Everyone agrees that the Oregon Legislature has a credibility problem. The Oregonian described public expectations of the 2005 session as “somewhere between low and subterranean.”
Sensing unrest, the Legislative Emergency Board has allocated $150,000 from the state’s emergency fund for such reforms as holding committee hearings outside Salem on Fridays and establishing a commission to study why the public doesn’t trust its representatives.
The real reason is that legislators have proved themselves unworthy of trust by the way they responded to the state’s sudden prosperity during the boom years of the 1990s.
Cascade Policy Institute’s latest budget report documents that as the economy peaked between 1998 and 2000, state and local government spending rose at a rate one-third faster than citizens’ income.
There was simply no way for the state to sustain such high spending once its unusually large tax revenues declined. Lawmakers tried to keep the spending up with borrowed money, but that could only work for so long. The current budget crisis inevitably followed.
The Legislature must act more responsibly now by focusing on the state’s core services such as education and corrections, resisting the temptation to throw money at every feel-good program that comes along. Politicians will feel the sting now, but it is the only way the Legislature can restore its tarnished credibility.
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