Recently a friend asked why, given my consistently unkind comments about President Barack Obama’s singular legislative achievement – Obamacare – had I not opined on Governor John Kitzhaber’s homegrown version of Obamacare – Cover Oregon? I told him that these gigantic promises and consistent failures by Oregon’s liberal Democrat government class recur so regularly that it is to be expected. Something worthy of comment would be if one of these b—s— something-for-nothing grand ideas ever worked, or even came in on time, or even came in on budget. Let me give you some examples although the list is hardly exhaustive:
At the behest of then Speaker of the House and subsequent Portland Mayor, Vera Katz (D), the Oregon legislature launched the Certificate of Initial Mastery and Certificate of Advanced Mastery (CIM/CAM) program designed to measure and improve academic performance by Oregon’s K-12 public school system. It did neither. Oregon’s government elites eschewed similar successful programs from other states as well as national testing standards, insisting that they were not compatible with the “Oregon way” – a paean to their intellectual superiority. But in the end, so reviled was the program that neither employers nor colleges acknowledged or accepted the CIM/CAM results as evidence of academic achievement. And yet, this program continued for almost fifteen years. No one was ever held accountable. No one was ever disciplined or terminated. Based on interviews with teachers and administrators as to the cost in time and expenditures, a state senator concluded the program cost taxpayers nearly $500 Million per year and achieved nothing.
For over fifteen years, Portland has pursued constructing a new bridge to replace the existing three-lane bridge joining Portland and Vancouver and spanning the Columbia River. To date, Portland and Oregon state government have spent approximately $185 Million on design and promotion of the new bridge. So long has this project been underway that it has a permanent staff of approximately 80 people, a headquarters building and probably a jingle in there somewhere. And yet no bridge has been constructed. In fact not a spade of dirt has been turned, nor is it likely to be turned in the near future. The reason: the construction of the bridge to accommodate vehicular traffic that has more than doubled and development that has crowded the approaches has always played second fiddle to Portland’s Democrat ruling class’ touchstone – extension of light rail to Vancouver. Multiple designs of the proposed bridge have all featured the light rail extension. So prominent is the light rail component that vehicular traffic needs and existing ship traffic requirements have been sacrificed in these various designs. The latest design that has been rejected by Washington did not expand the traffic capacity instead retaining the existing three lanes each way. The design was not tall enough to accommodate existing shipping with crippling effects on upstream manufacturers and shippers. But it did have light rail – light rail that Vancouver has never wanted but upon which Portland Democrat elites have insisted. And so, fifteen years and $185 Million later, there is still no bridge and none likely in the foreseeable future.
(The failure to build the new Columbia River bridge is just one victim of Portland Democrat elites’ dedication to light rail. Portland has spent billions on construction of light rail that routinely fails in inclement weather. More importantly, a recent article has indicated that the aging light rail system is suffering rapid deterioration and is in need of a massive infusion of funds to repair and replace large elements of the system. There has always been a plethora of federal funds for construction of light rail but now Portland is facing the reality of maintaining and replacing the system with restricted assistance from the federal government and the real probability that Oregon taxpayers are going to have to foot the majority of a very expensive bill. For most of its life, Portland’s light rail has been virtually free to commuters either through “free zones” or a lack of enforcement of even the paltry fee that has never come close to covering its costs. The real cost to Oregon taxpayers will be chronicled by the Cascade Policy group which has exercised the only oversight to this boondoggle and which has been widely dismissed by Portland’s government elites as a bunch of cranky conservatives.)
And then there is Portland’s water and sewer billing system fiasco. Another example of the Democrats refusal to acquire existing off-the-shelf computer system because they were not compatible with the “Oregon way.” In a January 4, 2004 article, the Oregonian chronicled the billing system fiasco:
“Portland is poised to shell out $11.5 million for a new water and sewer billing system, saying the new software will reduce staff, improve system performance and allow the city to add long-awaited functions such as storm-water discounts and online billing.
“Those promises are nearly identical to the ones made seven years ago when the city contracted with Severn Trent Systems of Houston for a new billing system. The outcome: thousands of unbilled accounts, far higher staffing, higher water and sewer rates, and an estimated $20 million to $30 million in city losses.
On Wednesday, the Portland City Council is expected to approve a $4.1 million contract with Cayenta Inc. of Vancouver, B.C., to replace the flawed system. With three consulting contracts, new hardware and 16 full-time city staff members on the job, the total cost to start the system by December 2005 comes to $11.5 million, city officials said.
Basically, the original system, designed for the “Oregon way,” required four years and over $10 Million and never worked. At one point, the Water Bureaus test team warned in February 2004 that there were large defects in the system that had not been fixed. And yet, despite that warning, then-Commissioner Erik Sten – the poster boy for Portland’s intellectual elitism – ordered the system turned on. It promptly crashed and nearly $30 million dollars in revenues were lost because customer usage data was destroyed. Mr. Sten, one of the Democrats so convinced of his own intellectual superiority that he is more than willing to spend your money on his great ideas, subsequently requested that the project leader resign – albeit with a $120,000 severance bonus. Later, Portland recovered about $7 Million from the contractor but the loss of $30 Million of revenue and the remaining cost of replacing the system fell to taxpayers.
But back to Cover Oregon. Let’s let the Eugene Register-Guard describe the situation:
“Once considered a national health care leader, Oregon produced the worst rollout in the nation of the new national health insurance program. While the crippled federal website eventually got up and walked, Oregon’s remained comatose, unable to enroll a single person online. The state had to resort to hiring 400 people to process paper applications.
“Officials lay much of the blame on the primary information technology contractor, Oracle Corp., and withheld about $20 million in payments. But state officials’ own actions played a role, too.
“In the face of disaster, they insisted on doing things the Oregon way, clinging to a grandiose vision of creating a grand health IT system that would not only enroll new people in the national health insurance program, but provide other vital services. In the midst of the finger-pointing, executive director Rocky King went on indefinite medical leave, and chief information officer Carolyn Lawson resigned.”
Much of the failure of these types of programs stems from this mistaken belief that “Oregon will be a national leader” in this or that. Oregon’s principle claim to “leadership” in national healthcare is the result of Governor Kitzhaber’s original Oregon Healthcare Plan which ultimately failed because of cost overruns and bureaucratic incompetence. As such plans progress into failure, there is never a thought to real reform rather the program is expanded to create more dependency and thus more difficult from which to retreat. In this instance the failure has been so overwhelming that not a single person has been able to enroll on-line and recently the Kitzhaber Administration has announced the suspension of the system indefinitely.
As Portland’s KGW reported:
“Amy Fauver of Cover Oregon is a guest this week on Straight Talk.
“The Cover Oregon program has already cost Oregon taxpayers $300 million, including $4 million to hire workers to process paper applications until the site is up and running.
“’The system is not broken,’ Fauver said. ‘This is not an IT system that is irreparably broken and needs to be scrapped. What we are is we are delayed. We simply ran out of time to do adequate testing.’”
And that folks is precisely the mindset of Oregon’s Democrat intellectual elites. I’m never quite sure whether the blame should be placed on those who mislead and waste taxpayer money, or the voters who continue to return these wastrels to office.