Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in May 2013

Flouride money, flushed

cascades RANDY
West of
the Cascades

Among the many lessons of the Portland flouride vote concluding Tuesday was, as the Oregonian pointed out, this: Money does not always win elections; it more often follows a likey winner than dictates who one will be.

The movement in favor - led by a city council that decided to bring flouride to a city that repeatedly had rejected it - spent more than three times as much as the scattered opposition, which seemed to have a disorganized message (ranging from conspiracy theorists to people who simply like their relatively pure water the way it is) and disorganization as well. It surely did not break on any conventional ideological line; in this election, liberals battled liberals.

But people wanted what they wanted, and that was more or less what they wated before - and by comparable margins: The rejection vote was borderline landslide, so there was no mistaking it.

On the other hand was the expression-of-opinion vote in Clackamas County on the Tri-Met light rail development into that county - periodically dubbed Clackistan - where a good many resident fiercely dislike any intrusion from the big city to the north and like to maintain their independence from it, such as they can. The light rail project, which is good to go and set for completion in another couple of years, wasn't going to be stopped however the vote went.

The takeaway from the vote was this: A middle. There were two ballot issues, and they actually cut differently. On one of them, about 57% of voters said they did not want county resources to be used on the project. (The county split geographically; areas to the north were strongly in favor.) But a second measure to allow property transfers involved with the project passed.

Parse carefully.

The bottom rung

ridenbaugh Northwest

What's it like to live in Idaho on the minimum wage?

The people who actually have to do that don't get a lot of media attention; they don't heavily populate the ranks of broadcast spokesmen and interview subjects. We don't hear from them much.

Should be the job of news reporters to fill some of that gap, though that too seldom happens.

It has, however, in the case of a series of reports by the NPR-affiliated group State Impact, which has released online a series of stories under the heading, "Bottom Rung: Living On Low Wages In Idaho."

The cover page lead: "The share of Idaho workers earning minimum wage has grown from 5 percent in 2011 to 7.7 percent in 2012. The growth has put Idaho in the top spot for the largest share of minimum wage workers in the country."

That should give a taste of why this is important. Read the rest to get a fuller sense of it.

Where have you gone?

carlson CHRIS


“Where have you gone. . . .?

Hum these lines to the tune of the Simon & Garfunkel song that became the theme music to that 60’s classic movie, The Graduate:

“Where have you gone Junketing Jim?/

Idaho turns its needy eyes to you?/

What’s that you say, Junketing Jim?/

Hard workers have up and gone away/

So those that stay might as well play?

Heh, heh, heh; heh, heh heh.

That, my friends, is essentially what Idaho’s junior senator, Jim Risch, told Idaho Statesman political reporter Dan Popkey in a story that appeared May 6: nothing gets done in the nation’s capital, and everything is stalemated, a senator may as well sit back, not work hard, enjoy international travel, and coast along.

And, oh, by the way, that seven months he was governor, now that was hard work, especially shifting more tax burden to those that pay the sales tax but providing additional property tax relief to his big corporate supporters. I’ll grant you that Risch did do more in seven months than Dirk Kempthorne did in seven years, but apparently being a U.S. senator is so much easier it makes you wonder why he didn’t skip being Lt. Governor or Governor and run for the Senate years ago.

Most senators and congressman catch “Potomac fever” eventually. As Oregon Senator Richard Neuberger wrote in an article in the Saturday Evening Post in the late 50s, “they never go back to Pocatello.” Most get captured by that “inside the beltway” mentality which falsely believes they live in the center of the universe and everything that is important takes place inside the beltway that surrounds the nation capital.

Even after they leave office, many do not return home but stay and become lobbyists or join prestigious law firms or ideological think tanks for which they are paid handsomely. Truth be told, two of the five highest per capita income counties in the nation are just outside Washington, D.C. It’s the money that captures many, but it is also the money that serves to create the huge disconnect between those within the beltway and those outside.

Money, however, is not the reason Senator Risch and wife Vickie have so quickly been captured, and so quickly lost touch. Senator Risch is already one of the wealthiest members of Congress with a net worth that may be as much as $50 million.

No, in Senator Risch’s case he has fallen for the siren song of foreign travel, paid for either by the taxpayer or by special interests. Rather than travel home to Idaho for most of a congressional recess he is off to places all over the globe. (more…)

A sales tax update

weatherby JAMES

Idaho is one of only two states that taxes Girl Scout cookies. How could a heartless legislature turn its back on a tax relief request from this very worthy organization? And how could they deny a tax exemption on goods purchased by homeless shelters?

