by Brendan Monaghan
Testimony before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means’ field hearing at PCC Sylvania in Portland on April 19, 2011
Remember the 90’s? When tax hikes and gargantuan spending increases were “for the kids” and our esteemed legislators made targeted budget cuts designed to inflict the most pain when the voters didn’t give them their way? School days were eliminated, teachers were laid off, and children were paraded around by the OEA for sympathy as they demanded more money. Those days are over now, as holding children hostage during state budget battles is out of fashion and passé. And why not? Oregon by now ranks near the top in per-student funding and at the bottom of actual student performance.
Today the usual suspects – many of whom you have already heard from tonight – have a new victim. Now they point the guns at Grandma’s head in the wheel chair as they come to you and demand more of what they believe is rightfully and exclusively the province of the unions. Their stories are all the same, warning of the intolerable conditions, steeped in Depression-era imagery, that will result if the hostage-takers don’t get their way. And of course, the reality of the situation is far different.
The Department of Human Services is currently a full quarter of the state budget, at $15 billion. It has grown by over $3.5 billion over the last two budget cycles, whereas Education, having outlived its usefulness as a political weapon, is stripped bare. DHS has also grown by 1,300 full-time employees in the 2009 cycle alone. This is the size of the entire State Police Department.
Meanwhile, 1,200 DHS positions are left unfilled (4,000 total within the state), yet these non-persons still get paid in these non-positions with real money they still receive from Salem. I just hope they’re also non-voters. Another example is the Oregon Project Independence, which serves a full 2,000 people, and is receiving “cuts.” If this program is vital, perhaps it can be fully funded by laying off those non-existent 1,200 people at DHS who still draw a salary. Or at least ask them to take a pay cut.
I know it’s not easy to make priorities, even for our Governor-for-Life, but perhaps this Austerity of Abominations would not be necessary if he was not so concerned with re-establishing his own legacy. It is his once and future dream to “fundamentally change the way our health care is delivered” and bring government-run healthcare to the state level. Never mind that a government-run system costs 2 to 3 times as much as a comparable private system. The difference is in the price of the infrastructure and bureaucrats needed to execute such a system.
Now we see the reasons behind all this union testimony. Ideally, these budget cuts wouldn’t be directed at Grandma and the kids, but would come out of the unions’ pocket books. They are, of course, more concerned with their own benefits, which include a 0% contribution to health care and pensions; not with the genuine concern for the well-being of the elderly, the disabled, and the children. The most vulnerable in our society should no longer be used as a tool for the unions to extract more money from government. Public employee unions should have to endure the same sacrifices they demand of the rest of us.
Brendan is a graduate student at Portland State Universty, where he hosts the KPSU “Right Jab” radio program. Brendan is studying politcal science, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, with a degree in political science.