The Kate Brown Story We Deserve to Know
Narrative is the story we tell to illustrate what we want to believe and what we want others to believe. As fiction, it will contain as many facts as needed to advance its credibility. As a story, it can communicate truth in ways unattainable from the mere reciting of facts, but it is nonetheless a gift of the storyteller who has a reason for telling it.
The story we are told of Oregon is one of a state in disrepair with Governor Kate Brown haplessly overseeing it. It’s not that Gov. Brown created the problem or is a poor manager. It’s that she’s not an innovator, according to the story. She manages well the failed system that she has inherited. To hear it told, challenger Dr. Knute Buehler is an innovator who can, if elected governor, change the course of Oregon’s affairs.
What’s wrong with this story?
What’s wrong is that the story sets you up to be sidelined from ruling the course of events as ordinary citizens supposedly empowered to oversee the elected agents of our democracy. It captures our attention to a narrow field of which candidate to slot into the executive position of our state.
What else is there?
To see the whole picture and plan a decent outcome is a better vantage point for securing decent results.
How do we, the ordinary citizens entrusted to govern our affairs, get there?
Imagine you’re governor. What are the problems to solve? What resources do you have to solve them?
For what you’re dealing with, you will need some suitable, large, comprehensive, long-term programs. These programs will be flush with details, but they must rely on a key support structure to make them work. You may have other ideas, but I have settled on three pillars:
- Public education
This is not the place to go into depth, but I will indicate something of their current development and ask that interested folks, especially college and high school students having an aptitude for it, work with this through discussion, joint projects, reports in this forum and public testimony to our legislature.
Infrastructure is not just roads and bridges. It is a physical means of organizing our education, skills, production and distribution of goods and services. The American Society of Civil Engineers periodically makes and reports assessments of state and national infrastructure across eighteen categories.
The link here contains an assessment of Oregon’s infrastructure: https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/state-item/oregon/.
Take a tour of it. It’s easy to use.
Here’s the point: suppose you as governor took seriously that “drinking water needs in Oregon are an estimated $5.6 billion, and wastewater needs total $3.89 billion; that 77 dams are considered to be high-hazard potential; and the state’s schools have an estimated capital expenditure gap of $457 million.” You appeal to the legislature, the business community and the general population for a specified funding based on these estimates and are told, “we’re tapped out.”
For many households, this may be true, but the point is, if there are no resources to remedy the problem, should you be held responsible if bridges collapse or drinking water becomes contaminated because funding shortages prevent you from dealing with the related problems beforehand?
Public revenue deserves a serious and wide-ranging discussion. Just what happens when we deploy revenue into infrastructure and services? Do we increase the productive power of our labor forces? Do we increase the capacity of students to work and govern? Do we increase the capacity of our households to live well in homes, neighborhoods and school districts?
Oregon’s state and local governments receive revenue from various sources: federal transfer payments, tuition, hospital and other charges, Lottery revenue, and taxes. Taxes provide half of total state revenue with personal income tax and corporate excise tax the most significant components of the state General Fund, and property tax the most significant local tax in Oregon. Oregon does not have a state sales tax.
The hurdle is: who’s prosperous? If prosperity is widespread, then the burden can be broadly shared. But if prosperity is monopolized, then we’re stuck begging the rich for support. Suppose one household has an income of $55,000 and a second has $150,000 of income. Putting to the side deductions, taxing the $55,000 at 10% brings $5,500 in revenue while taxing the $150,000 at 5% brings $7,500 in revenue. On the other hand, taxing the first household with zero tax leaves $55,000 of disposable income while taxing the second at 20% leaves $120,000 of disposable income. This is simplistic, but notice how the more prosperous household can provide larger revenue at half the tax rate and retain a larger income at twice the tax rate.
There’s more insight to be gained from studying this further. The point is: raising revenue is not an easy affair. If you try to get the large corporations to pony up, they can whip up propaganda that it will threaten job loss and backdoor taxes on the poor, which may work to convince voters. Given this environment, public employees are convenient targets.
