The Oregon Blog
Under grey skies, self-medicating with black coffee

Monday, March 31, 2003  

I've got some cool new hit tracking software being beta tested, and every time I try to fiddle with my template code, it screws up the software. I've been meaning to put Utterly Boring on the blog roll, but now I'm worried I'll screw up my hit count (and by gum, when your count is as low as mine, you don't want to miss a single one!). So this will have to suffice in the short term. He's a Bendite (Bender, Bendonian, Bendie, ah...?--he's from Bend, anyway), and has an eclectic site. Go check it out. I'll get him on the blog roll eventually...

posted by Jeff | 2:05 PM |

Friday, March 28, 2003  

Lots of news, so I'll cut to the chase...

Monty H[au]l
If you’re a politician, you must balance your desire to serve the individual needs of your constituents with an effort to craft good public policy. The degree to which you can do both of these simultaneously is the degree to which you are judged a good public servant. How do we rate our current gaggle of pols? Glue-sniffing yokels.

The evidence:

Incident: House approves bill to relax land use standards. Apparently Tom McCall was a boob in crafting land-use law that created urban growth boundaries. Or at least that’s what Rep. Tootie Smith, (R-Molalla) who crafted the bill thinks. "Oregon cannot afford to continue down the path we have so blindly gone down in the last three decades," she said. Tootie’s a managing partner of Rural Resources, Inc.—about which I can find no info—and former director of Ted Ferrioli’s Oregon Land Coalition, which is a mining advocacy group. So the congresswoman’s argument is that mining’s the future of Oregon’s economy?

Incident: Oregon House approves waiting period for abortions. This beaut, proposed by Rep. Betsy Close, (R-Albany), proposes to create a law that would require doctors to give information to patients considering an abortion. Said supporter Linda Flores (R-Boring): “This is not antiwoman, pro-life or pro-choice. It is pro-choice with information and education." Well, what the hell is it, then? It surely not an issue of medical malpractice: a law already exists that requires informed—informed—consent for medical procedures. Which means there’s no basis in law—this is merely a stunt to fire up the base.

Ah, nice. Using the financial crisis in Oregon to pay off your buddies. Or just ignoring it altogether to waste precious legislative time (and taxpayer money) to whip your base in to a froth so that they’ll continue to elect you so you can go to Salem, propose idiotic legislation that … whips the base into a froth.

Raise your pints of stout, everyone! Don’t it just make you proud to be an Oregonian?

posted by Jeff | 10:31 AM |

Keep protesting, quit thrashing
That’s the lesson from the news yesterday that the police are spending $217,000 a day in overtime. As you all know, I’m way in favor of the protests. But there’s really no reason for vandalism or violence.

Look: you’re right. The war stinks. Every day Rummy looks more the idiot and protesters more the wise protectors of the national interest. It’s a stronger statement if we hold the high ground here.

Not only that, but in the pre-Kroeker era, police and protesters worked well together—both aware of the role of an engaged citizenry in public affairs. We may have to take the high ground on this one. Let’s show the city we can: peaceful, assured protests.

posted by Jeff | 10:28 AM |

Media Coverage
Apropos of that, a look at how the media decided to cover the protest cost story is revealing. The Oregonian’s slant is revealed in their headline: Police holding line on protests. The lead: “Despite mounting police overtime costs, Portland's mayor and police chief pledged Thursday to maintain their vigilance in keeping protesters from impeding city streets or vandalizing property.” I guess they haven’t completely come around to the idea that the protesters offer any benefit.

But that’s nothing compared to the local TV stations. KOIN has a story that paints the protests as criminal activity. This is underscored by the picture of stormtrooper-like black-clad cops in riot gear. KATU ups the ante by adding a story on the “costs”—by which they mean to add as many entendres as possible. Go read the whole article and see whether you think it fits the “objective journalism” bill. But here’s an excerpt:

"This is about jobs as well as it is about business," said Ashley Heichelbech, Portland Business Alliance.

As police try to keep up with demonstrators, overtime soars and it could surpass the $335-thousand spent in the two weeks after 9-11.

"The entire operation branch of the police bureau is on 12 hour shifts. And many officers have had at least one of their days off cancelled," said Brian Schmautz.

The costs and the protests have upset many citizens.

