A new and different experience is about to be felt by every member of the Oregon legislature this session and/or next: voting for tax increases. Not whether but which … and how much. It’s coming. And they’re gonna do it!
Many of the aforementioned folk will respond with the usual denial … “No Sir, not me.” To which I say, “Oh yes, Sir or Madam. You!”
City, county and state budgets in all states have been slashed and squeezed for years until many are cutting fiscal muscle. Oregon’s also been nailed with the whammy of the O&C funding roller coaster which appears about to hit “end of track.”
In traditional political slight of hand, we’ve been hit with round after round of fee increases, franchise fee hikes passed along in higher bills to users … us, park admission/use costs, higher charges to record legal documents, surcharges and even outright gas tax boosting.
Most politicians will say, “I’ve held the line and haven’t raised taxes.” Yeah. You bet. The legal difference between a tax and a new fee is largely indistinguishable … and unimportant … to the payer.
For most of us, the linguistic trick of calling a fee something besides a tax has been largely accepted for years. But business as usual … no new taxes … is coming to an end. There’s no place else to look.
We’ve seen services at all levels curtailed by reduced budgets, staff cuts, fewer operating hours and more charges for services. The Roseburg, OR, city council, for example, wants to charge one of its members personally for official research he wants done by staff. I understand why but, if it’s so tight elected officials are charged for what should be the staff time we’ve already paid for with our taxes, it makes my point. The day of reckoning … the day of raising more revenue to pay the bills … is straight ahead!
For over a decade, the board of Coos-Curry electric co-op in Coos and Curry Counties prided itself for not raising customers rates; customers who were neighbors and friends. Instead of passing along higher costs of power charged by suppliers, the board sucked them up each time and kept rates the same. So the whole operation slipped silently into a big hole of debt. It continued for years until recently when the federal government and lenders said “no more loans” until income is brought in line, debt reduced and this irresponsible practice ended.
Oregon cities, counties and the State itself are in danger of getting into the same position. Partly because of the absolute blood oath not to raise taxes; partly because costs have increased while revenue streams have been reduced; partly through increased demand for services by more people. Sooner or later, a poorer treasury and increased demand for necessities will collide.
No one … in office or out … wants higher taxes. But what’s going to happen when, one of these days, you call 9-1-1 with an emergency and get an answering machine saying they’ll get back to you?
Former legislator and new Douglas Co. Comm. Susan Morgan has written a series of newsletters since taking office. I’ve saved ‘em all. As she learned more about her new job, she passed along that knowledge in this series of easy-to-read, comprehensive newsletters that are real primers in county business.
One key item she relates in each department is the number of full time equivalent (F-T-E) positions per department: empty or occupied. In many cases, there are fewer filled. And fewer. And still fewer.
What about the crumbling infrastructure (buildings, information technology, vehicles, road equipment)? What about continuing education and updating for employees? How far can you reduce a required service before it’s unable to do its legally mandated job?
In the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary, some uninformed voices will keep hollering about “fat in government.” Well, you give Comm. Morgan a call. She can take care of that “uninformed” part.
She’s addressed only Douglas County in her missives. But the same information can be applied directly to all Oregon counties as well as municipal and state government. Factual but not pretty.
At our house, any candidate coming around with the “no new taxes” catchphrase will be judged to not have sufficient information about the job being sought or the intelligence to carry it out responsibly.
What we want to know is the need(s), what will it cost to satisfy the need(s), which sources of income will be increased and by how much. That is the only responsible litmus test there can be now.
To expect less is not responsible. To keep doing business the same old way is not even rational.