Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The Daily Astorian, Sept. 17, on proposed cuts in food stamps
Of all the radical Republican initiatives in play, the drive to slash federal spending on food stamps is the most heartless. It is also stupid economic policy.
With the deadline to reauthorize the Farm Bill looming this month, GOP House members are determined to sever the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from the larger legislation. Republicans intend to cut SNAP spending significantly.
During an interview with Ted Shorack of our staff, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici said that House Republicans believe that the faith community will make up the difference in food for the hungry. Only someone totally unaware of what churches have been doing for the past five years would believe that assertion.
Let's be honest about it. This is about punishing the poor. It's also about punishing farmers.
Writing in Monday's edition of the Los Angeles Times, former senators Bob Dole and Tom Daschle reminded Congress of the long bipartisan agreement that has prevailed on the Farm Bill. While in Congress, the Republican Dole and the Democrat Daschle represented Midwestern farm belt states.
"In a country struggling to emerge from the worst economic recession since the Depression, this is no time to play politics with hunger," wrote Dole and Daschle.
We know that flashpoints start wars and that misguided trade policy precipitates economic downturns. Cutting food stamps qualifies as a truly dangerous idea.
There was a time when the Republican Party was the party of business. If nothing else, it was about the nation's economic well-being. That's not what this GOP is about. Through the food stamp gambit and the threat to default on the nation's debt, these congressmen want to precipitate an economic crisis of vast proportions.
(Medford) Mail Tribune, Sept. 17, on an Oregon ballot measure for pot legalization
Oregon lawmakers apparently have learned their lesson from years of tinkering with flaws in the medical marijuana system. Now they may draw up their own ballot measure to legalize recreational use of the drug to head off a badly written voter initiative.
Oregon's pioneering initiative system was designed to let the voters enact laws directly if the Legislature can't or won't. In practice, that power-to-the-people system too often results in poorly drafted measures that lawmakers must later fix.
Many observers were surprised last year when Washington and Colorado voters legalized marijuana but Oregon's measure failed. There was a reason for that. The Oregon initiative allowed users to possess and grow unlimited amounts of the drug and put oversight — such as it was — in the hands of a panel of marijuana growers and distributors.
This year, lawmakers tinkered again with the medical marijuana system, allowing state-licensed dispensaries to distribute marijuana to patients authorized to use it. Now, legislators on both sides of the aisle say they are ready to write a ballot measure themselves rather than take their chances with an initiative drafted by activists.
Give them credit for reading the tea leaves. Public opinion is clearly swinging toward legalization. Voters are tired of seeing law enforcement devote significant resources to battling a popular intoxicant widely viewed as benign.
What's more, the federal government finally is showing signs of wising up. After years of treating marijuana as though it were as dangerous as heroin, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Justice Department will not challenge state laws legalizing marijuana.
If lawmakers take on the task of drafting a ballot measure, it will benefit from the legislative process of committee hearings, testimony from interested parties, amendments and fine-tuning — all the elements that are missing from voter-drafted measures. Lawmakers need not vote yes or no themselves — they can merely present a well-written measure to the public and let the voters decide.
As Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, said, "We ought to write the law we want."
That means age limits to keep marijuana out of the hands of children, dispensaries to control distribution and efforts to stymie criminal trafficking.
Legalization proponents are already working on initiatives that they will circulate if the Legislature fails to act. If it does act, Oregon voters will be well served in two ways: They will see their representatives responding to public opinion and they will be offered a well-written proposal that stands a chance of working the way it should.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Sept. 19, on Gov. Kitzhaber's special session deal
The stew served Wednesday by Gov. John Kitzhaber and legislative leaders was so fresh from the kitchen that the sources of many of its ingredients could easily be identified. Everyone with enough leverage to put a spoon into the pot was able to contribute something to the melange of tax and spending proposals that will be considered in a Sept. 30 special legislative session. It's not the most elegant of meals, but it sure beats gridlock — and it will provide vital nutrition to schools and other public services.
Legislative leaders still aren't sure they have the votes to pass legislation based on the "framework" they and the governor announced Wednesday, but it would achieve a goal everyone said they supported after the regular legislative session adjourned in July: provide more funds for public education. The framework calls for wringing more savings from the Public Employees Retirement System and increasing taxes, with some onions and turnips added for good measure.
The deal includes further PERS savings that will reduce the pension system's unfunded liability by $4.6 billion when combined with the more modest changes approved earlier this year. It also includes an increase in the tax rate paid by some corporations, limits on a tax exemption for upper-income individuals, a rollback of a medical deduction for senior citizens and a 10-cent-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax.
