Kulongoski New Found Fiscal Responsibility: Fact or Fancy

Oregon’s private sector employment numbers continue their slow slide toward a California style abyss. While the Oregon Employment Department reported no gain or loss in total employment from April to May, the numbers actually show that government employment increased by 6,800 while private sector employment declined by the same 6,800 positions.

Not surprisingly, of the 6,800 government jobs created in May, nearly 4,500 were census workers. That added to the nearly 2,000 census workers already employed in Oregon spells big trouble in the coming months as the census taking is complete and these temporary jobs end.

What is surprising is that at a time when Gov. Kulongoski and his “reset cabinet” are talking about the need to control the numbers, wages and benefits of public employees, he has added yet another 100 public employees to the state payroll, bringing the total increase just since January to 600.

That’s right, while Kulongoski’s administrators are proposing to cut $250 million for schools for Oregon’s children, $158 million for Oregon’s poor and elderly, and the release of 1,000 inmates on an unsuspecting public, Kulongoski and his cronies in the public employees unions have added 600 employees at a cost of $48,135,000 just since the first of the year. (The costs are based upon an average salary of $50,000 plus benefits plus employer payroll taxes – a figure that even the Oregonian now uses.)

That’s right, while Kulongoski’s administrators are proposing a reduction of 220 positions – less than 0.3% of the total state government employees and a figure that is even less than natural attrition – Kulongoski and his cronies in the public employees union have added 600 full time employees just since the first of the year. (Of the 750 positions proposed for elimination by Kulongoski’s administrators, 300 represent positions not currently filled – thus no reduction in the actual number of public employees. Of the remaining 450 positions, 230 are held by prison guards that were related to the proposal to close three prisons and turn loose 1000 criminals on Oregonians which Kulongoski subsequently withdrew, thus leaving only 220 positions at risk.)

All of which brings me to the point of my mixed emotions about Kulongoski’s “reset cabinet” and his public hand wringing about the unsustainability of the current and future spending levels of Oregon state government.

One’s first reaction to Kulongoski’s new found fiscal conservatism is to wonder where the captain of the ship has been for the last seven and one-half years while he was the principle architect of double digit budget increases while Oregon’s underlying economy floundered. You might ask how dare he self-righteously demand fiscal constraint when he increased the number of public employees by 7,000 following the last recession, or when he granted public employee union members an extra five percent salary increase –over and above their regular bargained for annual salary increases and step increases. You might ask whether this newly minted “fiscally responsible visionary” is the same governor who rejected any attempts to require public employees to pay any portion of their healthcare coverage –like virtually every other privately employed Oregonian. Could this be the same governor who flatly declared than any reform to Oregon’s gold-plated Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) was off the table during budget discussions?

Seven and one-half years of the most fiscally irresponsible management of any Oregon governor and now this. A call for fiscal restraint at a point in time when the governor has absolutely no responsibility to implement any of his “reset cabinet’s” recommendations. Seven and one-half years of refusing to listen to any of the economists, business leaders and even politicians who warned of impending fiscal calamity because Kulongoski continued to spent faster than Oregon’s economy grew. Or, because he added over $561,575,000 in new and annually increasing costs for an additional 7,000 public employees ($1,123,150,000 for each budget cycle). Or because, through his tax increases he withdrew over $1.5 Billion annually from the capital markets that might otherwise be used to create jobs through business growth.

On the other hand, the mere fact that someone as economically illiterate as Gov. Kulongoski has seen the light might actually change the public debate. Here, the titular head of the Democrat political establishment has acknowledged that Oregon cannot fix its fiscal crises without dealing with the inflated numbers of public employees and their overly generous salaries and benefits – particularly healthcare and pension benefits.

But then again, this new found fiscal conservatism may be more a product of Kulongoski’s impending retirement where he is beyond the need for the campaign rich public employees unions than anything else.

I’ll believe that the debate has changed when the Democrat leadership in the House and Senate (Mssrs. Dave Hunt and Peter Courtney, respectively) stop parsing their responses to questions about the numbers and benefits for public employees and the Democrat gubernatorial candidate, John Kitzhaber does the same. But don’t expect that anytime soon. The past actions of these public employee union loyalists who are still dependent on the $60 million dollars available to the public employee unions each election cycle would indicate that it will be business as usual if they are re-elected.

Meanwhile, Kulongoski can retire on his generous PERS pension (given his time of initial government employment plus his years as a public employee, his new income will likely exceed his current salary as governor) and feel “vindicated” when his latter day fiscal predictions prove to be true. But then it won’t be Kulongoski that suffers, only the Oregonians forced to support him and his spending policies over the last nine and one-half years.