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Editorials from around Oregon

June 5, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The Register-Guard, June 5, on suction dredging bill:

Suction dredging in Oregon waterways has long been a contentious issue, pitting environmental, recreational and fishing interests against miners.

The tension ratcheted up several years ago, when Oregon’s neighbor to the south began tightening restrictions on suction dredges — gasoline-powered, raft-mounted vacuums that suck up streambed material and water in search of gold.

California said the dredges destroy fish habitat and stir up mercury that gets into drinking water and builds to toxic levels in fish, among other problems. Last year, it banned suction dredging on its public waterways entirely.

As California cracked down on suction dredging, miners flocked to Oregon, where restrictions were more lax. From 2008 to 2012, permits issued by Oregon’s Department of State Lands for suction dredge mining almost tripled, to 2,251, alarming fishermen, environmentalists, the tourism and recreation industries, and ordinary citizens.

They noted that tens of millions of taxpayer dollars had been spent restoring the state’s waterways, and stressed the importance of these waterways to state and local economies and public health.

Last year, a five-year dredging moratorium went into effect to give the Oregon Legislature time to draft permanent rules. The miners responded by telling Oregon to go suck eggs and by filing a lawsuit, which they lost.

The state Legislature has now passed Senate Bill 3A, a compromise that repeals the moratorium while protecting the most sensitive rivers and streams, including salmon habitat. The bill still allows suction dredging in less sensitive areas, under a permitting system.

Opponents of suction dredging say they can live with the bill, although they wish it had gone further. Some, like the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, which represents about 1,000 commercial fishing family businesses, would like to see suction dredging banned entirely.

The miners have been less sanguine about the compromise, saying that they have a right to mine on public land and that suction dredging is good for fish. Some were particularly angered that the Rogue River is off limits to dredging.

“Every stream in the West should be open to dredging for gold,” one miner told legislators. “Let us spread out and make some money.”

The legislators who worked on this bill are to be applauded for their tireless efforts to craft a bill that would provide a workable compromise and protect the most sensitive waterways.

But opponents of dredging have a point: A lot of taxpayer money has been spent cleaning up Oregon’s waterways. These waterways are important not just to some of the state’s largest industries — people spend about $2.5 billion a year on fish and wildlife recreation alone, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife calculated in 2008 — but to everyone who relies on them for drinking water and recreation.

Suction dredging benefits a small number of miners, many of whom have expressed contempt for the environment and for Oregon laws. They were booted out of California, which saw no reason to allow continued degradation of its resources.

Gov. Kate Brown should sign SB 3A, providing immediate protection to some of the most sensitive waterways. Longer term, Oregon, like California, should look to end this practice entirely; it has little upside for the state and a lot of downside.


Mail Tribune, June 4, on fuel law harming transport bill:

Oregon’s roads and bridges are in dire need of repair and improvement, and delays resulting from traffic tie-ups that could be eased by new projects are costing businesses money across the state. After months of effort, lawmakers have produced a massive transportation package to address these needs, proposing to spend $8.2 billion over 10 years.

The package includes new tax money, including a 14-cent increase in the gas tax (Portland residents would be taxed 23 cents, because of major projects planned for the metro area), a 0.1 percent payroll tax for mass transit, higher vehicle registration fees and more.

Republicans are ready to support the package, but they have the same objection they had two years ago: the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, passed over their objections. The fuel standard, also known as the Clean Fuels Program, which began phasing in last year, requires suppliers to blend cleaner alternative fuels into their products or subsidize other carbon-reduction efforts through the purchase of clean-fuel credits. Republicans say that will boost gas prices, hitting motorists with a double whammy if the gas tax also increases.

Passing tax measures requires a three-fifths majority in each house, meaning majority Democrats need at least one Republican vote in each chamber. Two years ago, Republicans demanded outright repeal of the clean fuels law in exchange for supporting the transportation package. When they didn’t get it, they unanimously opposed the package and the legislation died.

