Senator Jeff Kruse: Week Two in the Oregon Legislature

Note from the editor: The following is a republishing of the email newsletter sent by Oregon State Senator Jeff Kruse. You can sign up for his newsletter on his legislative website.

By Senator Jeff Kruse

This was a week without a whole lot of significant activity, but with a lot of posturing. First I want to say that I have known Governor Kate Brown for 20 years and I consider her a friend. We have done tremendous work together over the years, especially in the area of our foster care system. But there are also many areas where we disagree, which is how this process is supposed to work. My comments this week aren’t pointed just at her, but at the entire leadership here in Salem.

When she took office Governor Brown said her administration would be the most transparent ever. We heard similar claims from House and Senate leadership. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

First example: At the end of last week House Speaker Kotek and Senate President Courtney issued a press release stating that they held secret talks between business and labor interest groups. While nobody was supposed to know who was in the meeting, we were able to find the list and it was not a fair representation of business in Oregon or Oregon itself. Those meetings are still going on and at this point no Republicans have been invited to attend. In fact, all attendees are from Portland. One can assume the only reason for these meetings is to try and build support for some form of tax increases.

Meanwhile, as we face a so-called budget crisis, the Governor gave state union workers a 6% pay increase. This is, of course, on top of their COLA’s and step increases that happen as a matter of course. When you add that to the fact we may do nothing about PERS reform they have added over $500,000,000 to the cost of government. The issue here is the fact that the negotiations between the executive branch and the unions happen behind locked doors with no input from either the public or the Legislative Assembly. We are just told the results and then asked to pay the bill. Once again, there is no “transparency” in this process. I have offered legislation to help with this problem. My bill would require all negotiations between the executive branch and the public employee unions to be subject to public meetings laws. I think it is only fair that the people, who have to pay the bill through taxes, know how the process works. I think this speaks to the type of “transparency” the Governor was talking about, but I really don’t think the majority party will even give the bill a hearing let alone pass it.

Another area with a complete lack of real transparency is the budget process. The Governor came out with her budget, which she is required to do, but like all other Governor’s budgets I have seen it doesn’t even give us a good starting point. The real budget we work from is the one put out by the co-chairs of the Ways and Means Committee. Historically, they have waited until the budget subcommittees have had a chance to work on some of the major issues and we have had the first revenue projection for the year. However, this time they had a budget ready to go before we even started. The real reason is to attempt to drive for more tax increases. In fact, they are starting hearings around the state today with a hearing in Salem and one tomorrow in Portland. They will continue with Friday/Saturday hearings around the state for the next few weeks. This is all political with only one objective: massive tax increases on you and your loved ones.

They continue to talk about the “fact” we have a 1.7-billion-dollar deficit. They neglect to mention the fact we have 1.3 billion dollars more to spend. They also fail to mention the fact state spending is out of control. The fact is the state budget has grown by 40% over the last eight years. Rather than try to reign in this out of control spending cycle they want to expand it. I would suggest that because a large amount of Democrat’s campaign funds come from the public employee unions they have become more important to the majority party than the working people of Oregon who are forced to pay the bills.

We do face some significant challenges this Session, but it also provides us with tremendous opportunity to enact significant changes in the way government functions. First, we need to adequately fund education so it does not once again get trapped in the end of Session negotiations. We also need a real transportation package that benefits the whole state and only Oregon. Third, we need to do something to roll in the costs of the PERS system. And finally we need to have a balanced budget that solely deals with the State’s actual responsibilities to the people. Republicans stand ready to help; we just need to be invited to the table.