In 1988, the Governor's Tax Study Committee expressed its concern about the growth of exemptions whether they were serving a public interest or just providing “favors to various special interest groups”. In 2003, that “concern” was again addressed by a legislative task force that scrutinized exemptions. Despite the optimism expressed in several editorials around the state, substantive action did not follow. Though there seemed to be significant support for reform, there was little appetite for taking on entrenched interests who benefited from the tax breaks.

Fast forward to 2013. Both sales tax exemption bills were strongly endorsed in the House committee and easily passed on the House floor. Even with opposition from some members of Senate leadership, it was widely believed that at least the Girl Scout cookies bill would pass on the floor of the Senate and become law. But both bills died without even a Senate hearing.

In a few months we'll have another legislative session and no doubt the Girl Scouts will be back. Will the cookie crumble in the Senate – in an election year? Maybe. But how long can some Senate leaders assert their opposition to what seems to be reasonable bills? Virtually every legislative session in modern memory has considered one or more bills granting sales tax exemptions, so how can lawmakers deny exemptions to the Girl Scouts and to homeless shelters when the law is riddled with tax breaks to possibly less worthy organizations but ones who have far more political muscle? They may be coming late to the party, but the senators position is that until the sales tax is reformed or a well developed criteria for exemptions is established, more exemptions should not be granted.

Enacted in the 1960s, the sales tax is outdated. It was designed for a manufacturing based economy, not the service based economy we have today. Extending the sales tax to services has been a much debated policy option for about 30 years, but to enact an extension to services would involve a tax increase for many current tax-break beneficiaries. Tax reform bills are often supported in concept but shredded beyond recognition in the messy process of lawmaking. (more…)

In the Briefings

red algae
ALGAE BLOOM: This is a red-orange algae bloom spotted at Edmonds on May 16. (Photo/submitted to the Department of Ecology by Jeri Cusimano)

In Washington and Oregon both (most notably in Oregon), state tax revenue reported as rising, and unemployment dropping – one of the best weeks of economic news in more than half a decade. Not bad in Idaho, either.

If the mood in Olympia seems still a bit sour, that has more to do with political battling than anything else: The core news is not so bad, though legislators are likely to keep up their conflicts for some weeks to come. How about special session?

A letter to Fox

rainey BARRETT


My Fox Friends:

Because I know you operate with limited “fact” checking folk – relying instead on GOP in-house “research” and the Heritage Foundation for that – I’d like to pass along some old fashioned, shoe leather research Ben Cesca of Huffington Post recently did. All from the public record. Because of the nature of his findings – pre-Benghazi – I’m certain none of you were allowed to read it. Forbidden, actually. So, here goes.

Jan. 22, 2002: Calcutta, India – Harakat-ul-Jihad as-Islami attack U.S. Consulate – five employees killed.

Jun. 14, 2002: Karachi, Pakistan – al Qaeda suicide bomber hits U.S. Consulate – 12 employees killed - 51 injured.

Oct. 12, 2002: Denpasar, Inbdonesia – Diplomatic offices bombed.

Feb. 28, 2003: Islamabad, Palistan – Gunmen fire on Embassy - two killed.

May 12, 2003: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: al Qaeda stormed U.S. diplomatic compound – 36 killed including nine Americans.

Jul. 30, 2004: Tashkent, Uzbekistan: U.S. Embassy bombed – two dead.

Dec. 6, 2004: Jeddah Saudi Arabia – al Qaeda stormed U.S. Consulate – nine dead.

Mar. 2, 2006: Karachi, Pakistan – For the third time in four years, U.S. Consulate bombed – four dead including Ambassador David Foy.

Sep. 12, 2006: Damascus, Syria: Gunmen storm U.S. Embassy killing four.

Jan. 12, 2007: Athens, Greece – Rocket attack on U.S. Embassy. Bad shots.

Mar. 18, 2008: Sana’a, Yemen – Islamic Jihad of Yemen fire mortar at U.S. Embassy. Missed. Hit school next door killing two.

Jul. 9, 2008: Istanbul, Turkey – Terrorists attack U.S. Embassy killing six employees.

Sep. 17, 2008: Sana’a, Yemen – Terrorists with car bombs and RPGs kill 16 including an American student. Second attack there in seven months.

That’s 13 American embassy and consulate attacks during the two-term tenure of G-W-B. Two terms during which you were just not as worked up as you are today. (more…)

Impacts of the cut

trahant MARK


Indian Country has already been hit hard by the sequester.

