The new group Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, just launched with the purpose of overturning two tax measures passed in the last legislative session, actually has a point running a little beyond. It says says so explicitly and formally in its campaign filing with the state: In the Nature of Committee section, it says, “To support or oppose one or more cadidates that may support or oppose job-killing taxes. To oppose one or more job-killling tax measures.”

It is, by the way, pulling in strong money at a fast clip, $198,500 so far. Contributors include the Oregon Association of Realtors, Norm Poole Oil, Tyree Oil, Colvin Oil, Stein Oil, Byrnes Oil – lots of oil companies – the Portland Metropolitan Association of Building Owners and Managers, Morgan Distributing – the bucks are flowing in from the business community.

The two tax measures in question were more limited in scope than voters are likely to be led to believe. One provides only a small, incremental increase on income in the six-figure-per-year range and beyond; the other sets a generally modest increase on corporate taxes that in real dollars are far lower than they were a decade, or two, or three ago. Realistically, neither looks much like a job killer. But they were indisputably tax increases, and now two questions are on deck, the same two questions suggested in the OAJKT mission statement.

Will Oregonians, who have a generally consistent history of voting against tax increases no matter who, why or how much, vote to throw out this one?

And, will Oregonians punish the legislators who passed them?

The second question almost certainly grows out of the first. That means more will be at stake this year in the upcoming ballot issue fight. If the voters sustain the taxes, the second question likely will be moot; a lot of the fight may even go out of the tax critics. But if the anti-tax group is successful, the shape and future of Oregon government will be up for grabs.

The OAJKT, and its backers, clearly are taking this fight seriously. A great deal may weigh on how seriously the taxes’ supporters take it as well.

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Oregon

Hall

Blake Hall

Anyone who wants to add another piece to the mosaic of recent Idaho politics will want to check out the detailed piece in the Idaho Statesman today about Blake Hall. That’s a name already familiar to anyone conversant with Idaho politics of the last couple of decades or so. But there’s some new material here to add some dimension.

An advisory here: This is something of a historical piece, albeit recent history. As its headline says, Hall has been “dialing back” his heavy involvement in Idaho government and politics (though he has certainly not left the building entirely). Hall left his most significant state post, on the Board of Education, a couple of years ago, and for various reasons his impact now isn’t what it was. (In 2002, the last time we ranked Idaho’s most influential 100 people, Hall was listed at number 18, and the year before at number 24.)

But the article, by reporter Dan Popkey, does slice through a number of useful areas of significance and influence in Idaho. Read it, and you’re likely to come away with some added layers to your picture of how Idaho operates.

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Idaho

Upper Kittitas

Kittitas development images/CELP

The Washington Department of Ecology on July 16 issued an emergency rule shutting down the upper Kittitas Valley groundwater basin – east of the Cascade Mountains roughly east of Seattle – to new wells, including wells exempt from ordinary filing requirements.

The decision marks something of a turnaround for Ecology, which had been more supportive of at least exempt well drilling in the area.

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy, which together with the local group Aqua Permanente had sought restrictions, praised the decision.

CELP and Aqua outlined the background for the case as, “Currently more than 7,000 permit-exempt wells are being drilled EACH YEAR in Washington state. Exempt wells are fueling rural sprawl, and used in unlimited quantities for feedlots and dairies. Because these wells are not subject to regulation, there is no control over when and where they are drilled. There is also no control over the impact of these wells on other water users and on hydraulically connected streams. Counties have the power to determine that water is not available for new subdivisions and building permits. But they are generally unwilling (with a few exceptions) to exercise this authority. Thus, rampant new development is being built on exempt wells without oversight or consideration of public interests.”

The state Department of Ecology reported its rule-making decision this way:

After nearly two years of negotiations, Ecology was unable to gain a commitment from the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners that they were willing to move forward with a memorandum of agreement and alternative rule approach that would have limited the uncontrolled proliferation of so-called “exempt groundwater wells” in upper Kittitas County.

Since 1998, nearly 3,000 wells have been drilled in Kittitas County, prompting concerns that groundwater pumping in the headwaters region of the county threatens senior water users and streamflows in the Yakima Basin. A number of parties, including the citizens group Aqua Permanente, the Yakama Nation, and the city of Roslyn, have asked that Ecology close the groundwater to further appropriation while a groundwater study is completed.

Earlier this week, an emergency rule expired that provided a mechanism for Ecology and the County to co-manage groundwater related to housing developments. The temporary rule reflected commitments the parties made last year in a formal Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), and had been revised and updated three times while the parties worked towards agreement on a permanent groundwater management rule.

“We recognize economic vitality is directly tied to water in the Yakima Basin – and we have been looking for an approach that would have allowed some limited new uses while also protecting the rights of senior water right holders,” explained Ecology director Jay Manning. “We had hoped to move forward as partners with the county to protect this vital resource until more is known about groundwater supplies in the upper county.

“We thought we had reached an agreement that would allow for some development in the upper county and at the same time protect the rights of current and future water users and streamflows in the Yakima River and its tributaries.”

A groundwater study designed to gain a better understanding of the connection between groundwater and surface waters was funded by the Legislature and will commence soon.

