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Posts tagged as “Oregon”

Over-value

How much is something worth? goes the old question. However much someone will pay, goes the traditional answer - except in recent years, as we know, in the case of the housing market, where prices ran up massively higher than people (viewed in aggregate) were able, at least, to pay; an increasingly, willing, too.

Washington and Oregon were among the relative latecomers to the mass housing price rampup, and they apparently are a little slower than some to slide back down. They have been sliding down, but indications are that they have a ways to go.

The consulting firms IHS Global Insight and The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. today released studies indicating which housing markets around the country remain most overvalued, and Washington and Oregon are high on the list.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer pulled out the numbers and said that of 330 metros analyzed, Seattle ranked 35th in the country, although "The report put the average house price at $366,500 in the Seattle area, down 1.6 percent from the previous quarter. Wenatchee and Longview were third and fourth on the overvalued list, with Bend, Ore., Bellingham and the Portland area (including Vancouver) seventh, eighth and ninth. Others in the top 26 were Mount Vernon (18th), Spokane (20th), Yakima (23rd) and Olympia (24th), in Washington, and Eugene (12th), Salem (16th), Corvalis (25th) and Medford (26th), in Oregon. The Tacoma area was 31st."

A mega-OR transport project

Major transportation projects were hard to come by in Idaho this legislative session, but easier in Washington (see Alaskan Way and the 520). And now Oregon seems to be about to set in motion a truly enormous effort of its own. The House today voted 38-22 in favor, enough to win support for the revenue-raising components (which need 60% support in each chamber). Since the odds in favor probably are better in the Senate than they were in the House, and since Governor Ted Kulongoski has backed the plan, it looks close to done.

That doesn't mean there's no controversy, and it comes from both left and right. On the left, there's concern both about the structure of the spending (exact projects and amounts are laid out) and concern that not enough is going for mass transit. On the right, there's concern about the hundreds of millions of dollars involved and the substantial increases in taxes and fees - a six-cent gas tax increase, substantial car registration fee increases and more.

But it seems to be slipping through with less angst than you might think. And less than in either Washington or Idaho. How good a thing that is, may depend on where you sit.

From our point of view . . . we'd be pleased to see the new Newberg-Dundee bypass (on Highway 99) put in place; the new bill funds a third of the expensive effort. That stretch of wine country road, smack between Portland and some of the most popular coast areas, can turn into a parking lot at times. The bypass - bypassing most of the cities of Newberg and Dundee - could help. And turned dirt within the next few years could be considered, locally, as miraculous.

The Oregon corporate minimum

Through a quirk - a perversion, some might say - of interpretation of the law, corporations are in many ways given the standing of human beings before the law. The reverse doesn't always work out; people, for example, tend to pay income taxes much higher on average than many corporations do.

That was once less true than it is now. In Oregon, state House Revenue Chair Phil Barnhart notes that “Corporations now pay less than 6% of income taxes paid in Oregon. It used to be closer to 18%. But now over 2/3rds of Oregon corporations pay the $10 minimum.”

Some of that is worth remembering, since the argument that these are tough time for businesses - which they are - will be flashed prominently in argument against the new proposed raising of corporation taxes in the state. But the background needs some bearing in mind: The point of comparison is almost absurdly low.

The tax battle - now that much of the discussion about budget cuts is winding up - already is solidly partisan.

The Republican argument sums up this way: "Democrats in the Oregon House of Representatives announced plans last Thursday to pay for spending increases by raising taxes on Oregon small and family owned businesses. The plan to create a new tax bracket of 11% on filings greater than $125,000 targets Oregon LLCs, sole proprietorships, partnerships and s-corps, the typical organizational structure of Oregon small businesses."

The Democrats describe their proposal differently: "new revenue would come from increasing taxes on profitable corporations and increasing the top tax rate for households making over $250,000 per year. . . . The plan has several components, including increasing the state’s corporate minimum to $100, up from its current level of $10. A second change to the corporate minimum would apply only to C-Corps which earn gross receipts over $500,000. Those corporations would pay an additional marginal rate of 0.15% up to a cap of $60,000. For those companies paying more than the corporate minimum, the bill retains the 6.6% tax on the first $250,000 of net income. But it raises the rate to 8.2% on net income over $250,000."

Pick your details, and discuss.

40 years of the sound of Jefferson

The state of Jefferson - that area taking in part of southwest Oregon and California north of Redding - may be more a state of mind than it is anything else. But there is a media presence. At least one California weekly proclaims itself the newspaper of Jefferson.