Crater comes up shy in Class 5A baseball state championship with 5-1 loss to Churchill at Volcanoes Stadium

This time around, the minority party has softened its stance, no longer insisting on repealing the clean fuel law. Instead, Republicans want gas-pump receipts to show the cost of the program, and to cap the cost of fuel credits.

According to reporting in The Oregonian, Senate Democrats are willing to meet the Republicans halfway, but some House members are not. House Speaker Tina Kotek and Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, said last week their efforts to negotiate a compromise had reached an impasse.

From where we sit, it looks as though Republicans have backed down from their all-or-nothing position, and now it’s the Democrats’ turn to refuse to budge.

The losers will be Oregon residents and the state’s economy, as traffic issues continue to worsen and long-overdue fixes get pushed farther down the road.


The Oregonian/OregonLive, June 3, on K-12 education budget:

The K-12 education budget approved by the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means education subcommittee Thursday would — in functional states, at least — seem like great news. The committee is recommending allocating at least $8.2 billion in general fund and lottery dollars for the coming biennium to Oregon’s school districts - an 11 percent increase over the current biennium’s allocation.

Not in Oregon, however. That enviable increase, fueled by a booming economy that’s pouring record amounts of money into state coffers, still won’t be big enough to stave off teacher layoffs and cuts across school districts due to rising employee health-care costs and pension obligations. And while Democrats on the subcommittee bemoaned large class sizes and short school years, they promptly approved the budget, arguably taking away some of the momentum for breaking Oregon’s cycle of shortchanging students.

This is the price of legislators’ inaction in dealing with Oregon’s runaway spending problem. Despite facing a $1.4 billion budget deficit, lawmakers have yet to show the public a plan for restructuring how much public employers pay for benefits that threaten to gobble up bigger and bigger chunks of taxpayer dollars. While there’s talk of cost-containment proposals coming next week, time is getting short for the thorough analysis and evaluation that must take place. With just over a month left in the session, Democrats - who control the House, the Senate and the governor’s office - have a narrowing window to show just how genuine their commitment is to students and Oregonians as a whole.

“Kicking the can down the road is no longer an option,” Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board. Health care and pension contributions are only slated to soar in future biennia. “We need leadership.”

Unfortunately, the leadership we’re seeing is in the form of how to deflect criticism or shift the blame. Consider Thursday’s subcommittee meeting.

Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, who co-chairs the Ways and Means education subcommittee with Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, reminded those at the meeting that each school district is governed by an elected school board that decides how money is spent. People, he advised, should go to their school boards to chime in on what they choose to fund. Except, as Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, pointed out, the state interferes with districts’ authority when it comes to employee compensation, even preventing them from seeking alternatives to the generous and expensive state-run health plan for Oregon educators. She, as well as other Republicans on the committee, voted against the budget for failing to include cost-containment provisions.

Then, Smith Warner provided her own spin. The Portland Democrat decried that her own children will receive a year’s less instruction than students in Washington by the time they graduate. She shared her frustration of “having to patch together budgets year after year.” And giving a nod to the strong economy that is expected to deliver $1.3 billion more revenue in the 2017-2019 than in the current biennium, she then leaps to this conclusion: “Here, in a year where our economy continues to go great guns, I think what this all demonstrates is we have a broken revenue structure.”

How about broken logic? The National Education Association says Oregon’s education spending per student exceeds the national average, yet our graduation rates are third worst. The state spends about $2,000 more per student than Washington does on its students. So the question should be: How do we use that money differently so that students get the education Oregonians are paying for?

Such denial of Oregon’s unsustainable spending only turns Oregonians against all taxation proposals, including ideas that deserve consideration. That’s regrettable especially because Smith Warner and other Democrats have a legitimate point: Oregonians do need new tax measures that ease the burden on individuals, increase revenue from businesses and provide more stability than the volatile ups and downs driven by Oregon’s overreliance on personal income taxes. Voters should be pressuring all business groups to join in on discussions and help shape a solution. Now. But legislators’ tired rhetoric of vilifying corporations while ignoring the costs so clearly driving our budget crisis only gives voters more reason to tune them out.

