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Uncle Ben says: Buy bonds to help Oregon

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

STATEWIDE

Uncle Ben Westlund wants YOU to buy Oregon bonds.

Sure, the fine print at the bottom of the state treasurer’s new website buybonds.oregon.gov offers a disclaimer that this is not an offer to sell bonds. But the large-print headline at the top of the page is less ambiguous: BUY OREGON BONDS, it urges the reader, in all capital letters, with the state seal stamped next to Westlund’s name and title, followed by an homage to the “scenic Oregon coast” and the “rugged Oregon outback,” stirring up images of a muscular, eagle-eyed Uncle Sam demanding patriotic investments in 1942.  

The urgency of the appeal is understandable. In February, while the U.S. Senate was dallying over the details of a trillion-dollar stimulus package, the Oregon Legislature acted decisively, passing a $175 million “Go Oregon” package to create an estimated 3,000 jobs. That makes more than $1 billion for building and renovating Oregon roads, hospitals and schools, queued up for bonding.

The tricky part is finding investors. Thus the assurance from Westlund that Oregon muni bonds offer a “secure and safe investment in this time of market chaos… exempt from most federal and state income taxes,” followed by his confidence-building reminder that Oregon has never defaulted on a bond.

It didn’t take long for Westlund’s pitch to bring in retail investors, who bought up a record $130 million in Oregon bonds in the program’s debut week. Similar successes have been reported in California, which pioneered the trend in June 2007. No doubt other states will be joining the bond rush soon, in the name of God, country and anything else that closes the deal.        BEN JACKLET


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