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Posts published in February 2007

Deal

Oregon House Aveteran and highly skillful lobbyist of our acquaintance often said of legislative lobbying that nothing is over until adjournment. And the look in his eye added the punchline: . . . even then.

So we were a little less than shocked and bewildered when the party leaders in the Oregon House found a way to come together on the corporate-kicker-to-rainy-day-fund issue that has become so central to this year's session. Everyone had something to lose; the ability to claim a win here was a little better for everyone.

It may have been a little more important for the Democrats. Governor Ted Kulongoski had staked much of his renewed energy and momentum this year on its passage, and a lot of the prestige of the new House Democratic leadership was riding on it too. A referral to a popular vote might succeed in getting them a win, but at the expense of looking incapable in the Statehouse. A lot of Oregonians would, after all, like to see their legislature succeed at doing their job.

Republicans had reason for concern here, too. If this thing went to a public vote, their side would probably have lost and looked bad - a bad setup as they try to figure out how to regain a House majority next time. As it is, they got some concessions on the estate tax and on a small-business aspect to the corporate kicker: Concessions important for their side, but not so sweeping that they gut the core proposal. Everybody gave up something: The essence of legislative negotiation.

Senate President Peter Courtney remarked later at a press conference, "In my career as a negotiator, I don't ever recall an agreement of this magnitude being put together in such a short amount of time. In these negotiations each of us knew we had to find a way and reach out to each other in a very difficult time."

Otherwise known as legislating; which at times is the art of conceding a little while not giving up.

Chat this evening

Another quick reminder that our weekly Wednesday chat, our third, is on for tonight at 6 pm Pacific, 7 pm Mountain, accessible off this page. (Scroll down to the right to the “nickname” box, enter your name, click the button, and you’re in.) It lasts about an hour; feel free to jump in or out any time.

The last two were enjoyable discussions. Greg Smith, a co-founder, was under the the weather and had to miss the last one, but he should be back tonight. Along with, well, who knows who. We draw some eclectic chatters.

Culture clash in the arena(s)

Sonics proposed area
Sonics proposed arena, ground view/Professional Basketball Club LLC

The Renton arena, or most any Seattle Sonics arena proposal, seems to have just sunk from dead on arrival to - six feet under? The only missing component of the last rites was the emotional, and now Seattle has that. Which means, about half a year hence, Oklahoma City seems likely to get its basketball team.

This grows out of the purchase of the Sonics a while back from a group of Seattle investors by the Professional Basketball Club, LLC, whose participants (another group of investors) hail mostly from Oklahoma City. The purchase terms said that the group had to make an effort to keep the team in Seattle through October of this year. The group said that a key to this would include construction of a massive new arena (the picked site is in Renton, and drawings of the proposed arena were released Monday). And they said most of the cost would have to be underwritten by taxpayers.

Which was probably a lost cause to begin with. (The cultural origins of this tale being, after all, Southern.) Not the idea of professional basketball in Seattle, of course - in a metro area of three million (bigger than OKC) it's a logical thing. Nor the idea of a new arena, either. But we are after all talking about an entertainment enterprise being operated by a private company which is asking for a massive taxpayer handout - way beyond simple cooperation - instead of operating within the free market system. Oklahomans ought to understand the difficulty of that.

Washington legislators (who, admittedly, didn't shine in their handling of the comparable NASCAR debate) seemed to catch the point early on. They were being asked for $300 million in taxpayer funds (or maybe more - some details remain unclear) for what in effect would be the subsidy of a private enterprise.

Legislators who had in mind other places for the money - public services, for example - were cool to the idea. So, polling seems to indicate, is the public.

So that was probably what. Before the news about the investors in the Professional Basketball Club hit, and made it even more so.

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A tax that floats

We have suspected that the idea of putting a cigarette tax increase (the money going toward a statewide child health program) on the Oregon ballot probably would be a winner. Apparently, that's better than a mere suspicion.

Loaded Orygun has a detailed post on polling that covers just this subject; it is highly recommended reading. With some caveats noted, the bottom line seems to be: Support for such a measure seems to outweigh opposition by about two to one.

What Otter forbids

There hasn't been much notice of the substance because the bill in question sounds so boring, but we'll note here that Idaho Governor Butch Otter has issued a veto. (The fact of the veto has gotten some attention; the substance, little.) It's just one veto (so far) to the 33 or so bills he has thus far signed into law, and it doesn't portend any great political conflict. But as it offers an indicator of priorities, let's pause for a moment.

The measure in question is House Bill 8, and the short legislative description of it is that it "Amends existing law to provide that a notice of levy and distraint be sent by regular first class mail instead of certified mail when collecting state taxes." (Please don't fall asleep; this gets a little more interesting.) It generated no major debate; it passed the Idaho House 64-2 and the Senate 35-0.

