Oregon’s Lost Decade

Right From the Start

The December employment figures for Oregon continued a long trend under the hapless leadership of former-Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Oregon lost another 1,800 private sector jobs – almost all of which occurred in the critical Manufacturing segment. Meanwhile the bloated number of state public employees remained unchanged and protected.

When history is written about Gov. Kulongoski and the progress of Oregon, it will be a short chapter of a dismal period consisting of two words: “Why bother.” On the other hand when the history of the advance of the public employee unions in Oregon is written, it will be a rich and vibrant text charting the growth in sheer numbers and compensation of public employees and their seizure of total control of state government.

Here are some of the highlights for Gov. Kulongoski’s contributions to the progress of Oregon. Shortly after the commencement of Gov. Kulongoski’s second term, private sector employment peaked in March of 2007 at 1,445,800. As he left office in December of 2010 the number had dropped to 1,305,300 – a loss of 140,500 private sector jobs. The number of jobs lost stood as 155,500 at one point. Most of the job losses occurred in the critical high paying sectors: Construction – 40,300 (38.2%) lost; Manufacturing – 47,100 (22.8%) lost; Trade, Transportation and Utilities – 15, 900 (4.6%) lost; and Finance – 15,000 (13.9%) lost.

In contrast, the number of state public employees ballooned during Gov. Kulongoski’s terms from 48,883 to 66,021 – an increase of 18,138 public employees. That is an increase of slightly over 37%. Thirst seven-percent at a time that the private sector employment was declining by nearly ten percent.

State public employees have been routinely receiving pay raises of approximately 3.5 per cent to 8.5 percent annually during a period in which Oregonians average per capita income has been declining. Some state public employees are retiring at age 55 with a monthly benefit in excess of one hundred percent of their last year’s wages and that amount is increased annually by inflation. At the same time, private sector employees are losing their jobs or excepting retirement at amounts ranging from thirty to fifty percent of their last year’s wages. Public employees get full healthcare benefits; most private sector employees are left to fend for themselves.

During Kulongoski’s tenure, the public employee unions secured an elimination of the secret ballot for purposes of determining union representation. They also secured contract provision prohibiting state government from outsourcing any work once performed by a union member regardless of the efficiencies or savings to the state. Former public employee union officials populated Kulongoski’s administration, including at one time the top three spots.

Meanwhile, Kulongoski’s lack of interest in the private sector and its employment woes was best reflected when a Department of Employment spokesperson responded to a question about what the administration intended to do about Oregon’s worsening employment situation by stating that there were no plans and there was nothing they could do.

Between the administrations of Gov. Kitzhaber and Gov. Kulongoski, one would have to describe the first decade of Oregon’s 21st century as the “lost decade.” Thanks Ted – thanks for nothing. And John – we’ve learned to not expect much from you either.