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A Simple Choice: Oregonians or Tax Giveaways?

Representative Peter Buckly is a first term legislator representing Ashland, Jacksonville, Phoenix & Talent.


About a year ago, we had a lot of stress in our house. My oldest son had graduated from high school, and we were trying like crazy to make sure we had a financial plan for his college education that would actually work. We did what everyone does, every day, all the time. We did our best to figure out all the needs of our family and all of our resources, and we made choices.

There were some things we decided to keep focusing on, and other things we decided to drop for the simple reason that they weren't going to get us where we wanted to go.

We made choices. These kind of choices are a fact of life, and there are consequences when you make them. And my oldest son just completed his freshman year at U of O.

I bring this up because making choices is something that our state has refused to do this session and previous sessions at a very fundamental level. It's our job as legislators and as citizens to clarify the choices we face, and to understand the consequences.

We've made hundreds of small and not so small choices to get us to where we are today. Currently there is not a single budget being discussed that will adequately fund education in Oregon, from pre-K through higher ed. It's not even part of the conversation. We have the news that even at the inadequate funding levels for health services to senior citizens, the disabled, our children, our families, our businesses and our communities that we have been considering up to now, the forecast is that we are over $100 million short.

We have a choice to make. We can either continue on the path we have been down, refusing to consider all of our state's resources when we seek to address all of our state's needs, or we can roll up our sleeves, openly discuss the worth of the decisions we have made up to now, make a new choice and experience much different consequences.

We can address the $100 million-plus shortfall in Human Services by taking away resources from our kids' education or from our state police, slicing ever smaller pieces from an inadequate pie, or we can choose to open the huge book we have on tax breaks in our state, review each break to see if it is serving the majority of Oregonians or a small special interest, and make our decision from there.

This is why I wrote and sponsored House Bill 3490--to offer a different choice for where we are right now and where we want to go.

The choice is simple:

Do we fund a proven program like Oregon Project Independence that allows our senior citizens to remain safely in their own homes, or do we continue to offer tax breaks to corporations and individuals operating overseas?

Do we care for the developmentally disabled in our communities, or do we continue to provide special tax breaks for executives paid with stock options?

Do we make the attempt for every Oregonian to have access to basic vision and dental care through low cost community clinics, or do we continue to offer a tax break for companies that take out life insurance policies on their own employees and keep the benefits of the policy should an employee die?

These are choices that are directly in front of us. The Oregon Revenue Coalition has worked for many months to clarify these choices, and with a budget seen as inadequate across the board including a $100 million gap in Human Services, I'm pleased to stand with the Revenue Coalition to offer a bill that will make the choice to eliminate nine specific tax breaks that serve the few, and return $115 million of resources to the needs of our state.

Choices such as this aren't easy--every tax break has its advocates and backers--but choices like this are what we must do. My hope is that this bill will be the start for a full review of our tax expenditures, with the goal of making sure that every dollar in tax revenue is used intelligently and efficiently, for the good of all of Oregon.

The conversations around our kitchen table last year weren't always comfortable, but we knew that they were worthwhile. We knew where we wanted to go, and we made choices to make it happen. Given a clear choice, I'm confident that the vast majority of Oregon families would choose to fund the programs that help us all instead of the tax breaks that serve the chosen few.

June 15, 2005 by Peter Buckley
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What about the enormous PERS costs that overserve the chosen few? That seems to be missing from your conversation.

Posted by: Gordie | Jun 16, 2005 12:19:03 AM


The legislature pushed forward on PERS reform last session. Not perfect, but a good effort. Please list a single tax break that has been eliminated in the last 30 years. I'm happy to talk about PERS--why is it that the GOP won't even enter into discussion on tax giveaways?

Posted by: Rep. Peter Buckley | Jun 16, 2005 12:37:10 AM


One more point--who are "the chosen few?" Are they public employees who have consistently accepted lower salaries than workers in the private sector in return for a better benefit package? Tell you what--spend a full day in a teacher's shoes, and then tell me that they are somehow part of a chosen few. Spend a day doing the work of any public employee on PERS, see who they are and what they do, and then pass judgement. PERS has problems, but your labeling of public employees as "the chosen few" is about as accurate as a right wing radio talking point.

