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Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The Bend Bulletin, Oct. 26, on burden imposed by the Oregon's Public Employee Retirement System:
The Oregon School Boards Association, a group as sensitive to the burden imposed by the state Public Employee Retirement System's financial problems as any, hired a law firm recently to help it come up with potential legislative solutions that stand a chance of passing legal muster.
In doing so, it joined lawmakers, would-be lawmakers and other public officials who agree that something must be done, and quickly. Having lost money on its investments in recent years, PERS finds itself $16 billion in the hole, money it must collect from participating agencies, including school districts, cities, counties and state government.
The burden is huge. The Redmond School District, for example, will be required to dump an additional $2.2 million into PERS this year, enough to otherwise keep 28 teachers employed or keep schools open for 13 days.
Yet two of the players in the PERS drama have been strangely silent.
Public employee unions have so far been willing to discuss only one solution, and that's layoffs. It's a short-sighted answer to long-term problem that promises to do more damage to the unions than they themselves might recognize.
Unions, if they're to prosper, must have a steady flow of new members - the very folks most likely to lose jobs in tough economic times. As unions shield their oldest, most expensive members, they do so at the expense of the very people who should fill their ranks tomorrow, in the process persuading those who were laid off that union membership doesn't have much to offer in any event.
The other missing player, publicly at least, is Oregon's governor, John Kitzhaber. Kitzhaber is too busy, perhaps, recreating everything from public education to health care to the way the U.S. Forest Service manages its public lands to fuss about a little thing like public employee pensions.
Yet all the reforms in the world won't improve Oregon education, as one example, if school districts must put so much into PERS that they cannot hire the teachers they need to get the job done.
Fixing PERS's problems is critical to the future health of all Oregon, from the smallest town to the state itself. It deserves the attention both of the unions that will feel the impact of change and the governor, who, after all, is charged with running the state.
The Oregonian, Oct. 29, on the Oregon race for secretary of state:
Knute Buehler, the Republican candidate for secretary of state, donated to Democrat John Kitzhaber's gubernatorial campaign two years ago. He would like to make primary elections more open, and he supports the idea of letting an independent panel - as opposed to the partisan Legislature - handle redistricting. Oh, yeah, he wants to limit campaign contributions, too.
Yet the consummate moderate is "too extreme for Oregon," according to ads bankrolled largely by public employee unions.
You can stop laughing now.
The last-minute barrage of anti-Buehler propaganda reflects a low opinion of voters' intelligence, which seems to be a theme in the pro-Kate Brown camp. Consider a recent whopper by former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, which earned a "pants on fire" rating last week from The Oregonian's PolitiFact truth-testers. If Buehler were elected, Bradbury claimed, "our vote-by-mail system would be at risk." Where did Bradbury come up with such an extreme prediction, given the fact that Buehler has expressed support for vote-by-mail? Buehler has also expressed some concern about the integrity of the system, arguing "it takes more ID to rent a movie at Blockbuster than it does to vote."
To extrapolate from this concern an intent to scuttle vote by mail takes an active imagination. But, then, Bradbury does tend to stray. This is the guy, remember, who used the bully pulpit offered by the secretary of state's office to campaign against ... global warming.
Buehler probably isn't very happy about the bare-knuckle treatment, but he should consider it a compliment. Making stuff up is an act of desperation that implicitly acknowledges the strength of the target and assumes that voters don't care about the truth. In fact, Buehler is exceptionally moderate, smart and prepared for the job. For those reasons, and because Brown's performance hasn't been exactly stellar, we've endorsed him, as have many other newspapers.
As for the sudden surge of pro-Brown spending by the Service Employees International Union and the Oregon Education Association, it's not particularly surprising given the threat Buehler poses to the incumbent and, of course, his promise to use the office's bully pulpit to push for PERS reform. The condition of Oregon's public sector retirement system is a problem state and local officials can fix - unlike, say, global warming.
Why, besides that, do public employee unions care so much about who runs elections and audits in Oregon? We asked Brown that question during her endorsement interview this fall, and here's what she said: "They're concerned about who might be next in line for governor." Secretary of state is Oregon's second highest office.
Voters, too, should think of their pick not only as a secretary of state, but also as a future aspirant to the state's highest office. Would they prefer in either office someone backed by both public employee unions and the most partisan secretary of state in recent memory or someone who has sought through the initiative process to empower voters and reduce the effects of partisanship? The better choice is obvious.
The Statesman Journal, Oct. 29, on not endorsing any candidate for state labor commissioner:
The Statesman Journal Editorial Board is taking the unusual step of not recommending either candidate for state labor commissioner at the Nov. 6 election. Neither incumbent Brad Avakian nor his challenger, state Sen. Bruce Starr, has earned our endorsement.
Running the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is an important job. But the current campaign illustrates why it's illogical to have a politician in that position instead of a trained professional.
The Legislature should eliminate the elected position, as it has the elected superintendent of public instruction. The leadership, effectiveness and accountability of the Oregon Department of Education have improved almost overnight since elected Superintendent Susan Castillo departed and Gov. John Kitzhaber, in his role as head of Oregon education, delegated the agency to new Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton.
That is the difference between professional leadership and partisan leadership of a state agency.
Officially, the position of labor commissioner is nonpartisan. But it's tough to tell that from the campaign being waged by the supporters of Democrat Avakian and Republican Starr. Both political parties see it as a chance to have one of their own in an obscure but important state leadership role.
While the candidates are similar in some ways, such as both having served as state senators, they are polar opposites in many of their views. Neither candidate illustrates the pragmatic, centrist policies that we believe are needed in the job - protecting workers' rights while reducing unnecessary and duplicative red tape for businesses.
Oregonians should vote for Avakian if their primary interest is standing up for workers and the role of labor. Oregonians should vote for Starr if their primary interest is reducing government regulation and giving businesses more freedom.
Avakian has advocated for increased apprenticeship programs and trades/career training in schools, although the Legislature also deserves credit.
Employers report difficulty finding enough welders, machinists and other tradespeople. The demand for skilled tradespeople will only increase in the next few years, especially as Intel builds new and revamps existing multi-billion-dollar facilities in Washington County.