From Senator Whitsett’s December 3rd Newsletter
One of my assignments between legislative sessions was to serve on the “State and Local Government Efficiency Task Force”. We were assigned to identify areas where state and local government can more efficiently work together to save taxpayer money. Our committee included Republican and Democrat members representing both the House and the Senate. We met in Salem several times over a period of about a year under the capable leadership of Chair Representative Nancy Nathanson.
One of the problems that the committee identified was the lack of a reliable and secure investment vehicle for money held in reserve by counties, cities and local districts. The money may represent reserve funds, unspent grants and revenue from taxes, fees and charges that has been budgeted but not yet spent.
The State Treasurer offers a variety of short, intermediate and long term statutory investment opportunities for state agencies. However, the Treasury offers only one short term investment pool for local government entities. In the recent past that investment pool has been averaging only about one half of one percent annual return on investment.
From Senator Whitsett’s October 30th Newsletter
The October 1st debut of the Affordable Care Act has been nothing less than a disaster. In most states the system remains nonfunctional nearly a month after its introduction. As many as 100 million people who are seeking medical insurance have been turned away because the system simply does not work.
Millions are looking to the Affordable Care Act Exchanges as a market place to find health insurance to replace existing policies that have been cancelled by their insurance carriers pursuant to implementation of the Act. Millions more are looking to the Exchanges to replace policies that have been made obsolete or illegal under the complex provisions of ObamaCare.
Not only are the Exchange websites non-functional, but the federal employees hired to help navigate the complex system are ill prepared to answer important questions. Worse, many of these Exchange employees across the nation appear to have a “What me worry?” attitude. It appears that neither the President nor anyone in the Obama administration knows how to fix the system or even seem to be concerned that it’s broken.
From Senator Whitsett’s October 17th Newsletter
The United States public education system is failing too many of our children. Just a few decades ago, our nation was an international leader in education achievement. Today the U.S. Organization for Economic Cooperative Development ranks our K-12 public education system 14th among its 34 members in reading, 17th in science and an even more dismal 25th in mathematics.
Moreover, Oregon K-12 students rank about 40th in combined English, reading and math skills among the 50 states. Our high school graduation rate is tied for the fourth worst in the nation at 68 percent. More than 40 percent of those Oregon students that graduate from high school, and apply to a state community college, require remedial education in English, math, or both in order to qualify for basic entry level community college 101 courses.
Although I am not a professional educator, I am able to understand that Oregon’s K-12 academic performance is near the bottom of rankings in a nation that is failing to adequately educate its youth. Numerous attempts have been made to reorganize the State K-12 education enterprise during the nine years that I have served in the Oregon Senate. Reasons for our failure to perform are endlessly discussed, rationalized and excused. Blame is laid on too little money, too much administration, classes that are too large, too little teacher preparation, inadequate facilities and any combination of additional complaints.
From Senator Whitsett’s September 25th Newsletter
Negotiations began in 1944 for a Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada. The dual purpose of the Treaty was to further develop and coordinate international hydroelectric generation capacity and to establish better flood control on the River.
The negotiations became more urgent after severe flood conditions occurred in the Columbia River Basin in 1948. The unprecedented high water caused a levy to breach that resulted in a disastrous flood that destroyed the city of Vanport. At that time, Vanport was located southeast of Portland and was the second largest city in Oregon.
The Treaty was finally ratified by both nations in 1964.
From Senator Whitsett’s September 19th Newsletter
Much has already been said regarding the ongoing Oregon government spending addiction. Our Legislative Assembly has a long tradition of spending all available revenue. Moreover, it has not been content to spend only the existing revenue.
During the past ten years, it has authorized the extensive borrowing of money to “invest” in a variety of public projects. We can certainly debate the wisdom and the return on investment of each of those projects. What is not debatable is the reality of the ongoing costs required to pay the principle and interest on the accumulated debt. That debt service is the first budget priority and, for the most part, is due and payable for at least the next twenty years.
Oregon’s net revenue from its state-run lottery has been averaging a little more than one billion dollars for each two-year budget period. The State has been borrowing against that “earning capacity”. Lottery revenue bonds are secured by future lottery net earnings. The principle and interest on current lottery revenue bonds obligations is about $250 million per budget period. This means that about one fourth of all future lottery revenue is obligated to pay the debt service on lottery revenue bonds for about the next twenty years.
