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Posts published in July 2009

Because Courtney is who he is


Peter Courtney

Why Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is resigning from that office is a curious question that plenty of people doubtless will chew over for a while. But why Peter Courtney, the Oregon Senate president (in a four-way tie as of this term for longest-serving), will not be running for governor next year, the answer is clearer. What sounds like an entirely in-character quote from the Salem Statesman-Journal:

"Have you looked at my voting record? Have you checked some of the statements I made? If you were a political consultant or adviser to me to make sure that I put myself in the best position possible to run for governor, do you think I've done that? . . . This is the worst case in the world of how to position yourself, orchestrate yourself, or carefully state things before you get ready to run for statewide office. More people have talked about this than I've talked about it."

On the fourth

Fort Townsend

Fort Townsend, midday on the 4th/Stapilus

The roads north to the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas were packed with traffic on the 3rd. Around Gig Harbor it was awful; try to pull off into even one of the smaller community (Purdy, for instance) and even there you'd be likely to be stuck in your car in stop-n-go, for extended periods. The whole of the Northwest seemed on the move.

On the fourth, things seem to have settled down a bit. Port Townsend, a popular destination and a popular one on sunny summer days like this, was busy but not jammed. The boat-repairers at the shipyard were busy, and people were out and about. Still, the energy level seemed high. Higher than usual?

Wednesday night we sat on a deck overlooking Puget Sound, across to Whidbey Island, and saw something that seemed remarkable, and we were told was unusual for the area: A series of full-scale fireworks shows. Not on the 4th, you notice, but on the 3rd. These were in small communities (Langley, Freeland, maybe Port Ludlow), that delivered up substantial shows, pre-weekend. The speculation was that they did this so residents and others would be free to watch still other shows on the 4th.

We shall see. But if the shows of the 3rd were solid, we're looking forward to those of the 4th.

How bad is it getting at Tamarack?

Often is - more often than people typically think - that bankruptcies and other reorganizations aren't fatal problems for businesses. A good many have come out of them whole and prosperous.

But this from the Idaho Statesman, concerning the Tamarack ski resort near Donnelly, gave us pause:

An Idaho judge on Thursday refused to let Bank of America Corp. repossess two ski lifts from Tamarack Resort, providing at least a brief reprieve for owners trying to keep the failed Valley County vacation getaway intact for a possible buyer.

I-1033, TABOR and some math

On Thursday initiative developer Tim Eyman turned around 314,000 signatures to put his latest measure on the ballot. The secretary of state's office indicates it is likely to be the only citizen initiative on the ballot, which could be a plus: Rather than fade into a fog of issues, this one is likely to stick out and get some attention.

It ought to. Voters will have the opportunity to check it out, and they shouldn't like what they see - a measure not identical but comparable to one that seriously damaged one state (Colorado) and was subsequently suspended by the voters there (in 2005), and to a clutch of ballot measures which since have been rejected by a bunch of other states, including Oregon. Which, like Washington, has had some history of friendliness toward many anti-tax measures, which 1033 is. (There were also rejections in Maine and Nebraska, and many others didn't make the ballot.)

Eyman's pitch on the measure is simple: "The Lower Property Taxes Initiative substantially reduces property taxes by controlling the growth of government. 1033 says that the growth rate of state, county, and city general fund revenue cannot exceed the inflation rate plus population growth. Revenues collected above the limit will reduce property taxes. Not only does 1033 provide meaningful property tax relief, but it stops politicians from shifting the tax burden by raising taxes someplace else. 1033 provides ‘net’ property tax relief."

This essentially is the same as TABOR, the "Taxpayers Bill of Rights," which Colorado voters adopted. And then, as we posted in November 2005: "In that state, services have been strapped and fees have risen to the breaking point. That assessment might be taken as the wailing of government burteaucrats except for what happened Tuesday: Statewide voters decided, 52%-48%, to in effect - for a five-year stretch - throw out TABOR restrictions and increase state budgets, and their own taxes. That action had been endorsed by the conservative Republican governor, Bill Owers, who said that TABOR restrictions had put the state in an untemable position."

The best single piece we've spotted on 1033 so far is a new piece in Horse's Ass, the liberal blog with, to be sure, no enthusiasm for Eyman (the blog's name derives from the founder's preferred title for Eyman). It's worth a read, most specifically for one point.

Eyman's logic on budgeting initially sounds sensible: If government costs are limited to inflation plus population growth, shouldn't that be enough? It's easy logic to accept, and not many people have been able to break down the problem with it. (In Oregon, activist Steve Novick is one of the few to do it well.) Horse's Ass quotes a report explaining why the formula doesn't work:

But researchers long have recognized that the services provided in the public sector, such as education, health care, and law enforcement, tend to rise in cost faster than many other goods and services in the economy in general. This analysis was first put forward by economist William Baumol, who pointed out that technology and productivity gains may make goods cheaper to produce, but the services that government provides are different. Baumol said public services typically rely heavily on well-trained professionals — teachers, police officers, doctors and nurses, and so on — and technology gains do not make these services cheaper to provide. It may take far fewer workers to build an automobile than it did 30 years ago, but it still takes one teacher to lead a classroom of children. (In fact, as education has become increasingly important, the trend is toward more teachers per pupil, not fewer.) Doctors generally still see patients one by one, and nursing care remains labor intensive despite technology.