"These are the same people probably saying where's all the money for schools. And they're out here using up all the money for schools on police overtime," said Dave Johnson.


posted by Jeff | 10:27 AM |

Thursday, March 27, 2003  

Same old, same old

It's a tired old saw, but: lack of funding + glue-sniffing yokels (the Oregon legislature) = Oregon. In the news today, more horrors. Judicial backlog mounts, but the legislature and Governor aren't providing any more money. The schools are in the toilet, and the legislature...isn't providing any more money.

But richies? For them, there's more money. Legislators are hard at work trying to get rid of the meager bit we already have. After all, the richies need their tax cut. They needed it when times were good, and by god, they need it now.

Makes a person want to go protest ...

posted by Jeff | 12:45 PM |

Wednesday, March 26, 2003  

Protests, Part 23

I know, I know, the horse is dead. Just a few more whacks, please.

While I normally attempt to sculpt my thoughts into something that coheres into a single, elegant point (what do you mean you didn't notice?), today I have scattered minutiae. Bear with me.

Protest effectiveness.
Even on the left, there is a pernicious critique of protesters: "Protest marches, like petitions, are exercises in futility." (That, from Harley Sorensen of the Chronicle.) The argument is blunt and simple: protests won't stop Dubya from bombing Baghdad. They didn't stop LBJ or Nixon and they didn't help elect Humphrey.

But does anyone think this is the only benefit of voicing your opinion in a democracy? We didn't vote for Nader because we thought he was going to win, and we don't protest because we think Dubya's listening. We do do these things because we know, incrementally, they affect public dialogue and, eventually, policy. To use a particularly painful example: what if Ralph Reed had listened to the naysayers when he started pushing to include fundamental Christianity in the political discourse? Right: we wouldn't be bombing Baghdad now.

And in the short term, it has a profound affect on the media, which in turn affects the way we view the actions of our leaders, which in turn affects the actions of our leaders. On that note...

Changing media coverage.
To use the Oregonian as one example, coverage is already changing dramatically. This is a paper in favor of the war. And early coverage was seriously anti-protester. But by virtue of their resolve, the protesters have changed the tone of the argument.

In today's paper, the Big O offers a survey of on-the-street protests over the course of 24 hours. It's a remarkable snapshot of real people--exactly the kind of article we see daily about the soldiers and their families. It's one of those kinds of reports that makes it impossible not to sympathize with the protesters--regardless of what your view of the war is. If you do a search in Google News on "protesters," two of the first ten articles are from the Oregonian.

Protesters may not be stopping the war, but they're making the media and their fellow citizens look at it critically. That's not chopped liver.

Who's city (hall?), our city (hall)!
There's a picture in the Oregonian of protesters at city hall, linked at the arms (unfortunately, I couldn't find a link--crappy Oregonlive...), and the caption reads that they're chanting "Who's city hall?, our city hall!" I couldn't help but wonder if one of them was B!x, who first ran that phrase up the flagpole in a comment on one of the blogs below. B!x, that you?

All right, enough of the rambling.

posted by Jeff | 9:54 AM |

Monday, March 24, 2003  

What do you call a protester who throws a brick through the window of a Starbucks? How about one who runs onto the highway? One who refuses to leave an intersection? Or one who joins other protesters at an unpermitted, impromptu rally?

Answer: a terrorist.

At least that's how John Minnis sees it. The Wood Village Republican dislikes them so much he's sponsored SB 742 to create the crime of terrorism, punishable by life in prison.

Harry Esteve reported on it in today's Oregonian.

"This morning, that idea gets put to the test at the Oregon Legislature, where a ranking senator has introduced a bill to 'create the crime of terrorism' and apply it to people who intentionally cause injury while disrupting commerce or traffic.

"Minnis says he borrowed language from Oregon's treason statutes, and meant the bill as an 'umbrella' law covering all types of terrorism, including eco-sabotage. The bill certainly would apply to someone caught spiking trees to prevent logging, he says.

"The bill is the most visceral legislative response to the events of Sept. 11 and its aftermath. It comes at a time when cities around the nation are dealing with increasingly large and confrontational antiwar rallies stemming from the U.S. invasion of Iraq."

Ah, to smell the fresh, clean air of John Ashcroft's--sorry, John Minnis's--America. Don't you feel safer already?