And there's Jefferson Public Radio, now celebrating its 40th anniversary. A fine piece today in the Medford Mail Tribune runs through its history.

Based at Southern Oregon University at Ashland (at the FM station KSOR), JPR has helped keep that southern region a region apart from the rest of Oregon (the rest of which is served by Oregon Public Broadcasting). It does something else too in this time of large-scale broadcasting: It brings a genuinely local flavor to radio in the area.

You can celebrate too: Give 'em a listen.

An education lobby crackup

Here's a column out of Tacoma that some of the Salem budget-setters, and influencers upon budget-setters, might want to read. It could suggest where Oregon's education community may find itself a few months hence- not far from where Washington's does now.

A key quote: "To be specific, the Washington Education Association has decided it’s no longer friends with groups that have long been in its political clique. That includes the Washington State PTA, the union that represents school staffers, the League of Education Voters, the Children’s Alliance, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and Democrats in the state House and Senate."

Oregon's situation is no less severe than Washington's was. Could be that Oregon is a little less rigorous in unwillingness to go the tax route, but there's little doubt significant cuts are coming. As in Washington.

So, taxes in Oregon?

They wouldn't do it in Idaho - no surprise there.

They wouldn't do it in Washington either, which did take some people by surprise.

Now - will the Oregon Legislature raise taxes to cop with their state's huge revenue shortfall?

The exact situation will come into focus this week, when the May revenue estimate is delivered - the last major one this session is likely to get. Big cuts are almost certainly going to happen in any event. But will taxes, in some form or other, be raised to fill the gaps?

There doesn't seem to be much affirmative discussion of the idea at Salem, at least publicly. The Eugene Register-Guard's piece today on the matter may provide some clarity: "No detailed tax package has emerged so far this session, but behind-the-scenes discussions suggest that the Democratic majority in Salem wants to concentrate its pursuit of higher taxes on wealthy Oregonians and profitable corporations."

Consider that maybe an early indicator.

Would they forgive?

The normal rule is supposed to be that if voters approve (or disapprove) a ballot issue, that legislators take that message to heart or run a big political risk. Who wants to act against the voters?

Well, the guess here is that the Oregon Legislature may do just that when it comes to last year's Measure 57.

Measure 57 "increased term of imprisonment for persons convicted of specified drug and property crimes under certain circumstances. The measure enacted law which prohibits courts from imposing less than a presumptive sentence for persons convicted of specified drug and property crimes under certain circumstances, and requires the Department of Corrections to provide treatment to certain offenders and to administer grant program to provide supplemental funding to local governments for certain purposes." It passed with 61.45 of the vote last year.

An it is expensive, in a corrections system where cost has been explosive already for years.

A lot of budget items are likely to be hit, hard, when the numbers are pencilled in starting later this month. A lot of people are pleading for many of those cuts - in education, social services, safety - not to be cut too deeply. But in reading the reports of the legislature's Ways & Means committee road show last month, there seems to be little constituency out there calling hard for fulfilling the terms of 57. Priorities may have changed.

And priorities may be a key issue here. 57 got on the ballot as an alternative to another ballot issue, 61, which would have focused less on inmate treatment and - because of its handling of sentencing and other matters - would have been far more expensive for the state. A lot of people doubtless would as soon have seen neither pass, but blacked in the line on 57 as the better alternative of the two.

How many felt that way? That's a question legislators doubtless will be gauging in the next few weeks.

Water woes

Two regional newspapers have published extensive takeouts on the water supply situation - increasingly tenuous - in their respective states.

The Portland Oregonian points out how water demand, and groundwater extraction, has increased dramatically in the last half-century, and how it is expected to continue that way in the next few decades.

The supply difficulties are not limited to the relatively dry portion of the state east of the Cascades, much of which is desert or highly arid country. on the westside, demand has increased heavily, most notably in Washington County (rapidly-growing, and the state's second largest, located just west of Portland) and Clackmas County (just south of Portland).

Said the article: "In a state that boasts about webbed feet, access to water is increasingly contested. The state estimates that in the coming years, demand will grow by 1.2 million acre-feet; we use about 9 million acre-feet now. Whoever controls the limited supply will control new housing and industry and how farming expands."

Also today, the Denver Post reports that a mass of Front Range water projects, with a combined estimated price tag of upwards of $3 billion, are putting a squeeze on water supplies there.

Among the concerns: So-far limited cooperation among the various water developers, which include Aurora Water, cities including Denver, Greeley and Fort Collins, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Northern Colorado Water. And despite all the development, some estimates suggest that water still will be in shortfall a few decades out.