Posted by: Rep. Peter Buckley | Jun 16, 2005 12:42:45 AM

Great point Rep. Buckley. The disdain expressed towards public employees is preposterous. Public employees, by choosing to serve the public, give up all the opportunities of the private sector - 401K's, stock options, bonuses, huge raises that come with promotions, etc. All they ask for is health care and a secure retirement. Sounds like a pretty fair deal to me.

I like to ask folks like Gordie this - what about the public cost of bailing out pensions that major corporations are now defaulting on while they continue to give their executives massive bonuses and salaries? What about Enron, the top contributor to the 2000 Bush Presidential Campaign? What about the public cost of the Enron disaster while the execs pocketed millions?

Posted by: Jon Isaacs | Jun 16, 2005 10:38:33 AM

Private pension bailouts are as obscene as PERS.
PERS (20-25%) of school, city, county govt's has bankrupted this state. Quit whining liberals...the supremes bailed you out, again!

Posted by: brevityohyeah | Jun 16, 2005 12:08:14 PM

Mr Buckley,

The "chosen few" are those public employees who are guaranteed pay raises and employment no matter how they perform. And receiving a generous pension and complete health coverage -- something pretty-much unheard of in the private sector.

How much time have you spent in the private sector? Have you spent time as a cashier for a local hardware store, or a machinist at Gunderson? The private sector has to perform in order to be granted raises or to merely keep their job.

Furthermore, I've spoken to many ex-public employees who've witnessed rampant waste and unproductive employees in our public agencies.

And what objective analysis do you have that public employees are paid less than equivalent private sector employees?

Posted by: chris mcmullen | Jun 16, 2005 12:37:35 PM

Part of Buckley's bio...(http://www.leg.state.or.us/buckley/

Peter describes his upbringing as “all about social justice and service..." Peter has applied this notion of public service to non-profit management. A 15 year veteran political commentator for NPR affiliates...

Let's see: social justice, non-profit managment,
and NPR...Yep, he's quailified on this topic alright.

Posted by: brevityohyeah | Jun 16, 2005 12:54:34 PM


Thanks for your post. I spent my early 20s in the private sector, saw tremendous waste and abuse there. I've spent the past twenty years or so in the nonprofit world, where the organizations I've worked with have had to work with absolute efficiency. The two organizations I've directed during that time period did receive grant funding as a portion of our budget, but our primary income came from producing a product, marketing it, and growing with it. With both organizations, I've not only balanced budgets, I've brought them from the red into the black, increasing revenue, adding employees, and adding benefits. I'd match my experience with yours, gladly, if you'd like to state it. I've created jobs, developed programs that have led to economic development in my community as well as advances for our schools. The training program I ran in the 1990s had an econmomic impact of $3 for every $1 of tuition our students paid, leading to a yearly impact of close to $1 million per year.

I value the public dollar intensely, and hate a single penny to be wasted. Would I redesign PERS if I could? You bet. But back to the original question, which has not been addressed--why not evaluate the tax breaks given in the past decades and eliminate the ones that don't work for our state?

Posted by: Rep. Peter Buckley | Jun 16, 2005 2:51:31 PM

Rep. Buckley:
I think that you are my new favorite house member. Oregon tax expenditures should be a part of the budget process every year--because that's what they are: expenditures. In fact, maybe we should collect them as taxes and then cut them a check back in return, just to make crystal clear what we are doing.

I don't think that all tax expenditures are a bad thing. But I do think that they should be sunsetted and reviewed, and choices made about them in comparison to other spending choices. If the choice is between social services or a tax break to a business sector that may have needed it 10 years ago, I vote that we spend our money on social services.

Just my .02....