(Big Air Fred, over at Rantavation, has more on this.)

posted by Jeff | 11:30 AM |

Friday, March 21, 2003  

A few thoughts on the Portland protests

First: congrats on a nice job to the protesters. Shutting down bridges and freeways is no mean task.

Now, some discussion of the abysmal coverage local stations gave. I watched mainly KGW (when I wasn't watching Colorado State scaring the hell out of Duke), and their coverage was remarkably antagonistic to the protesters. They didn't regard them as citizens outraged at an international event, but dangerous criminals who needed to be contained for the benefit of a safe town. When they had police spokesman on, they use the "we" constructions: "What can we do to keep this from getting out of control"--that kind of thing. The police were relatively sanguine about the whole affair, noting that as long as the people were just milling around (not, say, raping and pillaging, as KGW feared), they were happy to ride it out.

Clearly, local news always exaggerates events (next on News Channel Two: find out how the potential storm off the coast of Japan may shut the city down!). They're trying to turn a profit. (Yeah, that premise is bizarre, too, but that's what they're doing.) And last night, they were trying to compete with Colorado State scaring the hell out of Duke. NEVERTHELESS, this was extreme. It wasn't news, it was a biased color commentary--like the home town jock calling the Blazers.

On the protest itself.
There are a lot of reports about what actually went down. I have an eyewitness report of someone at the Jazz de Opus who saw a number of bloody folks come in. What I saw on the TV, though, looked like really restrained and reasonable policing (of the kind we saw pre_Kroeker). I know that a great deal of the media is describing it as a wild mob, which isn't really borne out by the facts. It was an angry, but mostly peaceful, group.

It raises the question about what we think the place of protest is in society. Clearly, a number of people think the place of protest is in the living room, or maybe--maybe--the ocassional city-permitted gathering at a park. Anything that looks unruly or potentially dangerous is verboten. But that's not what protest is. Protests are demonstrations to the government to directly affect policy. They're confrontational and emotional. Last night, a number of citizens tried to shut down the roads in Portland to make a point. What point? That people are dying, that the government is engaged in dubious or unlawful behavior, and that some citizens oppose this.

It's not too much to ask for people to demonstrate a little compassion to these protesters. It's true that some yuppie on the way to pick up a pack of smokes in his SUV might be inconvenienced. But rather than flare up with talk of the horrors of "crippling the city" or other nonsense, we might all use it as an opportunity to be thankful: here are a number of US citizens who are deeply involved in their country's actions. They're so involved they're willing to risk injury or arrest to bring the city's attention to this issue. It's one of the reasons I love living in "little Beirut"--it's one of the places in America where democracy is most active, where you can see it taken to the streets.


(Oh yeah, also keep your eye on the Portland Communique--b!X has really been following what's going on. Check out the comments, too--he's been chatting with the press and local politicians. A blogger on the move!)

posted by Jeff | 12:01 PM |

Thursday, March 20, 2003  

Rather than double blog, let me direct you to the war post in today's Notes on the Atrocities. Thanks.

[Update: And also, go check out B!X, who's a machine today!]

posted by Jeff | 2:30 PM |

Wednesday, March 19, 2003  

Slow on the draw here, but go check out Mac Diva's thoughts on Rachel Corrie. Very good stuff.

posted by Jeff | 4:09 PM |

As legislators grapple with the funding crisis, we're seeing a fine game of squeeze-the-balloon play out in Salem. If we raise taxes here, will it constrain a revenue source there? If we cut spending over here, will it result in lower revenue over there?

Several proposals are instructive. On of the most incendiary is HB 2646, which would repeal the voter-approved (and inflation-indexed) minimum wage hike. This is by no means a new debate: labor and advocates for the working poor periodically face off against small business and farmers, who argue that the increased labor cost will hurt or kill their businesses. What is new is the context: plummeting revenues, desperately poor people, and on-the-brink businesses. Everyone has a huge stake in this one.

A similar set of issues swirls around business taxes. The Oregonian today detailed the war between the Portland Business Alliance and the city over taxes for schools. In a statewide skirmish (for which I have no link), a proposal would raise the minimum tax on businesses. It is, very often, the same argument repeated over and over again: you can’t tax business (literally and figuratively) because it is through them that all good things flow: jobs, a strong economy, and taxes. And thus it is: squeeze us and a bigger bulge will pop out somewhere else.

