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Issues

Oregon prisons, social services in need of millions of dollars as lawmakers adjust budgets

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

…When the Oregon Legislature convenes Monday, two large state agencies will be asking for tens of millions of dollars.

Lawmakers will revisit the 2013-15 budget to address collective bargaining costs, a record $40 million wildfire season and revenue forecasts that fell $70 million short of earlier projections

Corrections officials say they need about $90 million, and Human Services officials say they need about $100 million to fill their gaps, though some money is expected from other sources…

The Oregonian, January 28, 2014

Our Response and Your Comments

Here are three rules to remember when you’re reading about government “needing” more money:

Government (at every level – city, county, state, federal) always needs more money;

Government can never do with less money;

You can always do with less money because of Rule #1.

As Ronald Reagan opined: “Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.”

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Eugene senator to discuss wage gap

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A report detailing the differences between poor and wealthy Oregonians is set to be released by Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, during a forum at the Eugene Public Library 6 p.m. Monday (Jan. 27).

Edwards authored a bill that passed during the 2013 Legislative Session calling for the Pay Inequality in Oregon study. According to a press release, Edwards plans to talk about ways to solve the “wage gap”…

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and Oregon Council on Civil Rights Chair Sunny Petit are slated to join Edward.

Salem Statesman Journal

January 23, 2014

Our Response & Your Comments

Here are some questions we’d like to pose to Sen. Edwards:

When the Census Bureau measures income it excludes payments such as Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition assistance, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (that’s where the Govt. gives money to people who don’t pay taxes). What would the “wage gap” be if those were included?

People move up and down the income ladder. A college grad may start by earning $25,000, hit a career peak at $150,000, then retire and live off a part time job, pensions and Social Security. What’s wrong with that?

Could part of the “wage gap” be explained by the fact that a person’s income can move infinitely up but can only go down to $0?

If I’m earning what my skills and experience warrant, what do I care what Bill Gates makes?

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Wage & Price Controls – That’s the Ticket!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A union representing health care workers on Monday filed five ballot measures with the Secretary of State’s office targeting hospital pricing, executive salary and transparency.

Local 49 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) filed the measures for the November 2014 ballot after years of trying to make progress in the Legislature…

The ballot measures cover separate topics:

Executive compensation caps limiting hospital chief executive salary to 15 times the salary of the lowest­-paid employee…

Price limits for larger hospitals…

The Oregonian, October 22, 2013

Lane Solutions Responds and Your Comments

We don’t often tip our hats to the SEIU, but today we just can’t resist it.

Because it takes special gall, guts, chutzpah or whatever you call it to ask Oregonians to vote for a measure whose backer has absolutely no intention of applying to himself.

The SEIU wants hospital CEO salary limited to 15 times the salary of, say, a dishwasher or janitor working there. Sounds good – right? It’s just so “fair.”

So, what does the SEIU pay its CEO? Former chief Andy Stern pulled down a cool $306,388 all in. Poor Mary Kay Henry, his replacement, is forced to live on only $256,065. Do you suppose that the lowest paid janitor or window washer whose dues fuel these salaries make one fifteenth of these amounts? That would be $20,426 of Handy Andy’s loot and $17,071 of Poor Mary Kay’s.

And did you notice that Poor Mary Kay’s salary is $50,000 less than Andy’s? Maybe she needs a union to fight for “equal pay for equal work?”

And did we mention that the SEIU, that tireless champion of equal pay, has nine union headquarters sub-bosses banking more than $200,000 per year?

Then there’s the measure to put price controls on “larger” hospitals. Larger than what? MASH units? Yeah – price controls are turning Cuba and Venezuela into economic power houses. Remember gas lines?

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Legislative Special Session Report

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Salem – …The carefully balanced, bipartisan package, which Gov. John Kitzhaber and key lawmakers have been working on since late last year, centers on curbing public employee pension costs and some targeted tax increases. Also included in the deal to garner more Republican support are a tax cut for certain businesses…

The Register Guard,  October 3, 2013

Lane Solutions Responds and Leave Your Comments

 Gosh, Don’t You Wish You Were as Smart as These Guys?

“Targeted  tax increases” and cuts for  “certain businesses.”  Sounds good – Tax hikes for schools and  cuts to help some businesses.

But who‘s doing the “targeting” and which are the “certain” businesses?

This is where government always runs into trouble. Because when it comes to picking winners and losers it does a very bad  job.

“Targeting” is what got us Solyndra, Brightsource and Geothermal – who went belly up with more than $2.2 Billion of your tax dollars. These and other greenies burn through upwards of $5 Billion in “targeted” subsidies yearly. And that’s not counting 600,000 birds chopped up annually in windmills.

