Will Kitzhaber Keep His Promises?

First the Obameter and now the Kitz-O-Meter: Politifact Oregon is going to track 34 promises it found Governor Kitzhaber made during his campaign for a third term in office. The promises will be rated as: "promise kept," "compromise," "promise broken," "stalled," "in the works" or "not yet rated."

Meters like this one are popular and ubiquitous in campaigns, but critics of political meters say they are too black-and-white, and they don’t allow for changing political circumstances.

One of Kitzhaber’s “promises,” according to the Kitz-O-Meter, is to “cut social services.” Doesn’t it sound odd that the man who created the Oregon Health Plan wants to cut social services?  What did he really say?

“We will reduce the number of services we provide, reduce the number of individuals who get services, reduce what we pay people (like doctors and the hospitals who are providing the services) and change the way services are provided," Kitzhaber said in an interview with KOIN-TV of Portland.

Kitzhaber promised to cut social services to help balance the budget. Would he want to cut social services in a budget surplus? Doubtful.

What happens if the economy bounces back, and the budget deficit isn't as large? Will the Kitz-O-Meter dock Kitzhaber with a "broken promise" for not exacting painful cuts on social services?

Kitzhaber's policy toward the budget for social services isn't as simple as "promising" to cut them. It will require difficult decisions, he said in his inaugural address.

Kitzhaber also says he wants to protect the most vulnerable members of society who have nowhere to go, but at the same time make sure when a service is taken away, the person doesn't end up in a higher-cost system.

"The programs that are matched [with federal government funds] are less likely to be cut," the new governor said.

Quoting the KOIN story, “As an example, Kitzhaber said it costs $16,000 per year to keep a child in foster care, while 50 percent of those kids have one parent with an untreated chemical dependency. Kitzhaber said it would cost just $3,000 to $4,000 to treat the parent, but housing the child costs four times as much.”

Kitzhaber based his "promises" on the current realities of the economy and the state budget.  What if those realities change?  It is not unlikely that Kitzhaber will make cuts this session only to restore those cuts next session. 

A summary that says “x” number of promises kept or broken may not be the best way to judge whether Kitzhaber, or any other politician, is a good policy maker.

I encourage a deeper, more informed approach to judging how well someone has done his or her job or kept a promise.