It’s a compelling argument, but it’s wrong on several counts.

In the case of minimum wages, the argument is inaccurately cast as cause and effect. But in fact, though jobs and business health are connected, they’re separate issues. For the economic health of a state, both are critical. Oregon has emerged as the country’s hungriest state, a situation not arising because of a huge number of homeless and destitute, but among the working poor. Hungry, poorly-compensated workers are no benefit to businesses or the state.

On the other hand, businesses really are unhealthy in the state, which is why the governor’s devoting so much of his time to trying to energize them. In economic terms, the economy’s suffering because of the failure of high-end businesses. And these businesses aren’t in trouble because of high pay—but because they were mostly businesses that were susceptible to this recession—tech sector stuff, advertising, and design.

Smaller businesses and farms are hurt by a variety of reasons—only a bare few of which will be catastrophically affected by minimum wage (like farms, which are already limping along as a result of corporatization and NAFTA).

The answer, then, is not to try to shift the burden of the economy back onto the working poor—they’re already carrying more than their fair share. A minimum wage is the least the state can offer hard-working people out there putting in long hours to make ends meet. Instead, it makes sense to balance a minimum-wage increase with tax incentives to businesses who will employ these workers, and (particularly) higher-wage workers. Better minds than mine can come up with ideas, but a suggestion is something along the lines of a rebate for start-up businesses.

Oregon must solve both problems: ensuring living wages for its poorest workers, and making it possible for businesses to flourish here. This is kind of like squeezing the balloon from all over to make sure no bubble pop out.

posted by Jeff | 3:43 PM |

A quickie link while I'm thinking about it. Digging around for a story OPB did recently, I came across their "Politics Today" page. An interesting compilation of the day's news and commentary, drawn from various publications ("Is Bush Smart Enough," from Tom Paine, for example). I know, I know, you have enough to read. Nevertheless...

| link |

posted by Jeff | 11:43 AM |

Tuesday, March 18, 2003  

Beaver State Editorials

The Ashland Daily Tidings
"There is the idea that the unprovoked striking of Iraq is a bad policy and a worse precedent. And there is nothing in that line of thought that ought to draw fire from so-called patriots. It is, in fact, tyrannical to dismiss dissenting views. America may be a republic. But it is also a democracy that celebrates plurality, and the freedom to express it.

"A patriot is someone who has faith America still has a chance to improve. A patriot is someone who weeps and rails when America slides off the tracks."

The Daily Astorian
"This is a dark day in American history. Our troops are committed to battle on the other side of the globe with little support from the world community and with considerable misgiving, doubt and protest at home.

"Pre-emptive attack is the dangerous precedent that President George W. Bush has established. While it is true that Bush and his envoys have tried at the United Nations to make a case for attacking Iraq, the president has disregarded and shown disdain for those who do not share his eagerness for this war."

Eugene Register-Guard
"Napoleon said that going to war is like walking into a darkened room: No one can really know what lies within. The United States stands at the threshold of that room and will cross into it within days, unless Saddam Hussein startles the world by submitting to President Bush's demand that he go into exile. Deep divisions about the president's chosen course have been expressed on these pages, in the streets and in the United Nations. But the world can be united in hoping that the worst apprehensions prove unjustified."

Salem Statesman-Journal
"By Wednesday night, the United States may be at war.

"Only a miracle from Saddam Hussein — retreat with his sons into exile — can prevent the United States from invading Iraq to topple his regime. And no one can foretell when or where that war will end.

"We hope it will be swift. But we fear it will ignite a fireball of international terrorism."

The Oregonian
"'We are acting now,' the president said, 'because the risks of not acting are greater.'

"President Bush is correct about that central assertion and he has been correct in pushing relentlessly for Saddam Hussein's departure from power in Iraq.

"He is also correct in saying that even the nations that opposed the United States in the recent U.N. debate 'share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it.'

"During the intense debate over the Iraqi crisis, we've believed that only force or the threat of force would impel Saddam to disarm. The most thoughtful case against going to war -- or at least the one presented by France -- presumed that, too. But such threats cannot be maintained indefinitely.

"That reality, and Iraq's evident unwillingness to come clean, also led us to where we are today. If Saddam Hussein were wise, he'd take the deal President Bush offered Monday. The record suggests that he will not, and that is a great shame.

