The Governor's Priorities

Jeff Alworth

Governor Kulongoski has released his budget proposal, and with it come the usual recriminations you'd expect in an period when the economy is stumbling around like a 2 am-drunk.  In moments like this one, it's not possible to please everyone--some programs will get cut, some taxes will go up.  The Governor had to make priorities, and that means there are winners and losers. But did he set the right priorities given the unique suite of challenges Oregon faces?

Setting a budget means balancing the needs of the present against the future, triage versus long-term planning.  Give Kulongoski credit for vision--he's crafted a budget that is more forward-looking than you'd expect is politically tenable in these grim times:


Looking through the proposal (or the reportage on it anyway--special hat tip to Jeff Mapes, who is really doing yeoman's work at his blog), I think Kulongoski's got a nice first draft here.  The reality of the collapsing economy is ulitmately going to trump pet projects.  But there's no reason to start from a panicked, fortify-the-barricades mentality.  Kulongoski's proposal highlights the future--Oregon's central role in the growth of the green marketplace and the importance of education and higher ed to the state's well-being.  At the end of the process, the Dem-led legislature just isn't going to let the poor, elderly, and disabled suffer like they did under Karen Minnis.  (And they shouldn't.)  But they also can't overlook the long-term health of the state during what has become a cycle of regular fiscal crisis.

According to Mapes, some of the proposals are probably DOA.  Peter Courtney, he says, thinks the prospects for the cigarette tax, in particular, are dubious.  On the other hand, the budget also reflects the reality of the new balance of power in Salem.  The GOP are howling--aren't they always--that new taxes are a no-go.  But their stewardship has led us into this swamp; and anyway, they don't have the numbers to stop legislation.  That makes this a discussion among Democrats. 

I think this is an interesting conversation-starter.  What are your thoughts?

  • (Show?)

    Funds will increase $200 million to $3.5 billion, but this is well below the 28% hike needed to keep services funded at their current level.

    And before the tightie-righties show up with their "how can it go up, and still be a cut!" nonsense, let me offer the preemptive retort:

    Because the biggest expense in human services is, well, humans. And the fastest growing expense in a payroll budget is health care. And there's very damn little the state can do about the rising cost of health care.

    That's why a national solution on universal health care that puts some stability into pricing is critical.

  • (Show?)

    I think Ted is writing up a check the Leg will largely not have the stones to cash. And it's foolish IMO to focus on a variety of tiny taxes, rather than broadly reassessing the way Oregon collects revenue, and from whom. I see no adjustments in this budget that propose to:

    eliminate/modify the corporate kicker (by modify I mean change the terms or destination of all or part of those funds) eliminate/modify the personal kicker develop a progressive state income tax structure, or at least one that doesn't top out at $9,000. close loopholes, incentives past their utility, and pure giveaways

  • Marissa Madrigal (unverified)

    I'm not so sure this is a great first draft. The cuts are falling disproportionately on human services, the safety net that takes care of the most sick and vulnerable members of our society - The people without the power to complain. I'm disappointed.

  • Frank (unverified)

    "Within the DHS budget, child welfare would be mostly protected, causing the burden to fall on the elderly, disabled, and poor"

    Dept. of Agriculture says Oregon's 5.5% hunger rate is among the highest in the nation right now.


    That's some real forward looking policy there.


  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    I'm not a Kulongoski fan. I do, however believe he has grown a major backbone between 2002 and today. His plan is broad, specific in nature and bold. Some will go forward, some won't. I look for some discussion and compromise in the legislature, otherwise there will be the same initiative fiascos as 2002.

    Personally, if you want to raise my fuel tax go right ahead, just end the ridiculous law that doesn't allow me to pump my own fuel if I am in a 4 (or more) wheel vehicle. When I fill up the Harley, every station WANTS me to do it myself.

    Kari, I agree with your first statement concerning the "cut" at DHS. The second, however is so much folderall. Health Care (insurance) costs can not possibly accont for even half of the published 28% rise in budget to keep even. Acording to Mercer, a nationally known benefits consulting firm, the average rise in cost for the private sector for the coming year is 5.8%.

