How Bud Pierce plans to slash state employment

One on one with republican Bud Pierce

Republican governor candidate Dr. Bud Pierce released a proposed budget last month, outlining how he would spend public resources if elected.

The budget includes proposals for greater school spending, moderate tax cuts for individuals and businesses, and reforming the Public Employees Retirement System "once and for all."

But one aspect of his spending plan is drawing ire from the re-election campaign of Gov. Kate Brown and a labor union representing public employees: Pierce's goal to slash state employment.

In an interview, Pierce, a Salem oncologist, said that if elected, he hopes to gradually cut the number of state workers to save money and force reforms among what he describes as inefficient processes in Oregon's government.

Pierce said state employment will shrink through "attrition and retirement," and purposefully leaving some vacated positions unfilled.

When asked to name agencies where he sees room for cuts, Pierce said Department of Transportation, Department of Administrative Services, Department of Corrections and the health and human services agencies.

"I certainly don't want to cut front line workers," he said. Instead, state government should innovate, he said. "All these processes and measurements and overlaps — isn’t there a way to do it better?”

Pierce also said the state's frequent practice of rehiring its retired workers is generally "a bad policy," though he said he understands it's done to retain institutional knowledge.

About 37,000 Oregonians are employed by the state, not including teachers and home health care workers, according to the Employment Department. Those workers administer programs for the poor, maintain highways, care for forests and parks, guard prisons and more. Pierce said Oregon should aim to have fewer than 30,000 state workers.

Republican governor candidate Dr. Bud Pierce released a proposed budget last month, outlining how he would spend public resources if elected.

The budget includes proposals for greater school spending, moderate tax cuts for individuals and businesses, and reforming the Public Employees Retirement System "once and for all."

But one aspect of his spending plan is drawing ire from the re-election campaign of Gov. Kate Brown and a labor union representing public employees: Pierce's goal to slash state employment.

In an interview, Pierce, a Salem oncologist, said that if elected, he hopes to gradually cut the number of state workers to save money and force reforms among what he describes as inefficient processes in Oregon's government.

Pierce said state employment will shrink through "attrition and retirement," and purposefully leaving some vacated positions unfilled.

When asked to name agencies where he sees room for cuts, Pierce said Department of Transportation, Department of Administrative Services, Department of Corrections and the health and human services agencies.

"I certainly don't want to cut front line workers," he said. Instead, state government should innovate, he said. "All these processes and measurements and overlaps — isn’t there a way to do it better?”

Pierce also said the state's frequent practice of rehiring its retired workers is generally "a bad policy," though he said he understands it's done to retain institutional knowledge.

About 37,000 Oregonians are employed by the state, not including teachers and home health care workers, according to the Employment Department. Those workers administer programs for the poor, maintain highways, care for forests and parks, guard prisons and more. Pierce said Oregon should aim to have fewer than 30,000 state workers.

Chris Pair, a campaign spokesman for Brown, said Pierce's budget proposal is unrealistic and reckless, and would reverse economic growth.

Rob Sisk, president of Service Employees International Union Local 503 — the state's largest public employee labor union — said Pierce's proposal is "dangerous rhetoric" and "an insult" to state workers.

"It's not every day that you see a candidate campaign on raising the unemployment rate and devastating the services Oregonians depend on, but that's exactly what Bud Pierce is doing," Sisk said through a spokeswoman.

For his part, Pierce said his proposal will help the state save money and provide better services.

He said he's drawn inspiration from former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who he described as a "fiscal hawk." Pierce said Indiana, a state with 6.6 million residents, is performing well with about 29,000 state employees.

Pierce said he would appoint agency co-directors from the private sector to promote innovation among bureaucrats. He said those co-directors would be "kind of like chief financial officer-types," with the goal of helping agency heads identify which services and programs to eliminate.

Pierce said he understands there are limits to his proposal, chiefly state law and collective bargaining agreements. The state Legislature would also have to approve aspects of his plan.

Critics have said that fewer state workers means longer wait times for services like the DMV or state tax refunds. Pierce, who co-owns cancer treatment clinics, was unperturbed by those critiques. He said state government could run just as well, if not better, with fewer employees.

"A good organization, when they’re successful in reform, they have a better service with savings in their internal operations," he said. "It’s not doing the same thing you’re doing slower so people have to wait longer. You’ve got to figure out how to deliver a better service for less cost."

Public opinion polls generally have shown Brown with a lead. A poll released Tuesday shows Brown has a 9 percentage point lead over Pierce. That poll was conducted by DHM Research and paid for by FOX 12 news.

Voting is already underway in Oregon, and nearly 500,000 ballots have been returned, according to the Oregon Secretary of State. Voting continues through Nov. 8.

Send questions, comments or news tips to gfriedman2@statesmanjournal.com or 503-399-6653. Follow on Twitter @GordonRFriedman.


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