In less than two weeks, Oregon voters will decide the fate of a temporary tax surcharge that plugs an $800 million hole in the state budget. The outcome is in doubt because we like to live by the pleasure principle.
The pleasure principle is the habit of cutting taxes and resisting even temporary, emergency taxes without knowing or trying to know the budget consequences of our actions. It is an addiction to abominations like the so-called income tax "kicker" that coughs up tax refunds in the good times when the state should be saving for a rainy day. It is trust misplaced in a runaway initiative and referendum system rather than in leaders we elect to govern us. The result is bizarre:
Voters have effectively removed fiscal policy from the governor and the legislature and given it over to the private ballot measure industry run by pied pipers of the free lunch.
(In their opposition to Ballot Measure 30 these false prophets are working to repeal an emergency tax increase without explaining which vital services will have to be cut to make up for the revenue loss. Indeed, they pretend that no vital services will have to be cut!)
This process relegates modern Oregon governors and legislators to a kind of shovel brigade. Their function is to clean up the mess after the parade passes. If they can.
Prudence should have told us to save resources during the boom years to protect vital services from the recession now upon us. But - egged on by the same P.T. Barnums who oppose the surcharge - Oregonians spent the boom years cutting taxes, refunding taxes, and cutting and refunding them again.
ReductionsThe recession has reduced the state's budgeted revenue by $800 million and without the temporary surcharge, outlays for schools, colleges, cops and kids will be cut to the bone to rebalance the books.
The pom-pom brigade against ballot Measure 30 would have you believe Oregon is a cocoon, isolated and unaffected by the rest of the world. Snap out of it! Much of the rest of the world is rapidly exploiting our disinvestment in society, and especially in education.
Consider the Chinese. In Xhuhai, China, across from Hong Kong on the South China coast, authorities have created a brand new 4,000-acre branch campus of Beijing Normal University. It's only one example of China's zeal to equip the most populous nation on earth with a world-class education.
Ron Tammen, director of the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University visited this college and it made his jaw drop: spanking new buildings and a library he says is the finest he has ever seen - anywhere. Every student has a study carrel with the latest flat screen monitor and XP Pro software in their computer. A click of a key summons up almost anything in the library's collection.
Cut to Oregon, where Southern Oregon University was forced close its library on Saturdays - thanks to the no-tax, no-matter-what cabal whose work has cut higher education by $55 million in the last three fiscal years.
You say you're proud of the good ol' USA - No.1 and all that? Ask yourself: which nation - the U.S. or China - is the "sleeping giant" now? At this rate, which do you suppose will dominate the world economy when our children are adult workers trying to support families?
There was a time when governors like Tom McCall, Mark Hatfield and Robert Straub presided over an Oregon that was the envy of the nation. When Oregon's public schools were stable, when its universities were strong, when its police and parks were among the nation's best.
We gave that up for the pleasure principle, believing the only good money is that which we keep in our pockets, not that which we invest in our community.
This is how we got to be 46th in the nation in support of our public schools. And how it came to be that 33 percent of our high school students end up dropping out.
Having pocketed our false savings, we Oregonians are paying through the nose.
Former Congressman Les AuCoin is an Ashland writer and professor and former Majority Leader of the Oregon House of Representatives.