Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The Oregonian, Jan. 7, on why state is right to consider road-usage charge for fuel-efficient vehicles:
Any legislative effort to establish a vehicle-use tax to offset diminishing gasoline tax revenues faces an obstacle course with caution lights blinking from all directions.
So, it would be easy to line up reasons to oppose a bill, expected to be introduced in the 2013 Legislature, that would impose a per-mile tax on vehicles getting at least 55 miles per gallon. But, it also would be easy to argue against any alternative suggestion. That's the problem with change; it's uncomfortable.
In this case, it's better to focus on the reasons to move forward. For the most part, even automobile manufacturers and anti-tax conservatives who oppose this particular proposal acknowledge that the current gasoline-tax model is inadequate to produce enough revenue to maintain roads. And even the most zealous sustainability advocates acknowledge we still need navigable roads.
Applying a per-mile tax to highly fuel efficient vehicles won't solve the revenue problem in the short term — and maybe not in the long term — but it's a good place to start.
Since it's unwise to ignore caution lights, let's examine them:
Privacy: For some, the scariest part of a per-mile tax is the technology necessary to assess such a fee. A pilot project currently under way gives participants five options to help reduce that concern. Two are managed by the Oregon Department of Transportation and three use a private vendor. Only two of the plans, both privately managed, involve technology that allows the vendor to track a car's location — one through GPS and one through a smartphone application.
Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, hopes that private management would increase public trust in a per-mile tax collection system. After all, he pointed out, drivers already trust cellphone and credit card companies with vast amounts of private information. Also, the proposed legislation prohibits use of data collected for vehicle devices for anything other than user charges, said Jim Whitty, manager of ODOT's Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding.
Sustainability: Automobile manufacturers and some environmentalists find themselves as unlikely allies in the mileage tax debate. Their common concern: A tax could discourage the purchase of fuel efficient vehicles, especially since some tax incentives for purchasing electric vehicles already have been reduced.
In the short-term, this might be true. But, eventually hybrid and electric vehicles have to meet the supply-and-demand test without government incentives. People who buy the vehicles should pay for use of roads in some manner.
Taxes: As any regular reader of The Oregonian's editorials knows, we're not big fans of increasing taxes when the economy is struggling. Semantics aside, this debate is about a new way of applying a tax — not about creating a new tax.
"Any system I would support would be a replacement," not a way to increase revenues, Starr said.
Starr said he would like to find a way to craft a bill that the automobile industry can support. That is a worthwhile goal, but the light needs to turn green sometime during this legislative session.
The (Bend) Bulletin, Jan. 8, on why a punitive damage cap is needed in any state malpractice legislation:
The effort to address medical malpractice awards will be back before the Oregon Legislature this session with at least two different approaches.
A bill in the works (LC299) would set a limit on punitive damages at three times economic damages and noneconomic damages.
The governor is also planning to submit a proposal based on the work of his Patient Defensive Medicine workgroup. That plan is expected to include a three-tiered system aimed at encouraging patients and medical providers to talk rather than sue.
The governor's study group grew out of the 2012 legislative session's failure to address the issue. Republicans, who have long sought limits on malpractice claims, tried to inject the issue into a debate on the overhaul of the Oregon Health Plan.
At the time, the governor acknowledged liability limits as a "legitimate issue" but said the one-month session was too short to work out details on such a complex subject.
The governor's plan seeks to create a more open system that advocates say would prevent errors and help patients.
It would require medical providers to file a notice when a serious error occurs and then meet with the patient to seek resolution. If no agreement could be reached, mediation would follow. Legal action could be next if the mediation is unsuccessful.
Advocates hope such an approach would encourage physicians to talk with patients, thus increasing the chance of learning from errors and avoiding repeating them. Also, the idea is that patients would get compensation while reducing costs in litigation and defensive medicine.
Legislation is still in the drafting stage, according to the governor's office, and is expected to be ready by the end of the month.
In contrast, LC299 focuses simply on capping punitive damages, which advocates say would cut the cost of health care by lowering malpractice premiums and reducing unnecessary tests and procedures ordered by doctors to guard against lawsuits.
There's potential in the ideas behind the governor's plan, although the details are yet to come. But we believe a cap on punitive damages — as proposed in LC299 — is critical to making any significant dent in the problem.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Jan. 2, on how federal lawmakers should follow Oregon lawmakers and raise the minimum wage:
As the nation grapples with chronic unemployment and stagnant or falling pay, Oregon is among 10 states that raised their minimum wages on Jan. 1.
That's good news for the estimated 96,000 workers who are paid at the minimum in Oregon — and for 750,000 low-income workers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
In Oregon, the minimum will bump 15 cents to $8.95, adding more than $300 to a full-time worker's yearly compensation. That may not sound like much to some people, but it makes a big difference for low-wage workers and their families who struggle to deal with rising costs for utilities, housing, food and other essentials.
The minimum wage goes up annually in states that have laws requiring annual inflation adjustments. Oregon voters approved an initiative requiring wage indexing in 2002 in an election that prompted an intense debate over whether a high rate with indexing helps or hurts the economy.
Oregon's experience suggests that proponents of indexing have the stronger argument. Most Oregon employers pay more than the minimum wage. The raises that the lowest-paid workers receive result in increased consumer demand as the money immediately flows back into local and state economies as workers pay for basic necessities. Meanwhile, other Oregon workers often receive indirect raises as their pay rates are adjusted to reflect the new minimum wage.
The net result has been a modest but certainly welcome boost for the state's economy and the wages of its neediest working citizens. And these benefits have been realized without any additional government spending.
Since indexing took effect in Oregon in 2004, the state's minimum wage has climbed $2.05 per hour. Critics rightly note that the higher wage has created some upward pressure on the price of some goods and services, but that pressure has been more than offset by the increase in workers' purchasing power.
Critics also note that indexing creates disparities between states with automatic minimum-wage increases and those without them. That's true, but there is little evidence these disparities have sent businesses fleeing to the lowest-wage states, although that eventually could happen if the differences become significant.
The clear solution is for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and require annual adjustments.
Proposals to do precisely that have been fiercely opposed by big business and congressional Republicans, although it's worth recalling that Republican Mitt Romney supported indexing both as governor of Massachusetts and earlier this year as a presidential candidate.
There's another, more compelling reason to increase the minimum wage: It's simply the right thing to do. It's increasingly clear that the nation's economic recovery will remain in low gear for an extended period, perhaps years, and it's a cynical, uncompassionate nation that allows the working poor to steadily become even poorer over the long term.
It's time for federal lawmakers — including those who have dedicated their political careers to benefiting the nation's wealthiest — to follow Oregon's example of mandating cost-of-living increases for the nation's lowest-paid workers.