Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2011 10:00 AM
Here's a list of some of the "important" topics Oregon's legislators have taken up this session, as the state teeters on the verge of financial ruin.
* Designate an official state dog. Check.
* Designate an official state chainsaw-carving capital. Check.
* Designate the official -- and only -- outdoor pageant and Wild West show. Check.
* Debate a ban on plastic grocery bags. Check.
* Debate a ban on children's bicycle seats. Double-check.
We have nothing against border collies, Reedsport or the Happy Canyon Indian Pageant and Wild West Show. As a matter of fact, we think they're all terrific. We also think there's probably some merit to debating grocery bags and bicycle seats. If there was nothing else to do, these topics would be perfectly reasonable. Who couldn't get excited about a debate between dog lovers or over chainsaw carving?
But to put these items on the legislative agenda during these difficult times seems akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We may be sinking, but at least we can make some folks happy before we climb into the lifeboats.
Oregon is in the hole financially. Its public employee retirement plan is an anchor tied around the budget of every city, county and state agency, school district, public university, and community college, as is the cost of health insurance for public employees.
Tax revenue has risen in the past year, but not enough to cover the increases in these and other contractual government costs.
So instead of working to a find a way out of the morass, our legislators are talking about shopping bags, bicycle seats and other less-than-important topics.
It's not that we have anything against these or any other issues our elected leaders might deem worthy of debate. It's just that, darn it, we hired them to roll up their sleeves, sit down at the table and find an equitable and logical way out of the fiscal mess facing the state.
Legislators across the West face similar issues. In Washington, Idaho and California, the problems have piled up over the past several years of recession, leaving the states scrambling just to keep the bills paid.
Much has been said about the attempt to modify collective bargaining agreements in states such as Ohio and Wisconsin, but at least legislators there are willing to tackle the causes of the problems in an attempt to pull their states out of a financial death spiral.
It would be gratifying to see Western legislators get serious, too, and tackle more than peripheral issues.