© 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.

Saving for a Rainy Day Before It Starts Pouring

Everyone is aware of the immediate impacts of the coronavirus, with regular news reports on the numbers of infections, deaths, product shortages, closures and restrictions on peoples’ daily activities. But much less obvious are its short and long-term impacts on the economy, businesses, household finances and government budgets.

It’s always been my philosophy that government budgets should more closely resemble those of individual taxpayers. These basic principles include the belief that we need to live within our means, avoid incurring unnecessary debt and put money aside in good times in preparation for a rainy day.

All indications are that the politicians and bureaucrats currently running the State of Oregon and Clackamas County have ignored those principles. The price that will be paid as a result is staggering.

Because Oregon does not have a sales tax, the state relies heavily on an income tax. That is one of the reasons that the state is usually one of the first affected by national recessions and also one of the last to recover. It stands to reason that if people lose their jobs, they’re going to have a difficult time paying income taxes.

Local governments tend to be funded through property taxes. The constant pressure to increase those taxes and add layers of levies and bonds is a huge contributing factor to the high cost of housing in Oregon. This is despite the fact that the state’s voters passed a ballot measure in the 1990s to limit property tax increases.

The Great Recession that started in late 2008 should have taught important lessons about the need to budget prudently. But it would appear that officials in state and county government failed to learn those lessons, and instead kept assuming that record revenues would roll into their coffers uninterrupted.

These new realities are now becoming impossible to ignore.

This recent Oregonian article details a recent legislative hearing, in which the governor’s chief of staff told lawmakers they will need to be cautious about how they spend money because Oregon could be headed into a long and deep economic downtown.

That same legislative body passed some of the largest increases in the state’s history during its 2019 regular session, despite several consecutive years of record revenue. The current state budget stands at a whopping $83 billion. Divided by the state’s four million residents, that is over $20,000 per man, woman and child in Oregon.

At the local level, I’ve been sounding the alarm about Clackamas County’s deficit budget situation since August. The county has received $1.2 billion in revenues for its all funds budget, which is also a record. However, a culture of mismanagement and lack of prudent planning and proper prioritization have combined to produce an $8 million deficit.

What will Oregon state and Clackamas County officials do once the coronavirus impacts on their budgets become obvious? Will they take the proper steps to end wasteful spending? I seriously doubt it.

Some state lawmakers are always quick to blame the state’s lack of a sales tax for the fact that there never seems to be enough revenue to match their appetites for spending. The aforementioned article even quotes one lawmaker as decrying the federal tax cuts that have put more money in the pockets of families and business owners.

The current Clackamas County Board of Commissioners has expressed support for multiple other taxing and spending measures, including the costly construction of a new courthouse that is opposed by most of the county’s voters.

These troubling times and circumstances require common sense leadership. During my service in the Oregon House of Representatives, I helped balance the budget in the aftermath of a recession without raising taxes. Similarly, I left Clackamas County with a budget surplus in my four-year term as commissioner.

The politicians currently in charge chose to spend money freely during good economic times, instead of preparing for the eventual downturn that is now upon us. I’m running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners because I think we need to get back on the right track, without balancing the budget on your back.

Nik Blosser, Governor Brown’s chief of staff, said lawmakers should be cautious in how they spend money from the state budget because Oregon could be headed into a long and deep economic downturn. The likely economic fallout from coronavirus related shutdowns across the country.

This action comes on the heels of some of the largest tax increases from the 2019 legislature in memory. The state budget is also one of the richest since statehood at $83 billion.
Lack of a sales tax and President Trump’s federal tax cuts were blamed by some lawmakers as the culprits.

mas County was in a $8 million deficit while revenues came in at a record $1.2 billion all-funds budget.

Nik Blosser, Governor Brown’s chief of staff, said lawmakers should be cautious in how they spend money from the state budget because Oregon could be headed into a long and deep economic downturn. The likely economic fallout from coronavirus related shutdowns across the country.

This action comes on the heels of some of the largest tax increases from the 2019 legislature in memory. The state budget is also one of the richest since statehood at $83 billion.
Lack of a sales tax and President Trump’s federal tax cuts were blamed by some lawmakers as the culprits.

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.

Why the New Clackamas County Courthouse Would be a Horrific Waste of Tax-Dollars

The current Clackamas County Board of Commissioners has announced its plans to build a new courthouse. There are many reasons I am opposed to this horrific waste of taxpayer dollars.

For one, polling has shown that 78 percent of county voters are against paying more taxes for a new courthouse facility. That, in and of itself, should be enough of a reason to oppose it.

The new courthouse comes with an estimated cost of $230 million. Those costs would be paid by county residents who are already feeling the impacts of $9 billion in new taxes from the 2019 legislative session and the county’s increased vehicle registration fee. Those layers of taxation don’t even include the multiple tax increases being pursued by Metro.

