Backstage with Karen Minnis

Jeff Alworth

Let me put some numbers in front of you and see if they all add up. The Oregon State Legislature is considering the biennial budget. In total, the thing runs to $12.4 billion. The two chambers agree on this. They agree on the manifold components of spending that include infrastructure, police, social services, and so on. The only place they disagree is on schools, and they disagree there by only $150 million. That's just over 1% of the budget. Here it is, the first of May, and they agree on 99% of the budget.

I don't know about you, but when the Speaker of the House does something as dramatic as pulling her chamber out of a joint budget-writing committee over a measly 1% disagreement, I feel like there's more to the story. The numbers may add up, but the stories don't. What's really going on?

I may have some answers.

On Monday last week, as the Minnis pull-out was brewing, I got a couple of phone calls from people with front-row seats in Salem. We were actually hoping to break the news that Minnis was planning to pull out of the Ways and Means Committee before it actually happened, but we just couldn't get it up in time. Later, I got a call from a person we'll call a well-informed legislative insider who told me how things have broken down and why. Here's what s/he told me...

Not One More Dime to the OEA
According to my source, the whole $150 million kielbasa comes down to this: the GOP is at war with the Oregon Education Association, the state teachers' union. Democrats have been pretty straightforward about their position on schools: their figure ($5.325 bil) will prevent further cuts to schools. The Republicans' position? They want to spend it on social services, a new prison in Madras, OHSU, and -- most unbelievably -- a reserve fund.

Democrats tried to negotiate. At one point, they offered to split the difference -- take the outstanding figure and let the GOP fund what it wanted while Dems put their half toward schools. The GOP flatly refused. They don't see it as giving money to schools, they see it as going to the OEA. One negotiator reportedly said it bluntly: "we're not giving another dime to the OEA." Meanwhile, publicly, Minnis maintained that it was the profligate Senate who wasn't looking out for seniors: "I cannot accept the level of cuts required in human services and public safety programs that would be required under the Senate Democrat budget proposal." Yet according to my source, these programs will only cost $19 million. The real truth has nothing to do with seniors. It's all about the union.

Chess Moves
Although Minnis claimed (.pdf) that her move was sparked by Senate intractability, Democrats were surprised to see that the House already had their own funding bills prepared and ready to go on Monday. Democrats, who were working in good faith, have no similar measures ready in the Senate -- a process that generally takes weeks. In other words, Minnis, majority leader Wayne Scott and the House Republicans have been negotiating with "one foot out the door" for several weeks.

While we're on the subject of good faith, it's worth noting that this week the House plans to take up a capital gains cut that will potentially knock a $500 million hole in the budget by the time it's fully implemented. But savvy Republicans aren't proposing it for this biennium -- the phase in wouldn't start until 2007. No matter how dire the circumstances for seniors, apparently, there's always enough for left for a tax cut.

Minnis Under Fire
The House GOP finds itself under considerable pressure this year. In the last session, Minnis could count on the weakness of the deadlocked Senate; this year she finds herself with depleted numbers in the House, and confronted by a new blue Senate and a Governor committed to schools. She recently told the Statesman Journal, "When we're told repeatedly they don't have the votes for anything, it's pretty hard to negotiate." But that doesn't free her from the fire of her base, who demand a no-retreat approach.

On that subject, I'll pass along one last observation without comment. Folks close to the process have noticed that Minnis has increasingly been close to tears during negotiations. And, as the talks have gone on she has become increasingly frayed. This is consistent with other reports of Minnis losing her cool. A month ago, she stormed into Jeff Merkely's office following a floor debate on schools and dropped "multiple f-bombs" (she apologized the next day). Minnis' mood is her own business, but it's a reflection of how tense things are inside the Capitol and what kind of pressure Minnis is under.

So what does it all add up to? Despite a public face that mouths platitudes about the importance of schools, in private, the Minnis-led GOP is willing to sacrifice education to thwart the teachers' union. This shouldn't seem particularly shocking, because legislative watchers have been scratching their heads about why things are hanging up on such an apparently small dollar figure. The sum may be low, the the principle is high for Republicans. For those of us outside Salem, it's an abject lesson in political polarization. In recent years, Republicans have continued to move further to the right, shooting down moderates and anyone who won't put ideals before compromise. It's the only explanation for how things have come to this point. The GOP has found itself between ideologues and kids. So far, they've been siding with the ideologues.

  • justin (unverified)

    You failed to ask an important question. Why are the Republicans so opposed to the OEA? Could it be because this union is more about preserving power than educating children.

    ...I actually don't know the answer. But I don't believe that Republicans are evil and Democrats are good. It's still politics.

    And including an ad hominem attack on Minnis does not support your point. The legislature is tense and she got angry. It happens. It doesn't mean that she should capitulate and give up on her budget negotiatons.

    Anyway, I don't know who is right in Salem. But I sincerely hope the D's and R's can work it out before July.

  • (Show?)

    Justin, I agree - ad hominem attacks are bad. But would you mind quoting exactly what you think is an ad hominem attack in the piece?

