© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

Getting Back to Basics

All too often, we see what happens when the government tries to do too much—cost overruns, lax oversight, mission creep between different agencies and core functions not being done well. That is one of the many reasons that I’ve always thought government should stick to doing a few things and should seek to do them well.

In my two terms in the Oregon House of Representatives, I saw the results of the state government trying to be all things to all people. My first term began in 2001 and the nation was in recession. I was assigned to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee and tasked with balancing the budget amid declining revenues.

Luckily, my colleagues and I were able to accomplish this without raising taxes. We did it by identifying and prioritizing key services. Expensive, non-essential programs that only served a few people were eliminated and spending was brought under control.

In the years since then, our state leaders have constantly expanded the scope of what they think the state government should do. And now that the economy may be headed into recession, the state could be in a world of hurt and potentially painful budget cuts.

One of the reasons I enjoyed serving as Clackamas County Commissioner from 2013 to 2017 is that county government has the unique position of being the closest to the citizens it serves.

During my stint as commissioner, I took the same approach to governance and budgeting that I did in the Legislature. Not only was the budget balanced, but the county had a surplus of funds.

In the years since then, the county leadership has taken a much different direction. The approach has been to grow government’s footprint without regard to the ability to pay for it further on down the line. Consequentially, this fiscal recklessness has meant deficits of $20 million over the last two years and discussions about the need for “rightsizing” county government.

The real problem is that county government got too large in the first place. It’s time to get back to the basics.

County government’s top priorities should be law enforcement and all aspects of its criminal justice system, the infrastructure that is needed to keep people and products moving, and essential services that are valued by citizens, such as alleviating homelessness.

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I will use my previous experience to return the county’s budget to sound financial footing. I have a proven track record, at the state and county level, of balancing budgets without burdening citizens with higher taxes.

My Record on Taxes and Spending

One of the biggest reasons I’m running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is the continued fiscal irresponsibility being shown by that body. I strongly feel that the county is on the wrong track when it comes to taxing and spending, and I am determined to fix it.

Throughout my years of public service, I’ve faced many difficult budgetary decisions. But I was always able to find a way to balance budgets and leave them in better shape than I found them.

I served in the Oregon House of Representatives from 2001 to 2005. That stint in the Legislature included holding the position of Deputy Majority Leader and being a member of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.

The nation was still in the grips of recession, and the state budget was in terrible shape. Revenues flowing into state coffers were declining. Many of my legislative colleagues said that the only way to balance the budget was to raise taxes.

However, I knew that people were struggling as they yet to experience any sort of economic recovery. I also believed strongly that raising their tax burden would make life harder for them, their families and businesses throughout the state.

Along with my colleagues, I set forth to identify and prioritize key services. We also cut any spending that we felt was wasteful and unnecessary. Despite the challenges involved, we balanced the budget without raising taxes.

I inherited a similar situation when first elected to the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners in November 2012. America was still coming out of its worst economy in nearly 100 years, since the Great Depression.

Even though there was constant pressure to raise taxes and fees, I listened to the county residents who were my constituents and found a way to balance the budget. In fact, the county’s budget had a surplus by the time my four-year term ended in January 2017.

So how has the county faired since then? Not nearly as well.

There is no doubt that the national economy is now much better than it was when I served in the Legislature and the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners. The state of Oregon has experienced record revenues for years and so has Clackamas County.

However, the county has experienced a $20 million deficit over the past two years. Its financial situation has gotten so dire that Sheriff Craig Roberts has public called for an audit of the county’s funds.

To make matters worse, commissioners voted to increase residents’ vehicle registration fees. I successfully lead the charge to fight back against similar vehicle registration fee increases when I served on the Board of Commissioners.

The current Clackamas County Commissioners and its Chair Jim Bernard aren’t content to let it stop there. They’re also supporting more bonds and taxes for Metro, an agency with a very poor track record when it comes to spending the public’s money.

Rather than hold Metro accountable, Jim Bernard and the commissioners are putting you on the hook for more multi-billion dollar mistakes.

Your choice in the upcoming Clackamas County Commissioner chair’s race couldn’t be clearer. I am proud to stand behind my record of balanced budgets and sound financial management. My top priority was always to make sure that your hard-earned tax dollars were spent wisely and responsibly, at both the state and county level.

Jim Bernard has demonstrated time and again that he considers your pocketbook a source for bailouts for bungling bureaucrats and their billion-dollar boondoggles.

As the next chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I will work tirelessly to ensure that the county’s budget is not balanced on your back through unnecessary tax and fee increases.

My Approach to Taxing and Spending

Politicians often scoff at the idea that government agencies should budget the way that businesses and households do. We’ve seen the disastrous consequences of that approach at every level of government, from the trillions of dollars of federal debt right down to the local level here in Clackamas County.

Think about the way you balance your checkbook every month. You know how much you have coming in through your paycheck and other sources of income. Many expenses like rent are fixed. Others, like utility bills, vary from month to month. But you put together your household budget based on what your income and expenses are.

The government tends to do the exact opposite.

Too often, the approach in government is to put together a wish list of what politicians and bureaucrats want, then declare a budget crisis when the tax dollars coming in don’t reach whatever lofty amount they set for their priorities. That so-called budget crisis is then used to justify more taxes and fees coming out of your pocket. The end result is that it becomes more difficult for you to balance your checkbook and pay your bills every month.

However, the strain on your pocketbook is only an afterthought to politicians and bureaucrats who forget that the funds they spend so freely come from you, the hardworking taxpayer. Consequentially, they spend the money in ways that you, as a responsible individual, would never think to do. Remember—politicians don’t care how much money they spend or what they spend it on, because it isn’t their money. It’s yours.

Can you imagine if a business was run this way? It would keep raising the costs of goods and services on customers, who would then take their business elsewhere. That business would have no choice but to close its doors.

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I intend to take a common-sense approach to managing tax dollars responsibly. Any decisions made about taxing and spending will be done with the understanding that these resources come out of the pockets of working people like you and need to go towards providing the critical services you expect to receive.

I stand firm against reckless and irresponsible spending and have always insisted that government should live within its means, the same way that we do as individuals, households and business owners.