These proposals would generate $244 million in revenue during the current biennium, offset by the $43 million cost of tax breaks for family businesses and exporters. Of the new revenue, $100 million would go to public school districts. Universities and community colleges would get $60 million to avoid tuition increases. The $20 million from the cigarette tax hike would go to support mental health programs, and $41 million would be used to fund programs for senior citizens. The revenue and spending figures are $20 million short of balancing, but there's money in the state's contingency fund to cover the difference.
The money for mental health? That's Senate President Peter Courtney's contribution. The tax break for family businesses? Two Republican senators brought that ingredient. The PERS proposals are crafted to have the least effect on lower-income pensioners, as Democrats insisted, and will remove legislators from the retirement system, a Republican goal.
Then there's the anomalous part of the deal that would pre-empt additional city or county bans on genetically modified organisms. This has nothing to do with tax policy or school funding — but Republicans wanted it, couldn't get it approved in the regular session and demanded it as part of their price. Kitzhaber underlined the fact that it's a something-for-everyone package by pledging that he would not sign any of the bills unless all of them are approved.
Republicans came out of this week's negotiations with a lot of what they wanted — even though they are in the minority, tax increases can't pass the Legislature without some GOP representatives' and senators' votes. Democrats will grumble that Kitzhaber and their leaders gave away the store, but the result will be of significant benefit to education at all levels and other state programs.
It's a messy process, but a productive one — and it's good to see that the art of political compromise can still be practiced in Salem.
The (Salem) Statesman Journal, Sept. 19, on Gov. Kitzhaber's special session deal
Now comes the hard work. Gov. John Kitzhaber said he will call a special legislative session for Sept. 30, now that he and legislative leaders agreed on the content. It will be up to Oregon's 90 legislators to pass the proposed bills.
The governor and top legislators negotiated a good proposal — not a perfect plan but a good plan. It provides more money for schools, from kindergarten through university; for mental health care; and for senior citizens. It increases tax revenue but provides some tax relief for families and small businesses. It provides a bit more control over the soaring costs of the Public Employees Retirement System.
No, it is not everything for which we had hoped. For example, the Legislature is leaving several PERS options on the table. Until legislators address all the problems with PERS, both big and small, it will continue as a high-profile political issue. The consequence is that public retirees, instead of having certainty, still will feel whipsawed. That is wrong.
But little would get done in politics if people always held out for the perfect answer instead of the reasonable compromise.
If legislators want, they can find reasons to oppose this plan. They can worry about their potential "yes" votes causing them to face a primary election challenge — from a Democratic candidate further to the left or a Republican who is further to the right. But legislators are elected to make tough votes — ones that are in Oregonians' best interests — regardless of individual political consequences.
That is the Oregon way. A Democratic governor got together with House and Senate leaders, Democrats and Republicans, and their key staff members to develop a compromise plan for a special session.
Meanwhile, the federal government is on the verge of shutting down because the president and Congress — senators and representatives, Democrats and Republicans — cannot work out a budget agreement.
Oregon's challenge was not so severe: no impending disaster or fiscal crisis. But Oregon's public officials recognized a common need and came together to address it.
Again, that is the Oregon way. When it works, it sets an example for the nation.
(Pendleton) East Oregonian, Sept. 19, on Gov. Kitzhaber's special session deal
Gov. Kitzhaber is calling the Legislature back in session in search of the "grand bargain" of pension cuts, school funding and tax measures that eluded him earlier this year.
The state's chief executive has crisscrossed the state since the Legislature adjourned in July searching for a few Republican votes needed to assure passage of his plan when lawmakers reconvene on Sept. 30.
Call it the grand bargain hunt.
What began as an attempt to protect schools and local government from more layoffs by reforming Oregon's Public Employee Retirement System has devolved into grab bag politicking. Special benefits are being added to the bill to gain the votes of specific Republican lawmakers while also attempting to maintain support from Democrats.
In addition to boosting school funding and cutting PERS, the agreement brokered by Kitzhaber and legislative leaders would:
. Add $244 million in new taxes beyond what the Legislature approved just months ago.
. Fiddle with Oregon's tax codes to give breaks to some businesses while raising taxes on others and reducing medical deductions for the elderly.
. Raise cigarette taxes 10 cents to support mental health programs.
. Prevent counties from outlawing genetically modified crops.
Each one of these proposals deserves to be soberly reviewed using the full legislative process: committee hearings, expert analysis and a full airing of arguments pro and con.
Instead, Gov. Kitzhaber and caucus leaders met privately this week to cobble together a deal that the full Legislature will be expected to pass quickly, with little transparency or public input.
The governor applauded Senate and House leaders for "coming together for the benefit of all Oregonians." He called it "the Oregon way." The governor is off by 2,100 miles. We'd call this style of politicking "the Chicago way."
(Roseburg) News Review, Sept. 19, on the marbled murrelet and timber
Google "marbled murrelet" and "secretive" and you get lots of hits. The bird flies fast and nests high up. It doesn't lounge on land waiting to be counted. It feeds in the ocean and darts home at dusk.
