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Monday, April 2, 2007

Too much union clout in Salem

An end-run around The Oregonian

Despite a rebuke from Oregonian publisher Fred Stickel, state Senators have decided to spend another $3 million a year on medical guarantees for Portland's disabled police officers and firefighters. The threat of unexplainable fires springing up in the Portland metro area was more potent than The Oregonian's "we buy ink by-the-barrel" barbs.

Buried in the fine print of Senate Bill 560, which is ostensibly about expanding the occupational diseases for firefighters, is a clause that requires Portland taxpayers to pay lifetime medical coverage for disabled police and firefighters' job-related injuries and illnesses. It would double the annual medical disability costs covered by the Portland Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund to an estimated $6 million a year.

It was only last November that Portland voters approved a series of significant reforms. The PFPDRF had actually been completely unfunded since its inception, drawing on property taxes instead of reserves. Stickel now insists that "any further reform to the public safety fund come through the front door, with full consideration and approval by city taxpayers, not sneaked in through the back way of state legislation." Such hypocrisy - coming from the newspaper that was Big Labor's mouthpiece in the Nov. election and has alternately cheered and covered-up every other union-driven, collectivist, anti-taxpayer backroom deal this session.

To his credit, Stickel points out the mendacity. The proposed legislation would require "certain cities" to provide the same medical coverage to officers and firefighters as that provided under Oregon workers' compensation statutes. That's aimed directly at Portland; its police and firefighters are the only ones in the state not part of the workers' compensation system.

It's worth remembering that just last year the city police and firefighter unions strongly resisted proposals at City Hall to move them into the state workers' compensation system. Now the unions want it both ways: the benefits of their own unique, taxpayer-funded disability system and the most appealing features of the state workers' comp system ... accompanied by backhanded talk about arson on the rise if they don't get what they want.

Last fall, after voters put Democrats in control of the House and Senate, and Gov. Ted Kulongoski chose two prominent union leaders to lead his staff in his second term, some folks knew that unions would have too much clout in Salem. Now that lawmakers and the governor are making this end-run around The Oregonian, maybe even billionaire, out-of-state owner Si Newhouse and publisher Fred Stickel are finally beginning to get it.

The Oregonian, Apr. 2, OPINION By THE EDITORS

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