    As I've re-read it, there's nothing in there that simply attacks the person instead of talking about the issue. Sure, he points out that she has a problem with "dropping the f-bomb" but it's in context: it's about how tense the negotiations have become.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    If there is one thing you can expect from the Republicans it is their desire to bust up the unions. The schools maintain the "power" to decide what education should be delivered, not the unions. Unions provide a venue for employees to negotiate with strength, but at the end of the day, they cannot demand any more then there is.

    Now this is the most ridiculous part. The impasse will spark envy of union members who control their work environment better then non-union shops. They have better wages [maybe, after dues] better benefits and an advocate when there is a dispute. Most people see this and want to destroy the unions because they don't get these privileges. What we should really be doing is underscoring how we would prefer our lives to reflect these union people.

    Be prepared for spin. The OEA is going to be taking bullets in the court of public opinion and it will be all about their being selfish, and how unfair that they are not individuals fighting for their jobs like everyone else. But that is an excellent attirbute to echo in the court of public opinion.

  • Sally (unverified)

    Good points, Gregor. The problem is that most taxpayers don't have union jobs. And taxpayers have virtually none of the strength and organization of "a company," although vis-a-vis public employee unions, that effectively is what they are. They are the big bad company, and the unions are the poor little exploited workers. Though as you suggest, the reality turns that on its head.

    I wish unions such as the OEA would just straight up fight for the best/most pay & benefits for their membership without additionally assuming or pretending to be doing it all in the name of "education" or "the children."

  • (Show?)

    I think what Justin refers to is this:

    On that subject, I'll pass along one last observation without comment. Folks close to the process have noticed that Minnis has increasingly been close to tears during negotiations. And, as the talks have gone on she has become increasingly frayed. This is consistent with other reports of Minnis losing her cool.

    Whether intended by Jeff or not, the image of a woman in tears reinforces gender stereotypes that women are unable to handle pressure as well as men.

    Jeff's point could have been made by simply stating that Minnis has been becoming frayed and is losing her cool.

  • (Show?)

    Actually, Paul, Jeff didn't say anything about women being unable to handle the pressure. Rather, he said that Karen Minnis couldn't handle the pressure. If she has been in tears and dropping f-bombs in the minority leaders office, then that's a simple fact - pleasant or not.

    Just because there's a bad gender stereotype out there doesn't mean the Speaker gets a pass on her ability to handle the pressure. If she's flipping out, she's flipping out - and that's newsworthy.

  • (Show?)


    I didn't say it wasn't newsworthy. I argued that the "close to tears" sentence was not necessary to make the point, reinforces a gender stereotype, and I think attracted the "ad hominem" comment. I thought the same thing when I encountered that sentence.

    Would we have highlighted a male "close to tears"? I suspect not.

  • (Show?)

    Paul, I agree that the notion that Minnis is becoming unbalanced in her actions on this part of the budget is clear from the reportage, and doesn't need to rely on her developing histrionics. I can believe perfectly well that no slight or disparagement was intended, but it's not hard to imagine how someone would interpret it that way.

    On the other hand, your last sentence led me to recall a male who had his antire political career ruined by a little waterwords: Ed Muskie. And that guy wasn't defending budget cuts, he was defending his wife.

  • (Show?)


    "entire political career ruined by a little waterworks..."

  • ron ledbury (unverified)

    "The real truth has nothing to do with seniors. It's all about the union."

    I thought that the teachers in the individual schools have the right to strike?

    The OEA is happy as a pea in a pea pod to carve off a fourth of the school budget to redirect to pay bonuses for past work rather than for current ongoing educational services. The OEA is also just as happy to maintain the fiction that such extra costs are part of the education. The OEA does not represent schools any more than Enron represents ratepayers interests in negotiating forward contracts for future services. Perhaps you need to study both economics and labor law.

    The union is not being told that they cannot strike, unless you are a tier-three employee that does not have a majority voice. The only anomaly, union wise, really is the continuing specter of a PERS union that is a company union thing that really needs to be split off from the individual budgets, so as to enable proper bargaining unit negotiations quite independent of the burden of covering for the mismanagement of pension funds and independent from the continued preservation of knowingly unsound pension plan design.

    Ms. Minnis should sponsor labor legislation that makes it unlawful to lump tier-one public employees with tier-three employees into the same bargaining unit. This would allow tier-three folks to argue for their pay on their own rather than have the more senior tier-one members tell them what they must accept, because of their PERS interests. This should make obvious sense to Ms. Minnis, if indeed here beef is with the OEA.

    The Associated Portland Educators would like such legislation. It is a union too, an infant one, Mr. Jeff Alworth.

    Split the union, based on special PERS status, in support of union rights from an individual perspective and in support of the state equal privileges and immunities clause. Failure to split the union based on PERS special status is harming schools in addition to denying their-three public employees their labor rights, and their free association rights under the US Constitution! Save education from the OEA alignment with all other PERS Tier-One and Tier-Two government employees! No more Post-Employment bonuses please!

    Sounds like potentially good news if the tier-three folks get recognized. It is for the kids too.

