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Benefits from the past

Editorials

State workers cannot expect to keep fully paid health insurance premiums

Time was, a good employer would offer health insurance for employees and pick up the tab for the monthly premium. For most of us, that's history.

But not for state employees, it turns out. The thousands of public workers employed by Oregon are among the only state employees in the nation who continue to receive fully paid family health insurance. They are, in fact, among the only workers of any type who still get that kind of benefit.

Truth is, paying 100 percent of employee health premiums ' which easily can run &

36;1,000 a month for a family ' would destroy most businesses. Even government, where unions have helped employees hang onto benefits longer, has mostly given up full premium payments. Seven other states continue the practice.

Oregon employees understandably want to continue it as well. They agreed to freeze salaries during their last negotiations as a route to keeping the fully paid health insurance. A union official said this week that they intend to keep it in the next biennium, too. A spokesman for Gov. Ted Kulongoski said the governor was unlikely to press the issue, either, because employees had already swallowed the salary freeze.

That would be one thing if Oregon's budget was in good shape, but we all know it's not. And state employees' health-care costs will reach &

36;330 million this biennium and close to &

36;400 million in the next biennium if no changes are made.

The state, meanwhile, has vowed to look for innovative ways to limit costs. That's a good idea no matter what, but it's also a subject over which Oregon has relatively little control.

— Oregonians consistently ask state government to run itself more like a business, something that often isn't possible or practical. But there's no good reason for government to extend a higher level of benefits to employees than they would receive almost anywhere else.

Oregon should continue to pay the full benefits through this biennium, as the deal with employees stipulates.

Next time around, however, employees should take on some of the cost of their care themselves.

Find the money

It's good to see an ambitious draft management plan for Crater Lake National Park's next quarter century. But a major kink is that the plan fails to deal with a continuing lack of adequate funding.

The National Parks Conservation Association was quick to criticize that shortcoming. If the administration and Congress are not willing to put their money where the parks are, it doesn't matter how good your plan is, the association's regional director said.

She's right.

The plan proposes &

36;4.7 million in new projects to increase hiking and biking, improve picnic areas and close part of Rim Drive in the fall so that hikers and bicyclists can use the road without having cars whizzing by. In addition, the plan calls for spending &

36;8.2 million on staff, maintenance and operating costs over the next 25 years.

None of that will happen without funding. Oregon's congressional delegation needs to get behind the proposal to enhance the state's only national park.