The Public Employee Unions Have Corrupted Oregon Politics

The KOIN 6 website carried a story Monday about the upcoming “special” legislative session. It noted amongst other things:

“More unemployment checks, a repeal of Oregon’s “kicker check” tax refund, increased spending and even a ban on plastic grocery bags are among the topics being discussed during the new 2010 Special Session of the Oregon State Legislature.

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“One way the state government could get more cash is being proposed by Governor Ted Kulongoski. He wants the government to keep much of the money that now gets kicked back to citizens when state revenues significantly exceed expectations. That extra cash now goes back to taxpayers in the form of “kicker checks”. If the legislature approves it, the issue would then go before voters in November. The legislature cannot repeal the kicker by itself, because it’s in the state constitution. Thus, it requires a constitutional amendment – and those must be voted on.”

Two weeks before the election on Measures 66 and 67 I wrote:

“The point being is that Oregon business leaders are destined to fight this tax fight over and over and over again. They have won the fight the last two times and they may well win it again this time. However, until they are prepared to directly address the financial power of the public employee unions they will never win the war. The battle will be fought repeatedly until the business community losses. Then it will be fought anew at a higher level because the appetite for growth in numbers, salaries and benefits of the public employee unions is insatiable.” [Emphasis added]

The ink was not even dry on the results of the election when Gov. Kulongoski called in leaders from the public employee unions and the business community seeking support for his proposal to raise even more revenue by eliminating Oregon’s cherished “kicker” — the amount by which taxes are collected in excess of budgeted need each year. The public employee unions’ leaders endorsed the proposal enthusiastically — why wouldn’t they since they are the primary beneficiaries of increased government spending? The business community, still licking its wounds from the passage of the massive tax increases in Measures 66 and 67, were more reticent — and for good reason. They have seen the future and it is one of unchecked spending and continuous increases in fees and taxes and all backed by the public employee unions massive campaign war chests.

Oregon’s political system is broken. It lacks any semblance of a balance because one entity — the public employee unions — has access to virtually unlimited amounts of cash that it has demonstrated it is prepared to spend freely. No person or entity, or even a group of entities, can match the financial resources of the public employee unions — particularly on a recurring basis.

The recent election on Measure 66 and 67 highlighted the disparity. The proponents of the massive tax increase outspent the opponents by over fifty percent. The vast majority of the proponents’ money came from the public employee unions and therein lies the rub.

When the opponents needed money to finance the signature gathering and campaign they had to go out to contributors one by one and raise the money — a $100 here, a $1000 there. Yes, there were some large contributions from some large business entities but they pale in comparison to the million dollar contributions from the public employee unions.

And while the opponents had to go one by one to their contributors, the public employee unions had the state and local government and the local school districts automatically collect and remit their money on a quarterly basis — over $60 million of it each biennium — every biennium. While the opponents had to beg and convince each contributor each time they asked for a contribution, the public employees unions have a mandatory collection from public employees each payday using the resources of the state and local government and the local school districts.

The sheer volume of money available to the public employees unions coupled with the use of government resources to collect the mandatory contributions is what has unbalanced the political process. Until a means is found to return the public employee unions to the same footing as all other political organizations in terms of raising political money, Oregon political system will remain broken.

Even though the public employees unions tend to support Democrats — almost exclusively — this is not about party politics. This is about political corruption where one entity utilizes the resources of the state to acquire political contributions on a mandatory basis and thereafter uses those contributions to ensure government benefits to itself. The public employee unions have run the state of California over the economic cliff and they have now pushed Oregon to the brink.

No other political fight is worth pursuing until the corruption in Oregon’s political system is purged.