Gov. Ted Kulongoski's
"Resetting Government" address
to City Club last Friday is still echoing around Oregon
Public employee unions panned the message, which drew on nine months of study by top state bureaucrats and called for sharply reducing the cost of government.
Others, such as former state Sen. Ryan Deckert, a Democrat who's executive director of the Oregon Business Association and ex-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said "it was the best political speech he'd ever heard."
Many people wondered why Kulongoski, who leaves office next January after nearly 40 years of public service, would issue such a blunt challenge to his traditional labor allies so late in his second gubernatorial term. Here's how Kulogonski responded to WW's questions about the timing and tenor of his speech:
In an election year, some people say the substance of your Reset Cabinet's findings and the tenor of Friday's speech will make life difficult for Democratic legislative candidates and for former Gov. John Kitzhaber because the cost cutting and efficiencies described therein may be unpalatable to supporters such as public employee unions. And many of the Reset finding buttressed criticisms Republicans frequently make of state government. You've had a long and productive public career: why tackle this thorny issue with only six months remaining in your term rather in 2007?
I addressed the two immediate threats to Oregon's fiscal stability with PERS reform in 2003 and creating the first Rainy Day Fund in 2007.
But as recently as 2007, Oregon's revenue position was projected to be strong and steady over the next ten years. Then, in October 2008, our nation's economy turned upside down, the world around us changed and during the 2009 legislature I cautioned time and again that the state should hold on to our savings because of the uncertainty of how long the recession would last. What became quite evident was that this recession would have lasting effects unlike traditional two-year downward cycles and that's when I created the Reset Cabinet.
I could pass this problem off to the next governor, but that's not the right thing to do. I am still governor and I still have a responsibility to the citizens of this state. The ideas coming out of the Reset Cabinet lay the groundwork for the beginning of a multi-year effort to put Oregon's fiscal house in order within the new reality brought on by the most recent recession. It will be up to the next governor, legislative leaders and the people of Oregon to decide if they want to put any of these solutions in place.
What outcome do you hope to achieve?
I want all Oregonians to participate in the very difficult discussion our situation requires. The report isn't the last word – it's the beginning. But I hope we have made the case to Oregonians that we cannot afford to postpone this discussion. If we act now, we can create an Oregon that will be better able to weather future economic storms and a state government that is able to serve our citizens in good times and bad. If we delay, it will be that much harder to solve the problems we face.
What I hope I accomplished in my speech was to communicate a sense of urgency and set a standard for honesty in the debate that must follow. We have to confront these problems now, not later, and we have to be willing to hold ourselves to a tough standard for fact finding and truth telling. Our commitment to that standard will make or break this effort.
Is there any area in which you wish either the Reset Cabinet or your speech had gone even further?
The Reset report was well-researched and well-reasoned. I am pleased that it covered as much ground as it did. But, I also hope it will generate new ideas as well. It is not a finished product. I look forward to other ideas and suggestions coming forward and being debated by candidates, legislators and community leaders.