Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The Register-Guard, Oct. 13, on impact of Don McIntire, who wrote Ballot Measure 5:
It's plausible to argue that the name of the man who has had the greatest effect on Oregon politics in the past quarter-century never appeared on a ballot. He was Don McIntire, the former health-club owner from Gresham who wrote Ballot Measure 5. McIntire died this week at age 74.
Measure 5, approved by Oregon voters in 1990, cut local property taxes, particularly for schools, and required the state to make up the difference in school funding. The state has never been entirely successful in meeting that obligation, which, combined with steadily rising costs, has left public education in a permanent bind. At the same time, the added burden of school funding squeezed budgets for other state programs, notably higher education.
It's likely that some sort of property tax revolt would have occurred in Oregon even without McIntire. Measure 5 provided tax relief, lowering the cost of property ownership and helping fuel a real estate boom.
Other effects of Measure 5 have been equally profound. McIntire's initiative altered the balance of power between state and local governments, amplified Oregon's dependence on the income tax, reordered state spending priorities, narrowed communities' options for financing public services of all kinds, and more.
McIntire's measure was not motivated by self-promotion or political gain. He simply believed taxes were too high. In acting on that conviction, he changed Oregon forever.
The Bulletin, Oct. 15 , on why the state's retirement system needs more attention from Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber:
Gov. John Kitzhaber has given the matter of reform of the state's retirement system neither heat, light nor legislation. And he recently found a new way to give less.
He just swept off the last experienced, independent member of the five-member Public Employees Retirement System board that makes certain policy decisions for PERS.
If that removal had a sound, it'd be the blubbering hiss of air going out of a balloon. Kitzhaber effectively weakened the knowledge base of the board. It will make it more difficult for the board to take any action on a system of dizzying complexity.
The PERS board has five members. It was long packed with public employees who had a vested interest in the system. When the stock market boomed in the 1980s, the PERS board did things like grant credits to retirees above the assumed rate of return — sometimes by 20 percent in a single year. That begets a peachy financial latitude for PERS employees, but it's not at all wonderful for their employers — the taxpayers. The market does not always soar.
As it stands, PERS faces a $16 billion hole.
The Legislature took the smart step of changing the makeup of the PERS board in 2003. Three members of the board are to be people who are not in PERS but who do have experience in business management, pension management or investing.
James Dalton, a 53-year-old former Tektronix executive, offered to stay on the PERS board because the two other longtime, independent members also left this year, The Oregonian reported. Kitzhaber chose to replace him with Krystal Gema, a 28-year-old financial analyst at Portland General Electric. She'll be the chairwoman of the board.
Dalton was vocal as he left. He criticized employers of PERS members — school boards, city governments — as being shoddily organized to protect taxpayers. He called on managers to give up the so-called 6 percent pickup and then ask their employees to do the same.
"Employers have been less present, less organized and less effective in protecting their interests," he told The Oregonian. "I ask my fellow independent board members that they have to make a special effort to protect the mostly unrepresented interests of the unaffiliated taxpayer."
He ticked off the case for several specific changes, The Oregonian said.
—Halt the 9 percent benefit premium to older members to cover their Oregon tax liability if they move out of state. Why give them a benefit for a tax they are not paying?
—Change the annual cost-of-living adjustment so it only applies to the first $24,000 of annual benefits. Some PERS retirees already have a built-in formula that takes into account inflation.
—Reduce the interest rate used to calculate PERS money match annuities. The key thing to remember about this one is that Dalton said it currently provides double the benefit members could buy in the private sector.
Dalton offered more. Representatives of PERS members have been dismissive of any and all.
Kitzhaber, well, he has been avoiding PERS reform like it's a stain that can never be cleaned. The $16 billion will never look any shinier if our governor leaves it attention deprived.
Albany Democrat-Herald, Oct. 15, on need to rein in Oregon's Medical Marijuana Program:
Here's another unintended consequence of the growth in Oregon's Medical Marijuana Program:
Drug detectives for law enforcement agencies throughout the state increasingly haven't had to spend much time staking out the remote forest locations where marijuana scofflaws have planted their illegal grow operations.
That includes Linn County: A detective for the sheriff's office says that nowadays, some 95 percent of marijuana grows that attract law enforcement attention are likely to be in backyards or inside residences, as Democrat-Herald reporter Kyle Odegard reported in a Sunday story.
It's a statewide trend, as growers taking illegal advantage of those medical marijuana laws have brought their operations much closer to home.
And it's also a sign of the far-reaching reforms that are required in our drug laws, not just in the state — where the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program has turned out to be a boon for black market sales of pot — but also among federal officials, who fail to recognize marijuana's legitimate medical value.
As a result, our drug policies have become a contradictory mess.
This is why we've argued in the past for the legalization of marijuana and have endorsed Ballot Measure 80, which would do so — even though, to be sure, the measure is not perfect. But the ban on pot has done much harm and we're no better than when it was still legal, some 80 years ago.
If the measure fails at the ballot, however, the 2013 Legislature will have to find ways to curb what appears to be a wave of abuse in the state's medical marijuana program.
The number of cardholders has boomed from fewer than 20,000 in July 2008 to more than 54,000 in July 2012. The trend is similar in Linn County, where cardholders have grown from 500 in July 2008 to more than 1,400 in July 2012.
It's possible that every one of those cardholders is legitimately using the drug to treat issues such as chronic pain. But it seems far more likely that abuse of the program is one of the reasons fueling the program's explosive growth.
If voters reject Measure 80, the Legislature will have to tackle that abuse, but also will have to ensure that patients who legitimately need the drug can safely access it.