Early in, early . . . mulling

alley

Allen Alley

In contrast to some other statewide offices last time around, Oregon Republicans actually do have a probable candidate for governor next year, one with some campaign experience and a professional background that gives the sense of a credible contender. And Democrats don't even have a clear, definitive contender yet.

And how excited are Oregon Republicans about Allen Alley?

A post and comments at Oregon Catalyst gives a fair sense of the mixed feelings involved. Some commenters point out that Alley is an intelligent, capable guy, an experience and articulate executive. Others note the areas in which he doesn't exactly line up with the Republican activist base, and how he isn't an especially charismatic contender.

Blogger Tim Lyman, who argues that a Republican running these days in Oregon has to be a sterling campaign to have a shot: "If anyone had told me there could be a less exciting candidate for Governor than Ron Saxton, I never would have believed it. But, over a year and a half out from the election, the Oregon Republican establishment is already lining up behind Allen Alley."

A commenter in reply: "Okay, Tim. If not Alley... than whom? I disagree with you that it is too early to line up behind a candidate. I think Alley is an excellent candidate. I just don't see anyone else emerging that can raise the enormous amount of money that will be needed to be competitive??? I'm curious to see who you are suggesting to line up behind?"

Why the rate

Unemployment rate numbers, read in fine grain, have for a long time seemed a little less than perfect measures. (We never bought the office state stats, for example, that Idaho's unemployment rate in October 2007 was 2.5%, when 3% is the norm for something approaching full employment, and employers didn't seem that desperate for help.) So what should we make of the reports out now that Oregon has the second-highest unemployment (now at 12.1%) in the nation, behind Michigan with its collapsing auto industry?

First, a note of context: Oregon is hurting in this depression, alongside the other states. There's been no lack of shutdowns and layoffs. Times are tough in Oregon too - but, that much worse than in so many other states? Doesn't feel that way: Bad, yes, but not that much worse.

In good times as well as bad, Oregon's unemployment rates have tended to run higher than average. Might there be something systemic, or something unusual about Oregon, that contributes?

Evidently there is, outlined neatly in an Oregonian piece this morning. Oregon turns out to be one of those places people are reluctant to leave, and when times get tough they hang in there. It has a good reputation as a good place to live, and so becomes something of a magnet for people around the country when they're out of work and looking for a new place to start over. (The place keeps harking back to its earliest days.) A number of other states, notably Nevada and California, seem to shed people more rapidly when the jobs go away - people who go to places like Oregon. All of this drives up the numbers of the unemployed, creating a higher rate.

This isn't just raw speculation; stats to back it up are available. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in March, when Oregon lost 77,000 jobs, the state's available labor force rose by 58,000 - some of them newly looking for work, some of them arriving from elsewhere even though there was no work for them.

Helps to know what lies behind the numbers.

Bailout numbers

The number of banks in the Northwest getting bailout (TARP) money keeps on rising. Here's the latest, according to ProPublica:

Washington: 15 banks.

Oregon: 3 banks.

Idaho: 4 banks.

The Salem to Vancouver rail line?

What was striking, sitting in the Oregon House Sustainability & Economic Development Committee session this afternoon, was the matter of factness around a pretty big idea: Extending a commuter rail line from the Portland metro area to Salem.

There is, of course, sometime to work with already on the northern reach: The tri-county MAX rail system, together with a recently-opened add-on, already runs not just from Hillsboro to Gresham but also south to Wilsonville, a big chunk of the way to Salem. There are also plans, in conjunction with planning for the upgrade to the Columbia River I-5 bridge, to extend commuter rail north through to Vancouver, where it could easily be strung in parallel to the Mill Plain crossway.

So now imagine a connector linking to the south, running through communities large and small (Donald might be a stop, or at least slow-down point) on existing tracks. The significant number of people commuting or running back and forth between Portland and Salem could train it. (Especially if they start loading in wi fi throughout the system.)

It's a big project at a time when big new projects aren't much in fashion. House Bill 2408, which has a substantial bipartisan group of sponsors, doesn't authorize the line, but it does create a task force on it and will wrap up a study on the idea, due out this fall.

Representative Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, said "I'm not famliar with Donald" (well, most people a few miles from it aren't), and said it was a shame the 4th congressional district wasn't included. But he'd support the study anyway.

We know of at least one legislative staffer (and there are doubtless others) who commutes from Eugene to Salem. Give it a little time, and Eugene might make the line yet.