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Posts published in September 2011

Interview: Mike Ferguson

Former Idaho state economist Mike Ferguson probably was best known, among Idaho news junkies at least, for his state revenue estimates - a task which was part of the job, and which also brought him into bumping heads with Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter. He retired 11 months ago and has maintained a low profile since.

That will change shortly. Ferguson is becoming the head of the new Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy (web site coming in the fall), an entity set up at the at the Mountain States Group in Boise, which has worked till now on health, refugee, and welfare-related issues. Ferguson will not be working (much at leat) on reveue projections, but rather on other parts of what used to be his job - tax policy, how budgets are set, and more.

The Center's main purpose, Ferguson said, "is to provide fact-based information with clarity, that can help people make more informed decisions about appropriate public policy." He said he'll focus on the revenue side initially, at "basic principles" - a tax system that is efficient, adequate and stable.

That's actually a way of looking at taxes and budgets quite different from how most legislators do. The usual approach and focus (and Idaho is part of the norm in this) is: Estimate the amount current state taxes will bring in for the next fiscal year; apportion that money among the usual recipients; and maybe, on rare occasions, consider increasing the income if trouble seems to loom otherwise.

Three problems with that method.

One is that it bypasses a key point, that the exact amount of tax money coming in a little arbitrary, and logically depends on how much is needed - how much needs to be spent to pay for whatever the legislature decides (and constitution requires) the state should do. That may be less than the current level of tax revenue, or it may be more, but the revenue-first approach takes things backward.

Another is, "one of the thigns that happens during the legislative session when the greatest focus on budget occurs is an enormous amount of attention given to the general fund, as if the general fund were the budget." The general fund, which is the part funded by state taxes, in fact makes up only about half of the money the state spends. Federal funds, fees and other sources provide a big chunk of the income. (more…)

Carlson: The Bengals’ road back

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

In sports, as it is in the equally brutal world of politics, it is all about relationships. And in the long journeys involved in comebacks, sometimes the relationships one never knows about are crucial to the outcome.

Today, under weather forecasters predict to be almost perfect for fall football — clear skies, a cool breeze and glaring sunlight - a less than capacity crowd in Martin Stadium, will see Idaho State University begin the long march back to football respectability under the watchful eye of Mike Kramer, one of the best football coaches ever produced by the Big Sky Conference.

There will be a bittersweet undertone to the contest for both Kramer and Washington State coach Paul Wulff have been friends for years, having helped each other at critical times over the years.

Kramer, knowing much more about the vastly improved Cougars than Wulff knows about the largely unknown Bengals, may be able to engineer a respectable showing for his undermanned squad. After all, he has been a very observant assistant to Wulff the last two years at WSU. ISU, a 27 point underdog, is expected to not provide much competition for the PAC-12 team, but Kramer engineered Montana State’s stunning upset of the new PAC-12 Colorado football team a few years back, something Wulff is sure to remind his Cougar squad about. (more…)

Northwest developments

Coming up Monday in the Washington, Oregon and Idaho Public Affairs Digests, stories about:

How wolves may be helping another predator species, the Canada lynx.

The meaning behind the new yelloweye rockfish efforts.

The impact of the significant auto fabrication plant opening in Moses Lake.

The abrupt launch of wildfires around the region.

The big Hanford contract just given to a local Richland firm.

Studies of how the middle class in Oregon, and wages overall in Idaho, are fast losing ground.

What kind of neighbor?

The Mars Hill church is a significant part of the Seattle scene, and beyond. Wikipedia notes that "In 2007 Mars Hill Church was rated as the second most church planting church, the 9th most innovative church, and it was the 23rd fastest growing church in in the United States in 2007 with a growth in attendance of 38% in one year. A recent report that rate by relevance and influence concluded that Mars Hill Church is the eighth most influential church in the United States."

Regardless the specific rankings, this is obviously an influential institution. It is a megachurch, drawing thousands and delivering 25 services each Sunday, at nine locations, all but one (a location in Albuquerque) in the Puget Sound area, all but one (at Olympia) of those in or near Seattle. Three expansions are being planned - to Everett, to California's Orange County, and to Portland.

Portland, for all its reputation as a liberal and unchurched city, actually has lots of churches - drive around, you'll see them - and several megachurches, and a number of conservative and fundamentalist churches. The news that Mars Hill is moving into an old, castle-like church building in liberal southeast Portland doesn't really register as a conflictual red flag by itself. Portland is a fairly neighborly city. Though conservatives are heavily outnumbered, they have not often in recent years gotten especially in-your-face with their neighbors. It's a live and let live place.

The question, and the issue, will be: Will Mars Hill adapt to that environment, or confront it - in Portland's face?

