Former Commissioner Dennis Linthicum

Feb 21, 2014 — by: Commissioner Linthicum

Public-safetyHave your kids ever asked “why” when you help them with their homework? Of course! Any problem needs to address “why” - if Johnny has 38 oranges and sells 12, he has 26 left - why? When I tutored my kids in math, I explained that this is straight-forward: pluses and minuses have strict rules, and we must obey those rules. In adulthood, we realize that if we don’t pay attention to mathematical rules, our currency, our bank accounts and our economies begin to fall apart. In a fictional word problem, it’s OK if we miss an integer and Johnny winds up with 16 oranges instead of 26. In the real world, Johnny goes bankrupt and has to close his fruit stand. 

Which leads me to my point: telling Johnny that he has more oranges than he does, or letting him do fuzzy math is not good leadership. Sunday’s Klamath Falls Herald and News editorial critiqued my “lack of leadership” for opposing yet another tax in the Klamath Basin, but as a leader, I have to make those hard decisions. Their reasoning is that “leadership is more than saying no”. It certainly is, but I am not saying a simple “no” - I am saying what too many politicians don’t have the courage to say: “this doesn’t add up.”

Leadership, according to the Herald and News, is saying “yes”. It’s pleasant to hear that we can raise taxes and not affect the economy, or that the next levy, fee, tax or bond measure amounts to a good investment instead of faulty logic. So, the typical politician shuts his eyes to the real math problems we face. The progressive euphemisms: “investment,” “fair share” and “leadership” cover up faulty logic. 

The truth is that taxpayers — hard working business-owners and individuals - cannot continue to feed the insatiable appetite of an overgrown government. Our economy cannot sustain these false premises, and our business climate will continue to grow more difficult.

Compared with similar-sized states, Oregon has one of the fastest-growing prison populations in the nation and we spend 7.5 percent more per inmate than the national average. Of the 14 states with similar populations, 10 of them spend less per inmate than Oregon. It’s clear that union wages and benefits are rising faster than our economy can sustain, with few results to show for it. Making Oregon a right-to-work state would open the door to performance-based pay through competition, and medical parole reform would curtail Oregon’s rising inmate medical costs. Both reforms could save taxpayers’ money while improving efficiency.

County taxpayers are rightly concerned about public safety, but we must confront and remedy the causes behind these cost increases. Our county’s financial obligations continue to rise while jobs are scarce, home ownership is difficult, and young people are entering a dreary economy at best. The Herald and News’ editorial is indicative of a common but flawed worldview: that “leadership” means letting taxpayers and citizens take the fall for their elected officials’ inability to balance the checkbook. This is immoral and unjust. 

Klamath County already suffers from unemployment, children living in poverty, and high school dropout rates that exceed state averages. Will adding financial burdens to these struggling families help their children graduate and succeed? Public safety is vital to our community, but shouldn’t we try to provide it in a thoughtful, cost-conscious way?

I support efforts to engage the public in an honest conversation about service levels, costs and benefits. If we really consider these taxes and fees to be investments, then we should approach them as any investor does - with careful research and strict accounting. This conversation deserves analysis and real math, not accusations and name-calling. The proposal for the tax in question does not address the cost/benefit analysis. It shows the fees raised, but not the results gained. So we are sure of more fees, more county administrative overhead and COLA increases annually, but not what that money will gain us as a community.

As a County Commissioner and as a candidate for U.S. Congress, most political advisers would say it’s foolish for me to tell you these things (which is probably why almost no one will). But I believe something seemingly outlandish. I believe that you would rather know the truth - exactly how many oranges we have, not how many we want. I think you want leaders willing make tough choices. 

You don’t want outrage or political theater. You don’t want empty rhetoric. You want people who are willing to take political risks and obey the rules laid out in any 5th grade math assignment - who know that Johnny doesn’t magically get more oranges because he uses words like “leadership” and “investment”. You want leaders who think critically about their votes because these are serious moral dilemmas, not because of the political price.

By political standards, it might be foolish to stand up for common sense and the basic rules of mathematics. However, I’m convinced I’m not the only one who thinks fuzzy math is bad for our county, state and country.

1 Comment

  1. Patricia Birren-Wilsey ~ Apr. 29, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

    It's always refreshing to read and hear your statements regarding common sense and personal responsibility. I look forward to your congressional representation of Oregon's second district. #

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Commissioner Dennis Linthicum

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