Lacey Horn, treasurer of the Cherokee Nation, recently told National Public Radio that the tribe had been planning for the impact for some time with cost-cutting measures, a hiring freeze for all non-essential positions, and canceled training and travel. “We’re delaying or foregoing any capital acquisitions, both large and small. And we're looking at our encumbrances to see if there's any changes in scope or quantity that we can make and strictly enforce the employee overtime.”

Horn’s goal is to try and absorb the sequester “to the greatest extent possible before we start making reductions in jobs and services.”

This is exactly what a tribal government should be doing. Looking for ways to “absorb” the cuts with as little impact as possible on direct services or jobs.

But can tribes do that over and over for the next decade? The Budget Control Act, the law that governs the sequester, is a ten-year austerity effort. As the Bipartisan Policy Center describes the law: “Sequestration’s effect will be akin to that of a slow motion train wreck ... the ramifications will steadily worsen as time passes.”

The Congressional Budget Office reported that the president’s budget would “lower the caps for 2017 through 2021 on discretionary spending that were originally set by the Budget Control Act and extend those caps through 2023. However, much of that lower spending would be offset by eliminating the automatic spending reductions that have occurred or are scheduled to occur under current law from 2013 through 2021. In total, those changes would lead to discretionary outlays that are 6 percent lower in 2016 than they were in 2012 but that would grow later in the decade; as a percentage of GDP, such outlays would fall from 8.3 percent in 2012 to 5.0 percent in 2023, 0.5 percentage points lower than the amount in CBO’s baseline and the lowest level in at least the past 50 years.”

Think about the last part of that sentence. The president’s budget would lift some of the hard spending caps under the Budget Control Act, but even then federal spending for domestic programs would be at the lowest level since President Kennedy’s time. And, as I have written before, the president’s budget represents a decent outcome. The president’s budget, according to CBO, would trim federal deficits by $1.1 trillion over the coming decade. Not a bad outcome. But the president’s budget would require a “yes” vote from both the House and the Senate. That’s not going to happen. (more…)

Weakening Oregon’s public meetings

ridenbaugh Northwest

From testimony prepared for delivery by Sal Peralta, secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon, about a bill amending Oregon's public meeting law.

I am here today to testify on behalf of the Independent Party of Oregon in opposition to HB 3513.

Before addressing the substantive provisions of the bill, I would like to point out that Oregon ranks among the worst states in the nation with regard to “Public Access to Information”, according to the State Integrity Investigation, a project of Public Radio International and the Center for Public Integrity.

This bill would take a bad system and make it far worse. Short of an outright repeal, it is difficult to imagine a bill that would more effectively dismantle Oregon’s public meetings law.

The impetus behind this legislation appears to be a case that was settled in 2011, in which the Lane County Commission, and most particularly Commissioners Pete Sorenson and Rob Handy, were convicted of violating the state’s public meetings law for engaging a series of meetings and communications in 2009 that culminated in what Judge Michael Gillespie called a “sham vote” to approve a supplemental budget that hired part time assistants for the Lane County Commission.

I have attached a copy of the judge’s ruling in that case, as well as copies of numerous editorials and news stories that were published around the time that decision was reached that affirm the need for maintaining strong open meetings laws in Oregon.

Given the importance of the state’s public records law, I suspect that this
legislation will draw intense scrutiny from the press should this legislation move forward in this committee.

With regard to the bill itself…

HB 3513 constitutes a radical departure from current law.

Under Oregon Statute, all meetings of governing bodies that involve "deciding on or deliberating toward a decision" must be held in public unless the content of the meeting is specifically exempted in ORS 192.610 – ORS 192.690.

This legislation limits the scope of matters relating to decisions by governing bodies only to those relating to “budget, fiscal, or policy” matters.

None of these terms “budget, fiscal, and policy” are defined in the bill or in any part of ORS 192.610 to 192.690, so presumably it would be left to the governing body seeking to circumvent the public meetings law to determine whether decisions made in private meetings relate to any of those categories.

Second, the bill effectively neuters Oregon’s Public meetings law by exempting the following topics from the definition of "deciding on or deliberating toward a decision."

(A) Communication that is wholly unrelated to the conduct of the public's business;

(B) Fact gathering activities; or

(C) On-site inspections of property or facilities at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the governing body.

The latter two of these exemptions are especially troubling.