These increases are all being sought simultaneously by multiple layers of government, from the county, Metro and the State of Oregon, regardless of the ability of the average person to continue paying for it. Even if Clackamas County residents are seeing wage increases, they are quickly eaten up by the spending demands of county and state bureaucrats. All of these tax increases contribute to the Portland area’s skyrocketing cost of living.

To fund this unnecessary courthouse project, Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chair Jim Bernard and his cohorts want to impose an additional 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on property taxes. What this means is that a homeowner whose property is valued at $350,000 will pay $595 more in property taxes every year. It also means that housing will become less affordable for everybody living in the county.

The fact of the matter is, county residents are concerned about traffic congestion, excessive government taxing and spending and homelessness. Having a nice, new enough courthouse does not rank anywhere on their lists of priorities.

A better, less cost option would be to consider leasing existing retail spaces that are presently unoccupied or otherwise abandoned. That would keep property on the tax rolls in perpetuity and require much less in the way of taxes from citizens.

Voters are growing increasingly angry over continued taxation as the only solution to solving problems. They want leaders who will listen and who can think outside the box. I’m running for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners because my track record of public service proves my willingness to lead on these issues.

Looking at our problems with a new lens won’t cost money. But the cost of continuing down the path of more taxing and more spending is disastrous. I’m more than happy to provide an alternative to the status quo and its constant attempts to separate you from your hard-earned tax dollars.

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.

How to Handle Homelessness

Everyone knows that rampant homelessness is a huge issue in the Portland area. But what people don’t know is that there is a solution available that Clackamas County can use immediately to help solve it.

The current Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is blaming the area’s growing homelessness on budget cuts. This is, unfortunately, just an attempt to hold taxpayers’ wallets hostage and avoid responsibility for their own blatant, irresponsible mismanagement of county resources.

Funds are already available to bolster programs that are proven to work effectively to address the root causes of homelessness and keep people off the streets. The best part is, this can be done without further burdening county residents with more unnecessary taxes.

As part of criminal justice reform efforts, the Legislature has placed more of an emphasis on community corrections programs. The idea is to keep non-violent offenders from ending up in prison.

 An alternative to incarceration, community corrections programs keep those offenders in the community, so they can keep working, paying taxes, being with their families and contributing to society. Community corrections also offers structure and programs that helps offenders to change their behaviors and has accountability measures to keep them from committing more crimes.

There is a surplus of money at the state level for community corrections programs of around $2.5 billion. This represents a golden opportunity for Clackamas County to deal with homelessness in an effective, yet compassionate, manner.

Homeless who are contacted by law enforcement could be helped through the community corrections system. The cause of their individual homelessness can be determined through that process. If it’s mental illness, it can be diagnosed so treatment can be sought. If it’s addiction, they can be referred to programs to get them clean and keep them that way. Some people become homeless due to job loss. Luckily, there are employment opportunities that can be made available to them through these programs.

These are all evidence-based programs that have been proven to work and utilize existing funding streams.

By contrast, the current Clackamas County Board of Commissioners is supporting Metro’s new income tax for the homeless this May primary election.

While sounding altruistic, this is the fourth Metro tax in 18 months and this regional agency has no experience whatsoever in curing the big three causes of homelessness: Addiction, Mental Health and Joblessness. Chair Jim Bernard is abdicating leadership of Clackamas County to Portland by supporting another tax on the backs of our citizens.

Compare how the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office is already addressing the homeless crisis with the programs just mentioned. Instead of taxing citizens to fund Metro with its unproven experience, let’s support out own efforts by prioritizing spending and services, I plan to address this problem effectively as the next chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners.

Families Hurting as Most Are Just Working at Paying the Bills

By Tootie Smith

Oregon Is A National Big Spender of Your Tax Dollars.

Oregon ranks as the nation’s fourth-biggest for state government spending, per capita, according to the latest data from the National Association of Budget Offices.

Oregon also ranks in the top 10 taxing states in America, per capita.

That means 46 other states spend less per person than Oregon to fund their governments.

Consider:  Oregon population is 4 million people and 1.5 million households pay all taxes. In the last three legislative sessions, $13 billion dollars of new tax increases passed by lawmakers.

The result of having one of the nation’s biggest, richest, and fattest governments is not efficiency or progress. Just the opposite. Rather, our government is too big to function. The politicians spent $58 million on a Wapato jail that was never used, $175 million on a Columbia River bridge that was never built, $298 million on vacant government jobs for employees who never worked, and $300 million on a health care website that was never used.

Oregon citizens have paid more taxes this biennium that ever before in history of statehood, according to Legislative Fiscal Office. Yet Governor Brown and Super Majority in Oregon Legislature wants to raise your taxes by $9 billion dollars.

The answer to government waste and overspending is for Oregon to adopt spending limits, term limits, and a public right to vote on all new major tax increases to stop the soaring growth of government spending. I hope you agree.