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Budget shortfall, right to bear firearms among topics set for 2013 Legislative session

by Senator DOUG WHITSETT, guest writer 12/27/13

Guest Writer

The Oregon Legislative Assembly will convene Feb. 4. Five of its most pressing tasks will be to stabilize the Public Employees Retirement System, allocate Oregonís slim budget resources, reduce our unacceptable level of indebtedness, improve our stateís ability to attract private sector jobs and protect our Second Amendment rights to bear firearms.

PERS stabilization

PERS contributions will cost Oregon public employers more than $3 billion during the next two-year budget period. That amount of money would pay nearly 23,000 average public employees with fully loaded benefits for two years.

Consider what 20,000 new teachers could do for our struggling public education system. Virtually all of that money is supported by taxes, fees and charges collected from Oregonians.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and both Republican caucuses agree the cost is unsustainable. We simply cannot pay for adequate public services while bearing that financial burden. Moreover, public employeesí future retirement benefits may be in serious jeopardy if we fail to enact significant reform.

Budget shortfall

Projected revenue is significantly higher for the next budget period. However, tax revenue will be inadequate to cover all demands created by a stagnant economy that has caused more than five years of nearly unprecedented underemployment.

We may expect two different approaches to solving the budget shortfall. Democrats will generally work to increase revenue adequate to meet all of the needs by increasing taxes, fees and charges. Republicans will generally work to reduce costs, increase efficiency and prioritize spending to fund the most critically needed services.

The governorís recommended budget proposes to spend virtually all projected revenue. When that projected revenue fails to materialize, repeated expenditure reductions will be required in order to balance the budget.

Increased debt

Oregonís debt has grown nearly exponentially during the past 20 years. The Legislature treated available credit like cash that should be spent.

As the direct result, our combined debt and unfunded pension liabilities are among the worst in the nation, according to Moodyís rating service. Principle and interest payments on just the general fund and lottery-backed debt alone are costing taxpayers more than a billion dollars each biennium.

We should be working toward accelerating payment of existing debt, rather than creating more taxpayer-funded liability. Unfortunately, the governorís recommended budget continues to virtually max-out available credit.

Oregonís revenue shortfall and widespread dependency on state and federal entitlements is ultimately caused by unemployment, underemployment and falling per-capita income. This pernicious problem can only be corrected by creating a better business environment that will encourage more business start-ups, business growth and capital investments.

Our general policies of regulating it if it moves, taxing it if it grows and subsidizing it if it stands still must be changed.

Reducing regulation in the current political environment will be difficult at best. Efforts to reform Oregon tax policy are already on the table. One proposal is to levy a 5 percent sales tax, reduce income tax and capital gains to 6 percent and exempt the first $50,000 of value from residential property taxes. The expected outcome is an annual $1 billion tax increase.

Preserving Second Amendment rights

I intend to help lead the strong bipartisan effort that will be required to fully preserve our Second Amendment rights. Recent tragic events have caused a renaissance of anti-gun sentiment.

We expect to see bills reducing allowable magazine capacity, prohibiting possession of semi-automatic weapons, officially banning firearms from schools and a plethora of other activities.

Our government of the people only works when the people are actively engaged. Please be a part of our legislative effort by calling, emailing or writing with your ideas, concerns and potential solutions.

Editorís note: Klamath Countyís three legislators were asked to write commentaries on their expectations and hopes for the 2013 Legislative session that begins Feb. 4.

The first is from State Sen. Doug Whitsett, who represents District 28, which includes much of south central Oregon, including Klamath and Lake counties. He will be in his third, four-year term.



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