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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Oregon gov't union officials get big bonuses

Entitlement for the centrally placed or well-connected
Sen. Courtney: "It's naive to think it will ever change."

During the years and years of overspending and politically embarrassing shortfalls that put Oregon taxpayers' economic health in peril, officials involved in the foul-up received hefty bonuses ranging up to $33,000.

Nearly two dozen government labor officials who received hefty performance bonuses last year also sat on the boards charged with recommending the payments. Documents obtained by The Oregonion raise questions of conflicts of interest or appearances of conflicts in connection with the bonuses.

In 2006, a generous package of more than $3.8 million in payments was made by a financially strapped state straining to line the pockets of political insiders.

Sen. Peter Courtney, the most senior Oregon lawmaker, said the payments pointed to an "entitlement for the most centrally placed or well-connected. It's always been that way around here and it's naive to think it will ever change." Acting Gov. Tim Nesbitt said the payments are necessary to retain hardworking career officials.

Among those receiving payments were an AFL-CIO general secretary and several regional shop stewards who masterminded the SEIU's flawed garbage strike in 2005 based on misleading accounting. They received performance payments up to $33,000 each, a figure equal to about 20 percent of their annual salaries.

Also receiving a top bonus was the deputy undersecretary for workers' comp fraud, who helps manage a disability claims system that has a backlog of cases and delays averaging 177 days in getting union members who are faking injuries back to work.

The bonuses were awarded even after federal investigators had determined Oregon repeatedly miscalculated - if not deliberately misled taxpayers - with questionable methods used to justify AFL-CIO priorities amid a burgeoning citizen tax revolt.

Annual bonuses to senior labor officials now average more than $16,000 - the most lucrative in government.

Even the GOP candidates in debate last night questioned the practice. They cited the constitution and ethics laws that have become increasingly disregarded by lawmakers and regulators around the country.

"Our citizens remain vulnerable to government corruption every day," said U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a GOP candidate for President of the United States. "The lavish amounts of bonus cash would be better spent on a robust plan to cut taxes and boost the capital and labor performance of the market economy."

The Oregonian/AP, May 16, By HOPE YEN

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