  • David McDonald (unverified)

    What else is new? The State of Oregon has been balancing its budget off the backs of people with disabilities for years. It's "just what we do here".

  • (Show?)

    TJ, totally agree. That's what we really need to do. And you know, this may be exactly the time to do it.

  • yokem55 (unverified)

    Taxes on health care companies would be used to provide health care to the uninisured, particularly children.

    I worry that this could result in some unintended consequences. Depending on the amount of increase on the tax on health care companies, there could be subsequent increases in premiums, possibly causing more people to become uninsured.

  • Cathy Kaufmann (unverified)

    "Because the biggest expense in human services is, well, humans. And the fastest growing expense in a payroll budget is health care. And there's very damn little the state can do about the rising cost of health care."

    You're right that health care costs are part of what's driving the increase of the DHS budget, but it's not costs for employees. It's medical inflation in the cost of covering OHP clients and it's also caseload increases.

    This is an important point because it means that even fully funding basic service levels for DHS would have meant that many vulnerable Oregonians in need of help would go without it.

    The number of families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is up approximately 16 percent over October 2007, providing assistance to approximately 2,900 more Oregon families than a year ago. Households receiving Food Stamps increased by approximately 13 percent, for an additional caseload of about 29,000 households.

    Until the economy rebounds, more and more people will need help. And until Oregon puts in place a more responsible and sustainable revenue structure, low-income people, seniors, people with disabilities and struggling families will go without the most basic human services whenever they need them most.

    Cathy Kaufmann, Human Services Coalition of Oregon Co-Chair

  • Greg D. (unverified)

    Taxes on health insurance companies are very similar to "mandatory coverage" requirements. The insurance company cries briefly, then passes the tax / coverage requirement on to its customers as a rate increase, accompanied by a nice little markup for extra profit on the side.

    I don't know if the constitution or statutes would allow it, but a tax on health insurers that they COULD NOT pass along to their customers would be a nice change. Not likely, but nice.

  • Frank (unverified)

    Here's the future for Oregon Kulongoski envisions...

    "Deputy uses Taser on 'bipolar man' in Clackamas Town Center

    By KGW Staff

    CLACKAMAS, Ore. -- A man was tased inside the Clackamas Town Center packed with holiday shoppers late Tuesday morning, police said.

    Detective Jim Strovink, with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, said a “bipolar man” was riding in a car with his with dad when he jumped out of the moving car near the mall.

    Witnesses told KGW the man started pounding on windows and hitting cars in the parking lot with his hands. Then, he ran into the Clackamas Town Center where Strovink said he “engaged with” a deputy who ended up tasing him to get him under control...."

    Why pay for both outpatient mental health care and tasers when you only have to pay for tasers, right Gov. Kulongoski?

  • Dan S. (unverified)

    I read in the Trib that "Kulongoski’s proposed 2009-11 budget calls for $54.17 billion in total spending, up about 12.1 percent from the current two-year period."

    You'd think in a recession, maybe the democrats could grow their beloved government, at a slightly slower pace. How many people get a %12 raise a year?


  • Frank (unverified)

    Dan S.: Too bad you didn't read an economic book instead of right wing talking points in the Trib, Dan. You would have found out that if you cut government spending in a recession, you make the recession worse.

  • LT (unverified)

    Dan S, What do you think should be cut first (and I do mean line item specific)?

    Lest you think it is only about Democrats vs. Republicans, my Republican state senator spoke out against budget cuts to programs for the neediest Oregonians when the Senate was 15-15 and balancing the budget was difficult.

    If everyone who said the budget was too big would say which line items deserve a cut, then we could have a serious debate.

    Personally, I think we need to start with 2: 1) Examine every current tax expenditure (aka tax break) to see if they are giving value for the money. 2) Seriously examine whether administrators on the public payroll (agency heads, other top management, school district central office administrators like Curriculum Coordinator, HR Director, etc.) really deserve the salaries they are earning.

  • Dan S. (unverified)

    Frank, no talking points here - just common sense.

    Here's another little bit of info for you: "World stability hangs by a thread as economies continue to unravel"

    Just keep the spending pedal to the metal....and keep re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.