--Dave Dyk

Posted by: Dave Dyk | Jun 16, 2005 3:12:24 PM

Buckley, (you call me Brevity)...25 years self employed, no w2's, vs yur early 20's. SCU Bronco, nice going. (private Catholic school, many friends there)...How do you exist on $1280 & $91 per diem...hmmm? Spousal support?
Try keepin' it pithy....legislators tend to blowhard...R's, Rino's & D's alike.

Posted by: brevityohyeah | Jun 16, 2005 6:25:35 PM

Brevity--(should it be your full name of "brevityohyeah"?)

Congrats on making a 25 year career self employed. Not an easy path. My best pal from Santa Clara now lives in Ashland near where I live, and he has about 25 years in as well as a freelance patent drawing guy. We run together every Saturday and argue politics and economics, it's great. As for how I survive as a state rep, I still work 1/4 time on my "regular" job (ten hours per week, either late nights or on the weekend), plus I have, as you suggested, a fantastic supportive spouse who works...at a nonprofit in Ashland. Between the two of us, we're a middle class family, three kids, two cars, one dog...and if it makes any difference, I went to Santa Clara on a theatre scholarship, still feel lucky about that...

Posted by: Rep. Peter Buckley | Jun 16, 2005 8:50:37 PM

I am always amazed at those who glorify the private sector employee? Have you been to a bank lately? Tried talking to a customer service rep over the phone? What about that kid serving you coffee at Starbucks? I've had far more frustrating experiences lately with folks who aren't being paid enough and thus have no loyalty to their employer than public sector workers who have to put up with angry, bitter, frustrated "citizens" who have no clue how state government works. Have you ever noticed that those who cite waste in government always have a buddy who used to work in government that tells them about waste? Why can't they ever cite concreate examples themselves?

By the way...What about the multi-million dollar payouts of corporate CEO's who run their companies into the ground? Isn't that a form of waste?

Posted by: WmZFoster | Jun 16, 2005 9:58:02 PM

Mr. Buckley,

Concerning the corporate tax giveaways: I'm in total agreement with you. However, if we remove tax incentives, we need to eliminate all the SDCs, regulations and other fees levied on businesses in order for them to locate and expand here. There's too much competition with other tax-friendly states and Oregon can't just sell itself on trees, mountains and good schools.

I assume you're also against the public money spent on PGE, major league baseball, South Waterfront, the Pearl District, OHSU, etc.??

Posted by: Chris McMullen | Jun 17, 2005 10:53:19 AM

Is it possible to debate honestly, or does debating multiple sides of an issue force specific changes, and if you oppose changes you also oppose debate?

I had a very interesting conversation last week with a Republican staffer.

The Tax Expenditure Report is 10 years old--mandated by the 1995 legislature.

What I said to the staffer was "Here's a great example of waste--why spend the money printing the Tax Expenditure Report if so many legislators are averse to even discussing it in public?".

The staffer had no answer.

I don't see why some find open public debate such a threat. Might it challenge their ideology?

Posted by: what is wrong with debate? | Jun 18, 2005 7:57:24 PM

Sine di
give us peace

Posted by: brevityohyeah | Jun 18, 2005 8:14:37 PM


Give us good schools, health care for all Oregonians, safe communities and a truly just justice system and I can promise you all the peace and quiet your heart can desire. Until then, you are going to have the House Democrats bringing up these issues every way we possibly can. Relentlessly.

And Chris--thanks again for the comments--to try to clarify further, I am in no way against intelligent and effective investment of public funds (that's what they are for, smart investments of public money for the public good).

And I am not against every tax expenditure, either. Some are extremely beneficial. What I am proposing, to loop back to the start of the conversation, is to have a thorough review and debate on every tax dollar, including those we spend on programs and those we "spend" as tax breaks for specific entities, with the overridding question always being if we are making the best possible choice for our state in each instance.

Posted by: Rep. Peter Buckley | Jun 18, 2005 11:54:26 PM

What would really be fun is if the bashers were to argue based on:

The facts.
The Merits.
The Topic.

Does every single issue have to go right to PERS or WasteFraudandAbuse?

