A bad time to be associated with government and politics

On Saturday, the same day Oregonians began receiving our income tax kicker checks in the mail, The Oregonian released a poll showing that “Oregonians don’t think much of their lawmakers or their governor.”

The poll reiterates conclusions that pollster Adam Davis shared last month with the new Task Force on Comprehensive Revenue Restructuring in Salem. I was appointed by the Governor to represent the taxpayers on the task force.

Here are two key paragraphs in Saturday’s article:

“The poll shows that public frustration with political leaders remains as intense as ever, said Adam Davis, of Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall, the Portland firm that did the survey. That frustration, combined with everyday worries about health care and household finances, has fueled increasing cynicism about government, he said.

“‘It’s just a bad time to be associated with government and politics,’ Davis said.”

But Davis went further in front of the task force, telling us that he has never seen a time in his 30-year career when Oregonians were so cynical about government and politics. And, even if they can identify public services that are important to them (which Davis says they rarely can), today’s economic uncertainty leads them to say “I can’t pay more for government services right now: even ones I think are important. Maybe I can pay more later, but not now.”

While these findings seemed sobering to some on the task force, I took them as a hopeful sign. Learning that education and health care top the list of Oregonians’ policy concerns does not translate into a willingness to pay more for those services. We just don’t have enough faith that government can solve big problems, and we have more pressing needs in our own households.

So, at a time when most of us are getting our kicker checks in the mail, I’m confident that most will put that money to good use on their own families. Others will make generous tax-deductible donations to non-profits they believe are better at solving the problems that concern them than government.

So, don’t feel guilty about whatever you do with your kicker check. It’s your money; you earned it, and who better to decide what cause it should go to?

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank working hard to solve public policy problems with the help of generous Oregonians.