What do we get for these diced birds and billions of bucks? Excluding  hydropower, less than 1/10 of our energy.

Why “targeting” fails:

  • No group of people (even wizard politicians) can direct the economy, which is a result of billions of individual decisions each day.
  • It usually rewards friends or punishes enemies;
  • Politicians target with your money. So what if they lose it?

As for “certain businesses”: This usually means “In my district,” “Gave me money,” or our favorite – “My brother in law.”

So – Don’t worry if you’re not smart enough to target other people’s money or figure who should pay what  taxes. Neither are they!

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A Big Thanks From Sheriff Turner – And a Promise

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Sheriff’s Office has been working hard to hire staff and prepare the jail for the July 1 opening of more jail beds.

The Lane County Sheriff’s Office (“LCSO”) will bring on new staff and open up more jail beds in two phases, culminating in the reopening of 131 more jail beds by July 8, 2013 – all in the name of making Lane County a safer place to live.  Housing areas of the jail that had been collecting dust are being cleaned and refurbished to hold inmates once again.

To keep all of the costs down we have been using inmate workers to complete much of the work.  They are cleaning and painting the cells as well as re-grouting the showers in the housing areas that are being reopened.  14 previously laid off LCSO Deputy Sheriffs have accepted recall notices and will return to employment with LCSO.  These are positions that were vacant and can be immediately filled and put to use.

We will fill the remaining 32 Deputy positions during a second recruiting campaign. These will be directly paid for with the levy money.  In the near future we will be recruiting and filling the remaining 6.5 positions that make up the rest of the positions which will be paid for with the levy.

The Sheriff’s Office is working hard to get the jail beds reopened as soon as possible so the community can begin to feel some relief from the daily capacity based releases that we have all endured for far too long.  The planning began well before the levy passed in hopes that it indeed would; now this preplanning is paying off by accelerating our opening of the additional beds.

While the reopened beds won’t eliminate the early releases, they will allow the jail to hold more violent offenders rather than releasing them into the community. Anyone interested in employment opportunities within the Lane County Sheriff’s Office should visit http://jobs.lanecounty.org

I am excited about the progress so far and I have you, Lane County citizens, to thank for this opportunity.  We are working on the annual audit of all expenditures of levy funds and I hope the information will be available soon so citizens can track how their money is being spent and ensure that it is spent exactly as you intended.  The actual audit is relatively simple, but making the information it generates available on an ongoing basis is what I’m hoping for.  It is also important to mention that the money is “carryover” money, so it cannot ever be used for a different purpose.  If there is money left at the end of the five years we can continue using it for public safety until it is exhausted.

I plan to provide regular progress reports to the public on our use of the levy funds and to keep up a very robust public meeting schedule to continue to keep the Sheriff’s Office and our progress on everyone’s mind!

From all of us who work in your Sheriff’s Office to keep you safe -Thanks again to all of you who helped make this happen.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have a question or issue.

Thanks again!

Tom Turner – Lane County Sheriff

tom.turner@co.lane.or.us

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Special! Rep. Richardson on Salem’s “Blame Game”

Monday, June 24, 2013

I was first elected to the legislature in 2002, yet I am still surprised by the political “blame game” that occurs at the end of most Legislative Sessions. [To see a brief YouTube on this subject, click here.]

Last week, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber spoke to the House Republicans and requested an additional $275 million in tax increases. He promised that if Republicans joined the Democrats in voting for tax increases the additional revenue would enable the legislature to help publicly funded K-12 schools, community colleges, universities and youth mental health programs. In other words, “it’s for the kids.”

I reminded the Governor that:

  1. The Democrats control the spending priorities and drafted the State Budget;
  2. There is a $1.91 billion (12%) increase in the 2013-15 Budget over the current one; and
  3. If he’s only asking for less than 2% of the $16.5 billion State Budget, then surely he could find such a small amount in the State Budget “for the kids,” without raising taxes on Oregonians.

I also reminded the Governor that, notwithstanding the $1.9 billion of additional revenue, he and his party are once again holding the K-12 school budget hostage, and acting like a tax increase is required to fund it. It’s an obvious set-up. If the Republicans fail to agree to the proposed tax increases, the Democrats will, once again, play the “blame-game,” and accuse Republicans of neglecting children, hating schools and abandoning seniors. This is a transparent and unfortunate case of playing political games instead of focusing on actually helping the kids and other Oregonians.   (Click here to read entire article)

-        Oregon Representative Dennis Richardson

Lane Solutions Replies:

Rep. Richardson couldn’t be more correct. Like Martha and the Vandellas sang, this time for the Democrats there’s “Nowhere to Run to Nowhere to hide.” They’re in charge of the Oregon House, Senate and Governor’s office. They can spend where and when they want to. They can spend every cent “For the kids.” But they chose to spend it to subsidize health insurance for families of four making up to $94,000/year. After all – unlike kids, these moms and dads will vote.

