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Strong financial skills a critical requirement for treasurer.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Don Tykeson

I am a native Oregonian. I moved away from my grandfather's farm on Chehalem Mountain near Yamhill, worked my way through college and built a successful business.

When we sold the company in 1983, my chief financial officer, an accountant who also owned company stock, wrote a significant dollar number on a piece of paper and placed it on my desk.

He said, "This is what you will save if you do as I plan to do - move from Oregon to Vancouver and escape the high state income taxes you will otherwise pay."

I don't blame him or anyone else for making a move to Washington state when it is clearly in their financial self-interest, but I decided to stay. I love our state and hope to make it better, in part by encouraging Oregonians to change their government in ways that will encourage people to move to the state, not away from it.

Until recently, I gave little thought to the position of Oregon treasurer - not even when Gov. Neil Goldschmidt asked me to serve on the Oregon Investment Council and I began to work directly with the treasurer and the state investment officer as vice chairman of the alternative investment portfolio. Favorable market conditions were with us during most of this period, enabling the investment pool to grow by double digits annually.

Although the Public Employees Retirement System Board was very interested in the investment pool's bottom-line returns, members of this panel did not understand the basics of where the returns came from - and they established a minimum of 8 percent as the annual expected (and guaranteed) income from the pool. The PERS Board did not recognize that those returns, which paid pension benefits, were subject to economic conditions and could not be counted on year after year.

Even then, despite the board's obvious misunderstanding of basic economic principles and no intervention by the treasurer, it did not enter my mind that the state treasurer should have strong financial credentials. But often, the treasurer does not.

I bring this up now because of the continuing and escalating financial problems at all levels of government. Oregon recently announced an additional $375.6 million tax revenue shortfall, with a $3.2 billion gap forecast for the next biennium and continuing shortfalls over the next 10 years.

As our children's and grandchildren's futures are sacrificed for the ease of politicians who won't craft prudent budgets, the press and public need to focus on the treasurer's credentials, rather than electing a figurehead whose accomplishments have no relevance to the job at hand.

Clearly, the treasurer can, and should, play a more significant role in assisting the governor and Legislature in developing a long-range financial plan for the state - a plan that includes not only what we'll spend, but also how to pay for it.

The treasurer's office manages several interrelated areas, acting as the central bank for all state agencies, managing the state's investment portfolio, coordinating the issuance of state bonds and developing economic policy through strategic planning and legislative initiatives.

Clearly, prudent supervision of such broad and important responsibilities requires extensive financial training under any economic conditions. But in today's environment, we especially need a well-qualified treasurer.

We have a financial and employment problem in Oregon that cannot be fixed easily. With nearly two thirds of land owned by the federal or state government, together with the environmental issues and the economic downturn limiting timber harvests, our tax base is greatly diminished.

The problem is exacerbated by having one of the highest rates of state income tax, which has resulted in a continued erosion of high-paying jobs and employment. Hewlett- Packard is among the latest multinational companies to leave.

There is no easy solution, but we can at least lay the groundwork by electing state officers with relevant experience. Private sector best practices and my own experience testify to the fact that success is greatly reliant on having a certified public accountant as chief financial officer. Such a person can help strategize for the future, avoid pitfalls and make sure our plans are financially sound.

Oregonians must take control of our future if we are to create an environment conducive to job creation, improve the efficiency of government and thereby maintain the services the public has come to expect. We must all work together to prevent politicians from continuing to pass on this ever-growing problem to future generations.

To overcome our hurdles, we need strong leadership from the governor and carefully thought-out initiatives from a qualified treasurer. We have the power to put these people into place, and we cannot continue to blame government representatives when we are the ones putting them in office.

It's up to Oregonians to chart our future by electing competent leaders in November. We can't afford anything less in the treasurer's office than a person with a strong financial background and a focus on dealing with our financial crisis.

Don Tykeson is an investor living in Eugene and owner of BendBroadband in Central Oregon. Candidates for the office of state treasurer will appear at a Eugene City Club forum at 11:50 a.m. today in the upstairs ballroom of the Veterans' Memorial Building, 1626 Willamette St.
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Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 1, 2010
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