The Technology Dividend: Growing Government the Stealth Wealth Way

By Representative Mike Nearman

For the third straight session, I serve on the Joint Committee on Legislative Information Management and Technology. In addition to the small smattering of policy bills that get presented to the committee, we have – at least for a short time – oversight of the various large Information Technology projects for state agencies that are in process at any given moment.

One project which is in the early stages is the DMV Service Transformation Project. As you may remember, back in the early ‘90s, the DMV embarked on a very expensive software project, which failed and eventually landed it as number two on the list of epic software project failures internationally. Today, haunted not only by their earlier failure but by the more recent high-profile failure of Cover Oregon, the DMV is just beginning to upgrade. The software they are using today is the same software that they were trying to replace nearly a quarter of a century ago. Yikes.

When these projects are first proposed, the committee is invariably promised that if only the millions of dollars are disbursed and the software project is completed, the agency will realize great levels of efficiency. As a student of economics, I know that efficiency frees up wealth, which begs the question: When a state agency creates efficiency through IT projects, what happens to the wealth?

Each agency has a mission, and, presumably, is funded to be able to achieve that mission. For instance, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife oversees the management of Oregon’s wildlife. They need a certain amount of money to do that. If they find a way to work more efficiently, what do they do? Reduce their headcount, facilities, or assets, and return their money to the general fund, or to the taxpayers? I don’t see this. Ever.

So, the next time an agency comes asking for $30 million or more for a software project, promising new heights of efficiency, I think the legislature should expect that the agency re-divert the savings – and promise to do so up front, as in, “We need $30 million for a software project, and with the savings and efficiency, we will reduce headcount, and you may reduce our appropriation by $3 million per year for the next 10 years.” I call this the Technology Dividend.

A great example of how this could be powerful is the DMV project, which is projected to cost $90 million over 9 years. These dollars come from the Highway Fund, paid for by your gas tax dollars. Wouldn’t it be nice if this $90 million – or more — was returned to the fund over the life-cycle of the project and was used to pave roads and build bridges? I think this is what Oregon drivers expected their fuel tax to do.

Or maybe not. Maybe we think that we need to expand the scope and the size of government and we can hand out big chunks of change and have agencies re-adjust their mission as they see fit. Hmmm. Maybe not.

Mike Nearman is the Oregon State Representative elected from House District 23.

Posted by at 07:00 | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

New anti-business sales tax video

By Taxpayer Association of Oregon,

Priority Oregon has released a new video that reveals the hard truth behind the proposals to raise a multi-billion dollar tax on business sales (sometimes called a gross receipts tax or business activity tax). The truth is that a tax on business sales (gross receipts tax/business activity tax) is a tax on consumer goods because it impacts the price of food, clothing, supplies and even what we pay at teh pump. Go to Priority Oregon and sign up as a supporter.

Posted by at 08:51 | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Education Savings Accounts Treat Kids Like the Individuals They Are

By Kathryn Hickok

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account law for some K-12 students. In April, lawmakers there passed a new ESA bill which expands the program eligibility to include all Arizona children. Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to certain students, such as those with special needs. Nevada also passed a near-universal ESA bill, but it is yet to be funded.

Education Savings Accounts put parents in the educational “driver’s seat.” An ESA is analogous to a debit card for qualifying education expenses. It gives parents who want to opt out of a public school that is not meeting their child’s needs a portion of the per-student state funding for spending on their child’s education in other ways. Funds not used by the student in a given year can be rolled over for future years.

To really empower Oregon families, the Legislature should enact Senate Bill 437. This ESA bill would allow parents to choose the education that meets their child’s needs, such as private or home schools, tutors, online courses, and therapy. Continue reading

Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is the Governor Serious About Transportation?

The legislature is going big on transportation infrastructure improvements, hopefully before it goes home. The Joint Committee On Transportation Preservation and Modernization has released the broad outline of a ten-year plan to relieve congestion across the Beaver State, which is now no longer just a Portland Metro problem.

