Two things caught my eye last week as Governor Brown and Salem Democrats steamrolled their way to the halfway point of 2016 legislative session—what issues did they push through and which ones were ignored?
Consider their recent handiwork first: an increase in Oregon’s minimum wage. Whatever one may think of increasing the minimum wage, it affects a small subset of wage earners (something less than 1 percent). And if minimum wage were the key to real prosperity, Oregon wouldn’t be lagging behind the nation in so many economic measures. The reason: Oregon already has one of the highest minimum wages in the United States.
Our next governor needs to focus on creating real prosperity across Oregon and not be satisfied with basically managing, if not ensuring, a minimum wage economy. Our next governor should be doing things to guarantee that Oregon’s business climate once again promotes economic growth and prosperity so we have are more high-wage jobs and rising incomes for our people—especially in rural Oregon. We could do all that while taking care of full-time, low-wage earners by using a targeted earned income tax credit. Brown's minimum wage increase takes us in the opposite direction.
Real leadership in the Legislature would address two issues that would actually advance economic prosperity across the state—issues that Governor Brown and the Salem Democrats won’t even discuss:
PERS and Transportation.
The Oregonian reported last week that an awful situation is getting worse on the PERS front. Declines in the stock market will put added upward pressure on
employer contribution rates that are already expected to go up from 18 to 30 percent of payroll over the next six years. If nothing is done, Oregon schools will have to cut teachers and local governments will have to slash services to pay for public employers' ballooning PERS rates. Governor Brown is doing nothing about this. Education will suffer, and education is key to any state’s prosperity.
Our transportation system in inadequate. Yet once again, there’s no leadership from Brown. The governor didn’t dare put forward a transportation package after her actions last year, which doomed hopes for transportation improvements. In a thriving state, workers and shippers need to be able to get to and from places in a safe and timely manner. This has not been the case under Brown.
It is time for a new direction. See my specific plans for transportation and PERS. People can debate one proposal or another. But I think most Oregonians will agree that it all must start with leadership.