  • Dan S. (unverified)

    "Dan S, What do you think should be cut first (and I do mean line item specific)?"

    Not looking to cut anything in particular, mainly just holding current spending levels steady. Not raising them by %12. Does that make sense? In tough economic times, don't raise spending? Too Radical for the left?

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    Noticeably missing from the Governor’s transportation budget is the implementation of a bicyclist tax, license and/or registration fees, and a tax on transit fares. His tax assault on motorists can only be described as tax rape – far too much for the average person to pay in a down economy where people are struggling to make ends meet and need their cars to get to work, or even find a job. If in his special interest agenda he wants any of the motorist paid dollars to be used to pay for bicycle infrastructure, then he needs to get out of his ivory tower, off his elitist platform and tax the freeloading pedal pushers themselves. It is past due that bicyclists start paying their own way for the specialized infrastructure they use. If he wants any of the motorist paid tax dollars to be used for mass transit projects, then he needs to require those dollars come directly through the farebox from transit passengers, either by raising transit fares or by adding a tax surcharge to transit fares. Any sacrifices in the form of higher taxes and fees must be a shared sacrifice. Motorists must no longer be the group of roadway users that year after year are continually being whipped, thrashed and thumped to bailout the bicyclists so they can continue to poach and freeload off the taxes other people pay for the infrastructure they rant for; and to bailout the transit users that only pay a mere 21 percent of the operational costs.

    Furthermore, just like the CEOs of the big three automakers that want Federal bailout dollars and have agreed to work for a dollar a year and give up their company jets if they received the Federal dollars, the Governor too expecting taxpayers to bailout the State needs to be wiling and agree to work for a no more than a dollar a year in addition to giving up his State provided big full-sized Lincoln sedan along with other perks that come with the job. Fair is fair and the Governor is no where near that yet!

  • (Show?)

    I don't understand why no one is seriously proposing to reform the income tax and make it at least a little more progressive. I would think that would now be a slam dunk no brainer.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Isn't the lack of alignment between the states a big issue? How can one state become more progressive in tough times, when others have no corporate or personal income tax at all?

    Terry, do you know how many cyclists are on that infrastructure only because you won't get out of your SUV? We're big about not wanting more consideration, but it boggles the mind why you don't think we deserve equal consideration. We do deserve more consideration. If you can't be a part of the solution, at least be grateful! Per capita, we die at pretty much the same rate as everyone else on the "hot" front lines.

  • (Show?)

    Even though Kari tried to do a pre-emptive comment up top--

    "Because the biggest expense in human services is, well, humans. And the fastest growing expense in a payroll budget is health care. And there's very damn little the state can do about the rising cost of health care."

    --we are nevertheless treated to Dan S's "common sense":

    "You'd think in a recession, maybe the democrats could grow their beloved government, at a slightly slower pace. How many people get a %12 raise a year?"

    Dan, sorry to single you out as a symbol, but your right-wing "common sense" has gotten us mired in two incompetently-waged wars, a collapsing economy, a degraded environment, and the weakest standing we've had in the world since 1916. Sometimes you need a little educated sense. Kulongoski's $1 billion increase in overall spending will result in a cut in most services. I know common sense founders on the shores of this paradox, but it's because 1) of a little thing known as "inflation," and 2) because most of the services government provides cannot overcome inflation with increased productivity. The reason is described by Baumol's Cost Disease. Follow the link and read up on it.

    We have run our government on the dictates of "common sense" for eight years. Now it's time the professionals run it.

  • Melanie Sage (unverified)

    The workforce is a major expense in the budget, emphasized in that the Governor proposes 8 forced furlough days over 2 years and no cost of living raises, at a potential savings of 35 million dollars.

    However, in the case of child welfare workers, inadequate pay leads to a huge cost in turnover expenses and retraining, about 35k in direct and indirect expenses each time a worker leaves. The average stay for a child welfare worker is between 2-4 years. Research shows that permanency takes longer for kids when they experience worker turnover, which results in tons of expenses down the road. We're left with less experienced workers who are less prepared to offer best services to families. Oregon child welfare workers are paid about $4 less per hour than Washington cw workers right over the border, and substantially less than public school teachers, who have a similar training requirement. Forced furlough days (which will probably just require more work in overtime for caseworkers) and freezes on cost of living will not help this situation, and of course our most vulnerable children and families are the victims in the end.

