Archive for February, 2007

Feb 28 2007

Deal

Published by under Oregon

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.

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Feb 28 2007

Chat this evening

Published by under website

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.

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Feb 27 2007

Culture clash in the arena(s)

Published by under Washington

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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Feb 26 2007

A tax that floats

Published by under Oregon

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.

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Feb 26 2007

What Otter forbids

Published by under Idaho

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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Feb 25 2007

Head to head

Published by under Idaho

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.

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Feb 24 2007

Murphy’s law

Published by under Washington

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.”

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Feb 24 2007

A Boise mayoral prediction

Published by under Idaho

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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Feb 23 2007

Uncovered

Published by under Uncategorized

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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Feb 22 2007

Splits, With Consequences

Published by under Oregon

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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Feb 22 2007

Death blows

Published by under Washington

The old description of editorial writers as the people who ride onto a battlefield after the fighting is done, to shoot the wounded, may fit neatly today’s Seattle Times editorial on the proposed expansion of NASCAR into Kitsap County.

The NASCAR proposal, which would set a region-scale track operation in a location with inadequate transportation capacity (meaning, the crowds of track-goers would swamp local highways and ferries) and incur massive public subsidies for the privilege, certainly has seen some skepticism in this spot for some months. (We see no problem with a NASCAR facility located in a more logical place, and which pays its own way.)

Over the last third or so of last year, public opposition to it, especially locally in Kitsap, seems to have solidified. By the time the legislature – which was being asked for legislation to allow it local and for money for its private backers – convened in January, it seemed to have been politically adjudged DOA. Nothing that’s happened since seems to have changed that, as a string of newspaper headlines has made clear.

So the editorial about the current NASCAR legislation might have been great six months ago (before legislative introduction, true, but when its contours were known) rather than very good now. It still has some real muscle. The bill, it said, is “is a slick piece of work that is tougher to stomach with every turn of its 57 pages. . . . The outrageous number of exceptions and tax breaks should also give legislators pause. . . .” And it makes sound points about the hash it would make of important provisions of local planning law.

Sometimes the wounded do merit shooting.

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Feb 22 2007

Alone on the mountain

Published by under Oregon

Mount HoodWe don’t maintain to have perfect insight into the minds of extreme sport enthusiasts. Part of the thought process does seem clear enough, though: Society has become so safe, so boring, so un-challenging, that somewhere there ought to be a place where you can still test yourself against the elements, against the wild.

Mountain climbers have sought such a place on Mount Hood, where the peaks rise higher than 10,000 feet (it rises to 11,237 feet) and the risks can be real. In the last few months, people have died on that trek. But just last week, three climbers were rescued, efficiently, because they carried and activated electronic location devices. The timing was remarkable: Just then, a bill in the Oregon Legislature, proposed by Representative John Lim, to require that climbers moving above 10,000 feet carry such locators, was moving through the legislature.

The mountain-climbing community was outraged. “Self-reliance and knowledge are what’s going to keep you alive on the mountain,” said one at a hearing. Such locators may give climbers a false sense of security give them an easy out instead of exerting themselves to get themselves out of risk. Underlying seemed to be this: You’re civilizing one of the few ways we have to get away from societys safety nets, to be truly self-reliant.

Part of the problem with leaving it at that, though, is that when people on the mountain go missing, searches are ordinarily launched. Such searches can be highly expensive, meaning that – apart from whatever responsibility other people in society feel toward the climbers – these searches can cost a great deal, and can put the searchers themselves at some risk.

So how about this as a compromise . . .

Amend the bill to say that if climbers don’t want to carry locators, they have two other choices. They can agree, in writing, to pay all costs of any search for them, and maybe a liability fee beyond that. Or, they can state in writing that no search for them should be launched, and emergency organizations won’t be required or encouraged to.

That would certainly take care of the societal safety net.

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Feb 21 2007

Travelin’ through the home district

Published by under Washington

Frank Chopp
Frank Chopp

Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp is not a man who, let’s say, seems to exhibit great self-doubt. But even he might have been given pause by this.

In the big, ongoing debate over what to do about Seattle’s Alaskan Way viaduct, Chopp’s position for some time has been clear: Flat opposition to the tunnel replacement proposal backed by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and evident support for rebuilding the existing elevated downtown expressway. Chopp’s home district is in Seattle, in District 43, just north of the Alaskan Way, so his homies have a substantial stake in the outcome.

Last night the 43rd district Democrats (and the 43rd is overwhelmingly Democratic) met, and delivered their thoughts. According to the Stranger‘s Slog:

“Seattle’s 43rd District Democrats voted last night 74% to say NO to the elevated rebuild. The overwhelming NO vote came despite (or, perhaps, because of?) a 5-minute Vote YES rebuild speech by pro-rebuild 43rd district Rep. Frank Chopp. The 43rd (Capitol Hill, U-District, Wallingford) also favored voting NO on Nickels’s tunnel.”

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Feb 21 2007

No chat tonight

Published by under website

Our regular Wednesday night chat is off for tonight; travel and schedule conflicts are likely to keep the hosts from available keyboards at the appropriate house, so we figure we’ll hold off until next week.

Plans are afoot to bring a special guest aboard then. Stay tuned.

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Feb 20 2007

In the mix

Published by under Oregon

Ted Kulongoski
Ted Kulongoski

Does it seem that, after two years of stories and headlines about how disengaged Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski has been from the legislative process, that he’s getting plenty involved this year?

It’s a bit of an external observation, to be sure. But the incidents do seem to be lining up.

He testified today at the Senate Education Committee, in what the Salem Statesman-Journal called “a rare personal pitch to legislators” about the cost to students of pursuing a higher education. That was a day after speaking at a large rally on the same subject.

Rare by standards of last term, probably, but maybe less rare now. He has been engaged in Measure 37, to the point of proposing specific legislation and apparently working with legislators on it.

With quite a while to go till the end of the session, Kulongoski could be tracking to reverse his earlier rep.

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