Tell us what you think below in the Comment section

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Demand action on PERS reform

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

By Rep. Kevin Cameron  (R-Salem)

There have been nearly 50 bills introduced that address, in some way, the PERS issue.  So far, there has been no substantial legislation that has received a hearing. I am co-sponsoring the below four bills that were introduced by Rep. Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg).

HB 3056 would limit the computation of “final average salary” to salary, rather than including unused sick time and vacation accruals.

HB 3057 would limit the COLA for PERS benefits to the first $36,000 of retirement income.

HB 3058 phases out the ability of employers to “pick-up” the employee’s 6% contribution into retirement accounts by 2020.

HB 3059 ends the practice of providing a supplemental benefit payment to offset income taxes for those who are not subject to Oregon income taxes.

It is my understanding that estimates of savings after instituting these reforms would be over $700 million per biennium. These alterations to the current process are important steps in the right direction to put PERS on sustainable footing for the future.

This is not a conversation about the worthiness of our public employees.  It is a conversation about the absolute proven unsustainability of this retirement system.  These bills deserve the opportunity to be heard, at the very least, in order to begin meaningful dialogue about how we are going to address this important issue in our state.  The impact that it is having to our school districts and local government budgets is devastating and hurting our kids, our seniors, our social service agencies, and public safety.  We must do better.

Reprinted with permission from Oregon Catalyst

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Rep. Richardson: Rethinking education funding

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Author: Christiana Mayer
By Taxpayer Association of Oregon Lawmaker Profile

Right now public education in the United States is behind such countries as Ireland, Estonia and Poland.  It is clear that something needs to be done. Representative Dennis Richardson believes that local control over public education is a crucial part of reforming education and making sure that our children get the education that they need.

“Reform education by returning education control to the lowest level – The level closest to the student. And ensure that funding follows the student,” said Richardson.

Taxpayers are constantly told that in order to have a good public education system more money is needed for our schools.  Several bills to reform the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) have been introduced in the current legislative session to find more money.  Most school districts blame the escalating cost of PERS as one reason why they have had to trim budgets.   Some of the ideas being talked about in the State Capitol are the PERS reform plan to limit the cost-of-living adjustments to the first $24,000 of a retiree’s benefits, which saves $400 million a year. Another PERS reform plan, to limit cost of living adjustments for higher end users, would save $225 million a year. Unfortunately Representative Richardson does not believe that meaningful PERS reform will pass this legislative session.

For example, there are two different state departments that are directly involved in public education. The Department of Education and the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission create a series of hoops and barriers for teachers according to Representative Richardson. It is a layer of bureaucracy that keeps dollars out of the classroom.  Since Salem is always looking for ways to put money in the classroom perhaps the functions of these two departments could be combined.

Parents need to take a greater interest in the education of their children and that will help change the system.  Citizens should run for school board positions and volunteer in the public schools to make sure that they understand how the system works.

Reprinted with permission from Oregon Catalyst

Dennis Richardson, of Central Point, represents District 4 in the Oregon Legislature.

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Lane County Board of Commissioners Chair Sid Leiken comments on Governor Kitzhaber’s letter to the Federal Delegation regarding future management of the O and C lands of Western Oregon

Sunday, February 17, 2013

I would like to express my thanks to Governor John Kitzhaber for convening a group of Oregon stakeholders to take on the exceedingly tough public policy issue of how to best manage the O and C lands of Western Oregon.  He has clearly prioritized this issue.  His willingness to put into writing his expectations for our Congressional leaders should be appreciated by all of Lane County’s citizens, especially given the huge amount of federal land that surrounds our communities.

His letter to the Oregon delegation of the United States Congress summarizing the work of his panel could not have come at a better time.   Literally today, Lane County received its last check from the federal government with dollars that came as a result of the Secure Rural Schools Act, first passed into law in 2000 under the leadership of Senator Ron Wyden.  Notably, that check held back $500,000 of O and C revenue due to an un-expected and un–appreciated maneuver by the Department of the Interior.  These are the very dollars that Lane County would be able to use for critical public safety services and their elimination is precisely why the Board of County Commissioners has been discussing putting a modest property tax proposal in front of the voters of Lane County.