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    Zarathustra said: “do you know how many cyclists are on that infrastructure only because you won't get out of your SUV? We're big about not wanting more consideration, but it boggles the mind why you don't think we deserve equal consideration. We do deserve more consideration.”

    On the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland, bicyclists account for 20 percent of the crossings. Therefore 20 percent of the bridge users contribute zero in direct tax paid dollars to help maintain the bridge or the sidewalks that were specifically widened to accommodate bicycles at somebody else’s expense. Bicyclists want more specialized infrastructure as long as somebody else pays for it. If bicyclists want equal consideration, they need to pay equal transportation taxes to use their bikes and on their bikes. If they can not pay bicycle taxes, license and registration fees, and directly be part of the transportation funding solution, they should not expect any more consideration or specialized infrastructure to be built. It is the people that are driving who pay transportation and roadway taxes, including those people who drive SUVs, that are financially supporting the bicyclist’s freeloading lifestyles and tax dollar poaching ways. Bicyclists need to start directly paying their own way for the infrastructure they use and rant for.

  • Dan S. (unverified)

    Dan, sorry to single you out as a symbol, but your right-wing "common sense"...

    Jeff, You crack me up. Even suggesting that we not grow the government by %12, I'm labeled as "right-wing" and blamed for wars, economic collapse and environmental damage.

    Big government types like you spend money like drunken sailors, which is an insult to drunken sailors because they spend their own money.

  • Jim (unverified)

    Hey Terry, us walkers and bicyclists will pay for the bridge as soon as the drivers start paying the $4-$5 a gallon that it costs in subsides to fossil fuel companies and the costs in military to insure that oil is delivered out of the Middle East, etc. Oh, maybe drivers should also pay for the costs of climate change due to their throwing garbage into the atmosphere - you know, the rising sea levels, the loss of water supplies, more intense storms and droughts... The Stern Report estimates that cost to society at over $150 per ton of CO2; so thats about another $1.65 per gallon.

    $7.65 per gallon - we'll pay for the bridge if you pay the real price of gas.

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    Obviously Jim is a freeloading bicyclist spewing a bunch of mumbo jumbo numbers that have no basis. Much of the oil imported into the US comes from Canada and Mexico. Only a tiny percentage comes from Iraq. Furthermore, oil is used in transportation by the railroads, the airlines, ship lines and motor freight carriers. Just about all food products and consumer goods at some point is shipped with oil as the power source. Therefore, everybody including Jim receives benefits from oil. Additionally, oil us used in or to manufacturer a large array of consumer goods. Oil is used to make any of the plastic parts on Jim’s bicycle, oil was used to make the frame and oil was used to transport the bicycle from the manufacturer to the retailer. Oil is even a basic component of blacktop which is used to pave bicycle lanes.

    The numbers you don’t hear Jim talking about are the dollar costs to construct and maintain bicycle infrastructure. The price tag for bicycle structure is often hidden from the public, and buried in the budgets of other highway and transportation projects. One example is the Columbia River Crossing where the costs for bicycle infrastructure has yet to be published or officially disclosed to the public. Motorists are continually bailing out bicyclists because the bicycling mode of transport has yet to be directly taxed. Portland Dictator Elect Sam Adams is requesting 24 million in bailout dollars from the Federal Government to pay for bicycle infrastructure. Before he even receives a single penny, congress should require he develop a credible long range plan for self-sustainability whereby bicyclists are directly taxed to pay any local match monies required, to pay for the maintenance of any bicycle infrastructure constructed, and to return that 24 million back into the taxpayer coffers as if it were a loan.

    The other problem with implementing a bicycle tax, license and registration fees are the bicycle advocates in the legislature who pay no taxes to participate in the sport and receive campaign contributions from the bicycling community. They have an undeniable conflict of interest and often a bias pro-bicycling agenda which they rarely claim.

  • (Show?)