It was a small-government, or cut-government-cost, measure, proposed by the State Tax Commission (whose members are appointed by the governor). Here is its statement of purpose: "Current law requires the Tax Commission to send a notice of levy to taxpayers by certified mail. This costs about $28,000 annually to send more than 10,000 notices. Almost half are returned as refused or unclaimed. Changing the certified mail requirement to first class mail will likely result in more taxpayers actually receiving the notice more cost effectively."

So . . . what's the rationale outweighing this?

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Head to head

Those interested in our post from two weeks ago on the explosive growth of dairy operations in Idaho's Magic Valley, and especially around Gooding and Twin Falls counties, will find the lead piece in today's Twin Falls Times News of note as well.

It points out how Gooding County, which is by far the most concentrated dairy county in the Northwest (a quarter of Idaho's dairy cattle are there) is working on restricting dairy activity locally, and the support and opposition the effort has brought. Opposition groups have persuaded the county commission to impose a moratorium on new dairies, and it still is in effect.

The next public review of a new governance proposal will occur Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Murphy’s law

Michael Murphy
Michael Murphy

There's some special deference given in the law to "deathbed statements," the idea being that motivation for lying, or for shading the truth, is taken to be diminished as we reach the end. Maybe the same is true for officeholders too: With announcements of retirement, we sometimes hear blunt words not always audible previously.

Washington Treasurer Michael Murphy said last week he will not run again when his office is up for election next year (setting up a watchable contest among the ambitious). He has made some points on earlier occasions similar to those he made last week, but they somehow didn't stick in the mind quite so well.

He has delivered useful commentary, for instance, on the financing of capital projects: "“Lack of transparency and public oversight of capital projects creates an environment where public tax dollars can too easily be squandered and insider deal-making can proliferate. Good public policy mandates that state agencies use both the lowest cost financing method and the lowest cost capital project delivery method, while following the policy directives that are embodied in the public works laws, such as competition and transparency.”

Compare that to this, from last week: "My experience with public-private partnerships is that the private party gets rich and the public gets screwed."

A Boise mayoral prediction

Sort of, and it isn't ours, though the rationale is credible enough.

This year will bring the mayoral (and councilmanic) election in Boise, with a November runoff if no one takes a clear majority. Mayor David Bieter is expected to run for another term, and there's been, for at least two years, a widespread presumption about who his opponent (chief opponent, at least) will be. The Boise Guardian (David Frazier) is predicting that presumption will materialize, in the person of Council member Jim Tibbs.

Jim Tibbs
Jim Tibbs

They have history. Not long after taking office as mayor - he had just barely won a clear majority in 2003 - Bieter had to select a new police chief. Tibbs, who had served in the Boise force for a third of a century and was at that point interim chief, had substantial support, but didn't get Bieter's nod. Talk emerged almost immediately that Tibbs would run for council in 2005 and, if he won, would challenge Bieter in 2007. In fact he did run and win in 2005. So, now: Will he run?

Evidently there's been nothing definite, but the Frazier suggests that he's seen enough indicators to call it. And maybe he will. As Frazier points out, Tibbs is in mid-term; if he loses for mayor, he still stays on the council.

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Uncovered

Something about the web - maybe the solitary nature of posting to it - seems to suggest the idea of private communication. It isn't. It's more public and out there in the world than any newspaper or television station, no matter that you may not have intended it that way. That's a lesson for myspace teenagers and facebook college students. Not to mention politicians.

Many commenters on political sites, this one included, regularly use pseudonyms. (This site, like many, prefers real names but allows pseudonyms.) Commenters probably think this means they're anonymous; but not always. The lesson being, don't post what you aren't comfortable standing behind.

Story in point is recounted on David Postman's blog. It stems from a discussion on Sound Politics, where blogger Stefan Sharkansky was writing about the rules concerning petition signature gathering for initiatives. (The details are another issue.) Comments to his post included at least three snarky takes from "PDC expert," saying "Stefan - your ignorance is stunning," "[Tim] Eyman is a liar and the sheep on this blog will believe any lie he tells them," and so forth.

Which might have been that, except that Sharkansky decided to track down the commenter. Using the comment's home IP address, and traced it to the city of Kent. An information request tracked it directly back to state Representative Geoffrey Simpson, D-Covington, who acknowledged the comments were his.

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Splits, With Consequences

Gordon Smith
Gordon Smith

When in December Senator Gordon Smith spoke on the floor of the Senate to break, for the first time, with the Bush Administration on Iraq, and position himself mostly with Democrats, that event was widely viewed as having significant political consequences for Oregon politics in 2008. And it may. It was widely seen as a reflection of Smith's possible difficulties as he looks toward a re-election campaign in an increasingly blue Oregon.

But his decision Wednesday to support a locally significant but far less known Democratic position could have even larger political effects.

That position is in support of the proposal by Oregon's Democratic Governor, Ted Kulongoski, to raise cigarette taxes by 84.5 cents per pack, and use the money to underwrite health care for uninsured children. On Wednesday, he appeared together with Kulongoski at the Statehouse to endorse the idea.

Let us count some of the many ways this simple endorsement shook Oregon politics.

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