It's like a phantom, and it's what the timber industry flails at.
Since 1990, the spotted owl has been the poster species for anti-logging sentiment. But the marbled murrelet, listed in 1992, has been a threatened species for almost as long, and it's ready to take over as the biggest obstacle to healthy forests and healthy communities.
The barred owl has spoiled the narrative that the spotted owl can be saved by halting logging. The spotted owl may be chased from the woods no matter how few large trees are cut. The brutish barred owl has become such a public enemy that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will resort to shooting a few thousand in desperation.
When it comes to the murrelet, however, no inconvenient predator ruins the storyline. Oil spills kill murrelets offshore. But inland, among the trees, the murrelet has no nemesis comparable to the barred owl. The only solution, according to environmentalists, is to stop cutting down the tall trees that murrelets like. It's a bullet-proof argument, never mind the social and economic costs.
Murrelets are adaptable. They have been known to fly as far inland as 50 miles to find a place to nest. Their nests have been found at sea level and at 5,000 feet. If a murrelet can't find a suitable tree along the Oregon Coast, it isn't much of a murrelet.
Still, conservation groups have used the marbled murrelet to shut down timber harvests, particularly in the Elliott State Forest in Douglas and Coos counties.
The timber industry's latest murrelet-related setback came this month in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Douglas County joined the timber industry's American Forest Resource Council and the Carpenters Industrial Council in a suit challenging how Fish and Wildlife has applied the Endangered Species Act.
Judge Richard Leon dismissed the claims in a ruling that addressed technical points. Basically, the judge declined to second-guess the agency. The decision was thorough and defensible, though disappointing to the timber industry, which argues that murrelets aren't doing poorly at all if viewed throughout their range.
Fish and Wildlife estimates 91 percent of the world's marbled murrelets are in Alaska. Another 7 percent reside in British Columbia. The remaining 2 percent are in Washington, Oregon and California.
The farther south one goes, the harder it is to find murrelets. The long-term prospects of the few hundred murrelets remaining in Central California are poor. Yet they are influencing forestland management in Oregon.
If that doesn't change, Googling "marbled murrelet" will yield "overgrown forests" and "impoverished communities."
Albany Democrat-Herald, Sept. 23, on Obama veto threat of logging bill
The Obama administration last week announced its intention to veto the U.S. House of Representatives bill that would help to clear the logjam over how to manage federal forests in western Oregon.
The announcement was misguided, for a couple of reasons.
First, it was premature. The legislation, which cleared the House last week, is widely perceived to be a nonstarter in the Senate. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has announced plans to draft his own legislation.
If the Senate passes the Wyden measure, it's possible that the differences between the two bills would be hammered out in a conference committee.
It would have been better for the administration to say that, while it had concerns over the House bill, it wanted to wait until it saw Wyden's proposal and what emerged from the conference committee.
In addition, some of the reasons the administration gave for issuing the veto threat were weak.
The bill includes a provision developed by members of Oregon's congressional delegation to turn over half of the so-called O&C lands in western Oregon to a state-appointed trust that would manage them for timber production.
The other half would be managed for fish and wildlife habitat. The measure also would create new wilderness areas and includes a federal subsidy for counties hard-hit by the decline in logging on federal lands.
The administration said the bill likely would increase the threat of lawsuits over the land, which must have seemed ironic to people who have been watching how legal actions have helped to contribute to the management paralysis in the first place.
The administration, to be fair, also said that the House legislation could harm habitat for endangered species and would limit the president's ability to create national monuments.
The problem is, of course, that these O&C lands are almost already national monuments to generations of federal forest mismanagement.
The bill that passed the House isn't perfect, by any means — but it represented the best shot yet at breaking through the morass. Wyden's proposal might be better; we'll see.
But the administration's decision to shoot off its mouth at this point in the process isn't helpful — and could end up jeopardizing any shot at a deal in the long run.
The (Bend) Bulletin, Sept. 20, on Obama veto threat of logging bill
Threats from environmental groups over the fate of a U.S. House of Representatives bill that would expand logging on some of Oregon's 2.4 million acres of former Oregon & California Railroad Company lands now held by the federal government were bad enough. Now the Obama administration has poured metaphorical salt in that wound by threatening to veto the bill in its current form.
The president's Office of Management and Budget argues that passage of the bill, which covers timberland across the federal system, would result in an unacceptable loss of federal control over its own property. Too, the OMB says, the measure would undermine some environmental laws.
But that cannot be the end of the matter. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, is working to create a somewhat different Senate version of the House bill, and he hopes to come up with one that can make it through both houses of Congress. Doing so will require compromise both from the Democratically controlled Senate and from Republican members of the House.
That compromise needs to happen. The hardest hit of the O&C counties are in such dire financial straits that the Oregon Legislature approved a bailout plan for them earlier this year. Meanwhile, unemployment rates in O&C counties Curry, Klamath and Josephine, are among the state's highest — all over 10 percent as compared with a national rate of 7.3 percent.
The administration must not ignore those facts, and Congress must assure that it needn't do so.
Baker City Herald, Sept. 23, on Portland airport rejection of an ad targeting logging bill
We don't share environmentalists' concern about a bill pending in Congress that would allow logging to increase on some public forests in Western Oregon.
But we think they ought to be able to buy advertising space in Portland International Airport to plead their case.
The issue involves a campaign by several groups, including Oregon Wild and The Sierra Club, that dislike a proposal sponsored by three Oregon congressman — Democrats Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader and Republican Greg Walden — that would boost logging on about 1.5 million acres.
The groups' campaign includes color ads with a photo of a clearcut forest and the slogan: "Welcome to Oregon: Home of the Clearcut."
The implication — that a whole lot more of Oregon will look like the clearcut if this bill passes — relies on the sort of exaggeration typical of advertising.
We'll concede that a freshly clearcut forest isn't exactly a sylvan scene. But there's more to a clearcut than aesthetics. Jobs, for instance, which aren't exactly abundant in Oregon these days.
That said, we're troubled that the Port of Portland, a public agency that manages the Portland Airport, rejected the groups' clearcut ad, citing the Port's ban on political advertising.
The American Civil Liberties Union is backing the environmentalists, arguing that the Port, by turning down an ad based on its political content, is violating the Oregon Constitution's free speech provisions.
We agree. Oregon's Constitution is even more explicit, in protecting free speech, than is the federal Constitution.
Were the Portland Airport privately owned, its managers probably would have the legal right to reject the advertising.
But the Port of Portland is public.
As is Eugene's airport, where a version of the environmentalists' ad is posted.
Eugene airport officials made the right decision.
The Port of Portland got it wrong.
The Oregonian, Sept. 22, on $30 million in tax credits for Shepherds Flat wind farm
Everybody has a different lawyer story. But most could agree on is this: Lawyers typically answer only what they're asked. And that, while a laudable rigor of the profession, can bring complication. If a client has good reason to believe the sky is falling but asks about the weather, a full and accurate answer could be: sunny.
Now comes the Oregon Department of Energy, under fire for possibly doling out $30 million in tax credits to the Shepherds Flat wind farm in north-central Oregon when it might have been entitled only to $10 million. In response to extensive reporting by The Oregonian's Ted Sickinger, who found the wind farm's owners split the facility into three to claim three $10-million credits when it otherwise would have qualified for one, the energy department committed to an independent review by the Oregon Department of Justice of its issuance of Business Energy Tax Credits. And the DOJ's opinion, made public last week, is a narrow, if 11-page, answer to the wrong question.
The opinion states that the ODE probably had the legal authority to do what it did. Bravo. The DOJ went on to suggest the energy department, though vulnerable to a lawsuit over the BETCs, would in all likelihood not get sued because few to no parties would have the legal standing to do so. Whew: Skies are clear.
The uselessness of the DOJ's opinion set the tone for a legislative hearing last week, also in response to Sickinger's reporting, in which energy department officials glossed over the key questions they'd never asked of the DOJ: Did they adequately investigate whether the wind farm under review was one or three under the same owners? And did the department work in a manner that allowed it to stand back enough to note whether the sky was falling?
The answer is no. And storm clouds are ahead. Some folks, among them Rep. Jules Bailey, said Shepherds Flat-style challenges are behind us. Others, however, among them Rep. Jason Conger, asked the department to follow up by answering the right questions.
It's worth noting Conger is a lawyer. But he's the one doing the asking now, and his first and ugly question is hardly myopic and thus ours, too: Did the Shepherds Flat wind farm applicant furnish misinformation to state officials, and if so, was the misinformation of such a scale that it would warrant recovery of some or all of $30 million for Oregon taxpayers?
The DOJ opinion suggests recovery would be fruitless because the tax credits were passed through to others beyond Oregon's collection reach. But Conger, who notes recovery is not an option if the energy department did the fumbling, insists misinformation by an applicant makes the applicant responsible and available to collection.
Nobody in any official capacity has decided anything, much less whether Shepherds Flat got a sweet deal that needs undoing. The wind farm is up and running and, based on testimony from Gilliam and Morrow counties, a surge to employment and the local economy. Nobody, official or otherwise, wants to upset that circumstance.
But the energy department has a task immediately ahead before yet another legislative hearing on the subject: It must tell lawmakers, who represent the Oregonians who underwrite incentive programs such as the BETC, whether Shepherds Flat got a deal too good to be true and whether it knows the right questions are being asked of an energy-producing applicant. Better yet, it must show what processes it has in place to ensure the right questions are being asked so that answers are pertinent.