  • gus (unverified)

    Gregor writes:

    " If there is one thing you can expect from the Republicans it is their desire to bust up the unions. The schools maintain the "power" to decide what education should be delivered, not the unions. Unions provide a venue for employees to negotiate with strength, but at the end of the day, they cannot demand any more then there is. "

    Gregor overlooks the "hammer" that OEA locals such as Portland Association of teachers bring out every three years or so when they are working on an expired contract. That is the ability to threaten to strike in the middle of a school year. The most recent example was two years ago when the city and county leaders put through the I-tax to keep the PAT from striking. Counting other employees as well most large Oregon districts spend over 80% of general fund budgets on wages and benefits. That leaves very little for textbooks, reducing class size, maintenance and other aspects of a vibrant public school learning environment.

    The OEA is about power. and the troika of OEA, Democrat politicians and influential parent/codependents is this state's version of the "third rail".

    School boards can only wish for such power.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    Let me throw something out here, because I don't know the answer. The percentage of labor to cost is formidable, to be sure, but how is it in private enterprise in a service industry similar to teachers? What is the ratio of labor to all other costs? Labor always has the lion's share, union or not.

  • (Show?)

    On the issue of Minnis' anger. I wouldn't have passed along that observation if it hadn't been noted publicly elsewhere. I wouldn't feel comfortable characterizing someone else's mood had I not seen it with my own eyes. You may take it for what it's worth--the observation of someone who witnessed it first hand. It jibes with earlier, publicly-witnessed behavior. As to this notion that the comment was sexist--I disagree. Why is crying gender-specific? I didn't equate it with some kind of "feminine fragility" or anything like that. My sense on hearing the report was that they were an expression of anger. Have I seen men on the verge of tears due to anger? More often than women.

    On unions. Let's be clear, this isn't the union's position--this is the GOP's position. The union isn't making a demand--the GOP is just loth to pony up any money that may go into union coffers or look like a union victory. As to whether unions are so malign that they should suffer this hit, or whether this punishment outweights damage to schools and children--that's for the voters to decide. It's the calculation the GOP is making. Though they don't appear to have the courage to make it publicly.

  • Pete Jacobsen (unverified)

    Jeff, Your remarks about "close to tears" are inappropriate. That sentence starts with 'Folks' (plural) and indicates they report she was "increasingly close to tears". So more than one person has Ms. Minnis so well calibrated they can tell just how far away she is from crying? Just how many times has she cried in public?

    As others have said, your post did not need this in any way. If you did not realize that your statement would awaken in many a past claim of feminine weakness, I truly think you should study up on what stereotypes are all about.

    Bottom line, at least one reader (me) pretty much dismissed the other aspects of your post simply because of this uncalled for comment. I thought you might like to know.

  • (Show?)

    Pete (and others),

    Nearly every time I write a post, someone dismisses everything I've written because of one offending comment. Fair enough--this is a communication, and you can respond however you wish.

    But let me ask you something. Blogs exist partly because we are filling a niche the mainstream press no longer fills. Karen Minnis' public demeanor is a well-known element of the negotations happening in Salem--negotiations over how $13 billion dollars will be spent. So far the only group reporting on the Speaker's demeanor is the Democrats, in a newsletter. For whatever reason, the Oregonian et. al. have decided that this isn't news.

    I had to make the call. It is clearly a factor in what's happening in Salem. There are two reasons not to report it: poor taste, and the potential for it to be misconstrued. I hope we don't put taste above the freedom of information in our democracy. As to the potential for this information to be misconstrued, I guess your objections prove the point. But there are larger questions. The next time I have to write a post, think of it from my side. What do you consider newsworthy and what would you have written? What is appropriate for posting on BlueOregon? Do you want BlueOregon to adopt the same he-said, she-said style as the mainstream press when we report news (which is, admittedly, rarely)? These things are not easy calls. You want me to be the filter. Fair enough--how do you calibrate it?

    Finally, there's an odd irony here. The people who are criticizing me for being sexist are commiting the same crime they accuse me of having committed against Karen Minnis--assuming they know what my intent was. But in the case of the Speaker, I don't hold any such view. I have only repeated what observers reported. If I were to have "corrected" their observation to allay any misperceptions, I would have created far worse ones by inserting my opinion into the mix. I don't know why Karen Minnis was on the verge of tears. I also don't hold that to be characteristic of one sex. Those are all just opinions.

  • (Show?)

    Paul, you wrote, 'Would we have highlighted a male "close to tears"? I suspect not.'

    If it happens, and it's up to me, yes. Should the governor or the minority leader or the senate president get weepy during budget negotiations, yes, we'll cover it.

    Let me know.

  • (Show?)

    Jeff, let me clarify--at least for me personally, I never had ANY belief that you meant that comment in a sexist vein. My concern was what it really added to the piece, balanced against what harm it could do in interpretation. I certainly sympathize with the idea that not offending anyone is an impossible task on a decent blog, but perhaps the same information could have been referenced in a different way. I have to agree that "close to tears" is a highly subjective assessment. Perhaps if you'd noted her "recently increased agitation" and "emotionally charged rhetoric," you could have gotten the message across without setting off as many bells.

    Maybe Ms. Minnis shouldn't have been calling people Canucks, eh? Oh, wait...

  • go4th (unverified)

    I believe that OEA does serve education. Without a family wage, teaching could not draw the most qualified. Educators are professionals who would be run over by those in power because many (most?) people feel they are education experts by virtue of the fact that they spent 12 plus years in classrooms.

