Things to Consider Beyond a Special Session

Paul Evans

If called, the 2013 Special Session may well provide us with a few more bandages for our self-inflicted wounds, but it will not likely provide us the structural and systemic tools needed for community renewal.

Unless something unexpected happens in the next week, the Oregon Legislature will likely be called into Special Session in late September. Governor Kitzhaber and Legislative Leaders appear hopeful about a resolution for PERS, taxes (corporate), and perhaps – even a new strategy for a Columbia River Crossing (bridge).

Few of us on the “outside” have an informed notion of the precise details involved in a framework for passage of both PERS reform and tax increases. And while there have been snippets in the news, I have absolutely no idea of what might be required for a deal that can navigate both chambers.

Given the stakes of the next election cycle I remain curious about what could (or would) make a corporate tax increase vote acceptable for a Republican – or another PERS cut acceptable for a Democrat.

There must be something that we do not yet know.

Whatever the decisions made by our leaders, I hope the Special Session is meaningful and solves more problems than it generates.

If called, the 2013 Special Session may well provide us with a few more bandages for our self-inflicted wounds, but it will not likely provide us the structural and systemic tools needed for community renewal.

Since 1990 we have allowed ourselves to become content with mediocrity: we have accepted our circumstances and downsized our expectations for ourselves and our posterity – rather than facing our challenges and seizing the initiative in transforming our circumstances.

We can do better: we have done so before.

Under the right circumstances - circumstances when Oregonians demanded it - we have cleaned rivers, protected farms and forests, secured the vote, and we have sustained livability as a shared value.

Oregonians are capable of greatness when led to it.

Oregonians seek leadership. Oregonians seek reasoned, responsible governance. And Oregonians seek a narrative that defines what government is, how it can accelerate shared prosperity, and what must be done to make it so.

We must realign our priorities.

It is time to address comprehensive tax reform. It is time to recast P-20 civics education. And it is time to reward volunteerism in form and function.

For too long we have ignored the fundamentals of self-governance: alignment of what we need and want – with sustainable mechanisms for securing those needs and wants.

Our tax structure relies far too heavily upon the most vulnerable among us. We celebrate the lack of a sales tax without accepting the opportunity costs perpetuated through dependence upon income, property, and “sin” taxes.

We spend millions of dollars each, every campaign cycle seeking to activate, educate, and inform voters – that have no structural or systemic associations with governance theory or practice.

In many instances we have made citizen involvement and participation more difficult for our citizenry: even as we strive to make "public comment" opportunities more accessible - we have built walls preventing actual participation.

Our children are not sufficiently taught how our government functions; our adults are not sufficiently incentivized to volunteer; and we have favored simplicity (to limit liability) instead of finding creative solutions that facilitate civic engagement from the "cradle to the grave."

The social safety nets make more sense to all of us when we realize community relationships; we are more effective citizens when we know our public services through our own personal involvement and investment.

We spend our talent, time, and treasure seeking to teach our children to read, write, and work. We spend significant resources seeking to keep our citizens healthy and housed. And we spend our energies reacting to predictable – preventable – problems.

How many times must we consider the value of spending precious resources on prevention versus response?

How many times must we see the cost comparisons between P-20 educations versus perpetual incarceration?

How many times must we witness the tragic loss of a life wasted on drugs?

We need better public programs as well as stronger connections between people.

We have ignored the value of modeling as a teaching tool: people help sustain what they help create – we must find concrete ways to reconnect our people with place.

Oregon must prepare our citizens for the responsibilities of self-governance. Oregon must provide a means for the ends we desire. And we must reawaken volunteerism within our communities.

We can develop a strategy to make it happen: together we can prioritize volunteerism as a shared community value.

This September we must ask ourselves if we are content with incremental bandages or if we want something more from our leaders – from ourselves.

After the Special Session we must collaborate on development of an agenda for meaningful, responsible change. We need more than 21st Century innovation in governance: we need an agenda all of us may participate in making a new reality - an agenda that stirs the spirit of our Oregon and recasts the relationship between the governed and our government.

2014 offers us all an opportunity to reach for the stars. Our Oregon can become a better, stronger community for all Oregonians if we demand an alignment of our values and systems.

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