There’s some grumbling around the water cooler at Oregon Lottery headquarters in Salem.
None of the aggrieved parties would speak for attribution, but the source of their discontent is a matter of public record: Two of the agency’s top employees have moved permanently to sunnier climes far from Oregon—and to states where there’s no personal income tax. (Oregon’s rate tops out at 9.9% for residents making over $125,000. Both employees make more than that.)
Lottery spokesman Matt Shelby confirms that the agency’s chief financial officer and director of human resources have both left Oregon. But Shelby says the moves are in keeping with new lottery and state policies that changed in recognition of the realities of COVID-19, a mobile workforce, and the benefits of remote employment.
Shelby says the lottery put new policies into place a year ago that expand opportunities for remote work. The Oregon Department of Administrative Services, whose policies govern most other state agencies, followed last December. There are now nearly 500 state employees living in other states full time, officials say. That’s less than 2% of all state employees.
Managers still must approve remote work on a case-by-case basis. The lottery, which is the state’s second-largest source of revenue after income taxes, operates in a competitive marketplace with other state lotteries and rapidly expanding private-sector gambling.
“You can’t run all state agencies like a business, but you sure can with lottery,” Shelby says. “Like other companies, lottery has found hybrid and remote work, when possible, expands our talent pool and provides greater flexibility for staff.”
The lottery’s HR director, Janell Simmons, who now lives in Florida, agrees: “Hybrid and remote work, when the position allows, is good for employees and good for business. It has dramatically expanded our talent pool for new recruitments.”
Jody Wiser of the watchdog group Tax Fairness Oregon is nonetheless skeptical that elite employees whose salaries and princely benefits come from Oregon taxpayers should be allowed to live income tax free elsewhere. “It seems unfair,” Wiser says.
She’s also critical of the lottery’s decision to pay the travel costs of senior employees when they visit Salem.
“When you work remotely, it seems to me the cost should be on your own back,” Wiser says “After all, local employees don’t get paid for the cost of commuting.”
But Liz Merah, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kate Brown, says the policy shift reflects new realities.
“The governor recognizes that one positive aspect of the pandemic is that it has changed how we approach the modern workplace,” Merah says. “Within state government, we have evolved to a place where remote and hybrid work is encouraged when feasible.”
Here’s the new deal:
Name: Kathy Ortega
Title: Chief financial officer, Oregon Lottery
Left Oregon: Nov. 19, 2021, per voting records
Now lives in: McKinney, Texas
2022 travel to Salem costs: $2,064
Name: Janell Simmons
Title: Chief human resources officer, Oregon Lottery
Left Oregon: Oct. 18, 2021
Now lives in: Merritt Island, Fla.
2022 travel to Salem costs: $1,963