  • (Show?)

    The OEA is does not "serve" education. The OEA (appropriately in my opinion) serves its masters, the dues paying members of the OEA. Politically, this translates to support for Democrats. State regulators should be faulted for the glaring inequities in the PERS system, but this dry analysis does nothing to further the agenda of the current leadership of the GOP.

    Speaker Minnis and Enron execs have in common a basic (and dare I say) willful disregard for their actual masters Oregon citizens and the shareholders respectively . In Enron's case, the shareholders (and the rate payers and the taxpayers) got screwed at the expense of immoral traders and executives, who cannibalistically destroyed their own firm while squirrelling away personal profits.

    Minnis' position seems to be, as Jeff said, that any damage that can be inflicted on her political enemies is worth any price to be paid by the people who elected her and their children.

    Drive on Karen, but don't pitch a fit if your opponents and their allies refuse to lie down in front of your steamroller. You'll never see Grover Norquist or Tom Delay lose their cool. Icy control and bald faced lies are the order of the day.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    This sub-issue about reporting "the weep" or not is about to drive me crazy. If Jeff reports verbatium what someone told him, so what? It's not a reflection on Jeff. I don't see it as sexist or anything else. It highlights how much emotional pressure there is with these issues.

    Jeff - I see this as a typical "blog" issue. People get off track. Sometimes I wonder if it isn't a deliberate way of destroying constructive conversation. {Reference: Art of War by Sun Tzu, Chapter 13: Use of Spys - Type 4: "Expendible Spys" - used to spread disinformation.}

    On issue - I see the OEA's advocacy as being for children. Teacher pay isn't as bad as it used to be, but it is still not as good as the private world. Worst of all, it has a ceiling. In the private world we can continue to get promotions, start our own company, and end up very rich if we are skilled and motivated. In the education field, if you go to the top of your profession, you aren't anywhere near being truly "rich".

    So, to attract qualified people to be teachers - which translates to quality education - you need to pay them as well as we can. Besides, the decision on how the State money is spent - whether on buildings, books, or salary - is still a local decision. The State does not, should not, micro-manage this. So, when the OEA advocates for more funds at the State level, they have no guarantee that this translates exactly to salary. Of course a lot of it will, but who is to say that maybe the members of the OEA also would like to work in buildings where the roof didn't leak and the heat worked.

    Arguing on these points misses a lot of data. We just aren't spending enough money on our schools no matter how you crunch the numbers. Do an inflation adjustment from 1990 - we are paying less. Do a per student track - we are paying less. Look at inflation adjusted teacher salary - barely hanging in there. Do a student/teacher ratio - falling. And even this misses the point - new expectations (Federal requirements, etc.) should have new funding. We are actually asking for more while paying less.

    In the business world, when we pay less and ask for more - if we get what we ask for - it is usually plastic, cheap, and falls apart. Our great social experiment right now, ala Minnis, is to make our education system into something cheap and plastic. If she and the Republican succeed, it will predictably fall apart.

    Just because the Republicans make a linkage between the OEA and the budget, doesn't mean we have to follow them down that path. They think its a way to frame the issue that has traction. It does a little with some people.

    How should we frame the issue? I suggest that adequate funding for our schools is a community issue. We don't want bottom dollar treatment of our youth, and poor quality schools. I want good quality education for my children, my neighbors children, and my grandchildren. I want the generation that are now parents to stay in Oregon, and not flee to a State where there are better schools. Oregon's future depends upon our schools being good enough to keep our youth here, and train them to be available to be good workers.

    We've got lots of positive frames. It just drives me nuts to see this critical issue devolve to talking about the appropriateness of reporting on Minnis being "near tears". I think I'll end here and quietly cry for awhile.

  • LT (unverified)

    Bravo Steve! Good points.

    I will only add that our current school board campaign discussion is going on in an alternate universe from Minnis: some want to end the board consent calendar and vote up or down on everything with vote explanation required. at a school board forum, one candidate suggested saving money by eliminating funding for "communications" and making board members the spokespeople, people who visit schools, etc.

    It was a more intelligent public debate at that forum than most of what we see from the legislature. But I think Minnis would have felt lost there because it was a civil community gathering talking about solving problems--not about blaming opponents and playing political games.

  • SteveL (unverified)

    The anti-union rhetoric is getting pretty thick, folks. Maybe this would be a good time to remind yourselves what purpose unions serve in balancing government interest, business interest, and the worker's interest.

    snark How dare those union employees strike during their shifts instead of in the summer when we can safely ignore them.

    snark Damn that collective bargaining... they always make us sign contracts. It makes it too hard to screw unionized public employees in the name of funding tax cuts to those who need them least!

    snark How dare Jeff try to illustrate the human side of Karen Minnis -- we must not understand the immense pressure she is under, pressure coming from the lobbyists who have moved into the capitol. The same lobbyists who will be here long after she performs seppuku with her political career through this staged drama.

    Think, for a moment, why Republicans want to dismember unions so badly.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)

    The teacher pay for roughly 250 teachers in the Portland district will be exactly 0 (ZERO) as they get their walking papers for the next school year. This translates directly to the level of representation of their interests by the OEA . . . zero, or less than zero.

