Oregon has a money problem.
Two of them, actually.
We're spending too much money on state government.
And we're not collecting enough in taxes.
The result is an estimated shortfall of $3.2 billion for the two-year budget cycle that starts July 1, 2011.
In the midst of this fiscal crisis, voters will decide whether John Kitzhaber or Chris Dudley is the more likely, as the state's next governor, to deal effectively with these twin dilemmas.
We think it's Dudley.
On the spending side of the ledger, Dudley has suggested ways to reign
in the exorbitant benefits given to the state's union-represented
For instance, most state workers don't pay any part of their health
insurance premiums. And the state pays the 6 percent contribution
employees are required to make to their retirement accounts.
Kitzhaber did nothing to address these unsustainable practices during his eight-year tenure as governor.
Even the modest changes Dudley has proposed - requiring state workers
to pay the same percentage of their premiums as public school teachers
do on average, for example - could trim the state's personnel expenses
by more than $100 million in the next biennium.
As for revenue, both Dudley and Kitzhaber want to cut the state's capital gains tax rate to encourage businesses to grow.
But Dudley's much more aggressive proposal is the better approach in these trying times than Kitzhaber's tentative tactics.
Dudley's critics cite the supposed "cost" of his tax-cutting plan -
$800 million over four years - compared with Kitzhaber's $100 million
for the same period.
This is misleading.
The purpose of cutting capital gains taxes, after all, is to stimulate the economy and to help businesses grow.
When businesses grow they hire more workers. And those workers pay
state income taxes - the biggest, and unfortunately also most volatile,
slice of Oregon's general fund revenue pie.
Many pundits have droned on about the difference in public sector experience between the candidates.
Dudley has never worked in government. Kitzhaber served in the Oregon Legislature for 14 years before his two terms as governor.
A significant difference, certainly.
But the important question is what, exactly, is significant about that difference?
The conventional wisdom, which holds that veteran public servants are
more capable than newcomers of rescuing a troubled government entity,
seems to us, well, not very wise.
Look at the situation this way instead: Is the best person to solve a
crisis the person who was in charge while that crisis was brewing?
That's akin to saying that a quarterback who throws an interception is
the guy who should lead a crucial fourth-quarter drive because, well,
he knows what it's like to throw an interception.
To borrow an analogy from a different sport - golf - John Kitzhaber has
had his shot, and Oregonians shouldn't give him a mulligan.
This time let Chris Dudley have a swing.