    The other problem with implementing a bicycle tax, license and registration fees are the bicycle advocates in the legislature who pay no taxes to participate in the sport and receive campaign contributions from the bicycling community.

    Yes, the automakers and oil companies tremble in fear of the mighty and corrupting influence of the bicycle lobby and their oh-so eeevvviiilll pro-fitness agenda.

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)
    (Show?)'s Sal for the WIN! Thank you all for playing!

  • anon (unverified)

    How many more prisons are we going to build this year? Please tell me a new prison isn't part of his budget.

  • jim (unverified)


    Mumbo Jumbo?

    Thanks for the factual and specific critique of my data - it sure was convincing........


  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Terry, if you want to look at tax-paying and free-loading on a "duh I can only see one move ahead basis" I want to stop paying for your kids. Why should people that aren't having kids for social-political reasons subsidize yours through tax exemptions?

    Better yet, let's put some nifty software to work. Let's figure out which programs people use and how much and adjust their taxes accordingly! Then, we'll have just the people that use something paying for it. That could be privatized and there would be no need for any government. If only people that use something fund it, they can more effectively buy it as a group from free enterprise, no? That's what you really want, right? Or is your hobby of breeding more worthy than mine of cycling?

    BTW, some of us do adjust voluntarily. I don't want to prolong this wretched existence one day longer than I have to, so cycling bothers me from a health POV. And you all do make us feel so guilty fighting traffic in cold rain for your children that we have our own lane, so when I started bike commuting I took up smoking. Cancels the unintended health effect, adds to the tax base, but nasty things. It puts the natural order right again.

  • sc (unverified)

    Why must the elderly and disabled be targeted. They are the ones who can not go out and work in fast food or whatever work that can be found because of age or disability. I'm among the disabled, my mother is among the elderly. We haven't chosen to be lumped into this class but here we are. I once earned $40,000+ a year until I became disabled. I say we tax the hell out of the luxury items like the governors fancy car he drives and all his cronies too. Also, it's time we take back the kicker tax refund for people who aren't low and middle income. The rich obviously dont need the money any way. When I could work, I was more than happy to pay my share of taxes and make donations wherever needed to help so lets everyone pitch in because you never know how fast your life can change and you can be sitting on my side of the fence. By by new car and home you own. By by fat pay check. Hello hunger and frustration because you are trapped and can't work. What a bummer!

  • (Show?)

    Yea, the anti-bike nut is back again!

    Nice one Zarathustra.

    In addition to the externalized costs imposed on the environmental commons that all us drivers impose due to their not being adequately included in the prices for fuel, vehicles & infrastructure, and the costs of military power to control oil (and oil as a commodity is fungible -- the spot price of sweet crude from and for everywhere goes up when Niger Delta autonomy advocates shut down Nigerian shipments), cyclists, insofar as they are not driving, reduce the wear and tear on the roads that they would commit if they did drive and reduce the traffic congestion of which nuts like Terry love to complain.

    And, of course the gas tax hasn't gone up in yonks while the price per gallon of gas certainly has, so drivers are paying proportionally less than they used to.

  • (Show?)

    Despite being a public school parent, I have to agree with Frank and others about this chilling summary: "Within the DHS budget, child welfare would be mostly protected, causing the burden to fall on the elderly, disabled, and poor."

    What I don't know but would like to is this: if we look at where the cuts have come from in down-cycle revenue years since say 2000, and where the spending has gone in up-cycle years, has the overall pattern of trade-offs tended to even out? My guess is no, that it has repeatedly been "the elderly, disabled, and poor" that have taken the biggest hits and been less fully restored in better times. But that's just a guess & if someone knows it's wrong I'd be happy to know it.

    But if it's right, the guv's proposal seems seriously out of whack.

    As far a general revenue reform goes, one step that addresses this partly would be to re-open the ability of people in localities to tax themselves for public schools & shift some of that burden away from the state -- people in poorer, often rural communities would end up with proportionally more state money due to court rulings on broad equality I think.

  • rlw (unverified)
    <h2>Zara, dear, can you please tell the IS engineers to remember to include T-Bird's children in the query? Their allowances will need to be correctly-tapped for the useage of those streets. ON their pesky bikes, you know....</h2>

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