This package of around $8 billion in spending on many needed projects, like the widening of HW 217, is an ambitious effort by the chairs and ranking members of both chambers’ transportation committees: Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Eugene, Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas and Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, but can Oregon’s executive branch execute on this level? Secretary of State Dennis Richardson campaigned on the risks that the Oregon Department of Transportation cannot. An audit of our key transportation agency by his office found that ODOT does not proactively deal with unbalanced bid items, hazarding greater exposure to post-bid cost overruns than necessary.

It’s not clear Governor Brown shares the same concern. I don’t recall her making this the major campaign issue it deserved to be, but last September she did quietly direct the Department of Administrative Services to contract with McKinsey & Co., at a cost of $1 million, to study the problem. If she didn’t know how to handle it herself, I suppose studying the problem made sense for her last fall.

But her response to the study’s results, released more than two months ago, is puzzling. Strangely unable to immediately implement the recommendations of this expensive study, the Governor didn’t deploy her own staff to tackle this serious obstacle to effective transportation policy in our state. Instead, she asked DAS to study the study. The results of this second-hand study were officially made public the first week of April. It recommended more studies, with timelines stretching out through 2018. Continue reading

Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in ODOT, Transportation | Tagged | 5 Comments

How They Will Come For Your Kicker

The Kicker is a strange, yet beautiful mechanism that makes the Oregon tax system very unique. Should the State of Oregon happen to take in tax receipts more than 2% over projected revenues, then the excess money is “kicked” back to the taxpayers in the form of a tax rebate.  I love the Kicker because it reinforces the philosophical idea that your money belongs to you and not to the government.

Well this month marks two years since the Democrats in Oregon last attempted to take the Kicker away from taxpayers, and I fear we may see a repeat performance.

Buzz is already starting over whether the Kicker will “kick” this session.  As unemployment reaches lower levels and Oregon’s economy keeps improving, the chances of undershooting tax revenues is more and more of a possibility.  The Register-Guard has already put out a story speculating on the possibility.  Should the May Revenue forecast low-ball the number, we will see a whole new element introduced into our budget discussions.

So Oregon is having a big discussion over how to address the 1.7 Billion dollars necessary to maintain current services levels as well as pay for the new programs voted in by ballot measure back in 2016.  It is very likely that we will see some sort of “Grand Bargain” that includes a combination of tax increase and spending cuts being pitched to the legislature.  I would not be surprised to the the withholding of the Kicker on the chopping block as well.

As it so happens the Chief Sponsor of the bill to withhold your Kicker checks back in 2015 is none other than our new State Treasurer Tobias Read.  2015’s HB 3555 would have increased the projected revenues, thus eliminating last sessions Kick in order to direct half of that money towards the rainy day fund, and the other half to the general fund marked for education purposes.  By now though I think we are familiar with the shell game the legislature tends to play with dollars marked for certain things.  General fund money is fungible after all.

Kicking money back to the taxpayers when you’re facing close to a 1.7 billion dollar budget hole seems pretty silly right? That is why our current situation make for the perfect storm for efforts to eliminate the Kicker.  Think about it, the kicker for this session gets withheld in some giant tax/spending cuts reform proposal, then an effort is lead by our new State Treasurer to refer the elimination of the Kicker to the voters.  2012’s Measure 85 which eliminated the Corporate Kicker, already gives the big government crowd the blueprint on how to run it.  The money will be allocated to rainy day funds and to schools of course, which even I would be for if I actually trusted the Oregon Legislature to spend my tax dollars.
Do we need a more robust rainy day fund? Absolutely! Do schools need more money? Definitely! But I fear the elimination of the Kicker would cede philosophical ground to those who desire to keep feeding the behemoth of ever growing government.

Posted by at 06:54 | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Pre-existing Conditions Canard

Right From the Start

Canard, red-herring, fabrication, hoax, exaggeration, and the list could go on and on regarding pre-existing conditions being debated as a part of the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  To listen to the Democrats and the mainstream media you would assume 1) that the number of people with pre-existing conditions is legion, 2) that all of them will die if Obamacare is repealed, 3) that the only recourse is to force the insurance companies providing coverage to the individual market to include pre-existing conditions, and 4) that those forced to purchase in the individual market must pay a premium (in most cases an extreme premium) to fund that acceptance of pre-existing conditions in those policies.  None of these assertions are true – unless, of course, you believe that the government is the best solution for every problem.