"Our thoughts now should turn to the safety of the young Americans who will be fighting in Iraq, and the fates of the innocent Iraqis whose leaders betrayed them."

posted by Jeff | 3:37 PM |

Monday, March 17, 2003  

Updating my links, at long, long last. Comment or send me an email if I missed you/your friend/your favorite (Oregon-related) blog. (Yeah, I'm aware that that's not quite English).


[Oh, as an aside. Here's a website that's not a blog, but cool. Check out the Bush lineage section. Relevance to this post: it's run by an Oregonian.]

posted by Jeff | 4:38 PM |

Sunday, March 16, 2003  

There's only one thing that's good about bankruptcy: it provides the opportunity for serious change. Repeal of Measure 5, halting the kicker, sales tax--these things would have been inconceivable in the lazy summer of 2000. Add another one: convening the legislature every year.

In a Friday Oregonian article describing the proposal, reporter Janie Har was having a hard time finding an argument against it. She finally scrounged up a lobbyist who's argument was "You lose the Oregon uniqueness." Ooooh, convincing. (Could it be that losing a malleable group of semi-professionals colored his view? Nah...)

There shouldn't be any question. Trying to hash through complex legislation requires more conversation than can be had every other year. Back when the state had just a few thousand people, and citizen legislators had to put the cows out to pasture while they drove the mule all the way to Salem, it made a little more sense. But this isn't the 19th Century.

No one that I know who works for a state agency likes it: trying to predict expenditures over the next 30 months (because budgets are prepared long before the end of the biennium when they become law) is absurd, particularly when the state's margins are razor thin. It means legislative sessions end up hot and heated and politicians are distracted from important business because they've got to get their pet projects through in one shot.

It's easy to see who benefits by bienniums now: those who don't want clarity and efficiency. The more murky projections are, the more opportunity to exploit them. I'm not pointing fingers here--every politician loves pork, and loves to use murkiness to try to cut programs he doesn't like. We citizens should demand a tighter system so we can see what they're doing.

So yeah, it does mean giving up the 19th-Century notion of "citizen legislators" who come in off the farm (an argument I'm not unsympathetic to). But when you're dealing with a 10-billion dollar budget, it's not such a bad idea to consider hiring a professional.

posted by Jeff | 10:30 PM |

Friday, March 14, 2003  

The Curious Case of Charles Starr

The developing story about Hillsboro Republican Charles Starr is not one that I’ve been quick to follow. Zizka was the first to smell trouble in the air, back when Starr--who’s the chairman of the Oregon State Education Committee--wrote in a letter to a constituent that, “I tell any parent who will listen to run -- not walk -- to remove their children from public schools.”

It was a provocative statement coming from the Education Chair, but I was inclined to take at face value his defense of the statement: “We all say things we’d like to take back. I’ve devoted a good part of my life to trying to encourage improvement in public schools.” (We’re trying to be generous to our leaders these days, after all--trying to encourage them to, ah, lead.)

Zizka was not impressed: “My feeling is that Starr really wants to destroy the public schools so that vouchers will seem like the only alternative. He wasn’t asking people to boycott the public schools because, for example, they didn’t offer advanced math, but because they didn’t have prayer and the Ten Commandments, and because of bilingual education.” Instead, I let the matter go.

But today, David Sarasohn adds to the story. Apparently, Starr also encouraged the parent to read None Dare Call it Education by John Stormer. Available, he notes, at the John Birch Society’s American Opinion Book Service.

Uh oh.

Among the jewels of wisdom contained in that book, Sarasohn quotes:

“Even if a secular school offers good academics in a disciplined orderly setting, the courts make it impossible for the Lord Jesus to have first place -- his deserved ‘preeminence’ there.”

In its review, the bookseller accentuates the positive:

“Stormer ends on a positive note. He suggests a number of actions that citizens should take to turn the tables on the subverters of America, actions that can be taken now, as distinct from long-range objectives, such as removing government from education totally. Protecting one’s own children through some form of genuinely Christian education is, of course, first. But, he argues, we should not surrender even the public schools to the enemy, since a majority of young people will continue to be educated there, at least for the foreseeable future. Americans should use every opportunity to challenge radicals on school boards. They must be as relentless as their adversaries. The author unmasks the cunning methods used at school board meetings to control dissent, and explains how these can be successfully opposed.”

