In a large statewide straw poll of 400 Oregon taxpayers, Oregonians were asked to identify the issues they were most concerned about going in to the 2018 elections. With a potentially competitive Governor’s race and control of the Legislature at stake, voters expressed deep concern about the fiscal management of the State.
Respondents feel that Oregon’s Legislature and Governor have been locked in a perpetual state of “budget crisis” since the “housing crisis” ten years ago. In each Session, some Legislative leaders claim the large revenue increase they will have to work with is simply not enough. Competing with this self-image has been the tremendous waste of government funds over the same period.
The overall mood was perhaps best summed up by this quote: “Fiscal discipline is lacking. All we get is bigger government, more waste and corruption…and even less fiscal discipline.” Oregon’s All Funds budget has grown every biennium in years, even during the Great Recession of 10 years ago.
“Oregon needs to dramatically cut the size of our government.
We spend almost two times the amount per capita as the Western half of the nation.”
The waste and overspending on programs like the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) helps vault Oregon into the top 10 in the nation for government spending. Oregon frequently looks to other States like California for additional ways to spend money, but rarely seeks to adopt policies other States use to save taxpayer cash. Once created, program are only rarely reviewed to see if better ways have been developed to solve problems.
Oregon also suffers from a lack of people working in government with the vision to understand who their decisions will impact real people
“New regulations requiring too many new bureaus, agencies and commissions,often made by people unfamiliar with the issues in practical application.”
“Throws money at a problem or interest without proper preparation for a successful outcome where a goal is reached.”
Oregon’s 2019 Governor, poll respondents hope, will install individuals at Agencies with real-world, practical experience in the areas they regulate and a desire to reach solutions rather than build kingdoms.
For many decades, the top fiscal issue of concern for Oregonians has been PERS. The system, which provides benefits to qualifying government retirees, has long been understood to provide too-generous retirements. Worse yet, many government employees pay nothing for these retirement benefits – under the “6 percent pick-up” which was instituted for one year to replace a promised salary increase but somehow became permanent, taxpayers pay all of the contributions for employees in many agencies at all levels of government.
“I’m weary of working as a small business owner to make sure public employees have wonderful retirements. Are they going to help me with my retirement? Fat chance!”
“End PERS double-dipping – if a public employee retires and claims PERS then accepts another public sector job, they should not continue to collect PERS benefits.”
Among the great benefits of PERS retirement is the ability to receive full benefits beginning in one’s 50s, and to work half-time for a public agency – or full-time in the private sector – with no impact to PERS benefits. The system is currently underfunded by more than $20 billion and is squeezing school districts, cities, counties, water districts and all other Oregon government entities. Recently, the Legislature made arrangements to match part of any funds these entities might set aside for their future retirement payments. This is money the Legislature doesn’t have.
“Reduce government retirement programs to be more in line with Social Security.”
For comparison, Social Security generally replaces about 40 percent of what one earned when working. Under PERS, it’s not unusual to find retirees earning 75 percent of their final working salary. Oregon taxpayers feel this disparity.
Besides PERS, the next government program that raises the ire of Oregon taxpayers is education. Oregon has consistently ranked at or near the bottom in areas such as test scores and graduation in recent years.
“We give schools more money – a lot more money – and we have a higher drop-out rate.”
Finally, taxpayers have a more general sense of waste and corruption that may not be tied to any specific program.
“Seems there is no accountability by government agencies unless caught!”
“There is no control or oversight of social programs – money is just given to people”
“Our Legislators build their pet environmental projects…instead of using tax revenue for the purposes they were originally intended. They are so corrupt!”
But of course, the easy thing to do is complain. The harder thing is to find solutions. But Oregon taxpayers have tried. In addition to passing property tax limits, which have been effective, and a spending limit the Legislature routinely violates with no consequences, Oregonians also placed a “supermajority” voting requirement for raising taxes into the State Constitution. Unfortunately, Legislators have shown little honor for the will of voters, claiming revenue increases that aren’t “taxes” – i.e. fees, charges, or the reduction in a tax break – don’t fall under the Constitutional prohibition.
“The entire State government needs strict, independent audits with severe penalties
for flagrant violations.”
“We need to allow more input from Central and Eastern Oregon constituents.”
“Chronic spending on failed, doomed programs. Research how to best help the homeless,
don’t adopt ideas just because ‘everyone else is.’”
Perhaps summing up the overall concerns Oregon taxpayers have about their government is a note regarding the State’s fraught history with computer systems. Beginning with the new DMV computer system authorized under Governor Barbara Roberts more than a quarter-century ago that never functioned, and continuing right up until recent problems with a new Statewide government phone system that also may never work as promised, the State’s relationship with technology has led to some of the most massively wasteful spending imaginable.
“Over the past 30 years, there has been a technological and information revolution in this country that is unequalled in human history. Across the private sector, companies and individuals have learned to use this revolution to turn out more goods and services at less cost. Oregon government has missed this revolution almost entirely, expect that it appears to lead the nation in paying for technology that never works.”
Perhaps the best word to describe the mood of these Oregon voters is “frustration.” For more than 30 years, the State has faced the same problems – as well as new ones – and has yet to solve any of them, despite spending over a trillion of dollars. More government has most certainly not improved life in Oregon, and current leadership shows no signs of even recognizing that the path they are on is wrong – much less making needed changes.
Here is a list of concerns form the respondents based on issue.