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Posts published in May 2013

Poverty has moved out

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Like a lot of other things in our America these days, poverty ain’t what it used to be. It’s not where it used to be. It’s not who it used to be. And we in the West are among the prime statistical examples of the “new” poverty that seems to be under most people’s radar.

When we think of poverty – if we do – the picture that normally comes to mind is inner city or some of the smaller, mostly rural communities around us. Not so, McGee. Suburban poverty is the fastest growing segment of poor in America – up 64% in the last decade.

Brookings Institution has a new book out – “Confronting Suburban Poverty In America.” Using Census Bureau records and other numeric profile sources, the bottom line is this: almost 16.4 million suburban residents now live below the poverty line with just under three-million more in cities.

Check out the numbers for our region’s largest population areas. In the last decade, the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs of Seattle has increased 78.9% – Portland 99.3% – Boise 129.7% – Las Vegas 139.3% and Salt Lake City up 141.7%!

Co-author Elizabeth Kneebone found many reasons for this silent shifting of people below the official poverty line of $23,021 income per year.

“As wealthier folks moved to the suburbs,” she says, “a lot of companies did, too. Following along, people from inner cities looking for jobs joined the quiet parade. Service sector was a major employer but most workers were paid minimum wage or slightly higher.” Then the bottom fell out.

When the “great recession” came along, many of those jobs disappeared. Lower income folks were stuck. Businesses closed, unemployment went up and formerly middle class families started to slide down the economic ladder into poverty.

Compounding this new and growing problem has been a government that’s kept directing resources to the inner cities where poverty has historically existed. As people being served moved out to the ‘burbs, the programs didn’t move with them. Now, with our damned sequestration, agencies that have been providing the “safety net” are both miles away and losing their own funding. So, people at or near the poverty level fled inner cities to follow the jobs but the government support resources didn’t. Now they can’t. (more…)

First take: School raffle

news

SCHOOL RAFFLE Truly strange, or it should be. Not a complaint against Middleton resident Phillip Allaire, who devised the plan, whose intent doubtless is the best, and probably should be commended for trying to held. But is this the best the Nampa School District, one of the largest in Idaho, can do? Here's a description from an editorial in the Idaho State Journal: "Allaire has started a nonprofit organization to auction off 40 area houses in raffles. He says he will buy the houses and refurbish them. A raffle ticket for a house will cost $100 and when 2,500 tickets have been sold, the house will be raffled. The plan has been sanctioned by the Idaho Lottery Commission, which will raffle the homes." Really?

BORDER ENTRY Among the many fees out there, the border crossing fee has gotten little significant attention - outside border communities, where it has become a big deal. A neat factiod on this from an Associated Press story: The owner of a gas station at Blaine, on the southern side of the I-5 border with Canada, estimated that nine out of ten of the drivers who pump gas there are from Canada, not the U.S. Wonder what his view on the fee is?

From a tax election

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Idaho voters hate taxes so much they re-elect, and re-re-elect, legislators who (mostly) reflexively slap down anything with a sniff of tax about it.

Here is what Idaho voters did on Tuesday: Approved, often by overwhelming margins, local tax increases or renewals. In the Vallivue School District (Canyon County) 75 percent voted in favor; in Lewiston's school district 86 were in favor; in the Moscow School District, 70%. There were affirmative passing votes in the bulk of money-raising ballot issues around Idaho. They passed last week in Arbon, Cottonwood, Fremont County, Fruitland, Hagerman, Hansen, Kimberly,
Mountain View, Nezperce, Orofino, Parma, Rockland, St. Maries, Salmon River, Troy and Whitepine. That's a lot of tax approval going on for a state like Idaho.

There were rejections too, but considerably fewer of them, and often by narrow margins: Emmett, Homedale, Jefferson County, Kellogg, Plummer-Worley, Salmon. (There list of voting results here likely is incomplete, but it's what was available shortly after the election.)

Conditions differ, of course; the needs in the various districts were scattered. But the pattern seems reasonably clear, especially when you consider the non-school tax measures. A new jail okayed at Jerome. Library district levies passed in Burley and Richfield, a cemetery district levy in Hagerman.

Idaho voters are no wild spenders, but – faced with specific situations – they do seem willing to consider needs and raise money to deal with them. Their attitude seems at odds with that of many of their legislators.

The counter attitude shows up in the case of the vote at the Salmon School District.

The headline on the web page about the Salmon School District's proposed bond levy (the district's page) seems ironic in the face of the actual election on Tuesday: “Information about the may 21, 2013 Bond Election … And Why It Is Different than the Past Elections.” Those past elections are eight previous in the last decade or so, all rejecting proposed levies. (more…)

Bridges

Skagit bridge
 
The collapsed Interstate 5 bridge across the Skagit River (photo/Washington Department of Transportation)

 

Maybe 100 yards from our house, a bridge we use regularly was replaced across a narrow river fork. The bridge was showing some signs of cracking and crumbling, and the need to do something about it was fairly clear. Something was done. We have a new bridge now, and one most of us feel confident about traversing. We give it no second thought, and neither do the drivers of pickups and logging trucks who regularly use it too.