Fact gathering missions must currently be held in public, pursuant to Oregonian Publishing Co. v. Oregon State Board of Parole, 99 Or App 501 (1989).

Fact gathering is often the most crucial stage at which decisions are made by government. It would be unimaginable that a judge in a court of law should accept facts outside of the context of a public hearing open to all parties. Given that the role of governing bodies such as county commissions or city councils is often “quasi-judicial”, as in the case of land use decisions or other variances from local ordinances, what is the rationale for adopting a lower standard for Oregon’s governing bodies?

Similarly, the bill exempts from the definition of “deciding on or deliberating toward a decision." “Onsite inspections of property or facilities at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the governing body.”

The plain ordinary language of that subsection makes it clear that anything can be discussed in private, so long as the meeting occurs at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the

ORS 192.620 states that: "The Oregon form of government requires an informed public aware of the deliberations and decisions of governing bodies and the information upon which such decisions were made. It is the intent of ORS 192.610 to 192.690 that decisions of governing bodies be arrived at openly."

I would respectfully submit that no part of this bill serves that public purpose and recommend against moving this bill forward.

What they want it for

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

The norm in campaign finance, traditionally at least, goes like this: The candidate files and sets up an account for campaign spending, receives funds for campaign purposes, then spends it, presumably to around zero by election day, on such as ads, printing and mailing, salaries, office space, polling, depending on the size of the campaign. Traditionally, campaigns are like the Snake River at Milner Dam, which is dewatered at the end of one stretch, then refills in the next one.

That still often happens when candidates are in competitive races, when they collect whatever they can and spend it down, because they can't politically afford to leave resources on the table.

Nowadays, however, fewer congressional races are really competitive. If you're one of those nearly impregnable incumbents – say, a Republican in Idaho (or, a Democrat in some other states) – you really don't need but a fraction of the funds you take in. Most of your contributors aren't donating because they think you need it to win; they have other agendas in mind. You wind up with excess cash.

The handling of that excess money has come up in the case of Senator Mike Crapo's campaign treasury. Here's some background.

In the cycle leading up to his last election in 2010, Crapo raised $5.1 million, which was added on to some cash he already had on hand. In the campaign he spent about $3.4 million, only a portion of what he had available but still far more than he needed, since that was about 34 times as much as his Democratic opponent, Tom Sullivan, spent. Crapo ended the 2010 cycle with about $3 million cash on hand, and has continued to raise money since, though he's not up for re-election until 2016. As of the end of March, he had $3.4 million on hand. This is not an unusual situation; quite a few successful congressional candidates of both parties also are well padded. (more…)

From explanation to exploitation

rainey BARRETT


Nearly all our lives, we adults take great pains setting ourselves apart from each other – our individualism, if you will. Whether in appearance, style of dress, cars we drive or books we read, we spend our lives expressing our differences rather than our shared sameness. Then a commonality sneaks up on us – the shared experience of all – because we were once six or seven years old. Each of us. All of us.

That one genealogical thread of age may be the largest single reason why the Newtown massacre struck our consciousness so deeply. Months after a school meant for learning became a chamber of mass murder, we’re not letting this one fade from memory as quickly as we have so many others. All of us have been six or seven. We’e all been in classrooms.

A few miles up the road from my own little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods, we had our own indiscriminate killings in a shopping mall a few months ago. ut I’ve days and weeks in that time without thinking about Clackamas Mall. Not so Newtown, Connecticut. Despite other distractions of daily living, the Newtown horror still intrudes from time to time.

Several years of my life were spent as a hospice volunteer, ministering to the dying one-on-one. Death – impending death – certain death. You learn not only how to provide comfort to the “client” – you learn to deal with death after death after death of people you come to know as friends. Even if for only a brief time. You learn how to do that. Or you fail.

But most of my life has been spent in journalism – passing along the daily events of our lives. You used to learn how to do that in much the same clinical way – observing but not getting personally involved. Not anymore.

Maybe it’s the collision of experiences in those two backgrounds that makes my disgust with so much of the media so overwhelming in these months following the Newtown killing. Most of my anger is caused by the so-called broadcast “professionals.”

All of us experience a period of grief following the death of someone close. It permeates our entire being. Some survivors or onlookers handle it better than others. But it’s always there. When the death is that of someone we don’t know or aren’t particularly close to, there may be feelings of sadness but usually not disabling grief. But what happened in Newtown – though involving complete strangers for most of us – what happened in Newton has – in many ways – shown up in a sort of national grief. (more…)