You can look at areas from law enforcement and corrections to colleges and health inspectors to see the problem: The cost of these kind of services rises faster than the overall rate of inflation.

Conveying that point will be the challenge facing the initiative's opponents.

Since October of ’83

Going back a few years, remembering the fall of 1983 - October specifically - in Idaho. I was in Pocatello then, and the city seemed almost to be gasping for air . . . which is to say, business and jobs. A chunk of the downtown shuttered; a big factory in operation since World War II shut down. Hard times.

With that in mind, news today from the Idaho Department of Labor:

June’s rate was the highest jobless rate since October 1983 when the state was pulling out of the double-dip recession that ushered in a major economic shift from natural resources to services augmented by some expanded advanced manufacturing – particularly in the high technology sector.

Another 3,400 Idaho workers lost their jobs in June, driving the number of unemployed to over 62,000 for the first time ever. Over 40,000 of those workers shared $59 million in unemployment insurance benefits paid out during the month. A year ago, Idaho’s unemployment rate was 4.7 percent, and the number of workers without jobs was under 36,000.

More checks

This is not an argument that the system of background checking is getting out of hand or that these in particular aren't merited. But after a while, you do start to think that some overall parameters should be set around the practice, lest we wind up with half the country doing background checks on the other half.

From the Idaho administrative rules posted Wednesday:

The Department [of Health & Welfare] has added certain individuals and providers who are required to have a criminal history and background checks under other Department rule chapters. This chapter of rules is being updated to add those individuals and providers to the list of those who are required to have checks, including references to the programs’ rule chapters. The programs or individuals being added are: Alcohol or Substance Use Disorders Treatment Facilities and Programs for Adults, Designated Examiners and Designated Dispositioners, Idaho Child Care Program, and Nonhospital, Medically-Monitored Detoxification/Mental Health Diversion Units.

Radical Ron

Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden doesn't often find the word "radical" in close proximity. His manner doesn't suggest it, and neither does his trademark bipartisan work; such gripes as you hear about him back in Oregon tend to come from the left, form people arguing that he's too compromising.

So even in the context - mainly supportive - what President Barack Obama had to say about Wyden's health care plan, using the term "radical" to describe pieces of it really jumped out.

The point of difference is Wyden's proposal to move the linkage between people and health insurance from employers to individuals.

Politically, Obama has a point here. As corrupted as the health care system is overall, a great many people still have health coverage that works decently for them, and they'd reasonably be very concerned about something that would upend it quickly. Obama said that such a "radical restructuring" would face "significant political resistance . . . families who are currently relatively satisfied with their insurance but are worried about rising costs ... would get real nervous about a wholesale change."

Our view has been that employer-based insurance is a structural mistake, and it should be based around individuals. Getting from here to there, though, might have to be more than a one-step process.

Making that change would pull a lot of the structure out of the Wyden proposal. Could be, as the tale progresses in the next few weeks, that large chunks of the rest of the plan are strip-mined for pieces fitted into a different framework.

Obama didn't sound, in this Oregonian interview, critical of Wyden and sounded as if he was open to working with him: ""He was in the Oval Office just two weeks ago where we spent time thinking about this. He is a real thought leader, and I'm confident his voice will be prominent in the debate going forward."

Your thoughts, senator?

WA: The unlimited unregulated

Jeff Kropf

In Washington, certain kinds of wells for certain uses such as domestic, stockwater and some manufacturing and noncommercial, can be drilled and used without a permit. A 1945 state law established that, and limited water extraction to 5,000 gallons per day. A 2005 state attorney general opinion, however, concluded that "the first proviso to RCW 90.44.050 makes it plain that groundwater withdrawals for stock-watering are exempt from the permit requirement, and that the exemption is not limited to withdrawals of less than 5,000 gallons a day." Withdrawals for stock water, in other words, could virtually be without limit.

That's the water backdrop for Easterday Ranches' plan to double the size of its 30,000-head of cattle feedlock northeast of Pasco. Easterday has obtained a water right (approved June 11) from the state Department of Ecology for controlling dust and for cooling cattle, a transfer the former Pepiot water right, to the location near Eltopia (north of Pasco). But it also plans to drill a well to water the cattle, probably drawing more than 5,000 gallons daily.

That in turn has led to a counter-reaction. On June 30, a group of local farmers (including a group called Five Corners Family Farmers) and several environmental groups (including Earthjustice and the Sierra Club) filed a lawsuit at Olympia to challenge the state's interpretation of the well law. From their release: (more…)