We would have expected as much, at least, of the bridges on Interstate 5, one of the nation's major throughfares. A lot rides on those bridges. Lives do, for one thing. So does commerce, and emergency traffic, and much else.

The fact that no lives were lost in the Thursday night collapse has been described as nearly miraculous, which it may have been (and obviously a good thing it came out that way, too). But the use of the word "miraculous" is demonstration of how large the probability was that someone might have died.

Apparently, it didn't take much to take the piece of a bridge down, just a bump from an apparently oversized truck. (This should restart some discussion of just how large trucks on our highways ought to be.) The driver, from reports we've seen, was acting responsibly. No one seems to have been violating established standards. But does that suggest the standards might be revisited?

Reliability is one of the key qualities of our transportation system. As it ages, that quality diminishes, unless we do something actively about it.

New book: Carlson’s Medimont Reflections

medimont


Medimont Reflections with shipping
1 book $19.54 USD2 books $36.50 USD10 books $167.50 USD




Ridenbaugh Press has a number of books scheduled for release in the next few months, and today we're pleased to lead off with a book of reflection and analysis by one of our regular columnists, Chris Carlson.

Chris' Medimont Reflections, available now from this site (and soon locally around the Northwest), is a followup on his last book, a biography of former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus. This one expands the view, bringing in Carlson's take on Idaho politics over the years, the Northwest energy planning council, top environmental issues and much more.

The first review, from Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman, is out today. Popkey called it "a pull-back-the-curtain account of his 40 years as a player in public life in Idaho.... Carlson, who lives in the Kootenai County hamlet of Medimont, writes a newspaper column and has larded his 13 chapters with opinions. He says the council should be abolished because of its failure to revive salmon and steelhead; advocates breaching four dams on the lower Snake River; and offers his ideas on nuclear waste, the LDS influence on Idaho politics, gun control, abortion and end-of-life ethics. His behind-the-scenes accounts of the creation of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area include lovely details."

Carlson and Ridenbaugh Press' Randy Stapilus will take a circumnavigation tour through all the regions and most of the larger cities of Idaho starting a week from now. More information about that (inclulding what is meant by a "circumnavigation tour") will be available here soon.

Carlson was the first member of the Northwest Power Planning Council (since renamed, but very much active), and in the book he calls for elimination of the council - though he suggests that a different structure be followed up afterward to replace what he considers to have been a toothless tiger.

Civic assisted suicide

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

A few miles from our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods, we’re witnessing an act of economic, civic and politically assisted suicide being committed by residents of Curry County. It’s a deliberate failure to shoulder local fiscal responsibility unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Especially considering Curry has one of the very lowest property tax rates in the state.

Curry County borders California on the South and the Pacific Ocean on the West. It’s a bit isolated. About 25,000 people live there – give or take one more retiree. Over 50% of monthly deposits in financial institutions in the area come from government benefits or retirement plans – many from out-of-state. Gives you an idea of the age and status of the population.

Of the dozen or so Oregon counties hurting right now because of the reduction – and pending elimination – of a federal subsidy paid in lieu of taxes on local federal timber lands, Curry is in the worst shape. The county has three towns – Brookings-Harbor, Gold Beach and Port Orford. City and county budget cuts made over the last couple of years already have gotten into muscle and bone. Unemployment, homelessness and crime are all above normal. Even for there.

Sheriff John Bishop is working with nearly no resources. He’s already on half-staff, not covering the county several hours each day, reduced patrols and living with a jail that’s mediaeval. People are being arrested – some more than once – arraigned and turned loose. Bishop is a hardworking professional dealing with the worst county civic support in Oregon.

This month, Curry commissioners put a special property tax question on the ballot with all future proceeds – all – going to law enforcement. If passed, city homeowners faced a property tax increase of $1.97 per thousand evaluation – county residents $1.84 per thousand. The hope was to raise $5.4 million for the jail, Sheriff’s Office, juvenile department and the district attorney. Absolutely no question about need. None.

On election day, just under 50% of the 13,501 registered voters took time to do their duty. Final count: 44% yes – 56% no. Killed big time. One of the commissioners was absolutely giddy. “I think the failure is an opportunity – huge opportunity to sit with citizens and see what we can do. It’s all good!”

To understand how goofy those remarks are, you should know an 18-member committee of local, very experienced citizens – selected by the county commission – spent nearly a year with expert outside consulting, going over every dime in recent budgets. With a great deal more talent than is represented on the current commission, that group came up with more than a dozen, well-researched ideas to deal with the situation. Answers.

The report was shelved and ignored. There’s some evidence some of the appointers may not have even read it. (more…)

Crapo’s town hall

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

The Idahoans who called into U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo’s town hall teleconference Wednesday night, May 22, virtually all expressed concerns about the federal government’s increasingly intrusive actions that they fear are eroding their constitutional rights.