Here is what the new Portland Mars Hill blog says about its mindset:

Oregon needs Jesus Christ. It’s that simple. The city of Portland is known for many things, but the gospel of Jesus is nowhere on the list. Portland is home to world-class restaurants and street food, musicians and artists. It is a city of tremendous natural beauty and considered by many to be one of the “greenest,” most environmentally conscious city in the world. Portland is also a city that looks to sexuality for fulfillment with a thriving sex industry that goes back over a century and a higher rate of strip clubs per capita than Las Vegas or San Francisco. However, the people of Portland see all these things as an end in themselves, worshipping and serving creation rather than Creator (Rom. 1:25). Portland is an intensely independent city whose people need to understand that only through submission to Jesus Christ and his body, the church, can you actually find freedom.

At Mars Hill Portland, we want to see the lost move from death to life and from darkness to light. This will not be a church known for its endless programatic offerings and services to Christians. We believe that Christians and unbelievers alike are best served by living out the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe that disciples are made as we lay ourselves down for those who are lost in sin and idolatry. This means that Mars Hill Portland will likely always be a little rough: God willing, we will always be stretched a little beyond the comforts our facilities have to offer, we will never be completely organized. Our music may be a relatively loud and the songs may not always be similar to what’s played on the Christian radio station. All of this serves to challenge us to the greater mission to make Jesus known to a city that desperately needs him.


What kind of math

Nobody writes fundraising email like Steve Novick, who's running for Portland city council. They tend to be good reading (on top of persuasive). At the end of his latest, out today, he included a quote from an August 24 New York Times op-ed.

It matches up so neatly with one of our long-held thoughts about public education, that repetition here was irresistible:

"For instance, how often do most adults encounter a situation in which they need to solve a quadratic equation? Do they need to know what constitutes a “group of transformations” or a “complex number”? Of course professional mathematicians, physicists and engineers need to know all this, but most citizens would be better served by studying how mortgages are priced, how computers are programmed and how the statistical results of a medical trial are to be understood."

The whole op-ed is well worth the read.

The trials of McKenna

Rob McKenna

Washington Attorney General (and prospective future Governor) Rob McKenna got two rulings from the state Supreme Court today, winning one, losing the other. He won in turning back a challenge (which seemed quixotic) from the city of Seattle (which is prone to such things) arguing that he didn't have authority to participate in the national lawsuit against the federal 2010 healthy care law. The supreme court, without taking sides on the law, said that he could take part - which makes sense, since state AGs have been joining together in various lawsuits for decades.

That may not have a lot of specific political effect in the governor's race. The other decision, however, may.

In that one, Peter Goldmark v. Robert McKenna, the court said that McKenna must do something he had refused to.

The Court summarized: "Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark seeks a writ of mandamus to compel Attorney General Robert McKenna to pursue an appeal from a trial court decision in a condemnation action. Although McKenna provided representation at the trial court, he refused to pursue the appeal based on his evaluation of the merits of the case. The attorney general is a constitutionally recognized office that acts as the attorney for state officers and performs other duties "prescribed by law." The legislature has delineated what those other duties are, and RCW 43.12.075 expressly requires the attorney general to represent the commissioner in any court when so requested by the commissioner. This duty is mandatory, and the attorney general has no discretion to deny the commissioner legal representation. We therefore grant the writ."

On one level, this seems a fairly technical point, and on the next, a battle between two partisan state officials - Goldmark is a Democrat, McKenna a Republican. But it's very likely to be picked up and used, and it could translate into a multi-faced club.

For example, there was this more than a year ago (July 2010), when the Washington news site Publicola said it ran into Representative Jay Inslee - the main Democrat now running for governor - and chatted with him about the case. Islee replied that McKenna “seems to think he’s the Lands Commissioner, the Secretary of State, the Governor, and the AG.”

We will be hearing more of this.

WA redistrict: Maps coming

UPDATED Washington's redistricting maps - the preliminary ones, at least - will be out on September 13, a week from Tuesday.

The Redistricting Commission said that "At its monthly meeting in Olympia, on September 13, 2011, the Commissioners will each make public their proposed plans for congressional and legislative districts. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. in Senate Hearing Room 1 of the Cherberg Building on the Capitol Campus. A brief period of public comment and a time for media questions will follow the Commissioners’ presentation of their draft plans. The meeting will be webcast and broadcast live by TVW, the state’s non-profit public affairs television network."

The commissioners will be allowed to not only release the maps but also talk (up to 25 minutes) about their relative virtues. Commissioner Slade Gorton, for one, has already said he plans to make use of his full 25 minutes.

The commission's spokesman, Cathy Cochrane, said the September meeting ends the initial "listening phase," though that doesn't mean an end to public comments. The idea is that during the next month, till the October meeting, the commissioners will take public comments on the plans (each of the four commissioners will release a congressional and legislative plan) as well as negotiate among themselves - the "negotiating phase". Up to this point, she said, "the commissioners are being very private right now," apparently not even much discussing planning with each other. That together with more public input on the proposed maps will be the meat of the next month's activities.

After the October meeting, more final rounds of negotiations are expected, with the idea that end decisions will be made in November.

The plans will be posted on line, and online comments from the public can be linked to each plan.