Continue reading

Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Health Care Reform, Obamacare | 6 Comments

Victory: Oregon Catalyst Involvement Triggers Local Media Investigation into Union Contributions

By NW Spotlight

Last week, utilizing public data from the Oregon Secretary of State combined with help from local sources, we were able to highlight the massive investments being made by the teachers unions in Bend-La Pine School Board elections. State and local unions have been investing big money in order to gain an advantage in contract negotiations (currently ongoing).

Because of the combined efforts of Oregon Catalyst and others, the largest local newspaper in Central Oregon, The Bulletin, published an article further highlighting union involvement in these races. Appointed school board member Carrie Douglass (currently seeking for re-election) was originally set to “represent” the Bend-La Pine School Board in negotiations with the teachers and school employees unions. After she took money from the unions she was tasked with negotiating against, she will no longer represent the Bend-La Pine School Board in negotiations with the unions.

We will update this post with any additional developments.

Posted by at 11:31 | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Oregon Politicians Support Better Roads, Just Not Here

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Recently the Oregon Legislature held a hearing on HB 3231, a bill promoted by Rep. Rich Vial (R-Scholls) that would authorize the formation of special districts for the purpose of constructing and operating limited-access highways.

Opponents made many of the same arguments they’ve been using for decades: new highways threaten farmland; increased driving will undermine Oregon’s “climate change” goals; and we can’t “build our way out of congestion.”

Perhaps the most comical opposition argument was made by Marion County, which sent all three of its Commissioners in a show of force. The Commission Chair concluded his remarks by saying, “We understand progress; we just want that progress to go somewhere else.”

Oregon stopped building new highways in 1983 after I-205 was completed. Elected officials came to believe that our needs for mobility could be met through increased urban densities, massive subsidies for public transit, and various forms of “demand management” to entice or even force people out of their cars.

The new approach didn’t work. Continue reading

Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Let There Be Civility

By Senator Alan DeBoer

Civil discourse has been an important part of the American tradition ever since our nation’s founding. The free exchange of ideas enables us to participate in processes to come up with solutions to problems and create a stronger sense of the greater good. Continue reading

Posted by at 10:00 | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Are Free Expression and Academic Integrity on College Campuses Gone for Good?

Challenges to Free Expression and Academic Integrity on Campus

Join Cascade Policy Institute for a special event

with Dr. Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Monday, May 8, 2017, 6:00-7:30 pm, at the Crowne Plaza Portland-Lake Oswego

With a constant stream of headlines about campus disruptions and lightweight curricula, alumni are rightly concerned about the erosion of academic freedom and the decline of academic standards on American college campuses. The evening’s presentation will spell out why the trends are so worrying and ways in which some intrepid college leaders, college trustees, and alumni donors are showing how to stand up for academic excellence and intellectual openness that the public demands.

Dr. Merrill is executive director of the Fund for Academic Renewal, a program of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which works with donors to create and monitor high-impact gifts to colleges and universities. ACTA is an independent, nonprofit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities.

There is no charge for this event, but reservations are required in advance due to space limitations. A dessert buffet with coffee and tea will be served. Continue reading

Posted by at 09:00 | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Are Free Expression and Academic Integrity on College Campuses Gone for Good?

The Other Form of Climate Denial

There are few political epithets that are as marginalizing as being called a “denier,” because that word naturally evokes in our minds the crackpots that deny the Holocaust. It can be inappropriate in a scientific context to marginalize doubters, because true science has always been driven by skepticism and the falsification of conventional wisdom, not dogmatic adherence to a consensus.

However, given the available evidence, it’s certainly an absurd position for anyone to claim that the probability is zero that the carbon we emit warms our atmosphere. Similarly, it’s also an absurd position to hold that the probability is 100%. Climate change is a risk, and like all risk, it’s inherently uncertain.

