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Posts published in April 2009

Parochial issues


Here is a good example of why people seeking redress at the state legislative level need to get their local disputes taken care of and in order first: Idaho Senate Bill 1157.

It sounds simple enough, having to do with the naming of a city. State law sets the rules if two cities decide (by voter election) to merge, as some have in Idaho over the years. One of those rules is that when two cities merge, the new city takes the name of the larger one. SB 1157 would alternatively allow to be used a name "mutually agreed upon," the decision being made by the voters at the consolidation election.

This is arising, as you might suspect, because of a specific local circumstance. There's been a lot of talk in Ketchum and Sun Valley, which is an incorporated city as well as a well-known resort, of merging the two cities. Ketchum, with about 3,000 people, is about three times the size of Sun Valley, and so logically would become the new city name. SB 1157 was sponsored by Senator Jon Thorson, D-Sun Valley, who is filling in for Clint Stennett; Thorson would like consolidation to happen.

That has infuriated any number of people at Sun Valley, and a local feud over the subject has erupted. And it has spilled over into the legislature. Wally Huffman, the long-time general manager, warned of "a disaster for my company" if the merger happens. In fact, the Sun Valley contingent seems deeply, and bitterly, split over what should be done.

(And as for the name of the city: It's not terribly important, except for the numbers of people who would have to be changing their addresses and stationary. What possible effect it could have on the resort at Sun Valley is unclear: It has a very well-known brand because of the resort itself, and the mountains nearby, and not because of the small obscure muncipality in the area. Most people who "go to Sun Valley" and don't stay at the resort itself stay, not in the city of Sun Valley, but at one of the many lodges in Ketchum.)

Imagine yourself as a legislator dealing with this: The prospect getting into the middle of a local war.

The response was the only obvious thing to do: Kill the bill. Veteran Senator Denton Darrington, R-Declo, made the point cleanly: "The perception is crystal-clear that this injects the Legislature in the middle of a huge local feud.” Where, in other words, it would have had no business being . . .

The silly bills

Are these the silliest bills in Salem? Your chance to weigh in.

But how can you not vote for the one, House Bill 3146, described by its own sponsor (Representative Chip Shields, D-Portland) as "a stupid bill." (Go to the link and look at the list; that's where you'll kinda get the point.)

Now: How about Washington and Idaho?

A non-starter, or a game-changer


Jeanne Kohl-Welles

Everybody has their legislative non-starters - among those issues a lot of people talk about with some seriousness. In Oregon, the sale tax. In Washington, the income tax.

Or . . . suppose you structured the tax so it would apply only to a small minority, but still raise a bunch of money? Is there a calculus under which (especially in hard times) the unthinkable becomes thinkable?

So now, introduced as of today, we have in Washington a proposal for an income tax, usually considered a poisonous third-rail subject. Democrats are proposing Senate Bill 6147, and Republicans are going to pounce (actually, take the future tense out of that).

Here's the twist: It would only apply about 1% of Washingtonians (those earning a half-million dollars a year or more for individuals, with the bar higher in some other cases) and would be set at a relatively low level - 1%. Easy to grasp.

It has backing from majority Democrats; the key sponsor is Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, along with six others. Majority leadership doesn't seem to be dousing the idea. It carries a trap door: Legislators wouldn't give themselves a final sayt; the idea would go to the voters for an up or down.

The specific statement of intent in the bill says, "It is the intent of the legislature in adopting this title to provide the necessary revenues for the support of vital state services on a more stable and equitable basis." But that's not its real political engine. What could make this possible is the specific populist environment of the moment: Go ahead and tax the rich. As matters sit, in this case, a number of Washingtonians usually unwilling to budge on the income tax might be tempted. Republicans will argue this is an entre to something larger, and they could be right. But for the moment, the ballot issue is what it is. (If it ultimately is.)

There's something much broader going on here than a typical question of tax policy. This will bear close watching.

Cost savings among the homeless

In business, you sometimes hear the expression, "You have spend money to make money." Sometimes, you have to spend it to save it, too. Consider the case of the homeless.

Consider a study in the current Journal of the American Medical Association. It was an intensive study - there are 11 co-authors - and here's the local tie: "95 housed participants (with drinking permitted) with 39 wait-list control participants enrolled between November 2005 and March 2007 in Seattle, Washington."

From the abstract:

Results Housing First participants had total costs of $8 175 922 in the year prior to the study, or median costs of $4066 per person per month (interquartile range [IQR], $2067-$8264). Median monthly costs decreased to $1492 (IQR, $337-$5709) and $958 (IQR, $98-$3200) after 6 and 12 months in housing, respectively. Poisson generalized estimating equation regressions using propensity score adjustments showed total cost rate reduction of 53% for housed participants relative to wait-list controls (rate ratio, 0.47; 95% confidence interval, 0.25-0.88) over the first 6 months. Total cost offsets for Housing First participants relative to controls averaged $2449 per person per month after accounting for housing program costs.

Conclusions In this population of chronically homeless individuals with high service use and costs, a Housing First program was associated with a relative decrease in costs after 6 months. These benefits increased to the extent that participants were retained in housing longer.

Put another way: You save a lot of money by helping these people and getting them off the street, as opposed to leaving them there until major health or safety problems result.

The full text is behind a pay wall, but a well-written summary at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer web site is well worth reading.