So now we have the initial Starr quote, the previous comments about what he thinks public education currently is (“Children are being taught the Humanist/Socialist world view”), and now what he wishes schools would be: Christian madrasahs.

I think I’ll listen the next time Zizka sends me a tip.

The issue for Oregonians isn’t that Starr believes these things--politicians are elected because of their beliefs--it’s that Republicans have put him in charge of the Education Committee. Let’s be generous and assume they weren’t aware of his more eccentric views about education. Well, now they know. When they learned of his beliefs, National Republican leaders were the first to acknowledge that Trent Lott was unfit to lead them. Now it’s time for Oregon Republicans to do the same thing: find someone else to be the chair of the Education Committee.

posted by Jeff | 11:26 AM |

Thursday, March 13, 2003  

Ooohh, I see how to solicit comments: "sales tax." Seems that little phrase gets people riled up.

On the previous post, I was mainly giving props out to the legislators who are willing to tackle big issues. This is to say nothing of the viability or utility of a sales tax. Just that, as we get in the mess of funding and spending priorities, it's well to praise courage in dealing with the issue head-on. Moment of silence for those folks, and:

Sales Tax.

A number of you have mentioned the point that's strongest on the anti-sales-tax side: it's regressivity. Fair enough, but let's first remember that the current tax structure is such that the highest taxes are paid by the poorest Oregonians. Recall:

Income group - tax rate

less than 14.5k - 13.1%
14.6k to 21.2k - 10.2%
21.3k to 28.7k - 10.9%
28.8k to 45k - 11.3%
45.1k to 62k - 11.3%
62.1k to 80k - 11.4%
80.1k to 126.1k - 12.4%
over 126.2 k - 11.4%

I'll agree that sales taxes are regressive in general, if you'll all agree that our purity as a non-regressive state is, ah, not unsullied. This is because even though we rely on income tax (progressive), because we have no sales tax, we also rely on property tax (regressive) and fees (regressive). So the overall picture is regressive. There are a few factors that make this even worse in Oregon than in other states. Oregon lacks a solid base of Fortune-500 companies; since the 1980s, it also gets less of its revenue from extractive industries. As I understand it, Oregon's economy comes from some extractive industries, mainly in rural areas (including farming), from smaller business in the cities, skewed toward high tech, and tourism. Thus it is far more susceptible to recession and unemployment because it doesn't have a broad, diverse base.

Combine its lack of economic diversity with its dependence on on income tax as the single largest source of revenue, and you have a prescription for disaster--which is exactly what happened. During the past couplethree years, spending hasn't slowed down too much nationally, and I'd be surprised if it had locally, either. Had we had even a modest sales tax (say 2%) as part of the formula, we wouldn't have suffered nearly as much in this recession as we have.

Oh yes, and then there's this: the principal service-loss victims in the recent budget disaster were who? The poorest. Which means the very services they depended on to help manage on such low wages are now gone.

I'm not suggesting that we halve property tax, dump income tax, and institute an 8.5% sales tax, but I do think considering a modest sales tax along with a number of other reforms is at least worth talking about. It would protect those most needy during times of crisis like we're going through now. Jack, you encouraged: "Before you get behind a sales tax, check out what it would do to shift the tax burden to the lower classes." I have, and I don't see how we can fund the services I want funded without a modest sales tax. Particularly because without it we are so vulnerable during recessions.

(I am, however, open to any suggestions.)

posted by Jeff | 1:22 PM |

Wednesday, March 12, 2003  

You know things are changing in Salem when Republicans want to suspend the kicker and are considering a sales tax. Let me be the first to congratulate these brave souls:

Sales Tax
Rep. Max Williams (Tigard): (On the sales tax) "I'm under no illusions that it will be easy, nor am I willing to bet my own meager retirement that it will be successful. But it's a conversation that I would end the session regretting we didn't have. And I can't do that. I got to look myself in the mirror and know that we've turned over all the rocks, we've talked about all the options. And if we pretend that the elephant in the middle of the room is a coffee table, we're never going to get anywhere."

Rep. Lane Shetterly (Dallas): "And my hope is that at least a conversation about this might engender some discussion and action perhaps in the interim in anticipation of the next legislative session after this. I think it's a conversation that we need to keep having."

