Salem suddenly awash with cash for toys
In Oregon, forestry is a wonderful science. Recent advances by the state's arborists have culminated in the development of new species of trees on which money grows. There's no other way to explain this week's news rolling out of Salem.
First we've got the governor's plan to increase gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for transportation projects. Now, a lot of that makes sense, as those charges haven't been increased in years, even for routine inflation, and it doesn't take too long a drive in most parts of the state to come upon a road or a bridge that's fallen into disrepair. But it's the fine print that drives you nuts: "He also would borrow $600 million, raise the tobacco tax by 2½ cents and take $16 million in lottery money to pay for railroad, mass transit and port projects."
Ah, yes. Those "port projects." Hey, Governor Ted, come on. At least if we're talking about the Port of Portland (run top to bottom by the governor's cronies), it's a cash cow. They've got money for a completely unnecessary new office building out at the airport, and a costly headquarters move -- let them find their own pork. And "mass transit"? No doubt more streetcars to try to save the moribund condo-oops-apartment developer set, and too late at that. Just what we need.
Then there are the good old boys at Oregon Health and Sciences University and Health Club, who have their hand out for a huge pile of dough to build their dream campus down in the failed mud pit known as the SoWhat District:
The immediate translation: On top of its inflation-adjusted base appropriation from the state -- $88 million -- OHSU is asking Gov. Ted Kulongoski to request an additional $40 million to plug the medical school funding gap, plus $10 million for programs designed to address a looming shortage of doctors and nurses, particularly in rural areas of the state....Recession? What recession?
OHSU hopes the state will tap its borrowing capacity to stimulate OHSU construction on Portland's South Waterfront. Specifically, the university is asking the state to issue $175 million in bonds -- paid back by taxpayers -- to help fund the first building in a new South Waterfront medical campus. OHSU has a $40 million anonymous gift to use on the project, and hopes the collaborative nature of the project -- the building would house programs from all the major schools in the Oregon University System -- will persuade the Legislature to chip in.
When the tighty righties complain about the "tax, borrow, and spend" cycle that the Democratic Party usually brings us, I'm usually not impressed. At least the Democrats spend money on helping people, rather than killing them. And by adding taxes to the Republican mix of "borrow and spend," at least the blue lawmakers make a gesture toward fiscal responsibility.
But when you see us go deep into hock for junk projects like a new Port of Portland headquarters, miles and miles of spendy streetcar toys, and Oz-like palaces for the rich docs at OHSU, you feel a little ashamed of how our "progressive" leaders act -- and to whom they answer -- once they get themselves elected.
You kids with no medical care: Hang in there, we'll get to you... eventually.