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A Citizen's Guide to the Oregon State BudgetErsun Warnke Salem-News.com Business/Economy Reporter
Public employees, including politicians, are employees of the taxpayers.
(EUGENE, Ore.) - As Oregon Voters prepare to decide whether or not to dedicate a greater share of their income to supporting the State Government it would be beneficial to have a better understanding of how that money is used and what benefits are conferred to the taxpayers in exchange for their investment.
The Oregon State Government has a noted problem with financial transparency.
The legislature declared last year, in House Bill 2500, that the lack of financial transparency in Government was an “emergency” for which an immediate remedy was required for “preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”
HB 2500 established January 1, 2010 as the deadline for the Department of Administrative Services to establish a new website providing detailed financial information for all State agencies.
This deadline has come and gone with no new websites being produced. Apparently the preservation of the public peace, health, and safety has not been a sufficient spur to action.
The Department of Administrative Services has a budget of $1.1 billion. It has not released a report to the public since 2008.
It is possible that Lonn Hoklin, the Public Affairs Manager for DAS who receives a salary of $92,664 dollars per year, could not find time while dealing with the staggering work load of making a total of 14 press releases in the last year. That is over 1 press release per month.
The highly paid staff at DAS have failed to meet the legislature’s deadline for delivering transparency to the taxpayers. They have failed to address what the legislature itself recognizes as an emergency created by a lack of taxpayer confidence in the honesty, integrity, competence, and value of the State Government.
Is this failure emblematic of the general state-of-affairs in State Government operations? A review of the evidence on this subject will shed light on that question.
Education is considered by many to be the most important social service provided by the State Government.
Given the importance of primary education to the public as the most important and most universally used Government service, it may be of some surprise that it only makes up 12% of the State’s budget.
When the legislature says that it must make cuts to primary education in order to close its budget gaps, it is relevant to ask whether or not it would be possible to make all of the necessary cuts somewhere in the other 88% of the State’s budget.
In 2007-2009 the primary (K-12) education system, which serves 560,000 students, had a budget of $6.2 billion. Community colleges, which served 176,000 students, had a budget of $731 million. Oregon Universities, which serve 86,000 students, had a budget of $5.2 billion.
Although the Oregon University System keeps the salaries of its employees secret, it is well known that they are the highest paid on the public payroll.
The 2007-2009 budget for public safety was $2.8 billion.
This budget includes the Department of Corrections, which had a budget of $1.3 billion. The DOC employs 64 individuals earning over $100,000 per year.
Why does the DOC require so many highly paid staff? Because inmates are guaranteed healthcare, and are attended to by a staff of doctors, dentists, and pharmacists earning up to $222,216 dollars per year.
That’s right. The second highest paid government employee is working to provide health care for criminals, while the people who pay him cannot afford healthcare for themselves and their own families.
Interestingly, Physician Specialists at the DOC are earning more than Physician Specialists at the Department of Human Services, and much more than Public Health Physicians. Apparently criminals are getting better care than children from low income families, the elderly, and the disabled.
Perhaps the fact that criminals are so deeply loved by the State Government is meant to assist them in their rehabilitation. Either that or officials at the DOC just love their fat paychecks.
The 2007-2009 budget for economic development was $5.4 billion.
The Oregon Corporate Welfare Department (sorry: Economic and Community Development Department) had a budget of $429 million.
This is the department that provides subsidies for Hollywood movie studios, green energy scams, and pharmaceutical companies, amongst others.
The governor is recommending a 200% increase in tax subsidies for movie studios. The Governor’s proposal is that Oregon taxpayers should give more money to private corporations producing movies in our State than is spent on our own public broadcasting system.
The human services budget is the largest outlay for the State. In 2007-2009 the budget was $12 billion.
The Department of Human Services runs the Oregon Health Plan, provides services for children and the elderly, as well as providing services to individuals with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems.
This is more or less your traditional “welfare” program. What you learn from the budget is that the welfare of the individuals working for the DHS, and the corporations they funnel money to, seems to be more important to them than the welfare of the people they supposedly serve.
