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Businesses have a stake in state services, too

While it may seem strange at first glance, the idea of business leaders stepping forward to support the passage of Measure 30 makes a whole lot of sense. Oregon is at a crossroads, and without some stability in our state budget, we will be barreling past the crossroads and heading on our way down the wrong road.

The Oregon Business Association is a statewide organization with more than 200 business members, large and small. Formed in 1999, the association works to provide business support for bipartisan, moderate legislation, nurturing both economic health and quality of life for Oregonians.

While some other business groups stand on the sidelines of this issue, association business leaders are stepping up to support the essential public services that the passage of Measure 30 would retain.

Last spring, business leaders took a long look at the budget situation in Salem and went to work, identifying the essential needs of the state in the areas of public safety, education and human services. We did not look for 'wants' but examined what the pressing 'needs' are, much like we do with our own businesses and our families.

After determining that a full school year with reasonable class sizes, a five-day court week and adequate health care for Oregon's most vulnerable citizens were needs that should not be abandoned, we examined how best to pay for Oregon's essential services.

We asked that legislators look at cost savings in all areas, including fundamental reform of the Public Employees Retirement System. We testified at legislative hearings, asking that every rock be turned over to find savings. But we acknowledged that if, after examining the budget for potential savings, more revenue was needed to support Oregon's most essential public services, we as businesspeople would agree to pay our fair share.

Measure 30 is a balanced plan with the majority of the revenue being temporary to help prop up Oregon until the recession abates. It was passed by a bipartisan vote of 60 percent of the Legislature, and it is progressive in that it does not put an additional burden on low-income citizens. The average cost to a couple earning between $40,000 and $50,000 will be $38 per year.

Is it needed? The Oregon Business Association believes it is, to protect the public services that make Oregon a good place to live and work.

Business executives have reported that recruitment of high-level employees has become more difficult since our schools made national headlines for cutting days from their calendars after the failure of Measure 28 last year.

Oregon's bond ratings also dropped last year, when the Legislature borrowed more than $400 million to restore a balanced budget. Repayment of the interest on the bonds will cost tens of millions of dollars over the next decade. This is bad for taxpayers and bad for business in Oregon.

Opponents of Measure 30 say there are 'pots of money' in the state, but our research refutes that claim. Of the agency ending-fund balances that are often mentioned as a source of additional dollars, only a small percentage could be legally tapped, and many unfilled state positions are those of seasonal workers such as firefighters, whom we will be glad to have on the job next summer!

In business, we speak often of the bottom line. The bottom line on Measure 30 is this: The essential public services that would be protected by the passage of Measure 30 Ñ schools, courts, police and crime labs, to name a few Ñ are vital to a healthy economy in Oregon. Supporting them makes good business sense.

Andy Linehan is a vice president and Portland area manager for the architectural firm of CH2M Hill. He also is a member of the Oregon Business Association.