    School board candidates are by and large novices but with enthusiasm to do genuine good. But, if all they hear is the happy talk drivel from Steve Bucknum (as in his preceding comment) then it is quite understandable that their scope of understand is equally limited. (I am giving you the benefit of the doubt that you are merely unwitting rather than a skillful planter of nothingness and distraction.)

    For good talk on propaganda one might read something from Philip Agee, Inside the Company.

    250 . . . 250 . . . 250 . . .250 . .. . 250 If you explain away their jobs as just a general piece of crap that belongs to an unbalanced Minnis that is doing the bidding of a recalcitrant set of unbalanced Republicans then you have got yourself a case of clear distortion, and personal attack, that might be newsworthy in and of itself.

    Steve, argue with me and my points as it pertain to the tier three teachers. Follow the link (in a prior comment) and find the page I wanted to deliver to the new teachers at their orientation in August 2004. I am right here ready to answer. Can you point out a flaw in my reasoning, rather than offer distractions to the personality of someone that has not got the time to play "focus" games. I, however, do!

    The tier-three teachers have more to gain from alignment with Ms. Minnis than with the OEA, that is, if she sticks to Republican notions of individual liberty and freedom to contract. Ms. Minnis could likewise make the OEA ponder whether they have, in some sort of role reversal, become like the conceptual vision of capitalist's as "framed" by Democrats about wanting to get something for nothing for their capitalist endeavors. Personal investments of capital carry the promise of profit and also the risk of loss; except for PERS. The differentiation is not based on capitalism but only the class of the persons and the number of votes they can deliver, and . . . and, yes, whether the framing is successful.

    Liberty is a Republican issue, at least they claim it. Here it applies to the tier-three teachers need for exercising their rights. Greedy capitalists getting something for nothing is the war cry of the Democrats, at least they claim it. If Ms. Minnis cries out that the OEA is the greedy capitalist pig (via PERS) and that the liberty interests of the young teachers need a voice (protected labor rights) then there is no amount of gobbldygook framing that will distract me from this effective role reversal.

    This is the necessary consequence of the effort of labor across the country in both public and private settings to create multiple tiers of workers. Labor has given up on the next generation so as to circle the wagons for the benefit of their limited and diminishing pool of union supporters. Go look at Steel, Airlines and both GM and Ford and tell me that their pensions, tied to a bloated stock market, are worth anything more than the value of the stock certificates to generate heat in a fireplace or stove. The OEA created multiple PERS tiers and in ten to fifteen years this tactical maneuver will bite them in the ass. I am just jumping the gun before the votes are in place by the younger set to toss the OEA on their ass.

    Collectively we need to detach ourselves, all of us, from placing our hopes and dreams on the fiction that the stock market is sound, because it is as unsound today, if not more unsound, than it was just before black Friday. This would be my expert economic opinion, take it for what you will. Pulling our PERS investment trustee out of stocks is to all our benefit, even the tier-one PERS members. It the OEA wants to go play with stocks then the OEA is perfectly authorized as a non-profit under federal tax laws and pension trust laws to set up their own wholly independent pension trust. There is nothing sacred or inherent about having a state bank with a special class of depositors, with an elevated privilege as to the returns on those deposits. If Randall Edwards wants to give up his post and go work directly with the OEA he could then face the real challenge of crafting a sound pension plan and bear the burden of generating returns as assumed. Mr. Edwards would lose his backstop, the taxpayer.

    Mr. Bucknum, if you can reduce the complexity of the issues to "we just need to support our schools," then I both pity and envy you. Bliss comes to some who are ignorant, but not for all and not for long.

    Let the OEA manage their own pension trust all on their lonesome, and more particularly, without a captive, and specially privileged class of, depositors. Think of the PERS demands that are placed upon schools as coming directly from the OEA itself to cover their private loss of money in the stock market. That is the functional effect of the "employer contributions" today that are skimmed off the top of our school budgets. Cut out the distraction of PERS and then we can talk about schools, public schools.

    If you stick your head in the sand . . on PERS . . could there be any plausible explanation other than your support for PERS in direct contradiction to support for schools? Offer a PERS argument and see where it leads.

    Pardon me while I try and cry . . cry for the students. The adults who have made adult economic choices, with incomplete information or based on deceitful advice of their own association heads, are just not worth crying over.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Ron Ledbury wrote:

    "Mr. Bucknum, if you can reduce the complexity of the issues to "we just need to support our schools," then I both pity and envy you. Bliss comes to some who are ignorant, but not for all and not for long."

    One of the "tricks" commonly used by the neo-con's and folks like Rush Limbaugh is to take someone's comments, and summarize them into an unsupportable conclusion, then attack that conclusion. If you compare what I wrote, and what Mr. Ledburg says I said, you will not find a match-up at all.

    Mr. Ledbury even goes so far as using quote marks. Unfortunately, the quoted words are not in my post.

    Mr. Ledbury, a little honesty would go a long ways in fair debate. Find yourself another straw man.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)

    The rhetorical quote did summarize, or rather paraphrase, your remarks; accurately. (It was rhetorical and very easy to verify as such on this very page.)

