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Observer 11/24/14

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Home arrow Opinion arrow Our View arrow PUBLIC EMPLOYEES BIG PART OF ECONOMY

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PUBLIC EMPLOYEES BIG PART OF ECONOMY

A lot of people seem to have the idea that Oregon's state government is a bloated monster. Truth is, it's no monster. It's more a lean and mean governing machine, if anything.

Proof is in the numbers. Here are a few that just might get your attention. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Oregon ranked 38th out of 50 states when it comes to government positions per capita.

And government has been shrinking, in spite of the fact some people continue to confuse general fund — state income tax — dollars with dedicated funds such as those that allow ODOT to build bridges and improve highways. General fund dollars go to education, human services, public safety. These are the services that have had to endure cuts.

In the 2003 session, lawmakers pared state payroll by 1,342 full-time-equivalent jobs, most by not filling positions sitting vacant. And that doesn't include jobs trimmed by Oregon school districts or the Oregon University System. That's a fancy way of saying the mindset in Salem is beginning to change from continually growing government to making it an efficient part of the total economy.

It was all part of an effort by legislators who are besieged by extremely critical constituents who don't seem to understand the Catch-22 position elected leaders find themselves in. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. Legislators have an obligation to balance the budget, even if the economy is as shaky as Jell-O. At the same time, their actions are being overridden by an out-of-control initiative system that seems more bent on returning Oregon to the Great Depression years than it does to push this state forward in attracting and keeping the best and brightest companies and workers and students in the land.

Sure, there has been some waste, some bloat. Sometimes government has acted in a foolhardy manner. But Union and Wallowa county residents should take a special interest in the fate of state government, and government in general. For those keeping track, the public employee sector makes up about 25 percent of the local economy. Those are our neighbors, golf partners, the guy sitting next to us in church, the woman in our bowling league. They are not faceless bureaucrats with their hands out trying to rob us blind, but our friends, our community leaders, our movers and shakers, the givers to charity, the team builders and problem solvers, also trying to make a decent living, raise a family and enjoy the lifestyle that makes Northeast Oregon a hidden gem.

As evidence from the most recent session shows, the mindset in Salem is beginning to change. Government is getting leaner and meaner. Now it is time for the mindset of voters in the hinterlands to also change to reflect that government is not always a bloated monster but does provide us with services — education, health care, public safety — that are essential to making this world a better place in which to live.

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