By John A. Charles, Jr.

The news from Portland is that despite record levels of revenue, the City Council needs to cut $4 million in spending next year in order to balance the budget.

The news from Salem is that despite record levels of revenue, the Governor needs to close a $1.7 billion dollar budget gap for the next two-year state spending cycle.

It’s not just a coincidence that these messages are the same. Elected officials are almost always poor stewards of public money. No matter how much they receive from property taxes, income taxes, payroll taxes, liquor taxes, garbage taxes, and dozens of other fees and licenses, it’s never enough.

The primary reason is that politicians tend to adopt new programs where the costs are back-loaded. Policies are approved that sound good and don’t seem to cost much in the short-term; but decades out, the costs explode. Public employee pensions are the most painful example of this.

By the time it becomes obvious that we can’t afford the programs, the politicians who approved them are long gone, and the expenses are locked in.

We don’t have a revenue problem in government; we have a spending problem. The top priority at both the Portland City Council and the state legislature should be to reduce or completely eliminate programs before any new taxes are even considered.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

2 thoughts on “There’s Never Enough Money for Government

  1. Yesterday, it was reported by either KEX or KXL radio station Portland has the third largest city debt per capita for major U.S cities, with one of the others being Chicago which is facing financial bankruptcy and a sharp upturn new taxes. Per Capita city debt for Portlanders is something like $19,000 per household.

    And it’s not only taxes but a significant amount of the excess spending and debt by the City of Portland is self inflicted, by pie-in-the-sky regulations; the combination of mounting taxes and regulatory costs driving the middle class out of the City of Portland.

  2. When I returned to the Portland area five years ago, I attended City Council meetings to get up to speed on local issues. At one meeting, the council unanimously approved transgender benefits for city employees who wanted sex-change surgery.

    It only costs $32,000, said Commissioner Nick Fish, an amount that he called “trivial … a drop in the bucket.”

    Those drops — and that kind of attitude — add up to millions of dollars.

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