Here’s another link for you to tour: https://www.oregon.gov/transparency/pages/revenue.aspx.
What is the purpose of public education? Is it to train individuals in narrow specialties or is it to make widespread a range of knowledge needed for teaching our children, managing our democracy and being usefully employed? If widespread knowledge is needed, knowledge of what? History? Sciences? Language, music, literature and theater? Technical skills? Political science and government?
Once you settle on philosophy, mission and program, where is the most important point of contact? It’s between teacher and student. Administration and family are important support, but the teacher is in the best position to assess if implementing a policy does more good than harm or more harm than good. Therefore, classroom teachers should be populating at the forefront education summits and special councils of our government. From their experiences professionals should work up public policy for our classrooms and curriculum.
In any case, make your own assessment.
Here’s another easy-to-use link for you to tour: https://ballotpedia.org/Public_education_in_Oregon.
A wrap up
Here’s a recap of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s record and views:
- Should Oregon raise $3 billion a year by taxing C corporations based on their annual sales above $25 million (Measure 97, 2016)? Yes. In 2016 Brown said, “I support Measure 97 because there is a basic unfairness in our tax system that makes working families pay an increasing share for state and local services, including public schools, senior services, and health care.”
- Should Oregon eliminate a 2013 tax break for so-called pass-through businesses, including doctors and lawyers? Yes (in 2017 budget proposal); no, but cap the benefit which is currently allowed on income up to $5 million at an unspecified amount (August 2018 interview).
- Should Oregon disconnect from the federal tax code to avoid creating a new state tax deduction for pass-through businesses worth roughly $250 million (Senate Bill 1528, 2018)? Yes, signed the bill into law.
- Should Oregon restrict the mortgage interest deduction, which is currently available for second homes and vacation rentals? “I want to take a look at that before I answer that question.”
Here’s a recap of Republican Rep. Knute Buehler’s record and views:
- Should Oregon raise $3 billion a year by taxing C corporations based on their annual sales above $25 million (Measure 97, 2016)? No. “It hits consumers really tough, especially consumers who are already being hammered by the high cost of living in Oregon. And then it really creates a competitive disadvantage for Oregon companies.”
- Should Oregon exclude medical and legal businesses from a 2013 tax break intended to boost manufacturing and export companies (House Bill 2060, 2017)? Voted “no.”
- Do your companies use the pass-through business tax break? “My major corporation, my medical practice, is a C corp.” So it isn’t eligible. “I have 15 different corporations so to tell you which one is taking advantage of a specific tax bill” (would be difficult). “I don’t vote according to things like that.”
- Should Oregon disconnect from the federal tax code to avoid creating a new state tax deduction for pass-through businesses worth roughly $250 million (Senate Bill 1528, 2018)? Voted “no.”
- Should Oregon restrict the mortgage interest deduction, which is currently available for second homes and vacation rentals? No. “Stimulating the private market to create more housing and to encourage more people to have the ability to buy houses is the best way to deal with our affordable workforce housing shortage, not creating more government programs and regulations.”
(Prepared by Hillary Borrud for The Oregonian/OregonLive)
I am rightly a partisan of Kate Brown. But notice that I don’t trash Dr. Buehler. I appreciate that Knute Buehler ‘s campaign brings into play a serious discussion and inventory. This is the kind of discussion we need as a citizenry who has suffered one raw deal after another regardless of party affiliation and who’s in office. However, in this climate, where innovation takes front-and-center, I think that candidate Buehler creates a platform where Kate Brown can come out of the shadow and shine.
Kate Brown is a regular person who genuinely cares for the people she serves. Her pride is to do good and her years in public office have been dedicated to that purpose.
But here it is, for you to view for yourself, side by side Governor Kate Brown and challenger Dr. Knute Buehler: