A survey last month by Portland-based DHM Research sheds more light on how Oregonians define government waste.

PAMPLIN FILE PHOTO - Oregon's failed health insurance enrollment website cost $300 million in federal funds and tens of millions in state funds to build and never enrolled anyone. The state was locked in a legal battle with Oracle America for months over the failure before eventually settling the case for a fraction of its losses.Most Oregonians define "waste in government" as money spent inefficiently on programs, according to a recent survey by DHM Research.

The Portland-based pollster conducted the online survey of 590 Oregonians April 11-19.

Among all respondents, the majority, about 63 percent, define waste as money spent inefficiently, while 34 percent believe waste means funding unnecessary programs.

The results showed some partisan differences in what government waste means.

About 77 percent of respondents who consider themselves liberal defined waste as inefficient spending, whereas 66 percent of conservatives described waste as funding unnecessary programs.

DHM weighted the results to reflect the demographics of Oregon residents, including age, gender, geographic area, political party and level of education. The margin of error is between 2.5 and 4 percent.

Revenue for the state budget stem largely from state taxes, federal taxes and the Oregon Lottery. The majority of the state's budget is spent on human services, including health care; education and public safety.

Respondents largely believe that those programs are necessary. They were more likely to value the importance of public safety, 98 percent, and K-12 education, 90 percent, than health care for low-income adults and children, 79 percent, according to the survey. Republicans were more likely to deem health care as unnecessary, 50 percent, whereas a vast majority of Democrats, 96 percent, believe those services are necessary.

"That a majority of Republicans consider one of the state's largest spending areas unnecessary is consistent with the fact that Republicans are more likely to believe that waste stems from unnecessary programs rather than inefficient spending," according to a blog post by DHM on the survey results.

A majority respondents, about 57 percent, agreed that economic development programs are a waste of government money, the survey suggested.

Some examples of Oregon's government waste have attracted national attention.

For instance, the state squandered more than $300 million in federal and state funds to build a failed health care shopping and enrollment website, which was never used to enroll anyone.

The state sued Oracle America over the failure and eventually settled the case with the software company for a purported $100 million in value. But, as the Portland Tribune first reported, the September 2016 settlement came with hidden costs to the state.

The agreement included only $35 million in actual cash. Of that, $25 million covered the state's legal costs, and the other $10 million went toward science, technology, engineering and math education grants to public schools. The other part of the state's $105 million valuation of the settlement was $60 million in "free" customer service support for yet-to-be-obtained Oracle software. That value could be redeemed only by spending more money.

The software and support obtained at no cost could "easily exceed" $100 million, but "it will require a substantial investment of effort, time and money to realize its value," former state Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit, wrote in an email to Oregon agency directors in September 2016.

The consultant KPMG "estimated that the state would need to spend between $490-515 million to implement a fraction of the software contained in the (Oracle deal)," he added.

The DHM survey last month followed up on a February 2016 survey — conducted in partnership with Oregon Public Broadcasting — that showed Oregon voters believe more tax money is wasted than is spent to benefit their daily lives. In that survey, respondents were voters and were surveyed by phone. They estimated that 44 cents out of every dollar the state spends is "wasted," compared with 31 cents that goes toward their benefit.

The sense of waste was consistent across the electorate, including Democrats, economic liberals, college graduates and union households. For instance, Democrats estimated 35 cents of every dollar is wasted. Those living in union households pinned the amount at about 44 cents.

Given the options of raising taxes to fund more state programs and services, cutting taxes or making no changes, 43 percent favored keeping taxes as is, 33 percent preferred lower taxes and 18 percent wanted taxes and funding to increase.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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