Smith Warner did acknowledge later in an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board that she recognizes the need to fundamentally address costs as well. That’s encouraging. But if so, then she and other Democrats need to be making that case publicly, frequently and directly to the public-employee unions who support them and whose cooperation is essential in fashioning a solution to our fiscal dilemma.

She and others on the education subcommittee voted the education budget through to the full Ways and Means committee. But by no means should they consider their work on that budget done.


The Bulletin, June 2, on Governor impeachment process

Say what you will about Oregon’s last governor, John Kitzhaber, he did one thing right: In the face of a clear loss of support from leaders of his party in 2015, he stepped down.

But what if he hadn’t? Oregonians have no option short of recall to rid themselves of a governor who may be crooked or otherwise disgracing his office.

Impeachment would give them that option. Yet, thanks to Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, the power to impeach the governor likely is to remain a tool available to be used everywhere in the United States but Oregon. Both oppose House Joint Resolution 10, which would give voters the option to amend the Oregon Constitution, giving lawmakers the right to impeach not only the governor, but the state treasurer, secretary of state, attorney general and labor commissioner.

We’ll agree with Burdick and Courtney on one thing.

Oregon is a recall state, and that tool could have been used to force the governor out.

But recall efforts have their problems: An elected official, other than a member of the state Legislature, is safe from recall for the first six months he or she is in office, no matter what he or she has done.

Kitzhaber took office Jan. 12, and a recall effort could not have gotten underway until mid-July. Only then could recall supporters have begun circulating petitions to gather the signatures needed to force a recall election. They’d have about 90 days to gather signatures, and elections officials would have about 10 days to verify the signatures.

Then, if the governor had refused to resign, a vote to remove him from office would be held within 35 days, and, had the governor lost, he would have another 30 days to leave office. The process could have taken nearly a year.

That leaves Oregon essentially leaderless for far too long. An impeachment likely would avoid the delays built into the recall system.

Burdick and Courtney each can kill HJR 10 by doing nothing. That’s unfortunate. Impeachment is better than the prospect of a stubborn but badly flawed governor holing up in Mahonia Hall for months as a recall effort plays out.


The Daily Astorian, June 1, on the Real ID act

As the Oregon Legislature’s session winds down, lawmakers must not forget to pass Senate Bill 374, which would bring the state into compliance with the federal Real ID Act. The bill is currently in the hands of a Senate subcommittee.

The Real ID act, passed in 2005, increased the required documentation for issuing driver’s licenses and identification cards, with the goal of thwarting terrorism. But many states, including Oregon, balked at implementing changes because no federal funding was available to cover the states’ additional costs.

Since then the federal government has been issuing compliance waivers to Oregon and other states. But Oregon’s waiver expires in June, and it will leave card-carrying Oregonians in the lurch by 2020 if the Legislature doesn’t act. The biggest impact of noncompliance will be on those hoping to board a plane, which isn’t allowed without approved identification. In other words, it would take a passport for an Oregon resident to board a flight — even a domestic one. It would also restrict access to some federal facilities and military installations.

The Transportation Security Administration, which oversees airport security, intends to stop accepting IDs from noncompliant states on Jan. 22, 2018. Residents of states that are in compliance have until Oct. 21, 2020, before being required to show the Real ID compliant identification.

While the bill in the Oregon Senate is more of a bandage than a full cure for the problem, it creates a path to a future solution while meeting the federal requirements of the present. It would allow Oregonians to pay extra to go through the additional steps and obtain a Real ID, while directing the Department of Motor Vehicles to set up a program to provide the enhanced IDs.

In short, it will give Oregonians who want to board a plane but not hassle with a passport the ability to do so, and also push the state closer to making the IDs available to everyone. It’s not perfect — but without it those who aren’t aware will be furious when they arrive at airport security and cannot pass.

The bill has gone through the bulk of the legislative process with a public hearing and work sessions, but it now resides in the Senate’s Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development. The subcommittee needs to act, and the bill needs to proceed.

Earlier this month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a measure that will bring that state into compliance, one of 25 states and the District of Columbia that have done so. Oregon needs to join the compliance club too, and soon.

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