From Senator Whitsett’s Friday, August 12, 2011 Newsletter
Natural systems endure an ever evolving cycle of growth and deterioration. The deterioration accumulates and dominates whenever we fail to put the growth to productive use. Too often, failure to manage and utilize the productive growth results in catastrophic destruction through disease and wildfire. This boom and bust cycle is the natural way.
We recently returned from a road trip through four western states. Throughout the trip we observed the stark difference in the management of private and public lands. In general, private lands show the pride of ownership while public lands demonstrate the widespread deterioration inherent in failure to manage resources for sustainable production. Nowhere is that failed management more apparent that in our national forests and parks. Our current federal land management is clearly not working
Our congressional delegation, lead by the efforts of Congressman Greg Walden, is actively exploring a completely different forest management paradigm. They are studying the concept of public land trusts wherein portions of the federal forests could be managed for sustainable forest production by private sector businesses or local government entities. These trusts could serve to re-establish productive timber harvest from federal forests and to collect forest waste biomass for the production of renewable energy. The public land trusts could re-establish appropriate grazing management to both utilize that forage resource and to further reduce the risks of wildfire.
From Senator Whitsett’s Friday August 5, 2011 Newsletter
In a truly free market economy, labor relations should be decided in voluntary negotiations between business and labor interests. Many companies and their employees have endured and prospered for generations without the need for third party influence. On the other hand, some labor and business interests have exhibited a long history of attempting to gain control of the workplace through political influence.
The 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) guaranteed employees the right to self organize, and to select representatives of their own choosing to bargain collectively with employers. The Act applied to all employers engaged in interstate commerce except for airlines, railroads, agriculture and government. The Act allowed unions and employers to agree to a closed shop wherein employees must be a member of the union as a condition of employment. If the employee ceased to be a union member for any reason he could be summarily fired even if he had not violated an employer rule. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was also created to settle labor negotiation matters.
The NLRA was amended in 1947 to outlaw the closed shop. Unions could no longer force employers to fire employees for violating the rules of organized labor. However, the amended Act continued to provide that an employee in a union shop be required pay union dues as a condition of employment. An employee that did not wish to be a union member was still required to pay the equivalent of union dues.
From Senator Whitsett’s Friday July 29, 2011 Newsletter
Last week, the Legislative Fiscal Office released their summary for budget actions taken by the recently adjourned Legislative Assembly. The stark differences between those actions, and the budget efforts during the 2009 Legislative Assembly, are worth noting.
In 2009, the Legislative Assembly was firmly controlled by super-majorities of Democrats in both legislative chambers. Many members appeared to be in denial that we were facing the worst recession in recent history. They rejected the reality that state revenues were in near free fall. Legislative leaders insisted that traditional expense based budgeting be continued. That current service level budgeting automatically increased projected costs at double digit rates.
Budgets were enacted by that Legislature that increased overall state spending more than 18 percent. At least $1.6 billion in new taxes and fees were created. More than a billion dollars in one time funding was made available from the federal government. Virtually every dime of that money from new taxes, fees and federal grants was incorporated into the budgets. As if that were not enough, they borrowed money right up to the State’s credit limit. Budgets grew so fast that Oregon needed to hire more than 1,500 new state employees in order to run through all of the money in that spending binge. Unfortunately, not much money was put aside in state reserve funds and in the projected ending balance.
Op-Ed: Published in the Medford Mail Tribune on July 20, 2011
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) developed a series of administrative rules over the last couple of decades that significantly restricted the right of entry onto Oregon highways. These Division 51 rules were created and expanded by ODOT staff with little or no apparent statutory authority.
Among other things, the rules they created denied reasonable access to our roads and highways by creating unreasonable restrictions on new and existing driveways. They caused solid median dividers to be constructed that restricted access to existing business driveways. Further, the rules often required extensive and expensive private sector construction in order to mitigate their right to gain, or to maintain existing highway access. These rules have served to significantly constrain Oregon economic development and job growth.
The application of Division 51 rules have directly resulted in the prevention of new businesses being formed and put a stop to the expansion of existing businesses. In some cases they have been a major cause of businesses to fail. Moreover, the rules have resulted in myriad lost opportunities for private sector job creation as well as the loss of existing jobs throughout Oregon. The more rural areas of the state have been the most adversely affected.
From Senator Whitsett’s Friday July 22, 2011 Newsletter
Driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) remains a very serious problem in Oregon. More than 20,000 DUII arrests are made each year, and at least a third of those arrested are repeat offenders. Thirty percent of Oregon traffic deaths are DUII related. More than two out of three traffic deaths between the hours of midnight and three a.m. are related to driving under the influence.. The carnage caused by DUII related injuries and property damage is alarming at best. National statistics show that three out of every ten U.S. residents may expect to be involved in a DUII related crash during their lifetime.
Both the people of Oregon and their Legislature are taking serious action on these troubling statistics.
Oregon has already adopted strict laws on blood alcohol content. The law provides that any Oregon driver has given their implied consent to submit to a mandatory breathalyzer test. Either failure of the test, or failure to submit to the test, results in an automatic suspension of the license to drive as well as significant fines. Moreover, the cost of the driver’s auto insurance is certain to skyrocket.