The nation’s debt crisis, the Internal Revenue Service, Obamacare, illegal immigration, the U.S. Farm Bill and gun control were among the hot button topics touched upon during the hour long call-in event.

Crapo noted that the U.S. national debt now approaches $17 trillion with Washington doing little to brake torrid deficit spending. “Entitlement programs all are screaming toward insolvency. We have a significant battle in front of us the next few months,” he said. “We’re seeing one-to-two trillion dollars in new taxes hitting the American people.”

President Obama successfully has pushed dozens of taxing and spending increases via different bills without tax and entitlement reforms getting enacted, the Republican said, noting there is a tremendous amount of gridlock in the nation’s capital.

“Our Social Security is going full speed toward insolvency, which means not just our children and grandchildren, but everybody … is going to see their benefits dramatically reduced,” Crapo said. Medicare also is heading for bankruptcy sooner than Social Security, and Medicaid is not far behind.

The “unfair, complex and expensive” U.S. tax code badly needs reform, he said, adding tax rates could be lowered by broadening the tax base and eliminating abusive tax loopholes.

Crapo served on the Bowles-Simpson National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and was among the bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators charged with resolving the debt ceiling crisis. He also serves on Senate banking and finance committees.

Crapo said he grilled Treasury Secretary Jack Lew about whether the IRS’ income tax audits of hundreds of conservative political and religious groups was politically motivated. Lew appeared before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Noting he has called for an independent special prosecutor to investigate the IRS scandal, Crapo said: “I will do everything I can to stop this from being covered up.” Both Democrat and Republican senators “are not going to drop this any time soon until we get to the bottom of this,” he added, saying deep layers are involved.

Crapo predicted an independent prosecutor also will be engaged to determine the truth of what happened Sept. 11, 2012, when an American ambassador and three other Americans were murdered at the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya. He accused the Obama administration of conducting a “complete disinformation campaign” to deny it was an act of terror.

“The House of Representatives will not let this slide and will investigate to the fullest extent,” he said.

When a man from Spirit Lake said he is worried about the IRS enforcing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” after the IRS was shown to target conservatives on an enemies list. “This is like a death sentence,” he said, wondering if the IRS will determine who gets life-saving medical treatment. (more…)

Redefining the entity

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

Here's one that sounds like a feel-good deal on the surface, and maybe will never be more than that ... but opens the door, just a crAck, to something much larger. As John Lennon exhorted, imagine ...

For-profit corporations set up under a legal framework in which they are required to operate not exclusively for the the purpose of enhancing shareholder value, but also with the requirement that recognition of the public interest and fair play with their business partners - customers, vendors, employees and others - also be a required, and demonstrable, part of the mix.

Do that - change the century-old (it isn't much more than that) requirement that for-profits operate solely for their stockholders' immediate financial benefit, and you could have a truly significant global game-changer.

The Oregon House Bill 2296a, which cleared the Senate 22-8 (and now goes to Governor John Kitzhaber for likely signature), doesn't go that far. It's a lot less ambitious, merely setting up a new kind of business structure:

Currently, legal designations for corporate and business organizations focus the duties of corporate officers on matters of financial stability and success. Businesses that wish to provide a larger community benefit under the current structure must validate these benefits in the context of the financial viability of the organization. Under HB 2296A, a company can add a social or environmental benefit as a key mission of the business in addition to profit.

“By establishing benefit companies, we can attract new businesses to Oregon that focus on serving the greater good while providing a real economic value to owners, employees, and communities,” said Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum. “Today’s vote is a step towards making Oregon a true leader in a new economy that encourages more businesses to pursue more than just profit.”

HB 2296A allows companies of varying size to adopt the benefit company designation, and requires these companies to compile an annual report about the social or environmental benefits provided by the organization.

It's a small step. But who knows where it might lead?

First take: Trimming Boeing, again

news

BOEING CUTS This is rough, and Boeing knows it - CEO Jim McNerny even compared himself to Darth Vader in making the announcement. It plans to end about 1,500 IT jobs in the Seattle area over the next few years. The larger picture isn't looking wonderful, either; from the Patch.com: "McNerney said the company’s focus would be on cutting costs and increasing productivity, but he provided no specifics on potential job cuts. However, he said Boeing's defense and space division has already cut “double-digit thousands” of jobs and the commercial airplane group would be doing that as well. Boeing faces a decreasing defense budget and competitive commercial airplane pricing situation - some source say it is selling its new 787 Dreamliner at below cost."

First take: A stadium project?

news

GBAD STADIUM A baseball stadium on the edge of downtown Boise? Show me the parking ... But there could be some potential. Portland has long had such a facility on the west side of its downtown (although that one has become a soccer venue) and Seattle long has had sports facilities on the south side of its downtown (notwithstanding the recent failed effort there to re-attract NBA basketball). Surely, though, Boise's downtown could use something to draw in more people, over more hours - especially during non-daytime business hours. With a change in membership on the board of the Greater Boise Auditorium District more oriented toward the field, might they be able to get it done? GBAD's history doesn't exactly inspire galloping confidence, but we'll see.