possessing the most Gowd awful ear piercing yip. Worse, Damn Little Dog took to nipping at the heals.

    At first it was cute, then the women took to bringing a broom when visiting Mrs Smith. Some few blows were landed while Damn Little Dog would dart behind Mrs Smith. Mrs Smith defended Damn Little Dog, her cute cup cake, Mr Smith defended Mrs Smith.

    With time the women simply stopped visiting. Mrs Smith had the quilting frame and My Grandmother stopped quilting. A skill she had preserved through FDRs depression. As the visits stopped Damn Little Dog began to roam.

    Then Damn Little Dog found Herman. Herman was the community stud bull now in semi retirement. Damn Little Dog goes nipping at Herman, harassing Herman. Yip Yip, nip nip, tormenting Herman. Lunge, nip, run back. Herman bedeviled by a Damn Little Dog. Until finally Herman plants both front feet, lunge and buck kick with both back feet catches that Damn Little Dog and splatters him against the fence.

    Not twenty four hours later and old man Green is with his goats. Here comes Damn Little Dog like the hound of hell neither man nor beast safe. Then in time people noticed they hadn’t seen that Damn Little Dog. People would comment and no one asked why.

    Government is hardly different today. Salem or inside the DC beltway.

    More tax on beer, YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    Don’t talk in the car, YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    Tell us where you are so we can tax where you go, YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    They spend your money in bills they never read, YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    You call to give an opinion, get a lecture about why you are wrong, YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    Your home is invaded by thieves, the bureaucrats set them free, YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    Oh my gowd its an emergency, and they demand stop that, do this instead, YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    They tell you to turn off the lights. YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    This light bulb, not that, YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    Want to see the doctor, no that treatment is not approved. YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    The voter says no, the legislature says ohhh my god NO means YES, YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP
    The Governor sits on the tax bills, his staff says call the number to nowhere to complain, YIP, YIP, NIP, NIP

    The Government torments the people, harassment at every turn.

    Just like that Damn Little Dog.

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