“Rather than close the groundwater during the study period, Ecology had proposed to partner with the County to (1) limit exempt wells to certain locations and reduced water volumes; (2) require metering of water use, including withdrawals from exempt wells; and (3) require notice to prospective property buyers of potential water shortages,” Manning explained. “The county has struggled to come to a decision and has missed three previous decision deadlines related to finalizing an agreement with Ecology. Faced with a management gap, we are adopting this temporary rule.”

The emergency rule will be in place for 120 days.

Some new water uses will be allowed under the emergency rule, but only if the depletion of the source will be fully mitigated. Mitigation can generally be achieved by acquiring and transferring or retiring another existing water right from the same source. Some existing sources of mitigation water are already available and Ecology is developing a water banking system to allow for access to mitigation water by new water uses.

Manning noted the agency remains open to a partnership with the county, and is willing to continue negotiations regarding the proposed partnership approach, but that the agency had to put interim protections in place.

The department added that “Ecology and Kittitas County continue to negotiate in good faith.”

CELP responded with its own statement:

“This is unprecedented,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn, director of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Ecology has never before completely closed a basin to all water rights, both permitted and exempt. This is a step in the right direction given the gravity of the harm to senior water users and salmon streams.”

In September 2007, Aqua Permanente and CELP filed a petition with the Department of Ecology asking that no further well drilling be allowed in Kittitas County until more is understood about groundwater resources. Ecology denied the petition and instead entered into protracted negotiations with County officials. After two years of wrangling, the negotiations failed.

“Ecology really had no choice. ” said Melissa Bates of Aqua Permanente. “The County was not cooperating. That Ecology has finally done the right thing is both unexpected and welcome.”

All water in the Yakima Basin is appropriated and water users with rights dating to as early as 1905 are required to shut off use on a regular basis. All new water users must have a water right permit with the exception of “domestic exempt” wells. Exempt wells are authorized in the state Groundwater Act, enacted in 1945.

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Washington

blue house

Blue House, Olympia

According to various counts, the number of statehouse reporters at Olympia, which numbered close to three dozen only a few years ago, now is down to seven.

That’s down from nine, with the department of Adam Wilson from the Olympian (to work as a speechwriter for Governor Chris Gregoire) and Rich Roesler of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. They’ve been helpful and enjoyable Blue House visits on runs to Olympia; we’ll miss them there, and in their papers.

Those reporting spots may be filled (we’re told they probably will). But the situation is bleak. Reporter Andrew Garber of the Seattle Times, one of the few left, writes, “The survivors can now fit comfortably in my one-room office overlooking the Capitol. . . . This is a story not so much about the loss of reporters as a loss of information. Rich and Adam have been covering state government for years. They know the players, understand the budget and, most importantly, can separate spin from reality.”

Fewer and fewer such.

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Washington

Ullman

Sharon Ullman

Idaho’s governor race for 2010 is beginning to fill, after its fashion. We don’t know for sure if the incumbent Republican, C.L. “Butch” Otter, will run (though the weight of opinion is that he will), and there aren’t any Democratic contenders emerging (some being talked about quietly, but no serious movement yet). But. There’s independent Jana Kemp, who has previously served as a Republican legislator (albeit a relatively moderate one). And among the Republicans Rex Rammell, who ran for the Senate last cycle as an independent, and (apparently) Pro-Life Richardson, who has run for office before too. Not a crew of political giant-killers, but an interesting gumbo.

And now, some added spice: Sharon Ullman, the Ada County commissioner, who told the Idaho Statesman today that she plans to run.

Almost anything you can say about Ullman, beyond the fact that she is an Ada County commissioner (and held the office for two years once before, earlier in the decade), can be interpreted or contradicted through a kaleidoscope. She has run for office as a Republican, a Democrat, and as an independent. She has often been in the middle of local government firestorms, though, seemingly, less so in her current run on the commission. (A description of her first term: “Some called it a personality conflict with her co-commissioners, others accused her of being divisive. Ullman always insisted she was simply standing up for what she believed.”) She has been accused of taking her job un-seriously, though she seems to keep herself well informed about the county and county issues, and she seems passionate about it – there’s a wonkish component there. Alongside something that feels like populism. It’s an unusual mix, and where it might take a gubernatorial candidacy is hard to say.

Why would she? To judge from the Statesman report: “Bottom line, public health and safety. Isn’t that what government is all about.”

Her blog – she has been blogging throughout this year on the commission – may offer a few more clues. The main one, from June 28, and apparently the only one referring directly to Otter: “More often than not I agree with Governor Otter but this past legislative session had to disagree with his road and bridge funding policies. Personally, I really like the Governor, but politically I am wondering what he is thinking these days and whom he represents with regard to this issue.”

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Idaho

In Washington, Democratic leaders in the legislature this session turned down one of their key backer segments – labor – on a number of key items. (One that was notable, limiting employer requirements that workers attend meetings on non-work related matters such as religion or politics, was adopted in Oregon but not Washington. In Idaho – uh, what was the question?) Now labor is looking at payback, which you presume may mean primary challenges, or withholding of funding or campaign troops. (Although, would they withhold in the case of serious Republican challenges? Or would that be what it would be thought to take to make the point?)

How far this goes is up for guess right now. But a piece on the Seattle P-I site is worth a review for a gauge of how deeply the feelings are running. The comments section is very long, and highly passionate.

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Washington