The fact is that PERS was and is a problem. The oversight board failed to do its duty many years back and thoughtful legislators on BOTH sides of the aisle have attempted to address it from a lot of different angles. Sometimes little things like THE LAW get in the way of solutions that we might wish for.

Now, instead of attacking first term legislators for decisions that were taken long before their arrival in the statehouse, how about a discussion of the rank stupidity of saving a nickle by cutting out services to elders and minors that will wind up costing the state millions in the long run, and are totally cold blooded and lacking in compassion to boot.

We're ALL about moral values, right?

Just asking.......

Posted by: Pat Ryan | Jun 21, 2005 11:50:16 AM

Rep. Buckley, sorry about starting the PERS conversation, then disappearing...there was a death in the family. FYI, I'm a retired government employee (admittedly federal) who doesn't listen to talk radio, right or left.

With all due respect, claiming that our government employees are making less than they would in private industry isn't true for most of them. Add better-than-average medical benefits, a great retirement system, and strong job security in many professions (newer teachers obviously excepted) and only a small percentage of our state workers can claim to be doing worse than their private sector counterparts. I know that work conditions aren't great for many of them (like teachers with stuffed classrooms), as we have less government employees than the average state, and many have been enduring cuts while trying to serve more customers.

Oregon could afford to improve their work conditions if the state spread the money out across more employees. Instead, PERS and healthcare costs continue to rise faster than inflation, meaning it takes a bigger percentage of the state budget while leaving less for critical government services. And for instance, even in these lean budgetary times, the average Oregon teacher saw his/her salary rise more than inflation last year. When it comes to trying to control healthcare costs, what's happened to centralizing, for instance, the purchasing of such coverage for educators?

Yes tax breaks also matter. Leadership has to show caution not to cut too deep and drive business away. Our unemployment rate doesn't seem to indicate that overall, government is being too generous with tax breaks, but I know there are exceptions that need to be addressed.

Unfortunately for all of us, there are lots of choices that have been too hard for the legislature as a whole this year. Avoiding the elephants in the room won't make them go away.

...and to John Isaacs: You think that my comments about PERS somehow parallel an acceptance of Enron's corporate behavior or CEOs that extract millions while the government ends up on the hook for underfunded pensions? To be polite, that's a truly amazing leap.

Posted by: Gordie | Jun 24, 2005 12:57:28 AM


Very sorry to hear about your loss.

I appreciate your responses to these issues. My hope is that we can get all of the cards on the table--the salary levels, the pension amounts, the tax breaks, all of it. Until we do that, until we are willing to go beyond the quick soundbites on either side, we're not going to be able to make progress.

To my mind, there aren't any "bad guys" in the economic mix we have right now, except for those who say that we can't address one side of the equation until their personal issues are settled first. It makes no more sense to say that it is all the PERS system's fault as it does to say that it's all the corporate tax breaks that are dragging us down. It all has to be looked at--every dollar we spend and every dollar we step away from with a tax break. That has been my point all along.

Teachers who work 30 years feel entitled to a good retirement. That is absolutely understandable. A business owner who is creating jobs in Oregon feels that his state should work hard to help him accomplish his goals, and that is also absolutely understandable. But again, all issues have to be able to be debated and decided on, with the overall question being what is best for Oregon, and for the next generations.

I firmly believe that the legislature is capable of having these debates and making these decisions. That is what we're elected to do--to find the balance and the way forward. We can't have any aspect of the discussion be held as sacred and off limits. During this session, there has been an absolute refusal from the majority party in the House to even discuss the tax breaks given in the past--the only debate allowed is on additional tax breaks.

Again--everything should be on the table for open debate. We can do much better than we have been. With everything on the table, every legislator and every citizen can present their ideas and views, just as you have done on this blog. But with an artificial parameter of "no discussion of tax expenditures or any other possible additional revenue," Oregon is handcuffed.

I hope you will join me in tryiing to find the ways to get everything on the table at long last, and to having the discussion, making the fair decisions, and creating the Oregon we're capable of creating to leave to our kids and grandkids.

Posted by: Rep. Peter Buckley | Jun 24, 2005 4:46:33 PM

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