By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND – Lawmakers want state workers to do more walking, and they’ll probably use taxpayer money to get the workers off their chairs and into shiny new treadmill desks.
Given the importance of exercise and the expanding problem of obesity in America, most Oregonians would no doubt like their own walking station, which, when set at no more than 2 mph, makes it possible to stay active while working.
But the question is whether $50,000 in taxpayer money should be used for a pilot project in Oregon to test whether the treadmill desks actually improve workers’ health. Pending legislation would make that happen, and the bill’s sponsor, a Republican, says the project has a good chance of moving forward.
State Rep. Jim Thompson, R-Dallas, said money for the project is minimal, compared to what the state could save in health-care costs.
“In real money that’s a lot of money,” he said. But in government funds, he said, “it’s chump change.”
Thompson said House Bill 2767, which would direct the Public Employees Benefit Board to buy no fewer than 10 treadmill desks for employees, is in the budget review process, also known as the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
But if state funding falls through, it’s possible the walk-while-you-work project could get money from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The new federal health law includes grant funding for “health innovations,” Thompson said. “This is an innovative approach that’s worked in other places,” he said, referring to treadmill desks in the private sector.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the longer you sit in a given day the more likely your chances of experiencing health problems.
Thompson said the desks cost about $500, less than his office desk, which he estimates at $1,200.
That’s all too much for taxpayer advocate Jason Williams.
“Taxpayers are running out of money while the state is running up the cost of government with their luxury office equipment plans,” said Williams, executive director of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon. “Instead of thinking of ways to make state services more cost-effective, the politicians are inventing ways to waste our tax dollars as if they just won the lottery with other people’s money.”
Buying high-tech desks for public employees sits uncomfortably with spending watchdogs. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, gained national media attention when he blasted the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation for buying workers’ expensive treadmill desks.
Thompson fashioned his own treadmill desk at home to make sure working while walking is feasible. He insists it’s a good investment of public dollars, and if the government does nothing the same problems would remain. He said he sits more than four hours a day in committee meetings and while on the phone with constituents.
“Perhaps I should be on a working walk station listening to people,” he said.
“When do we start moving people to do something different?” he added. “We have the same obesity problem in state government that everybody else has.”
Contact Shelby Sebens at Shelby@NorthwestWatchdog.org
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