The DHS is the one agency with employees who actually make more than those working for the DOC. 112 DHS employees are earning over $100,000 per year with salaries up to $242,000.
One of the issues with DHS spending is that much of it appears to be tenuously related to providing services. The Commission for the Blind ($16.2m), the State Commission on Children and Families ($88m), the Administrative Support Division ($484m*), and the Long Term Care Ombudsman ($2.7m) are examples of groups funded under the DHS that do not directly provide any services.
[*Governor’s proposal. The actual spending amount is not given in the document of the legislatively passed budget.]
A prominent feature of the DHS budget is the tens or hundreds of millions in corporate welfare being doled out under the guise of welfare for people who actually need it.
The Office of Private Health Partnerships, which is a subsidy for private health insurance companies, had a budget of $82 million.
Public health expenditures ($4.8 billion) include large sums going to private insurance companies, and other private for-profit corporations.
Other DHS programs, such as those providing mental health and addiction treatment ($766 million) also operate as conduits for public money into the hands of privately owned for-profit corporations.
If the Oregon Government actually provided real financial data, it would be much easier to find out who is profiting and in what amounts. The lowest estimates that can be made of public taxpayer dollars being turned into private profits are $10’s of millions, and the number is probably over $100 million.
Consumer and Business Services
This group of agencies has a budget of $875 million. Most of it comes directly from fees on the people to whom services are being provided. The one exception is the Bureau of Labor and Industries, which has a budget of $12 million.
An interesting trait of Government spending priorities can be observed here.
Where the Government regulates individuals, such as Accountants, Contractors, or consumers of public utilities, it requires them to pay directly for the costs of regulation. Where the government regulates big corporations, it passes on the bill to the tax payer.
The costs for the legislature were $121 million for 2007-2009. This is an increase of 61% over the 2005-2007 budget of $75 million, and a staggering 208% increase over the 2003-2005 budget of $58 million.
Has Oregon’s GDP grown by 208% in those years? Have the incomes of Oregon taxpayers grown by 208%?
About the only things that are growing at a similar rate are foreclosures and unemployment.
Costs include $5.7 million for the Legislative Fiscal Officer, who has a staff of 8 people earning over $100,000 per year.
The Legislative Administrative Committee had costs of $68 million. For some reason that department employs three Chief Information Officers being paid over $100,000 per year. They have a fourth "Chief Information Officer" with a salary of $94,440.
I am not sure if they have ever heard the saying “too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” but it would seem to be applicable here.
Ironically, the entire budget for the Commission on Indian Services (another legislative department) is less than what is being paid to the holy trinity of Chief Information Officers.
$585 million: $369 million for judges, prosecutors, and courts, and $215 million to pay for public defenders.
Six-figure judges hearing cases argued by six-figure lawyers, so that they can put people in prison to be taken care of by six-figure doctors and dentists. Welcome to the world’s most expensive and bizarre circus act.
This is not a comprehensive review of the State’s budget. A comprehensive review is impossible because the data is not available, and the time it would take to prepare and present would be excessive.
What can be concluded from the available data is that the State Government’s budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare, unnecessary administrative costs, and inflated salaries.
Oregon is a State with a per-capita income of $38,000. The taxpayers are employing 567 individuals (not including the university system) earning salaries of over $100,000 per year.
Public employees, including politicians, are employees of the taxpayers and of the citizens of this State.
It is rare for an employer to give their employee a higher salary than their own. The reasons for this are simple and obvious.
No publicly paid employee should be earning more than $100,000 per year in a state where the citizens who pay them are averaging $38,000 thousand.
Public salaries should be capped at 200% of per-capita-income, or roughly $70,000. If public employees want to earn more, then they should enact the policies necessary to increase incomes for all Oregonians. That is supposed to be their job anyway.
If anybody in government doesn’t want to take a 20%, or a 30%, or a 40% pay cut, so much the better. They can take a 100% pay cut.
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