Union pay increases raise questions about state spending

Commentary from Senator Ted Ferrioli published in the Statesman Journal December 24:

In the words of Yogi Berra, “It is déjà vu all over again.” Looking at the recent article in the Statesman Journal announcing that state workers were to receive raises in a union deal was like reading an article I could swear I had read several times already this year. And in fact, I had.

The recent bonus pay announced by Gov. Kulongoski for union workers is the third he has handed out this year. One of Oregon’s top union leaders called it a “win for the governor’s office and a win for us,” but the losers are Oregon taxpayers.

This most recent pay raise comes with a price tag of $54 million that Oregonians will have to pay. That is $54 million on top of the $125 million already doled out for pay raises and health care increases for unions this year along with an additional $12 million in raises for state managers. The governor’s sudden generosity to his biggest campaign supporters could not come at a worse time for hardworking Oregon families.

Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve chairman have stated that the country’s economic warning signals are flashing a cautionary color. The housing market is heavy with a 2?206-140? years’ supply of foreclosed and unsold homes. The stock market recently adjusted downward by 12 percent. Washington Mutual Savings and Loan is closing more than 500 offices across the country. These are the signs of pending economic troubles.

Meanwhile, the governor led the charge to increase government spending by 21 percent last legislative session. Now, he has turned a blind eye to the economy’s clear danger signals to hand out three separate pay raises to state workers over the course of a year. He is draining Oregon’s checking account.

These constant pay raises don’t represent the type of government spending that puts more teachers in Oregon classrooms, more textbooks in the hands of students or fixes potholes in the road. The governor’s blank check to unions will yield only one measurable result: big deficits in future years.

Oregon’s leaders should be reprioritizing the way we spend. Taxpayer dollars should only go where they will do the most good and produce the best results. For too long, government has spent without concern for rising costs, forgetting that every dime spent today costs us dollars in future years.

This coming special session, many of my colleagues and I will be pushing for an Office of Government Accountability that actually measures the product of government spending while working to control costs.

I believe Oregonians are ready for a government that spends money based on a clear set of priorities, not the whims and dictates of special interests. That means rewarding high-quality teachers for results in the classroom, putting cops on the road 24 hours a day, seven days a week and zeroing in on identity theft. And with the possibility of a rainy day on the horizon, it means less spending and more checkbook discipline.

Someone should tell the governor.