From Senator Whitsett’s Friday July 15, 2011 Newsletter
Politics are often characterized as the “art of the possible’. This “art” requires compromises to be made between opposing positions in order to move policy forward. Concessions are made wherein one position agrees to support policy that they would not otherwise agree to, in order to gain the backing of others for policies that they do support. Too often the result is trading what is not wanted for what is not needed. The process almost always leads to mixed outcomes and unintended consequences. The extensive education package recently adopted by the Legislative Assembly is a good example of both good policy, and not so good policy, being enacted through this “art of the possible” process.
The K-12 education enterprise has become a virtual monopoly. Like all monopolies, it provides poor service at a high cost while resisting innovation and demonstrating a morbid fear of competition. The education package addresses this reality by significantly improving school choice. The most significant bill enacted allows parents to transfer their students to any public school district that agrees to accept the student. Other bills expand charter school opportunities by allowing sponsorship by institutions of higher education and by expanding the opportunities to enroll in virtual school districts.
The education package includes a number of policy changes that will enhance existing public schools. The Educators Preparation Improvement Fund will provide additional funding for training teachers and administrators and includes accountability and performance standards for both. Other bills expanded vocational training opportunities, provided grants to school districts to enhance the education of talented and gifted students and provide better funding for remote elementary schools.
From Senator Whitsett’s Friday July 8, 2011 Newsletter
Missed opportunities were an everyday occurrence during the 76th Legislative Assembly. Many Senate bills designed to improve Oregon’s business environment, and to encourage growth in private sector jobs, were not given the opportunity for a vote.
It was disappointing, and more than a little upsetting, to watch the Democrat Senate leadership daily refuse to address the major causes of our citizens’ plight. Oregon is a national leader in home mortgage foreclosures, our annual per capita income trails the national average by more than $3,500, our functional unemployment remains above 20 percent and 750 thousand Oregonians are using food stamps. Yet Senate leadership flatly refused to even hold hearings on bills that were thoughtfully designed to promote growth in private sector jobs.
For instance, Oregon’s 180 state agencies have adopted more than 11,000 administrative rules. These rules modify and exert the full force of state laws. The agencies adopt new rules, or edit existing rules, at the rate of more than 9,500 each year. Our businesses, and our private sector jobs, are being systematically regulated out of existence. It is virtually impossible for any business to live within the boundaries that this ever-changing maze of regulatory intrusions visits on our lives.
The Oregon Legislature adjourned Sine Die Thursday afternoon. From my perspective, the legislative session resulted in mixed outcomes.
We were able to secure significant funding for a number of important projects in District 28. All three of the regional universities that serve our district received additional bonding capacity. Oregon Institute of Technology received more than $33 million to consolidate their Wilsonville Campus and to expand their geothermal electric generation project at the Klamath Falls Campus. Another $26 million was provided for important building projects at Southern Oregon University and $5 million for the OSU Cascades Campus in Bend. We even secured funding for improvements at the Chiloquin airport.
I invested a great deal of effort in two bills that we believe will make important differences for the rural Oregon economy.
From Senator Whitsett’s Friday June 23, 2011 Newsletter
The Oregon Constitution requires the legislature to accomplish only two tasks. Our first responsibility is to hold a legislative session each year. The second duty is to balance the state budgets. This legislative session is rapidly reaching its concluding days. We have accomplished the first requirement to hold a Legislative session. Unfortunately, a number of financial assumptions are being adopted by the legislative leadership that may not result in balanced budgets.
State income from taxes has been steadily declining for more than three years. The state economist has predicted a dramatic reversal of that three-year trend in state revenue. He now assumes that the state’s income will cease its freefall and increase by more than $100 million during the next two years. His predictions for the past three years have been both uniformly over-optimistic and demonstrably incorrect. Never the less, his predicted revenue increase is being considered hard revenue by legislative leadership. That yet to be realized income is being included in budgeted spending just as if it actually existed.
The Oregon Health Authority budget assumes $239 million in savings during the second year of the two-year budget cycle. The proposed savings is alleged to be the result of some yet to be defined transformations in how medical care is delivered in Oregon. In my opinion, no meaningful savings can be achieved without at least dealing with medical liability reform and creating some form of price negotiation at the point of medical care delivery. Neither of those issues has been addressed. I believe that a large majority of legislators agree that these assumed savings are not likely to be realized. None the less, the legislative leadership is counting this nearly quarter of a billion dollars in assumed savings as hard revenue.
From Senator Whitsett’s Friday June 3, 2011 Newsletter
Oregon government employers will be required to contribute an additional $1,100,000,000.00 to their employees’ Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) accounts during the next budget cycle. That is an additional $1.1 billion that will not be available to fund classroom studies, public safety and services for our most vulnerable citizens. $1.1 billion is a lot of money and it is helpful to put it into perspective. For instance, it would pay nearly 8,000 teachers or about 6,000 police or firefighters for two years. Alternatively, it would fund virtually every state program designed to help our most vulnerable citizens with money to spare.
The PERS structural funding problem is no surprise. The reports of huge deficits, and skyrocketing contribution rates are too numerous to count. The PERS trust fund experienced nearly $20 billion in losses during the 2007 financial debacle. The PERS trust fund remains about $13 million short of full funding to service its liabilities. The $1.1 billion increase in employer contributions is required during the next budget period in order to help make up for those unrecovered losses.
Several changes to the PERS contribution and benefit distribution system could be made that would help to stabilize the fund.