State of the State

A great deal of attention is being focused on President Bush’s upcoming State of the Union speech. It is dutifully accompanied in the major newspapers with a partisan attack on his alleged failures of 2005.

Unfortunately, those same Oregon newspapers don’t shine an equally bright light on Governor Kulongoski’s upcoming State of the State speech or on his dismal record of achievements for 2005. Apparently if little is expected, few are disappointed. Governor Kulongoski is up for re-election in 2006. He has an easy march through the primaries. Despite the desperate wishes of Portland’s uber liberals, former Gov. John Kitzhaber will not run against Kulongoski. Kitzhaber likes the adulation and floats his name routinely so that he can bask in the momentary limelight, gather some ego points and boost his consulting business – but he won’t run. And the rest of the mentioned field of Democrats stretches to be included in the term "long shots."

The importance of the State of the State speech should be that Kulongoski defines his agenda for a second term. In the past, the mainstream press has allowed Kulongoski to get away with a laundry list of undeniable problems as a substitute for an agenda. That is understandable from a candidate whose resources must be utilized to gain recognition, but not from an incumbent who has had the entire resources of the government at his disposal for four years. It doesn’t take a genius to state the obvious, but it does take some leadership to develop a solution and guide the electorate into embracing that solution.

Over the last four years (including his initial candidacy) we have heard Gov. Kulongoski opine:

· Oregon must live within its resources.

· Oregon must support the development of a sustainable, stable pre-K – 20 education system that is second to none.

· Oregon must stabilize its funding sources for government.

· Oregon must improve its economy.

· Oregon must include sustainability in its planning and programs.

· Oregon must streamline its regulatory process.

· Oregon must improve its land use system.

· Oregon must do good and avoid bad

Wow! What revelations. So what has the governor done about such issues during his term as governor? Well you be the judge:

Living within your resources? The governor tried twice to increase income taxes. It was the people by their overwhelming vote that forced the governor to live within the state’s resources. And even there, his Department of Human Services has already overspent its budget by $172 million.

An education system that is second to none? The cost of educating students remains excessively high when compared to other western states and the results remain mediocre at best in comparison to those same states. The K-12 education system is firmly controlled by the public employees unions, and their agenda has very little to do with the welfare of the children.

Stabilizing revenue sources? The governor resists efforts to place limitations on the growth of spending and gives tacit support to using the state’s popular "kicker" as an emergency revenue source. He simply will not talk about alternatives to the state’s volatile income tax.

Improving the economy? Oregon was first in and last out of the recent recession. A strong national economy has finally lifted Oregon out of its deep recession. (And even while the Bush tax cuts were lifting the economy, Kulongoski joined the chorus of Democrats bemoaning the fact that they didn’t have more taxpayer money to spend.) But even at that, Oregon remains among the highest in the nation for unemployment. And while Oregon (particularly southern and central Oregon) have increased the number of jobs to well above pre-recession levels, the governor’s base of support (Portland/Multnomah County) still has not recovered 14,000 of its 40,000 lost jobs despite an influx of more than 15,000 additional people. In other words, there is prosperity in those counties that voted against Kulongoski, and misery in those that voted for him.

Sustainability in government planning and programs? Before you get excited, "sustainability" to liberals (including Kulongoski) is newspeak for additional environmental regulation. Yes, I know that most of us think about sustainability in terms of economic sustainability but not so amongst the government class. At best "sustainability" during Kulongoski’s administration has meant that no government program is ever eliminated.

Improve the land use regulation system? Kulongoski has never proposed anything except more regulation. He opposed the popular Measure 37 that simply requires government to pay for the taking of the use of one’s property or refrain from taking it. When the legislature considered amendments to Measure 37, Kulongoski couldn’t or wouldn’t find four votes in the Democrat Senate to pass a compromise that even his land use planning czar supported. He ceded decision making to former Sierra Club leader and now state senator from Portland (where else) Charlie Ringo.

Do good and avoid bad? I’ll give Gov. Kulongoski an "A" in this category. He is a kind and decent man. There are probably few people in the state whose company you would enjoy more than the governor’s.

But that’s not enough. So maybe this time, we should ask the governor HOW he intends to do things, instead of accepting platitudes.