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Put a cork in it: Oregon needs hiring freeze now

Most states, when they confront financial hard times, put a hold on hiring.

FILE PHOTO - Bill MacKenzieWhy don't Gov. Kate Brown and her Democratic allies get it?

Most states, when they confront financial hard times, put a hold on hiring.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, in an effort to strengthen state finances, imposed a state hiring freeze last year that whittled 1,161 employees from the payroll.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, whose state missed revenue forecasts last fiscal year and is forecasting a miss again because of declines in farm income, also put on a hiring freeze for state employees. "As Nebraskans, we don't spend money we don't have," Ricketts said.

Businessess pull back when they face financial challenges, too.

Macy's, with unfavorable earnings, decided to shut down 68 stores and cut more than 10,000 jobs.

Dow Jones & Co., like many news organizations that have been letting people go in the face of declining revenue, is planning to lay off dozens of reporters and editors at the Wall Street Journal because of persistent drops in advertising income.

In December 2011, then Gov. John Kitzhaber, who also faced budget troubles, ordered a hiring freeze.

But when Gov. Brown released her recommended budget for 2017-19, she chose not to do the same. 

In fact, with Oregon facing a $1.8 billion budget shortfall in the 2017-19 biennium, buried in the Governor's Budget is a proposal to actually increase the state government workforce from 38,737 in 2015-17 to 39,412 in 2017-19. That's an increase of 675 full-time equivalent employees.

"Using the cost information from the Legislative Fiscal Office, this 1.7 percent increase would cost the state more than $120 million in compensation costs for the 2017-19 biennium, " according to Facing Reality, a Cascade Policy Institute report offering alternative budget proposals. "A prudent step of a hiring freeze would free up resources and ward off some of the pressure to increase taxes, fees, and charges," the report said.

Liberals tend to favor an ever-expanding state, but that's not sustainable without ever-increasing taxation. If Oregon is to responsibly manage its finances, an across-the-board rigorously enforced hiring freeze, with stringent requirements for exceptions and restrictions on hiring contractors, should be instituted now. 

Then the size of the state workforce should be held down by careful pruning of ineffective and bloated programs and the hiring freeze should be continued in the 2017-19 budget, which should encourage state agencies to optimize the staff they have. 

Surely the governor and Legislature, with a state workforce of 38,737, can find ways to meet the state's needs by adjusting the workload and assignments of that workforce.

In the end, the state and taxpayers will be better off for it.

Bill MacKenzie is a former communications manager for a major high-tech company in Oregon, a business and politics reporter, and committee staff at the U.S. House of Representatives. He blogs on public policy issues at: thinkingoregon.org