    Again. 1) PERS and 2) tier-three versus tier-one, as represented by OEA, and the 250 fewer teachers in Portland.

    Got no thoughts? Or have you resorted to the same type of clutter the fills newsgroups? (Barbs followed by more barbs, to no end.)

    Your point on Rush, makes even more clear my assertion that you are possibly more unwitting than insightful.

    Have you never met an honest to god lefty that does not believe in any form of authoritarianism. By this I mean . . . that favors individual liberty.

    Why should the legislature and the OEA and the Republicans all attack the tier-three teachers all at once? I feel like they might as well be all covered in soot in a deep dark coal mine or something, out of sight and out of mind. They surely are not being asked to teach because the money has been spirited away to go cover someone's capitalist loss. Is there a single regime of accountability that is applicable to PERS -- judicial review or capitalist, or even criminal misuse of public -- other than the mere vote for more or less gifting in some future legislature? It is an arbitrary mess.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)

    In other threads I suggest RAISING the standard deduction. Perhaps a good lefty might go do the math and figure out just how high it might have to go to match the House Republican offering of 200 million dollars of forward capital gains gift reduction. They say it is to boost the economy . . I can only suppose in some contorted belief in trickle down. The poorest among us are obviously dependent upon one another, like little clans and the more that we can retain that does not first flow through the hands of the people with dreams of breaking free the them darned poor people the better. THe general welfare would be enhance more by a raise in the standard deduction than to reduce capital gains.

    The bargaining position of pro-school advocates of PERS post employment gifting are a confused bunch of non lefties in my opinion. PERS or the POOR? Now go get Lars or Rush to make such a proposition, if you can. Good luck. They have their little analytical blinders too.

  • Sally (unverified)

    I hate misquotes, or misstatements of meaning or intent, but honestly, Mr. Bucknum, I found your posts worth reading but hardly find a summary of "we need to support our schools" derisive, derogatory, misleading or worthy of being termed a "neo-con" or "Rush Limbaugh" set-up.

    Where I personally choked on what you did specifically say was this:

    "Teacher pay isn't as bad as it used to be, but it is still not as good as the private world. Worst of all, it has a ceiling. In the private world we can continue to get promotions, start our own company, and end up very rich if we are skilled and motivated. In the education field, if you go to the top of your profession, you aren't anywhere near being truly "rich"."

    The most recent figures I found from the AFT were that average teacher salary in Oregon for 2001/2002 was $46K with benefits highest in the nation. Average private sector salary in Oregon $31K (per capita income $28K). Ratio of salary to per capita income puts Oregon at #5 in the country for teacher pay. Must we mention job security and pay almost strictly on time-in-grade? In the private sector, there are all kinds of risks and pay differentials. And it's very dubious that most people in the private sector, even with equivalent education, accrue better incomes than teachers.

    At what point will fair & sustainable be reached?

  • Federalist1 (unverified)

    What a crock. Jeff's such a partisan hack - the Dems repeatedly offer "deals" for which they don't have the votes and they are the ones Jeff says are "negotiating in good faith"! Hah!

    The sad part is, Jeff actually thinks he's being fair. So sad. -F1

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Sally compared the average teacher wage, she says is $46K with benefits, to the "average" private sector job with $31K salary.

    Does the "average" private sector job require a Master's Degree as the entry level education?

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Perhaps Rod Ledbury, Sally, and Federalist1 don't know this is "Blue" Oregon.

  • Sally (unverified)

    The AFT said the average teacher salary in Oregon was $46K with the best benefit package in the country, ranking the state No. 5 in terms of teacher salaries relative to per capita income.

    The (unanswered) question to you, Steve, is "At what point will fair & sustainable be reached?"

  • (Show?)

    Just checking in after being away from the thread for awhile.

    The issue isn't teacher salaries--it's that the GOP won't admit what their beef is. Everyone who wants to make teacher salaries an issue should start a new thread. It's not relevant.

    And to the Federalist (Tom Cox)--though you spout loudly, you spout incoherently. What exactly is the point?

  • Sally (unverified)

    "The issue isn't teacher salaries--it's that the GOP won't admit what their beef is. Everyone who wants to make teacher salaries an issue should start a new thread. It's not relevant."

    Mr. Bucknum must have misunderstood the narrow parameters when he brought up teacher salaries. You did say the "beef," or rather the kielbasa, was, "the whole $150 million kielbasa comes down to this: the GOP is at war with the Oregon Education Association, the state teachers' union." So I suppose his error could be forgiven in thinking salaries would somewhere play in there.

    I, however, apparently misunderstood the discussion restrictions of "Blue" Oregon.

  • (Show?)

    I, however, apparently misunderstood the discussion restrictions of "Blue" Oregon.

    Snarky. I like it. Carry on.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)

    Sally, the fair price is not something that can be set by the legislature and still be compatible with labor negotiation rights. Yet, by virtue of the significance of the proportion of the school budget that comes from the state there is a temptation by all interested sides to interfere with free negotiations at the district level in favor of some state level parameters; provided they see some advantage to that interference.

    The fair price is somewhere between where a district makes a last best offer and where a bargaining unit (regardless of whether the unit has designated a union entity to represent their interests) chooses to go on strike. The fair price is not amenable to legislative determination of a precise point but just that range, bounded by qualitative legal rights for conducting a strike or lock out. That range, while it might itself appear to provide a fixed dollar amount at either end, a good guess perhaps in a budget, it still remains flexible through various devices such as local option levies, etc. The legislature, when budgeting, might view their role as more significant than it is. This would be illustrated simply by considering two fact situations, 1) irrespective of how much money a district has available from state or local resources a bargaining unit can always say they want more and go on strike (this is just a judgment call on their part), and 2 ) even if a school district has money coming out their ears they could offer a low-ball last best offer well below available cash and perhaps declare a lock out. In short, the mechanism for resolving labor rights are wholly incompatible with any legislatively set salary.

    Jeff, can you divorce the salary issue?

    The vulnerability of PERS, and the school budget, is one side of the club that the GOP will use to extract some wholly unrelated benefit for themselves, such as the adjustment in capital gains rate. The Senate, could deny the PERS club that is in the hands of the GOP by proposing, in the alternative, to raise the standard deduction by a level sufficient to match the gains that he GOP might hope to get. This isolates out the PERS vulnerability issue, at least as to the capital gains agenda. It re"frames" the debate from one of PERS versus capital gains to one of capital gains versus reducing the tax burden on the poor. (The "framing" folks ought to see this as a good strategy, but I could be mistaken.)

    The GOP could say go ahead and pay more for schools (and PERS), just excuse the more well to do Oregonians from paying any of it. In essence, go get it from the poor. This would match the typical bargain that gets negotiated . .. and as always it is against the poor.

    I want labor rights NOT to be attacked generally because of the activities of the OEA that are unrelated to genuine bargaining rights. I want to illustrate to Minnis and the Sizemore and McIntire, and the like, that there are genuine reasons to protect labor rights so that they do not overreact against all labor just because of a beef, whatever it is, against the OEA.

    If you think that this risk to labor rights generally is off point, then I would surely like you to articulate how it is off the mark. Reassure me that labor rights generally are not at risk due to OEA's present influence and the potential overreaction by the right. It seems to be a critical issue in Salem, as I see it. (Bill Sizemore sure thinks it is important.)

    Will the Governor and the Senate give in on a capital gains adjustment solely based on a desire to preserve a matching gift of more pay for past work for tier-one and tier-two PERS workers? The public gets a double whammy, one for PERS and a matching bit of reduced taxes on the rich as the price for not terminating PERS. Who, if anyone, represents the poor in those debates? Not a sole, at least not a sole who can sway either of the sides at the bargaining table.

    I do not believe that the positive notions of Blue here are incompatible with opposing the OEA effort to act as spear head for the private capitalist concerns of persons invested in the PERS bank, and that bank's pension trust division.

  • LT (unverified)

    Might I point out a few things. 1)It is a false choice to say OEA is so powerful that Democrats have to prove they are not tools of the OEA. If you want to make an OEA person nervous, just ask them to justify the endorsement of Billy Dalto--who, by the way, believes in the Gospel of "tax cuts create jobs", and voted for the capital gains tax cut bill. There are those who believe Billy would not have won re-election without the OEA endorsement. And one way to get a really defensive reaction out of Scott style Republicans is to ask about the Dalto endorsement. "Well, 95% of the OEA endorsements go to Democrats". Why is that a responsive answer? Without the OEA endorsement (over his PERS vote is one explanation, I heard) perhaps 900 votes would have gone the other way and Dalto would have lost.

    2)Deja Vu from the 1990s. Bill Sizemore still a factor, and debates over teacher tenure, pay packages, etc. If you look at the original versions of SB 650 and 750 (think those are the numbers, was the year 1995?)there were private sector union people who thought there was a move on to take power away from all unions. I want labor rights NOT to be attacked generally because of the activities of the OEA that are unrelated to genuine bargaining rights. I want to illustrate to Minnis and the Sizemore and McIntire, and the like, that there are genuine reasons to protect labor rights so that they do not overreact against all labor just because of a beef, whatever it is, against the OEA.

    If you think that this risk to labor rights generally is off point, then I would surely like you to articulate how it is off the mark. Reassure me that labor rights generally are not at risk due to OEA's present influence and the potential overreaction by the right. It seems to be a critical issue in Salem, as I see it. (Bill Sizemore sure thinks it is important.) But think about the elections as they went from there. As I recall, the Senate had 20 Republicans and they were really cocky. Then they only had 17, and the majority kept decreasing until the split Senate of last session and the Democratic majority this session. And this year I have heard a Republican staffer say it is time to investigate school district management because "we ended teacher tenure and that didn't solve all the problems". A school board candidate endorsed by Gene Derfler (co-author of the bill to end teacher tenure)talks about open public process from the school board, not taking power away from unions. Could that be because our local school board was about as accepting of public questioning as the House majority, mishandled a criminal investigation of a teacher now in jail, and kept reserves secret from the budget committee, and as a result of public outcry no incumbent is running for re-election?

