In 2016 Tobias Read was elected Oregon State Treasurer. In that time, Oregonians have seen significant issues financially impact Oregon including PERS changes, a Corporate Activity Tax, a proposed Cap/Trade tax and now, COVID-19 economic lockdown and reopening.
Whatever one's political stripes, we can agree these issues have major Treasury policy implications for Oregon. The Oregon Blue Book says, "The Treasurer serves as the chief financial officer and is responsible for the prudent management of billions of taxpayer dollars." Mr. Read, via the Treasury website, describes himself as "the navigator for sound and responsible financial policy." If you were paying an individual to serve as financial navigator, would you expect that person to present a clear accounting of the effects of your decisions? I certainly would.
Instead of directly addressing the unprecedented economic blow Oregon has taken from COVID-19, Mr. Read offers hollow platitudes: "… we will get through this…" and "… this is not the time to worry about the stock market numbers (pro-tip: they will go back up)." Oregonians don't need pandering from their Treasurer. Those most vulnerable among us certainly don't need stock tips from an unlicensed financial advisor. We need a Treasurer who addresses Oregon's fiscal challenges openly and directly confront difficult policy implications. Mr. Read does not publicly speak to hard truths and painful steps. Instead, he pivots to superfluous editorial commentary, or, simply remains silent.
We all have opinions about striking a balance between Oregonians' lives and livelihoods. The economic and social damage Oregonians are suffering is immense. Although you won't hear it from Mr. Read, consequences to the state's fiscal condition are equally dire.
Avoiding difficult topics by talking about soft, unrelated issues is an abdication of responsibility caused by misaligned priorities. Mr. Read consistently puts his burning desire to be Governor above his responsibilities as State Treasurer. Why? Because diligently fulfilling his responsibilities as Treasurer and meeting Oregon's many fiscal challenges might constrain his political positioning relative to his cherished gubernatorial aspirations. Hence, he is conspicuously silent on the enormous economic and social impact to Oregonians.
The health and fiscal impact of COVID-19 is real and is painful to all – whether or not you are sick, know someone who is sick, know family and friends who have been laid-off, or found yourself in one of those positions. As documented by the Oregonian, the economic and health hardships disproportionately impacted some areas and communities more than others. The elderly and other select members of our population are uniquely vulnerable and deserve our unqualified commitment to their continued safety. In Oregon, many employees and small business owners are mere days away from unemployment and financial ruin, the aggregate costs of which may dwarf the potential benefits of extending social quarantine measures.
COVID-19 can kill. So can poverty. This is not economics vs. public health: this is real-time cost/benefit assessment with huge stakes.
When does Oregon's Chief Financial Officer start talking publicly about reopening and whether or not that approach will achieve the best outcome when all available data, costs and benefits are considered?
We deserve details from the Treasurer's office, not empty platitudes and misguided, unrelated commentary.
Oregonians are capable of understanding and weighing risks associated with COVID-19. They also unequivocally support substantial, continued preventive measures that serve those members of our population most at risk. We do not need to receive politically unassailable mantras of "we will get through this" from a financial officer, we should rely on for grown-up advice.
Oregonians need a regular update from Mr. Read on the economic and social costs accruing from the lockdown and how Salem is managing taxpayers' dollars during this crisis. The calculation involved in developing policies that balance lives and livelihoods is challenging. An effective leader combines heart, humility and hard evidence while continuing to inform and engage the public. Mr. Read's silence and inaction is inexcusable. It's time for a new Treasurer in Oregon.
Jeff Gudman was a Lake Oswego city councilor from 2011-2018 and is a current candidate for state treasurer.
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