From Senator Whitsett’s September 12th Newsletter
Governor John Kitzhaber recently alerted the Oregon Legislative Assembly that he may “potentially” call a special legislative session on Sept. 30th His stated purpose is to further address the unsustainable costs of the Public Employee Retirement System. He said in his statement that by that date he hopes to have enough votes committed in both chambers to enact meaningful restructuring of PERS.
Senate Bill 822 was introduced by the majority party and was enacted into law during this year’s legislative session. It was allegedly aimed at addressing the unsustainable increases in the cost of public employee retirement. The bill provided only minimal PERS cost reductions.
In fact, the measure addressed less than 17 percent of the fiscal problem that was created during the past four years by increases in PERS employer contributions that were required to keep the System solvent. The remainder of the “saving” created by SB 822 simply delayed the payment of required contributions, to be repaid in later installment payments including interest.
From Senator Whitsett’s September 3rd Newsletter
Gail and I hope that everyone enjoyed a pleasant and safe Labor Day weekend. The national holiday was created to celebrate the social and economic achievements of America’s workforce.
It is the ability and the dedication of the American worker that has propelled the United States to the status of a super-nation. In fact, it is largely the skill and the productivity of American labor that causes our entire free market system to function and thrive.
Ask any candid businessman, and he or she will tell you that it is the work of their employees that ultimately makes or breaks the company. They understand that no business can flourish and grow, without the productivity of well educated, trained and dedicate employees.
From Senator Whitsett’s August 27th Newsletter
Oregon’s workforce and its consumers suffer each time that our governments impose new costs on private businesses. Unfortunately, our state and municipal governments do not appear to recognize that reality.
Last march, the members of the Portland City Council voted, unanimously, to force Portland private businesses to provide “paid sick leave” to their private sector employees. The Council followed the lead of the Seattle City Council, who in 2012 mandated that private employers located in that city must provide paid sick leave on their private sector employers.
The state of Oregon may not be far behind. Two identical bills were introduced in this year’s Oregon Legislature that would have enacted mandatory paid sick leave on most Oregon businesses. SB 801 and HB 3390 would have required most Oregon employers to provide their employees with seven days of paid sick leave each year.
From Senator Whitsett’s August 13th Newsletter
More than a dozen bills relating to firearms were introduced during the recently concluded 77th Legislative Assembly. Most of those bills would have, in some way, impinged upon our second amendment right to own and bear firearms.
A few of the more aggressive bills included:
- House Bill 3200 that would have created the crime of unlawful possession or transfer of an assault weapon or large capacity magazine, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.
- House Bill 3413 that would have created the crime of endangering a minor, by allowing the minor access to a fire arm, punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $6,250, or both.
- SB 347 that would have allowed each school district to establish their own rules regarding the right to carry a licensed concealed weapon on school property. Violation of the law would have constituted criminal trespass, resulting in penalties of up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $6,250, or both. This bill would also have preempted the current law that only allows the legislative body to create laws regulating firearms.
- SB 699 that would have restricted the right to carry a concealed weapon in the capitol building by most licensed people without the written permission of the legislative administration.
- SB 700 that would have required completion of a background check, before any firearm could be transferred between private parties. Failure to complete the background check could have resulted in penalties up to 5 years in prison, fines up to $125,000, or both.
- SB 758 that would have required the owner of a firearm to carry specific liability insurance on each firearm in their possession. It also made it a crime to transfer a firearm to another person unless that individual carried liability insurance on the weapon. Failure to maintain liability insurance on each firearm would have resulted in fines of up to $10,000 per firearm.
- SB 796 that would have required completion of a concealed handgun course, including a live fire test, before a concealed handgun license could be issued. It is unclear why our legislature should focus its attention on increasing the requirements to obtain a concealed carry permit. It seems that no one can remember the last time that an Oregon handgun licensee committed a crime with a firearm.
Each of these bills, except HB 3413, had an emergency clause attached. The only reason for the emergency clause would have been to prevent the bill from being referred to the people to decide.
From Senator Whitsett’s August 7th Newsletter
The Klamath Falls Herald and news published an extensive article on trout fishing in the Upper Klamath Basin in its August 4th Sunday edition. The article presented quite a contrast to the paper’s previous litany of articles regarding threatened and endangered fish species in our watershed.
It seems that every week, we hear and read another recital, of how the foul and polluted waters of Upper Klamath Lake, and its tributaries, are destroying native fish populations. They allege that development created by European man is the cause. A constant outpouring of articles reiterate the critical need to restore the rivers to pre-development conditions as a prerequisite to saving the native fish.
The newspaper’s Sunday article belied those allegations.