The Governor clearly understands the tough road ahead for our federal delegation.  These lands are unique to western Oregon, and their fate lies in the hands of the entirety of the US Congress.  With Senator Wyden’s historic advocacy for the communities of Western Oregon and the more recent and courageous bi-partisan plan created by House members DeFazio, Walden, and Schrader, Governor Kitzhaber’s recommendations provide a foundation that should quickly lead to collaboration amongst the entirety of the federal delegation.  Speaking with one voice united between the House and the Senate is crucially important given the rancourous nature of the current political environment in Washington DC.

It remains my belief that a way forward can only be charted if there is a sense of shared responses from local, state, and federal partners.  Governor Kitzhaber states “Oregon state and local governments should share in the responsibility to fill any gap which may remain between timber revenues and the funding level required to keep counties fiscally viable.”  I know that both the Governor and our delegation are aware that Lane County is contemplating a local money measure that would fund jail beds and youth services.  Our residents also know that this new revenue will not cover the entirety of our public safety structure.  I am willing to take the first step to place the shared response the Governor speaks to squarely on our shoulders.  In doing so, I am confident that if we are successful there will be even more reason for the state and the federal government to act.  Allowing some responsible degree of harvest to return to these forests is an absolute must.

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Public safety and sentencing reform: Why overhaul a justice system that’s working?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

By Michael D. Schrunk and Rod Underhill 

Recently Gov. John Kitzhaber was forced to present a difficult budget proposal. Some members of the current Commission on Public Safety apparently feel this calls for a significant redesign of the criminal justice system, including “comprehensive sentencing reform.” Many members of the law enforcement community, however, are puzzled about the need to redesign one of the most progressive and successful systems in the nation.

Only a quarter of convicted felons in this state go to prison, compared with a national average of 40 percent, producing one of America’s lower incarceration rates. We nonetheless have been a national leader in the reduction of violent crime since the passage of mandatory sentencing for some violent crimes. Oregon was the first state whose laws require evidence-based practices for those on probation and parole. Prisons here have a lower percentage of property and drug offenders than in any other state. We have decided on a policy to reserve prison space for violent offenders while we attempt to help those who commit drug and property offenses turn their lives around. We have dramatically reduced our recidivism rate in the past five years. The list goes on.

Soon the Commission on Public Safety will report on sentencing reform, and the question remains: Why drastically overhaul one of the most successful justice systems in the country? The answer proposed by some is that current sentencing laws will produce “unsustainable” prison growth over the next 10 years — requiring more than 2,000 new prison beds. This is a questionable proposition.

First, prison population forecasting in this state has had an uneven history at best. Every 10-year forecast since 1995 has predicted greater prison growth than actually occurred, with some fully 47 percent high. These past overpredictions are invariably used by critics to advocate for wide-ranging changes in sentencing policy, as is being done now.

Second, none of the currently predicted prison growth is a result of mandatory sentences for violent crimes. Violent crime policy in this state has been so successful that the prison population of offenders serving mandatory sentences is stable.

Third, more than 60 percent of predicted prison growth in the next decade will simply result from state population growth. Additional public services required by population growth are inherently sustainable, because population growth produces proportionally increased tax revenue. Indeed, while the state economist predicts a 16 percent increase in prison beds in the next decade, he also predicts a 48 percent increase in state government revenues in that same period. This should provide a solution in itself.

We understand through experience the need to scrutinize government operations for savings. No one should believe, however, that cutting prison spending, which constitutes only 9 percent of general fund expenditures, can contribute much to other areas.

Indeed, the one negative in the overall bright picture in Oregon’s justice system has come when incarceration has been reduced in several counties. Here in Multnomah County, for example, more than 35 percent of jail beds have been cut since 2001, contributing, we believe, to Portland’s increasing property crime rate. Further, a recent look at county and emergency inmate releases reveals that about 75 percent of released inmates commit new offenses on release. That’s food for thought as we examine what we should do statewide.

That said, we also have ideas about how sentencing policy can be reformed safely to improve current practices. Law enforcement representation on the current commission has proposed comprehensive measures that would save money without sacrificing the integrity and effectiveness of a justice system produced in no small part by voter participation. We hope the commission will take these proposals seriously and not press forward unwisely based on questionable perceptions regarding public safety policy.

Michael D. Schrunk has been Multnomah County district attorney since 1981 and is retiring this month. Rod Underhill is Multnomah County district attorney-elect.

Reprinted with permission from Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance

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