    3) Vicki Berger was the only Republican to vote against the capital gains tax cut (the one which doesn't pay for itself but has Wayne Scott and the ORA on the masthead of the bill). Perhaps rather than speculating about what Republicans think, it would be productive for Blue Oregonians to talk to Berger and Sen. Republicans Morse and Westlund (and others) and get their responses. Would they support what has been proposed here? Maybe the time has come to talk about the actual budget tradeoffs specifically.

  • (Show?)

    Jeff, can you divorce the salary issue?

    Yeah, I can. They're related, but everything's related. The way I regard good faith and bad faith in public policy debates comes down to whether or not the beef--in this case, ideological opposition to the OEA--is germaine to the policy being considered. Union negotiations are a separate issue--they're no more relevant to the level of school funding than, say, tax cuts. If the Dems held up school funding because of certain tax cuts--which I think is an adequate analogue--the GOP could rightly call BS. It's an issue that affects school funding levels, but it's not properly the issue at hand.

  • David Wright (unverified)

    Union negotiations are a separate issue--they're no more relevant to the level of school funding than, say, tax cuts.

    So, teacher compensation (salaries & benefits), a major cost component of education, is not germane to the question of school funding levels? And the total tax revenues available (as affected by tax cuts) is also not germane to the question of school funding?

    Pray, tell, what is relevant?

    I understand your point about the GOP not being up front about their "beef" -- but that doesn't mean that the beef is invalid.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)


    The link between PERS and funding is germane to the tune of 24.9 percent of salary for Clackamas County as reported in The Oregonian today. The link is no less germane for local schools to PERS costs.

    The Supreme Court recently noted the limit on the authority of local government's to alter PERS from the plan as chosen by the legislature with these words:

    Strunck Case

    And, as we determined above, nothing in the PERS statutes indicates that the legislature intended to authorize public employers to set the terms of the PERS contract. Accordingly, we reject the arguments of petitioner Dahlin and Whitty petitioners that the PERS contract includes terms outside the PERS statutes (and applicable administrative rules) and the argument of Whitty petitioners that the 2003 PERS legislation breaches or impairs their employment contracts with SAIF.

    The terms of a legislative contract as they pertain to PERS are analytically distinct from the bargaining authority of a labor organization because the public employer lacks the authority to alter the legislation.

    Yet this isolation of PERS away from the realm of bargainable terms gets all messed up when the "salary" of an employee is the single most important factor in calculating a formula based minimum in calculating a final average salary.

    Is the salary a state wide thing that is controlled by the legislature or a bargainable thing? Well, it all depends. As to the direct salary for a given budget of a local school and their immediately recognized costs it is all treated as solely within the realm of the local district. Yet, for purposes of PERS and future "employer contribution" demands by the PERB upon the local school, the PERS effect of those salaries are treated as just a passive thing by the state, a mere factual inquiry, but nevertheless constitute a state contract that cannot be altered by the legislature.

    The OEA is free to declare a strike, but it can only do so via discrete bargaining units individually. Each bargaining unit is also free to choose select or deselect OEA as their bargaining agent.

    I cannot figure out what you mean by ideological opposition to OEA. The OEA is not an ideology. Labor rights, more generally, are not synonymous with OEA. All pop is not Coca Cola, but all Coca Cola is pop.

    The OEA as a collective body when dealing with PERS issues and general funding issues at the state level, is not in any way representing a labor right but rather acting a a political entity. While wearing the union hat, at the bargaining unit level, their role is by definition one that is for self interest and adversarial. While wearing the pro-schools hat, at the policy formulation and funding debate, their role is for the benefit of the public. The problem arises when the OEA brings their self interest hat to their public benefit argument.

    Each time the OEA inserts a particular benefit into the statutes it is matched by a reduction of bargainable rights at the school district bargaining unit level.

    So long as the state, acting by and through the PERB, asserts a state demand upon the local school district to compel delivery of a portion of the local school budget to PERB then the state is necessarily at liberty to set the terms of those salaries, at least to the extent that those salaries form the basis for determining a final average salary for offering a legislative contract pertaining to PERS. Consider this hypothetical: the legislature could say that for all future PERB demands upon local governments that all salaries are frozen today at their present levels, but that the local governments can in the future set the salaries as they see fit consistent with bargaining rights, up or down. This would isolate out any future and greater PERB demands that might result from releasing more money today that gets used to boost both local bargainable salaries and the final average salary calculations for legislative-pension-contract purposes.

    The budget today on schools for salaries today might be held up partially because releasing more money today would result in larger PERS costs in the future. If we freeze out those future PERS increases resulting from salary increases could we get closer to releasing a budget at the higher Senate number? Do you think that the OEA would oppose a freeze in salaries, but only for purposes of PERS final average salary calculations? Would that OEA opposition be contrary to the interests of tier-three teachers? The answer to the last two questions is surely yes. The last question highlights the continuing distraction caused by a multiple tier PERS system and the continuing expansion of the PERS burden upon the public; particularly in regard to using a final average salary formula minimum.

    The prospective effect of tax cuts seems to parallel the prospective effect of increased PERS costs, in future years, resulting from the release of more education dollars today.

    <h2>Are the salaries part of the state contract on PERS? Well yes and no. Which is it? Is it related to the 150 million dollar question?</h2>

connect with blueoregon