Never underestimate the ability of Gov. Kate Brown to shift responsibility and misdirect.
At Monday’s Oregon Leadership Summit, business and political leaders discussed Oregon’s budget shortfall and what might be done to close it.
It was a great opportunity for Brown to exhibit some of the leadership qualities for which so many people presumably voted for her. Did she do it? Not unless asking someone else to solve the state’s problems, even while refusing to acknowledge their causes, constitutes leadership. She did scapegoat, though.
She called on businesses, which had helped to defeat the enormous corporate tax hike known as Measure 97, to offer a tax plan. But setting tax policy is not their job. Leadership in this case is the governor’s job. Rather than implicitly wagging her finger at businesses for helping to kill an exorbitant tax, and rather than suggesting it’s their job to come up with a replacement, she should have called people together to help her develop a plan.
She also engaged in a little misdirection.
A major contributor to the looming budget shortfall is Oregon’s pension system for public employees, which many legislators, business leaders and others are justifiably interested in reforming. But not Brown, the text of whose speech Monday warned businesses “if your only solution is to cut teachers’ salaries and renege on our promise to retirees, then this conversation will not go very far.”
Who are these people who made that the one and only solution? Nobody, that’s who.
Then again, expecting someone who’s shown so little leadership in the past to contribute meaningfully to Monday’s leadership summit might have been a pipe dream in any case. Measure 97, which Brown supported as a solution to the state’s budget problems, didn’t end up on the ballot as a consequence of her leadership. It was the work of the state’s public employee unions.
Should anyone be surprised that Brown is now looking to businesses for leadership while refusing to talk about one of state and local governments’ biggest cost-drivers?
Fortunately, opportunities for leadership still exist. Members of Brown’s party are leading a renewed charge against businesses — you know, the people who create jobs. Democratic lawmakers want to control how businesses schedule employees. They want private companies to be required to disclose their taxes to the public, presumably because such information will cast businesses in an unflattering light and make it easier to tax them more aggressively in the future. If Brown wants to encourage businesses to cooperate, she ought to tell members of her own party — publicly and loudly — to lay off the finger pointing and table new mandates.
To listen to Brown talk, you’d never know Oregon’s budget difficulties exist despite rapidly growing revenue. Revenues for the 2015-17 budget cycle increased $1.9 billion over 2013-15, rising to over $18 billion. Revenues are expected to increase by more than 8 percent, to $19.5 billion, during the coming biennium.
Notwithstanding such revenue growth, there may be a case for more revenue. Given that expenses are growing even more rapidly than revenue, there’s certainly a case for cost control, beginning with Oregon’s public pension system. If nothing else, a real leader would admit the obvious.