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Posts published in June 2009

Well, it’s a plan

ferries

The good news is that someone is actually wrestling down the needs of the long-troubled Washington ferry system, including the purchase of five new boats in the next five years. The Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division has just released a plan that looks as if it may make sense for the ferry system.

That's the good news.

The bad news: "The plan identifies a net funding gap of $3.3 billion over the next 22 years with most of that deficit in the capital program. WSF will continue to work with the Legislature to identify a sustainable funding source for the ferry system."

So they need another $3.3 billion to make it work. At least they have some time . . .

The fireworks ban

crackers

Most places have limitations of some sort on 4th of July fireworks, but outright bans are relatively uncommon. Spokane, and communities around it, have had such a ban for 17 years.

From a city release: "Fireworks-related fires in the City of Spokane dropped from 1,044 in the 10 years prior to the ban to just 46 in the 10 years after the ban. In a similar manner, fireworks-caused injuries dropped from 290 to 37. In 2008, no injuries from fireworks were reported in the City of Spokane; there were five small grass fires. Clearly, most people are honoring the ban. Violations of the ban can be reported to Crime Check at 456-2233."

And: "The Colville Tribe lost over $15 million in timber on July 4, 2003, after someone lit a bottle rocket from a boat on Lake Roosevelt. In 2006, about $6 million in damage to schools in Washington State was caused by fireworks."

Odds are, most northwesterners still are unlikely to want to go there. But food for some thought anyway.

And they’re done, for now

since die

Representative Arnie Roblan at one of the last debates/Oregon Channel

Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt had remarked that he hoped to adjourn for the year by sundown today. He missed that mark, but by less than an hour - a close bit of timing, indicative of the kind of tight operation the Oregon Legislature (moreso in the House, but largely too in the Senate) has had this year.

There are a number of familiar complaints from the not distant past you can't make about this session. You can't say it was unproductive; this may have been the most productive session in a generation (probably moreso than 2007, which also delivered a lot of substance). You can't say it was an especially bitter session; there were occasional scrapes, but the House particularly seemed (at least so far as we could tell) to run without excess conflict. Did it address the issues before the state? It clearly did.

The big unanswered point is what Oregonians will make of all that productivity. Were the answers - most notably on taxes, but maybe on some other subjects as well - acceptable? Did the controlling Democrats, in other words, overreach?

The initial guess here is, probably not; the tax measures and a lot of the most sensitive legislation generally seemed pretty carefully trimmed and crafted to survive attack. But it's a close call. Ballot issues are in the wind, and they may provide a good indicator of what the 2010 voters have to say about the makeup of the next legislature. And other offices too.

Early OR guv thoughts . . .

A fun thread about Oregon gubernatorial prospects for 2010 at Blue Oregon; a longish list of prospects followed by some (sometimes cutting) reviews.

Don't miss the comments by Jack Roberts, a Republican who gives his nickel's worth along with the Democratic regulars.

Bottom line after review: The odds seem to favor a wide-open situation, though mainly if you think that the ultimately candidate sheet won't include the names of DeFazio, Kitzhaber or Walden (which is probably where the weight of guessing would go).

Gov to president?

Our current president is a former U.S. senator, but historically that's an anomaly: In recent decades, and even no so recent, a lot of them have come from the ranks of governors. (Bush II, Clinton, Reagan, Carter . . .)

So Ken Rudin of National Public Radio decided, just as an exercise, to rank the nation's current Republican governors - Republicans since Democrats probably have their next party nomination taken care of - in terms of probability of ever (either in 2012 or later) becoming president. His top-ranked was Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (our guess, until the last moment, for GOP VP last time), and second is Utah Governor (though not for long) Jon Huntsman. Alaska's Sarah Palin was 7th.

In the Northwest? Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter came in 15th out of 22. Though considering that Rudin still has South Carolina's Mark Sanford at number 9, Otter certainly should rise at least one spot.

This list was shortly followed with another one (developed by other bloggers) for Democratic governors, which was led by Brian Schweitzer of Montana. Washington's Chris Gregoire was No. 9. Oregon's Ted Kulongoski did less well, ranking at 26 (out of 28 total).

Absolutely nothing scientific about any of it.

Alternatives opening

devlin

Richard Devlin

It was supposed to be dead. Although a lot of the individual members of the Oregon Legislature were on board, a measure enabling easier and more widespread activities by minor political parties, including explicitly approved cross-nomination, seemed dead in the water. (The Oregon Education Association was apparently one of the key reasons for that.)

Just now, however, Senate Bill 326 passed the Senate - concurring with House amendments - and from a minor-party point of view, it's a big deal. A quick rundown from the Oregon Independent Party (via a release):

SB 326 consists of two parts:

1) It repeals HB 2614 (2005), a law that made it much more difficult for non-affiliated candidates to obtain sufficient signatures to be nominated for public office.

