PERS was created in 1945 to provide retirement benefits to Oregon’s public employees. Legislators and judges were not eligible to join PERS. Everyone affected by PERS was fairly represented when PERS laws were made and PERS disputes were decided by neutral judges. That, however, began to change in the 1970’s. By 1984, the legislators had changed the law so that they could retroactively join PERS and judges automatically became PERS members. Thereafter, PERS members have made all of the PERS laws and they have decided every PERS lawsuit. That is the problem with PERS.
Oregon will have $3 billion less to spend in 2011 – 2013 then it had in 2009 – 2011. But laws passed by PERS legislators guarantee that this shortfall will not reduce the money paid to PERS. The PERS budget for 2011 – 2013 has been increased by $1.1 billion, to $7.5 billion. PERS members have also decided that during the 2011 – 2013 biennium the people of Oregon will pay over $870 million to pick up employee PERS contributions for PERS members. That money could have been used to provide services to all Oregonians but instead it will be used for PERS members only. This is what happens when PERS members have total control over the PERS decision making process and it is a serious problem.
The solution to the PERS problem is to remove legislators and judges from PERS. Legislators are the elected representatives of the people, not hired employees, and they should not receive employee benefits. Judges should have their own independent retirement plan, just like they did prior to 1984. These changes would restore the fairness that existed when PERS was established in 1945 and they would end decades of financial abuse that has cost the people of Oregon billions of dollars.
Article written by Daniel Re
Nearly every day in Lane County the unemployed stream into local businesses looking for work. They can’t pay their mortgages. They can’t pay their bills. They can’t feed their families. They don’t have health insurance. Their jobs are being choked off as the manufacturers, industries, farms, ranches, trucking companies and others who employed thousands here with good family-supporting wages, benefits and vacations, are just quitting.
We need good quality of life regulations. But excessive regulations are unnecessarily limiting the use of our best assets: our natural resources and population of willing workers.
The key areas in which we could expand our economic development are private businesses and industries consisting of manufacturing, construction, agriculture, transportation and other industries noted below. Oregon and Lane County are unique in that they possess the natural assets that could pull us out of our economic doldrums. We can grow and make products; we can add to their value; we can sell and ship them across the nation and around the world. Local entrepreneurs and established businesses will create real jobs – if we just get out of their way.
Take agriculture, which has been one of the larger and more stable sources of employment for workers in the region. Before the 2009 recession, Oregon’s agriculture industry was linked to a workforce of 214,511 full or part-time jobs & $25.8 billion in sales. Oregon’s agricultural exports grew 71.6% and comprised one of the top two export industries through the first quarter of 2008 on a year-over-year basis.
Often, private job creation is hobbled by excessive planning processes and resulting regulations. Region 2050 Problem Solving Program, Envision Eugene, LTD’s West Eugene EmX, Lane Livability Consortium and Smart Communities Project just to name a few. Lane Livability Consortium alone proposed 193 scheduled meetings over the next three years as it plans to duplicate and triplicate efforts of local elected governments in an effort to create a spaghetti-like tangle of regulations and processes. The strategy seemed to be to overwhelm citizens with thick reports and paperwork, then burden them with a multitude of monotonous meetings that accomplish little.
The past two decades have generated a record number of rules, regulations, fee increases, taxing districts, overlay zones and additional government controls. We need good regulations that help maintain our high quality of life. Traditional blue-collar workers, who once earned a living wage of about $50,000 per year from manufacturing industries or trades, are losing their jobs in record numbers, in part because their employers – the job providers – simply cannot comply with unnecessary, burdensome regulations and still stay in business. The table below shows the loss of jobs in manufacturing and trades over the last five years here in Lane County.
Since the early ‘80’s, which marked the beginning of spotted owl litigation, our government, state and local agencies and regulators have continued to aggressively restrict and tax the private businesses that create jobs. These private industries and businesses used to purchase millions of dollars of local consumables each year, putting even more people to work. Now they are downsizing, closing or moving out of Oregon. These employers are being forced away because it can be more profitable doing business elsewhere. We need these jobs back. We need to encourage our Job Providers while maintaining reasonable quality of life regulations.
Our Job Providers are not on strike. They simply gave up and sought out more hospitable business environments.
In August, this community experienced the first act of a longer drama about this county budget when the Lane County Commissioners received news of a $2 million budget shortfall. This shortfall had the commissioners making decisions between the poor, sick and homeless versus the safety of our community. At the last minute, the shortfall was revised down to $800,000.
One department, Public Safety, was cut by $500,000. Public safety is the most essential service of county government. Will criminals be running loose in the streets?
There are more cuts coming. Act Two of this drama will continue to unfold if state projections fall short, federal funding and other surprises force our commissioners and the administrator to redefine essential county services.
Our county administrator made a simple recommendation: reduce the “lapse” in many of the departments, including a core service of county government public safety. Lapse is the difference between the number of budgeted employees and the actual number of active employees on the job in Lane County. Vacant positions are currently kept on the books for budget purposes.
Some vacant but budgeted positions go unfilled for months, maybe even years, because it may be difficult to find the qualified candidate, compensation packages are insufficient or other personnel issues. These funds and positions are not subtracted even when they do not actually contribute to the stated purposes when the Budget Committee approves the department’s budget.
When the gap between budgeted employees and actual active employees is accumulated, those surplus funds are absorbed into the department and can be used for whatever the department director wants. It has similar advantages to an invisible reserve account for individual departments. This practice creates bloated budgets that camouflage the actual cost for essential services for county citizens.
This is the time to change this common practice. Departments should not hold open unfilled vacancies which can become slush funds and used for other purposes. The money should be returned to the general fund not as a carry-over resource for that department, but reduced from the department’s budget as unneeded and reallocated by the administrator. It is disingenuous to taxpayers in these challenging times to use what-you-see-is-not-what-you-get budgeting. It hides the real cost of essential services from taxpayers and elected officials.
