Monday Conversation with Measure 30 opponent

Russ Walker
Age: 36
Born: Houston, Texas.
Education: Degree in political science at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
Residence: Keizer.
Family: Wife and three children.
Occupation: Northwest Director of Citizens for a Sound Economy.
Hobbies: Coaches wrestling at McNary High School and soccer at Boys & Girls Club.

January 26, 2004

Leaders in the fight against Measure 30 say the initiative not only would be an unfair but also would place an unnecessary tax burden on families and businesses at a time when many already are struggling.

Russ Walker, the Northwest director of Citizens for a Sound Economy and a leader in the fight to defeat the measure, says there are better ways than raising taxes to find money to keep government running.

Question: Some say that Oregon’s economy is going to have a hard time despite what happens with Measure 30. What do you say to those people?

Answer: They’re right in the sense that we’re experiencing slow economic growth.

We have had 151 percent growth in government spending over the last 12 years between 1989 and 2002. And over that same period of time, we’ve only experienced a growth in population and inflation of 30 percent, so we’ve far outpaced population and inflation growth.

That is, we cannot sustain that amount of growth. We just can’t do it. We have a spending problem in Oregon, and until we learn how to restrain spending and prioritize the things that we spend money to maintain, such as the critical services of education and public safety, we will have problems.

We cannot maintain that level of growth in government spending into the future. Until we broaden the tax base by adding new jobs and put more people to work, we’ll have difficulty paying for all of the new programs, which we put in place over the last 12 years.

Q: What’s the alternative if voters reject Measure 30?

A: Really what we’re looking for is efficiencies in the way government spends money.

You could have further PERS reform. The state of Oregon spends somewhere between 9 percent of payroll to 16 percent of payroll on providing retirement benefits for its public employees. The private sector spends 3.5 percent to 5 percent of payroll on the same services.

So that’s money that comes right off the top of every state budget or before they spend any money on services. That cost of providing benefits for public employees increased over the same period of time that we had the recession.

So we didn’t have that exorbitant cost three years ago. It was much lower and there’s a lot of reasons for that. There was some PERS reform that was passed, but we can go further so you’re not actually changing the benefits, which is providing retirement benefits for public employees. You’re just changing the way you provide them.

Instead of letting people retire at 52, you do things like have them retire at normal ages when most people retire at 65. Other types of things you can do is outsource (privatize services).

A good example of this is lunch services and meal services provided in our public school system. By outsourcing the lunch services, you can save an enormous amount of money and still provide the same service.

Q: What do you say to those who feel that by killing Measure 30, voters are only hurting themselves and forcing dramatic cuts in services?

A: We think those cuts have been placed there to hold voters hostage. We think those same people who voted for the tax increase, along with the governor, put together a package that would hit the services that people care about most.

Agencies have the ability to cut within their budgets if it’s necessary to cut within their budgets without going to the things people care about, like education and public safety.

The unions will oppose it because you’re going to impact their membership, but you can outsource and save an enormous amount of money and provide the same service.

That’s the right thing to do for taxpayers.

Along those lines though, we don’t believe that the Legislature will just let those cuts occur. We believe the Legislature will come back into session. We believe that the governor has a plan already drafted to come back into session and balance the budget without new taxes and balance the budget with existing revenues. There have been lots of options put on the table.

Crystal Bolner can be reached at (503) 589-6967. “The Monday Conversation” features edited excerpts from a weekly Statesman Journal interview with a public personality or other interesting character from the Mid-Valley. If you have a suggestion for an interview, contact assistant metro editor Dan Bender at (503) 399-6731.