Session will begin with a Budget Bang! - Part I
Oregon's Legislative Session starts on February 1st and the biggest topic will certainly be the budget. Gov. Kate Brown released a recommended budget last month that has everyone in media gasping for breath because of a $1.7 billion shortfall.
The governor is quoted as saying, "The budget includes significant cuts at a level I find absolutely unacceptable…"
I agree–the budget proposal is unacceptable. It is unacceptable because it merely supports the status-quo by presenting ever-growing government, more regulations and increasing taxes as the only reasonable budget expectation.
Yet, Oregon is expected to receive $1.5B more revenue this biennium than last. that is an increase of $1,500 million or $1,500,000,000 extra dollars in the state’s coffer. The story that Oregon has a shortfall is fiction. We have a budget that has grown beyond any semblance of normal.
The budget proposal has been created by assuming that Oregon’s current service levels or baseline of operations should be the standard for next year. The baseline budgeting process starts with current programs intact and then adds cost of living adjustments (COLA) combined with increases in service level goals.
Using “baseline budgeting” ideology as the operating standard doesn’t identify programs that are inefficient or unnecessary. It also fails to address or support any significant technological choices that might transform the lives of Oregonians. It only instills more of the same for the future. This is not how our future should be planned.
During the governor's inauguration speech there was a reference to our Oregon Trail heritage. The governor said, “And we now have two modern-day Oregon trails to choose from. One trail is to continue the endless process of slicing and squeezing, of diminishing our hopes and expectations, and shrinking our dreams of what it means to be an Oregonian. The other trail is to follow the advice of Governor McCall. To not be guided by regionalism and factionalism.”
This is good advise.
Let me wade past the rhetoric and imagine trying to use our illustrious Oregon Trail heritage as the historic baseline mark on the landscape. Think of the transformative technologies that have occurred. Now, ask yourself which of these modern technologies you would be willing to ignore because you were wed to the old stuff you brought from Missouri. Your Conestoga wagon, for example.
The reason baseline ideology can’t properly assess the potential efficiencies that might be gained through alternatives is because the baseline receives the funding not new ideas. A requirement when trying to address maximum utilization from limited resources requires flexibility in weighing and ascertaining the value of various approaches.
A more flexible management approach would provide a credible rationale for reallocating resources by focusing on a systematic review and justification of the funding and performance levels in current programs.
However, if this sounds too complicated then let’s just drive our wagon down the well traveled trail of common-sense.
Since 1980, Oregon’s budget requirements have ballooned by eight-fold. This means it has doubled three times, 2 x 2 x 2 = 8 (cf., Figure 1). In 1980 Oregon’s budget was near $10B and today the budget projection is approaching $80B.
Noticing this eight-fold growth, let’s ask some thoughtful questions:
- Did our service requirements grow by eight-fold?
- Did our state’s population grow by eight-fold since 1980?
- Did your city’s population grow eight-fold?
- Did your school district attendance grow by eight-fold?
- Did your own personal salary or wages grow eight-fold since 1980?
- Did the number of seniors living in your community grow by eight-fold?
- Does your computer/cell-phone or TV cost eight-fold more than it did in 1980?
- Did the value of your home grow by eight-fold?
- Is criminal activity in your neighborhood up eight-fold?
Even if a couple of these questions come out within a reasonable close-call, my question is still valid: Should the cost of government services have risen eight-fold since 1980?
Please remember--if we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one will.