Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, should get kudos for a realistic review of the state’s economic future.
Smith met with the East Oregonian editorial board last week and said during the wide-ranging interview that the state must prepare for an economic downturn.
And an economic downturn is going to happen. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow or next year, but periods of stagnation are a reality in a capitalist system. The nation’s economy has been on an economic upswing for quite a while now and so has the state.
Nothing lasts forever, though, and while Smith wasn’t raising alarms, he was pointing out the obvious and that should be good news for area voters.
Smith sits at a key legislative apex, as a senior member of the revenue committee, and understands more than most where taxpayer money is spent and for what. That means when he talks about caution — not alarm — voters should pay attention.
Smith’s message was a simple one: If the state does not prepare properly, when a downturn does occur it will translate into cuts to other critical services.
The Oregon Health Authority is a good example, said Smith. If a sudden downturn occurs the state-wide health care subsidy may be forced to pull money from other services — such as public safety — to remain solvent.
Smith said one way to solve the problem would be to change Oregon’s kicker law but admitted voters probably are not going to support such a move.
Smith said he was certain that the state should “set aside excess revenue” but conceded voters — especially now — do not trust lawmakers. A perception does exist among the body politic that any excess revenue set aside would be “robbed” and used for spur-of-the-moment crises instead of what it was originally designed for.
Yet lawmakers must shoulder a fair share of the responsibility for that distrust. Frankly, it isn’t a good sign for our democracy and gets in the way of important policy decisions — such as setting aside more revenue for an emergency — that is needed.
That means lawmakers are going to have to do a better job in the future of reassuring voters. And creating policies — such as the failed climate change law that died during the last session — only to shove them down the throat of voters isn’t a good first step in that direction.
Smith was right on to point out a future devoid of rainbows and good feelings. The reality is there will be another economic downturn and right now, in terms of savings, it doesn’t look like the state will be prepared.