Wasteful State Government Spending

One of the most frustrating facts about our State government is the fact that for at least the past 5-8 years, there has been no accountability for wasteful spending.  People often ask me why government can’t live within its means like families do.  As a career law enforcement official and 28-year police chief responsible for preparing municipal budgets, I know how important it is for public agencies to be transparent, especially when spending your hard-earned tax dollars. Wasteful spending at the local level is not tolerated.  Why, then is it tolerated at the State level?

I arrived in the State Legislature in February, 2017.  The very first thing I requested was a copy of the Governor’s recommended budget.  The looks I received made me wonder if making that request was an anomaly.  It took a few days to get my hands on the 2-volume budget, but I did receive it.  A week or two later, I met with the Governor’s staff to talk about my priorities.  My first question was “what happened to the Ballot Measure 96 Lottery money ear-marked for veterans programs?  It turned out that $10 million of the funds that were supposed to be dedicated to new veterans programs and enhancement of existing veteran programs had been used to supplant general fund dollars in the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs budget.  In other words, the Governor reduced the ODVA general fund expenditure for operations from $13 million down to $3 million and then used $10 million of the BM 96 Lottery dollars to raise the ODVA budget back to $13 million.  To make a long story short, I advocated on the House Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee to get those funds back and use them for their intended purpose.  Others supported this effort as well and we were largely successful.


What happened to the funds dedicated to veterans is but one example of the shell games that are played with your money.  Here are a few examples that illustrate wasteful spending over the past 5-8 years.  These figures demonstrate the lack of transparency in State government, but they also serve to demonstrate why a $1.6 billion increase in revenue still resulted in numerous attempts by the majority party to raise taxes on hard-working Oregonians.


$392 million: The U.S. Department of Labor determined that the State overpaid hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits during the aftermath of the Great Recession.
$347 million: An independent audit of the Oregon Department of Energy’s business energy tax credits concluded that a third of the program’s $1 billion dollar in credit issuances “seemed improper, violated statutes or rules, or exhibited suspicious activity.” The findings were referred to the Oregon Department of Justice for investigation.

$300 million: The amount of federal grant money the State wasted on the failed Cover Oregon health care exchange, which was eventually abandoned in favor of the federal exchange system.

$38 million: An independent audit revealed that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has wasted millions of dollars when building or repairing roads, with one project (the U.S. Highway 20 expansion) going over budget by nearly forty million dollars.

$33 Million: An audit by the Secretary of State showed nearly $33 million dollars were wasted on a failed computer program at the Oregon Employment Department.

$95 Million: Oregon’s share of state and federal funds spent on the failed Columbia River Crossing project.

$10 Million: The amount that the State could have saved if it had required low-income health care providers to meet the same standards that insurance companies do.

$7 Million: Lost taxpayer dollars as part of the State’s investment in the Rough & Ready sawmill.

$106.2 Million: Questionable spending by four state agencies from June 2, 2017 through June 30, 2018, according to the Secretary of State.

The State’s general fund budget has increased 49.7% in the past ten years.  The current biennium alone represents an increase of 10.2% in just the past two years.  Government is growing at an astronomical rate.  The gap between revenues and out-of-control expenditures is huge and growing.  The blow is cushioned somewhat by a robust economy and businesses in Oregon that provide the jobs and keep our unemployment rate at a historical low.  But what happens when the next recession hits?  Oregon is not preparing for that eventuality.


If you are interested in a more in-depth view of this problem, I encourage you to go to the Secretary of State’s website and view the audit reports of various State agencies over the course of the past 2 years.

As a member of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources, I have a front row seat in viewing some agency budgets.  I will continue to question agency expenditures, programs and practices about such matters as deferred maintenance costs, unfilled staff positions and more.

Rick Lewis