In a debate about probabilities, it’s been unwise to frame this as a binary conflict between the common folk that don’t believe in climate change and an establishment that does, because among the set of people who do believe in climate change, there are many environmental extremists that deviate just as far from the scientific consensus as the so-called deniers. The latest forecast of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is really quite modest compared to the doomsday imaginations of street-marching activists.

Having a belief that we face a far larger increase in temperature than the IPCC actually forecasts should then be considered just as unscientific as those who have beliefs below that consensus. They’re given a pass in the broader narrative, because conservatives so poorly position themselves on this issue. Continue reading

Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Energy, Environment, Global Warming, Green Energy, Taxes, Uncategorized | Tagged | 27 Comments

Sending the Health Care Debate to the States

After the 2016 election Republican moved into power by assuming the Presidency, preventing a liberal takeover of the Supreme Court, and holding both Houses of Congress. Additionally Republicans occupy 33 Gubernatorial offices and fully control 32 state legislatures. The seeds for those 2016 electoral victories were sewn back in 2010. In 2010 opposition to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act gave rise to the Tea Party movement. Republicans were able to successfully channel the energy of the Tea Party to take back the House of Representatives and many state legislatures. By controlling state legislatures in 2010 Republicans were in the driver’s seat when it came to the redistricting process that followed the 2010 census. Having gotten more favorable lines for congressional elections and state legislative elections Republicans reinforced their hold on power, setting the stage for the Republican takeover that came about in 2016.

Without Obamacare almost none of what I mentioned above would have ever been possible. Now Republicans are working to fulfill their promise of finally repealing the Affordable Care Act. As I write this the headlines are popping up about the American Health Care Act passing the House of Representatives. Regardless of how you feel about the AHCA as policy, I fear that while health care made our Republican government possible, it could also be the issue that leads to its eventually collapse.

I am not here to discuss the practical policy implications of the new law, only the possible political repercussions. The biggest repercussion that I see is in the consequences of shifting the fight to our state’s and state legislatures.

The American Health Care Act allows states to decide if insurers will be required to cover folks with pre-existing conditions or now. This means that every Republican Governor and every Republican legislature will be forced to grapple with this issue in a very public manner. As with any government entitlement it is much easier to give to folks than it is to take away. Going into the 2018 elections Governor and legislators will not be able to run on the issues that would have hoped to have run on because the Democratic political machine and the media will keep the spotlight on healthcare and the mean old Republicans who just want to take healthcare away from sick people.

Discussions over high risk pools or other conservative solutions for the pre-existing condition problem will be drowned out by “The Resistance” and their media allies shouting about how Republicans in their state are taking away protections from people that Obamacare provided.

Obamacare was a disaster on its way towards collapse and it needed to be repealed. I am glad the elected Republicans are finally taking the steps to do what we sent them to Washington to do and repeal and replace this law. I only fear that the way they went about it will have severe consequences for conservatives down at the state level.

Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Oregon Land Board Should Take the Deal

By Lydia White

At a time when Legislators threaten to slash government services to cover a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, Governor Kate Brown and Treasurer Tobias Read plan to make things worse.

Next week, the State Land Board will meet to consider selling 84,000 acres of the Elliott State Forest to Lone Rock Timber Management for $221 million. If the sale is approved, all the money would be invested in the Common School Fund, generating billions of dollars in earnings for K-12 schools.

Governor Brown, who supported the sale in 2015, now wants the state to buy out the Elliott for $100 million by issuing bonds. Taxpayers would pay back the principal and interest for the next 25 years, at a cost of $120 million or more.

But the Land Board has a constitutional obligation to produce revenue for Oregon schools by either managing the Elliott for a profit or selling off dead assets. Forcing taxpayers to buy an asset they already own, plus forgoing $121 million in additional funds from a willing buyer and millions more when factoring in compound interest, would violate the Board’s fiduciary trust. Continue reading

Posted by at 10:30 | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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