Representative Vic Gilliam: The virtual and real Legislature

Vic Gilliam,
Oregon State Representative

The internet is a powerful tool (no wonder Al Gore claimed credit) but when is putting something online out of line? The current mayor of my hometown recently seemed to suggest a virtual legislature was in order and I’ve been thinking about that. Promoting an improved democracy that seeks efficiency and more transparency is hardly controversial.

Besides the obvious flaw of artificial communication possibly isolating lawmakers from one another and the unintended result of eliminating “back room deals” only to create “back chat room deals” — my greatest concern for this proposal is the additional distraction it offers to a legislature already too eager to shirk it’s constitutional duties. We need sharp focus on — balancing the budget, providing for our most vulnerable citizens, ensuring public safety and avoiding any more harm to families, private businesses and those who create wealth in our society and economy.

In the midst of record unemployment and a nasty recession consider this:
-The Oregon Legislature scheduled itself into “emergency session” for Feb. 2010 and is poised to consider volumes of new legislation and regulation — without the constitutional authority to meet. The thousands of dollars spent to keep the capitol running in Feb. pales to the cost of the regulation under consideration.

-the job killing, record breaking taxes that were levied last spring ran into a major road block when twice the required signatures were gathered to put the taxes to a vote in Jan. What if they are repealed? What if they aren’t? The special session will have no time for new regulations and policy tweaking but rather will be forced to clean up the mess from the 09 session.

-government employment continues to be the only growth industry in Oregon even as more and more Oregonians lose jobs and board up store windows.

-the so called “essential budget level” from the last session is really a 6% increase in every state dept. — who gets a guaranteed 6% raise despite the economy or performance as an “essential budget” in the real world?

-Oregon and most other states have done very little to calculate the massive hole that will be left in their tattered budgets when federal stimulus money evaporates in the next budget cycle.

These are problems are real not virtual and should confront our legislators and governor. Will tinkering with software that allows Senators to vote in their pajamas really solve anything? Our state and our constitution are not perfect but we have been a state to be proud of for the better part of a century and a half. If we want honest government we must first elect honest people. Can the process be improved? Always. I don’t believe we have a “revenue problem” or that we need more policy wonking — as Republican Leader Bruce Hanna says: “We have a jobs problem.” Let’s get to it.

Vic Gilliam, State Representative December 30, 2009