It turns out some of those fiscal conservatives are closet spendthrifts. The Nose likes to think of them as HIPPOs (Hypocrites Intent on Padding Public Offices).
The Nose doesn't agree that the state's financial woes could be solved if we just looked harder for wasteful spending. He does, however, respect lawmakers who walk the talk of stinginess--though that list is quickly getting shorter.
Last month the Eugene Register-Guard reported that Republican Rep. Tim Knopp, just before stepping down as House Majority Leader, gave six aides pay raises and bonuses ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. This is a man who fought against the income-tax hike, saying government had to tighten its belt like the rest of us. He's a leading member of the same political party that trashed Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski for handing out bonuses one-tenth the size.
But it doesn't stop there. The Nose recently got ahold of the most recent staff budget reports for the Legislature.
During the interim (when the Legislature isn't in session), each of Oregon's 90 legislators has a budget of $1,846 per month to pay for staff. Given that there's not a whole lot to do these days, that seems like plenty. And, according to December salary records, two-thirds of our lawmakers are spending less than that (including five who have no paid staff at all). Some of them, as in past years, will simply return the unused cash to the state.
And what about the rest? Records show that in December, nearly two dozen lawmakers paid $2,000 or more in staff salaries.
Normally, the Nose wouldn't think this bit of muck worth raking. But gazing at the list of the 23 budget-busters, he noticed something: 70 percent of them were Republicans. What's more, 11 of them, like Knopp, voted against the temporary income-tax legislation that is now before voters as Measure 30. Those budget-busting HIPPOs (see box) include some of the RINOs' harshest critics.
Interestingly, each of these lawmakers employs someone who shares a surname. It could be that Victoria Doyle, Sharon Harper, Lola Messerle and the rest are worth every public dime they're paid. And their employers' generosity won't drain the state coffers (if their office spending habits are left unchecked, they'll simply run out of cash before the 2005 legislative session begins).
But symbolically, the conduct of these HIPPOs is perplexing: Here are lawmakers who scream "government must live within its means!" and yet are on pace to drain their office budgets early. These are the same people who tell those on the Oregon Health Plan, "You'll have to make do with less," while they merrily deposit state paychecks into their family bank accounts.
With HIPPOs joining RINOs, the Nose figures it's time the elephant party considers picking a new mascot. Too bad the jackass is already taken.