June 1, 2009
Let Oregon politicians put any kind of spin they want on the latest state unemployment figures. The truth is, we lost out to Michigan — again.
Try as the Oregon Legislature did, Michigan has kept the crown of the nation’s unemployment king.
Michigan reported a 12.9 percent unemployment rate in April. We Beaver Staters staggered in behind at No. 2, reporting a flat 12 percent. It gets worse. Michigan pulled away. Its rate grew by 0.3 percentage point from March to April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We almost didn’t grow at all, moving up only 0.1 percentage point.
The Legislature can revel with some pride in the No. 2 slot. It has earned it. It has led us this far. But somewhere along the way, Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s strategy of The Oregon Way has lost its way. There may be hundreds of pages of new green requirements, new taxes and new regulations generated by this Legislature. It has not been enough.
Don’t despair. We can leave Michigan in the dust. We can be christened the king. There’s still time left this legislative session.
Brace yourself for what may come. All the Legislature must do is to keep doing what it has been doing: Keep digging the hole from which no job can return.
• Thank goodness the legislators didn’t tweak the state’s minimum wage law. Oregon’s minimum wage went up by 45 cents per hour on Jan. 1 as the economy plunged in a nosedive. Legislators killed a bill that would have required increases in minimum wage to be suspended if the state unemployment rate was flying high above the national average. That was a close one. Employers may have been able to hire more people.
• There’s still hope for more new taxes. There’s a plan to single out the wealthiest Oregonians for tax increases. If one proposal becomes law, we could tie Hawaii for imposing the highest personal income tax rate. That’s a masterstroke, although you have to wonder if legislators will be satisfied with not being a tax leader. Oh well, maybe that will be enough to get those wealthy folks to leave the state. We don’t need their capital, their knowledge. They can help us get to No. 1 and take their jobs somewhere else.
• The Legislature’s efforts to hold down health care costs have been suitably minimal. That fits right in with making it more expensive to hire anyone. Kulongoski isn’t touching the rich health benefits of full-time state employees. Those workers contribute nothing toward their premiums and have no annual deductible. The plan for statewide health care reform is its own form of legislative genius. The Legislature wants a tax to pay for health care that will raise the cost of health care without any firm commitment to shaving costs. It’s a surefire hit to jobs.
• The Legislature hasn’t been just noodling around on green leadership. There’s a firm commitment to driving up the cost of energy, so Oregonians will have to pay more green for power than people in other states. That’ll make employers considering relocating to Oregon think twice. In a related move, the Legislature has done its best to restrict construction of new destination resorts. Resorts could have meant construction jobs and new homes for people who were likely to throw us off track by having jobs.
Fear not, there’s more than that in store. But sometimes it takes more than swarms of clever schemes to shoo away jobs. Every campaign needs a focus, a rallying point. For that purpose, we unveil below a humble suggestion for a new state flag. Behold: