Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, July 7: "Marijuana miscues: Oregon should learn from Washington's mistakes"
Sales of marijuana for recreational use are set to begin Tuesday in Washington state and the people who will manage a similar program in Oregon — assuming voters here approve recreational use of pot at the November election — would do well to pay attention to what's been happening to our northern neighbor.
Washington voters approved recreational marijuana 20 months ago but there will be only a handful of retail stores ready to sell it Tuesday, including a single store in Seattle.
Colorado voters approved recreational use of marijuana the same day Washington voters gave their blessing. But in Colorado retail sales began six months ago, at 24 stores. In their first month, Colorado's state-licensed stores rang up $14 million in sales, adding $2 million in taxes to state government coffers.
Washington's situation appears dire by comparison. Its law went into effect in December 2012. Since then, more than 2,600 people have applied for licenses to grow marijuana plants for the retail market. But background checks, vetting of financing and ensuring compliance with the state's pot-tracking computer software slowed the processing of applications.
As of last week, only 79 growers had been licensed — not enough to grow the amount of pot needed to reach the state's goal of capturing 25 percent of the market this year.
Another problem is testing. So far there's a single lab, in Yakima, that's ready to test marijuana samples to certify them for sale. As of the end of June, only two licensed growers had submitted samples for testing but lab officials were concerned about being swamped by an 11th-hour deluge.
Washington capped the number of marijuana retail outlets at 334 but nearly a hundred cities and counties throughout the state have approved bans on marijuana stores.
Given the anticipated severe shortage of licensed, inspected marijuana, and with no adequate retail distribution system yet in place, the state Liquor Control Board, which oversees the recreational marijuana program, is worried the initial demand will push prices so high buyers will revert to buying on the black market. One of the goals in legalizing recreational pot was to try to eliminate the illegal production, processing and sale of the drug in Washington, which fuels a lot of crime in the state.
The key difference between Colorado's and Washington's situations has to do not with recreational marijuana but with medical marijuana. Medicinal pot was already regulated in Colorado when voters approved selling marijuana for recreational use, so state officials melded the two systems.
In Washington, medical marijuana has been legal since voters approved its use in 1998 but it's been virtually free of state regulation. And that's caused all kinds of problems that the Legislature has so far failed to address. For example, Oregon is establishing a regulatory system for medical marijuana that includes a state registry of medical marijuana facilities. Washington has no such program and has about 200 unlicensed, unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries operating just in Seattle.
In addition to potentially feeding the black market, Washington officials fear the problems they've had in gearing up for recreational sales will push more users into the medical marijuana system, which is notoriously easy to access.
U.S. Justice Department representatives have already told the state its medical marijuana system is "not tenable" under federal drug law, so the concern is that sending more users to medical marijuana dispensaries could result in federal interference in the recreational marijuana program, which the feds have agreed to ignore for the time being.
The Oregon Legislature already booted one marijuana decision by failing to agree on a more reasoned measure that could have headed off the citizen initiative on the November ballot. It should take care not to make things worse by allowing any of Washington's mistakes to be repeated in Oregon.
The Daily Astorian, July 3: "West Coast's wine industry grows up"
Wine industry expert Rob McMillan, founder of the Premium Wine Division for Silicon Valley Bank, has written about the West Coast wine industry for years. He's author of a new report that suggests as many as 10 percent of wineries will change hands in the next five years, and 31 percent of owners are willing to sell if circumstances and the offer is right.
That turnover in ownership could produce a sea change within the regional industry. Rather than a cause for worry, McMillan says, that owners anticipate selling demonstrates the viability of the industry.
With 4,989 wineries on the West Coast, the survey results imply that 524 wineries are strongly considering selling their operation in the next five years, he concluded.
McMillan projects the sales will include 98 wineries in Washington and 79 in Oregon. In California, 78 Napa County wineries will sell, and 59 will sell in Sonoma County, according to the report.
In addition, others said they're open to a sale under the right circumstances.
McMillan said ownership change may be unsettling, but isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"An exit ramp in a business segment is critical for its overall health," McMillan wrote. "Consider the impact of an industry where there are no sales transactions. Exits would only mean abandoned businesses."
The premium wine business began to really take off some 30 years ago. McMillan's report suggests that some of the entrepreneurs who built that nascent industry are looking to retire and pass the business to new blood. That is a good thing.
It tells us the industry has matured. At the same time it is sufficiently dynamic to become something more.
Albany Democrat-Herald, July 3: "Learning a lesson from the Cover Oregon debacle"
Who says we can't learn from experience — especially experience that already has cost us millions of dollars?
We refer to the news that Oregon has hired the tech firm Deloitte Consulting LLC to help transfer the botched Cover Oregon health insurance exchange to the federal exchange website. The contract, for a cool $18.4 million, also calls for the company to finish building the state's Medicaid system.
Deloitte will be the so-called "system integrator" — in other words, the entity that oversees the transition.
You may recall that the lack of such a system integrator was cited as one of the primary reasons behind the Cover Oregon debacle, in which the state spent millions of dollars to build the exchange but never was able to create one that allowed the public to enroll in coverage in one sitting. Oregon's exchange was the only one in the nation that failed this fundamental task, although it is true that residents were able to use a time-consuming hybrid paper-online application process to get health insurance.
Deloitte was hired to do an analysis of the mess, and eventually concluded what had become fairly apparent: The state needed to throw in the towel on the Cover Oregon exchange and switch to the federal website because such a switch would be cheaper than trying to fix the state site.
Other mistakes added to the debacle: An investigation ordered by Gov. John Kitzhaber found that state managers failed to heed reports about problems that hindered the launch and that contractor Oracle Corp. did a shoddy job in building the exchange. Adding to the mess was the fact that the contract with Oracle gave the state few tools with which to hold the company accountable.
Now, Deloitte — one of three companies that bid for the contract to be the system integrator — will be charged with managing the switch to the federal website. Deloitte will create a new website that will redirect Oregonians to HealthCare.gov to enroll in private plans and to the Oregon Health Authority website to enroll in Medicaid. The company also will facilitate the transfer of information between the Health Authority and the federal exchange.
Testing will begin in mid-August. State officials say the transition will be finished by the next open enrollment period in November.
Let's hope state officials have learned another lesson from the Cover Oregon debacle and birddog Deloitte's work to be sure the company delivers the promised goods on time. We don't need any fresh chapters added to this litany of failure.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, July 7: "Oregon voters should take fresh look at open primaries"
Backers of a so-called open primary initiative say they've gathered enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot this November.
We've long backed this idea, and hope that Oregon voters — who have rejected similar measures in the past — will take another look at the proposal in November.
The proposed ballot measure would replace Democratic and Republican party primaries with a single primary election open to all voters, regardless of party affiliation. That would include the estimated 31 percent of voters who are not registered as Republicans or Democrats. And, as we can testify, the primary ballot for an unaffiliated voter can be a sparse document indeed.
Under an open primary, all candidates for a particular office would be listed on a single ballot and every voter would be able to choose one candidate. The top two vote-getters would advance to the general election.
If enacted by voters, the change would apply to all partisan local, state and congressional races. Because of federal law, it would not apply to the presidential primary.
A similar system has been enacted by voters in Washington state and California.
An open primary would ensure that every voters' voice would matter in every election. Citizens would no longer be shut out from nominating candidates just because they declined to be identified, on paper, as either Democrat or Republican. It would end decades of hypocrisy, as citizens often registered as members of a certain party for the sole reason that they wanted a voice in the primary on the contests that mattered.
In theory at least, the candidates who wanted to emerge from the primary would be forced to appeal to the broadest possible bloc of voters. No more appeals by candidates to narrow interests, either ultra-conservative or hyper-liberal. No more shifting positions after the primary in order to appeal to a broader section of the electorate — a common occurrence, as candidates often must appeal to the fringes in a primary and then attempt to tack to the center in the general election.
The ultimate result could be fewer partisan divisions in the Legislature and other elected bodies and winning candidates more inclined to search for common ground.
We don't pretend to believe an open primary system would solve all our governmental woes. But it would be a fundamental change — and one that offers a measure of hope for people interested in better government.
The (Bend) Bulletin, July 3: "Government has rocky relationship with computer challenges"
We are not alone. Oregon is far from the only state that has had problems getting its computers to run as they should. Whether they're used for student standardized tests or to keep track of people with accounts at the secretary of state's office, computers seem to give government fits.
Thus at least five states have had problems with computer systems used to administer standardized tests associated with the Common Core curriculum. Seven states, meanwhile, had serious difficulties with computers attached to the Affordable Care Act, though surely none of the other six were as problem plagued as Oregon's. Even the feds got into that particular act, by the way.