Lane County government needs to earn back taxpayers’ trust. In Act Three, commissioners, budget committee members and administration should keep boots-on-the-ground, butts-in-the-jail and rocks-on-the-road with transparent budgeting. The good news: Act One of this drama, we have started the process early of a simplified, truthful county budgeting process that is long overdue.
Most people don’t differentiate between “prison” and “jail”. As far as most of us are concerned, as long as the “bad guys” are locked up in a small room with bars and a stainless steel toilet, it really doesn’t really matter what we call the facility, but jail and prison are very different animals that house different populations and meet very different community needs. A healthy community needs both local jail capacity and access to prison space for its most serious offenders.
Prisons are state-run facilities that hold felons who have been sentenced to serve more than a year in custody, while jails are local facilities that house those who are awaiting trial, including those awaiting trial on the most serious felony charges, and those who have been sentenced to serve short periods of incarceration for violating probation or committing misdemeanor crimes like DUII, simple assault and theft. Although it’s important for misdemeanor wrongdoers to be punished, local jails play a more critical role in the criminal justice system: they give force to judicial orders. I’m talking about orders to attend trial, order to participate in anger management counseling and orders to follow through with drug treatment.
Judges, like parents of young children, must have the ability to enforce the rules they make. Unfortunately, when it comes to a group of criminal offenders who typically have no tangible assets, the only enforcement power that matters is the ability to incarcerate. The system fails in dozens of tragic and expensive ways once criminals understand that the loss of jail capacity has rendered the judges “toothless”. That’s where Lane County stands today with respect to property criminals, and the consequences are doing great harm to victims, taxpayers and offenders.
Some might think that the inability to incarcerate is a windfall for the criminals. That’s certainly true for some of them, but for many, perhaps even most of them, the lack of local supervision and jail space is depriving them of a real shot at meaningful rehabilitation. Similarly, some in the community believe that failing to fund a jail is saving money that could be better spent elsewhere, but we’re not saving at all. We’re ensuring more victimization, more insurance costs and higher prison populations, all of which ultimately cost us much more. We’re also paying in lost quality of life and lost business opportunities, because we feel less comfortable in our community and few businesses would choose to relocate to an area with property crime rates among the worst in the country. In sum, we’re being “penny wise and pound foolish”. We’ve struck a balance that represents the worst of all possible worlds: we’re forcing a system design which does less, at greater costs, with disastrous results. That’s a shame, particularly when we have the local talent and expertise to deliver an optimized system capable of delivering more of everything for less. We can do better.
How many times have you listened to a politician, whether on TV or in person, and heard him or her say that government will be creating thousands of jobs over the next x number of years? This is where government officials completely miss the point. Did you know that in my 10 years as Mayor of Springfield I never once said we are going to create jobs over the next x number of years?
“Why?” you may ask? Because that is not the role of government. The role of government should begin with the premise that “We want your business to come into our state/county/city. Now, what can we do to make you want to do business here?”
Finally, once we’ve attracted you, government’s role is to get the business its permits in an expedited manner.
My goal was to personally meet with the sitting consultant, or possibly an executive of the firm and invite him or her to do business in Springfield/Lane County. Then I would provide a roadmap for the decision makers showing them how we can quickly and efficiently get them their permits.
My thought was that if we provide this kind of service then jobs and investment will be created. In ten years while I was Mayor, over $1 billion of private sector investment came to Springfield, bringing with it thousands of new jobs.
Business, not government, creates jobs. Government, at its best, makes it easy for business to do so.
Article Written By Sid Leiken, Lane County Commissioner and former Mayor of Springfield
The overriding goal of Healthy Communities Initiative is to increase and maintain high-wage jobs that support families and maintain strong communities. Key measures of success are per capita income, reduction in poverty, and statewide job stability.
Quality jobs and higher incomes result in lower poverty rates and lower tax rates for quality public services that in turn, support a healthy economy. This relationship is known as the “Circle of Prosperity.”
Unfortunately, Oregon has not been meetings its goal. Since 1997, Oregon’s per capita income has fallen off pace with the US average. Poverty rates are near the highest in the nation, and unemployment has been hovering above the national average in both good and bad economic times.
Vision: Industries Leading the Globe in Innovation and Sustainability
All businesses add to Oregon’s economic well being. Local businesses, those that sell their products and services exclusively or primarily to local customers, and who face little direct competition from out of state–add to the local quality of life, provide entrepreneurial opportunities for citizens, and can be the springboard to help launch traded sector clusters. Most jobs in a community are actually not in the traded sector, but in local service industries such as restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals and schools.
Oregon’s economy is driven by companies that ring up sales outside of Oregon, bringing in fresh dollars that support families, local businesses, and government services – essentially companies who export their products and services to other U.S. states and other countries around the globe. Because traded sector industries bring in the fresh dollars that allow these service industries to grow, we must pay special attention to them. These companies are particularly important because they create new wealth rather than just recirculation of the wealth that is already here.
The success of traded-sector industries is not random. These industries tend to “cluster” based on shared advantages such as natural resources, a specialized workforce, proximity to suppliers, and a policy environment conducive to the industry’s activities. While the future of these industries is in their own hands, it is critical that Oregon’s leaders understand our key traded-sector industries, and pursue initiatives that continue to provide them with a competitive advantage over other places.
Traded sector industries are both small and large. According to one study, about 88% of companies that export have fewer than 200 employees. By identifying our traded-sector industry clusters and paying special attention to their needs, Oregonians and policy-makers have a way of thinking about how to grow our economy and create more high-paying jobs.