The number of blogs written by Oregonians about their home turf continues to grow. A new one is The Oregon Blog, run by "Emma Goldman" (not her real name). She's in a bit of a tizzy these days about Measure 28, a tax increase referendum that went down to resounding defeat (despite my vote in favor) last week while I was away.
I share most of her exasperation.
It's really too bad about 28. It wouldn't have cost the average Oregonian much at all -- even pretty well off people would be looking at a few hundred bucks a year in new taxes -- but the cynics in the Legislature didn't have the guts to pass it themselves. And as I said all along, they gave it the ultimate kiss of death by having the public vote in late January, when everyone was broke from the holidays. It was set up to fail.
Now come the painful budget cuts at the state and local levels, and oh, will they hurt. We'll have the shortest school calendar in the country, far fewer police, no prosecution of "nonviolent" criminals, even less of a mental health "system" (it was a cruel joke even before these cuts), junkies jonesing in public with their methadone suddenly yanked, poor sick folk dying without their prescriptions, bad roads -- the list goes on and on. It's starting to feel like Mississippi around here.
Who were the 55% of the voters who voted against 28? I suspect there are a number of different types in this group. The most hardcore are a collection of self-proclaimed "libertarians" who would prefer that all government be shut down, and that everyone fend for himself or herself with a bomb shelter and a gun collection. Don't laugh -- in the Beaver State, particularly in its southern and eastern regions, there are a lot of "freemen" sitting in their darkened shacks with canned food and shotguns. I'd venture to guess they make up more than 1% of the 55%.
Next among the victorious opponents are the Californians who began streaming into the state in 1989, fleeing the World Series quake and bringing with them their Reaganite hatred of all taxation. Liking what they found in Oregon, they have decided to stay and consume the beauty of the place, running it into the ground while steadfastly refusing to make any investment in it at all. These are the folks who packed up the moving vans when then-Gov. Goldschmidt declared Oregon "open for business." Now that the ex-guv and his real estate buddies are all millionaires many times over, the middle class of the state gets to deal with the crowding, the pollution, the traffic jams, some of the least affordable housing in the nation, and absolute impotence when it comes to funding adequate government. The California transplants' kids are now out of college, and their grandkids go to private school, so their attitude is, Gas up the SUV and screw the little folks. There they are in the cul-de-sacs down in Tualatin, living out the San Jose life at Portland prices. There's at least another 10 to 20% of the vote against. As one analyst has noted:
Indeed, the measure was heavily defeated in the two Portland suburban counties, losing by 21,000 votes in Clackamas County and by about 12,000 in Washington County. These are important counties simply due to sheer numbers; between them, they accounted for almost 250,000 votes, or just under 25 percent of the slightly more than 1 million ballots cast statewide.
Next come the union-haters, particularly those who despise organized schoolteachers. Any tax increase looks and smells to this crowd like a pay raise for a teacher. God forbid.
The most significant group, however, are those who are as open to suggestion as anyone else, but who see massive waste in state and local government. I've got to admit that I'm in this camp a lot of the time. Government in Oregon wastes so much money. And the idea behind this group's "no" votes is that by starving the government of revenue, we will force our political leaders to see the light, cut waste, and fund only the most essential government services.
The problem with this tack is that it ignores politicians' and bureaucrats' mentality. The folks in the city halls and Salem agencies all must have their toys -- their trams, their trolleys, their legions of design planners, their "chiefs of staff" and all the minions below them -- and they'll lay off cops and let roads fall apart rather than give up those toys. The counter-argument is that the voters will eventually turn the rascals out, in favor of a smarter, more capable set of managers. But that won't happen if public service becomes like running a hopelessly bankrupt business, which in fact it has already become in Oregon. Would you run for office in Oregon? I sure wouldn't.
This last segment of the opposition doubtlessly believes that the proponents of Measure 28 were crying wolf, just as they did when our California-style property tax limitation measure passed many years ago. The sky didn't fall the way it threatened to back then, and these voters surely think that it won't now. I wasn't too worried back then, either, but I'm bracing for the worst this time. This is going to be one dirty, unhappy, dangerous place, very soon.
So what to do now? Well, the Portland City Council likes to tilt at windmills: Let's buy PGE! Let's have campaign finance reform at the municipal level! Let's buy the minor league baseball team! Hey, let's build an aerial tram for the rich doctors!
Here's one idea Erik and Vera aren't smart enough to study, but they should: Let's secede from Oregon!