Oregon's problems don't stop there. In recent memory the state had major difficulties with computers in the Employment Department, and, in the mid 1990s, the motor vehicles division's computers failed. Too, the city of Portland's effort to install a new program governing water department bills was so problem-riddled it took several years and more than $30 million to come up with something that worked.
Back in Salem, the secretary of state's office computers were hacked earlier this year, forcing a shutdown that denied citizens access to databases for roughly three weeks.
Now, The Oregonian reports there had been Internet alerts about problems with the open-source software at the secretary of state' office for weeks before the system was hacked, but state techies had failed to act upon those warnings.
The Oregonian is keeping the name of the software secret, meanwhile, because it's unclear if all state agencies have fixed the security problems associated with it. Secrecy, at least for now, probably makes sense.
Computers and the programs created for them are tricky, no doubt about it. No doubt, too, that private businesses probably have difficulties when they make major changes in the software they use. They can often keep those problems to themselves, however, while most government agencies are denied that luxury.
But state agencies and those who lead them seem particularly vulnerable to the sort of hubris that refuses to acknowledge difficulties until they can no longer be ignored. The fallout would be less, we suspect, if troubles were made public sooner, rather than later.
The East Oregonian, July 4: "Bonuses for poor work not the American way"
We've all rolled our eyes at the ridiculous level of CEO compensation in this country.
According to the Associated Press, CEO pay has jumped 725 percent since 1978. Compensation for your average employee has only gone up about 10 percent during that same time period.
But this is America, right? A place where we are free to make as much money as we possibly can, human decency and our blood pressure be damned.
It's un-American to even mention a recent university study that found companies that pay CEOs in the highest 10 percent earn negative abnormal returns over the next few years. In fact, the actual number is negative 8 percent. Yikes.
So we will skip all that and instead opine against bonuses paid to public enterprises that have had a brutal run of things in the last year. Two, in particular, should especially frustrate Oregon readers.
Let's start with Veterans Affairs, whose director was forced to resign after a long string of bad news: falsified paperwork and a backlog that led to the unnecessary deaths of patients.
Yet more than $2.7 million in bonuses were awarded last year to VA administrators. In fact, $380,000 in bonuses were awarded to 292 directors and top executives at 38 VA hospitals where investigators are now looking into claims of falsified appointment records or where there have been excessive delays in patient care.
Those administrators were at the helm of a thoroughly mismanaged organization, yet they were richly rewarded with taxpayers dollars — in the form of cash bonuses.
We understand there are good people in bad organizations, and many of them that are tremendously valuable to the future success of the VA. But we can also see that people who were wholly undeserving received large chunks of change.
Which makes us wonder how much politics went into a supposedly merit-based decision.
On a lesser scale, we can also point to Cover Oregon.
There is no need to beat that dead horse, and we all understand things could not have gone worse with our state health insurance portal.
But last month, Cover Oregon offered retention bonuses to employees willing to go down with the ship at the crippled organization.
According to the Associated Press, 27 staff members have left since April to take other jobs.
And we can't blame them, really. The future of their organization remains heavily in doubt and we can imagine it's not a very fun cocktail party after you admit to working for the biggest tech debacle in Oregon history.
New executive director Clyde Hamstreet is trying to patch the organization together at a time where important work still needs to be done.
"Many of the employees who voluntarily left Cover Oregon had key skills that are not easy to replace both in IT and in health care laws and regulations," wrote Hamstreet. "We cannot afford to keep losing valuable employees if we are to complete the work load for the remainder of 2014 and the IT transition project."
The bonuses could total as much as $650,000, divided up to technical and policy staff who stay through March 15. For most, the bonus is an extra two weeks' pay. Others can qualify for larger bonuses of up to three months.
From an outsider perspective, it's hard to say if these are people who had a hand in killing the golden goose or if they have been slaving away, fighting the good fight while the walls crumbled around them.
But we do know this: plenty of people deserved to be fired for their work at Cover Oregon, not get raises.
And that gets to the meat of the argument about merit-based bonuses at taxpayer-funded organizations.
We owe it to our nation to be able to attract and keep bright and hardworking employees. Money goes a long way in that regard.
But we also owe it to taxpayers to not be handing out dollars to people who are undeserving — either just another name on the payroll or a person who is a part of an inept if not corrupt bureaucracy.