2) It now includes the provisions of what used to be HB 2414 (prior to its recent gutting), which allows a candidate who is nominated by more than one party to list up to 3 such party names on the ballot next to her name. More information on HB 2414 is available at http://indparty.com/node/174.

Despite strong bi-partisan support, the passage of the provisions contained in this bill have been in doubt for much of the latter part of the legislative session. For details see: http://wweek.com/editorial/3531/12669/

SB 326 (including the terms of HB 2414) passed last week in the Oregon House on a vote of 42-17. The provisions of this bill are among the top legislative priorities of the Independent Party of Oregon.

Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, said the finished bill had flaws, but he would push for correction in those in next year's session (since this year's is fast approaching completion). The few senators who voted against (all Democrats) said they did so out of concern for the flaws, but all said they'd be at work on those. Meantime, the small partiers should have an existing law on books - not a bad place from which to defend unflawed provisions.

Many are the paths to passage.

Seattle v Tacoma, another round

tacoma

Central Tacoma/Stapilus

Some battles never end. Those between the Emerald City and the City of Destiny, for example. In modern-day style . . .

The Port of Tacoma tries to entice a key shipper away from the Port of Seattle.

The city of Seattle tries to lure away one of Tacoma's most prestigious businesses.

A solid rundown on the current state of the matter turns up in today's column by Tacoma News-Tribune's Peter Callaghan. Search for Seattle rebuttal (though Callaghan's take was pretty neutral) will get underway shortly . . .

Where the ed jobs are

How much of all that public school money is actually making it to the classroom?

That's a question that ought to be asked a lot more. There's some useful information toward answering it in a new post by Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation:

"Records from the State Department of Education indicate while Idaho's student population has grown about 16 percent in the last 15 years, the ranks of school employees have grown disproportionately. Teaching staff grew by 26 percent, but school bureaucracies fared better: District administrations grew by 33 percent, while school building administration grew by 27 percent. But the big growth market is in school classified staff - computer techs, secretarial staff, bus drivers, custodians and similar support professions - which has grown 55 percent since 1994."

The less you make, the more you pay

It's expensive to be poor, especially when it comes to health care costs. Hold a good, solid, full-time, upper-income job with good health care benefits, and such things as preventive care and earlier physician intervention are practical things. Hold the other kind of job, part-time with lower pay and benefits, and most likely you'll be stuck putting off health care until time has come for the emergency room - which is just about the most expensive kind of health care around.

You can see why some of this develops (and it is an increasingly common approach in both private and government organizations), and there is some reason behind at least some of it. Give full benefits to a part-time employee who at least in theory might be able to work part-time somewhere else too, and - in the zero-sum game that is personnel budgeting - you're limiting what you can provide a full-timer. Except, of course, that in this economic environment, what's really happening is that the part-timers are being shut out of health insurance and, until emergency room time, health care altogether.

Hence the controversy in Idaho, outlined in an Idaho Statesman story today, about a change in state personnel policy requiring, in essence, those state employees who earn the least will have to pay the most for health insurance and related benefits, likely soon kicking them out of the system.

The story clarifies some of this in the case of state employee Zack Gonzales:

Gonzales works 20 hours to 40 hours a week at the Idaho State Emergency Medical Service Communications Center in Meridian.

He pays about $30 a month for health insurance. That's what all qualifying state workers insuring only themselves - not family members - now contribute for the health-plan option Gonzales has, whether they're full-time or part-time. But beginning this fall, his share of the premium will rise to $302.50, a 900 percent increase, or most of one of the two paychecks he gets from the state every month.

Gonzales and his companion rely on Gonzales' check for the mortgage on their home. So Gonzales, 23, will choose the mortgage over health insurance. That means medicine he pays only a few dollars for now will cost him $200 a month.

We sent an inquiry about this policy shift to the governor's office a couple of weeks back. Never got a reply.

A small town day

parade

Parading in Carlton/Stapilus

As residents of a bona fide small town (Carlton, Oregon, population still well shy of 2,000), we've never quite figured out those qualities that are supposed to distinguish the authentics of the small town from the phonies of the larger. People are people. Most of the people here, as in most small towns, have in any event close ties (jobs, families, other connections) to larger communities anyway.

But you don't usually see in larger communities the kind of small town events - or at least, the all-community feel of them - that sometimes you get in places like this. Today was the peak of the annual Carlton Fun Days, the main events of which were a sort of festival in the larger city park, and before that a parade. Which, between those who marched (and anyone who wanted to, could) and those who watched on the sidewalks, seemed to bring in most of the town's inhabitants. A real civic get together.

In between was this: A crowd shot of the people (or at least a large fraction) of Carlton, all in one group, outdoors downtown. Couldn't do that in Seattle.