Provisions of the plan weren't lushly articulated in the OPB article, but they did say this:

The sales tax supported by Williams would be offset by reducing or eliminating personal income taxes for low-income Oregonians. The proposal would also eliminate capitol gains and inheritance taxes, both of which mostly affect wealthy people. The new sales tax would include exemptions for items such as food and farming supplies, and the money raised would be dedicated to schools.

First, a little background on this issue (from the Statesman-Journal):

The kicker law, enshrined by voters in the Constitution in 2000, requires rebates any time general fund revenues come in 2 percent or more above projections. The fall rebate checks are immensely popular, but Wall Street credit-rating agencies say they keep the state from getting its fiscal house in order.

In the fall of 2001, the kicker law triggered $254 million in taxpayer rebates. That sent a confusing message to taxpayers because the rebates came as a recession was battering tax collections, eventually forcing cuts in state services and schools.

Lawmakers wound up nearly depleting the entire Education Stability Fund to balance the 2001-03 budget. Now they’re staring at another huge budget shortfall for 2003-05, with no remaining reserves.

Sen. Steve Harper (Klamath Falls): “We wouldn’t have had the problems we had in 2001-03 if we had something like this. It’s a legitimate use of that, temporarily, until you have a savings account.”

Sen. Roger Beyer (Molalla): "I think if two conservative Republicans can offer something like this, it gives it instant credibility. People will look at it that we’re not out to spend more money.”

It doesn't matter if this legislation doesn't go anywhere--it's a fantastic first step. That the discussion has finally begun is all we could hope for. Now Democrats are going to have to show good faith and join the discussion.

I'm a damn idealist so it doesn't mean much, but you know, this kind of thing makes you proud to be an Oregonian again.

posted by Jeff | 4:34 PM |

Monday, March 10, 2003  

There's a great article in the Bend Bulletin about school funding, equalization, and that whole federal timber subsidies thing. If you've failed, like I have, to completely comprehend the timber issue (a nonstarter in Portland, but a major bone of contention everywhere else), let me quote for my urban brethern:

"In 2001, legislators decided that federal subsidies to forest counties under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 should be included as part of the school equalization formula.

In effect, those dollars — $32 million this year — would be shared by all of the state's 198 districts."

The article is worth a read; although there's a rural orientation, it's mostly objective reportage and I think the positions are well-represented. The interesting thing is that, like most issues, it's not the facts that are in dispute, it's the interpretation.

The article quotes Representative Ben Westlund of Tumalo, getting to the heart of the matter:

"If you assume that equity in education is a proper goal, which I think it is, then activities outside the formula threaten the underpinnings of our system."

The question Portlanders would ask is: do we assume equity is a proper goal? Or to put it a slightly different way--how does one measure equity? The debate has always assumed two things: that equity is appropriate and that it can be measured by per-pupil spending. I'll punt on the first assumption, but I think there's ample evidence to suggest that money is a terrible way to gauge equity. I don't think this is such a controversial point, either. The article describes the situation in Brothers, where the district is slated to receive $148,000--for five students (the Oregonian made a similar point, identifying the Juntura school). That works out to thirty grand each when the state average is six grand. This isn't equitable, but as Sen. Ted Ferrioli of John Day notes, there are costs like electricity and transportation that can't be avoided.

He's right.

But Portland's also right that to hold them to the same per-pupil funding as other districts is to ignore the higher cost of per-pupil spending that's required here, much as it is in Brothers and Juntura. It costs a lot more to educate students in cities, for a variety of (well-documented) reasons, including particularly the provision of city schools to provide special ed that includes things like special ed and full-time therapy for severe mental, medical or mental health disabilities that rural districts are exempted from.

As I see it, the issue is particularly thorny because rural schools were withering away before Measure 5, and now they're funded far better. Meanwhile, Portland schools have been withering away since Measure 5, and they're desperate to get some relief. Somewhere there is a middle ground where Portland helps subsidize rural districts, but does not let its own schools die in the process.

posted by Jeff | 6:31 PM |

Sunday, March 09, 2003  

So, just to keep everyone abreast of the news, the Times today had yet another article about Oregon's failures. This brings the total to 2,627 (or thereabouts).

To this grim reality come an increasing number of calls for sales tax. In principle, a solution like this seems fine. Given the inequities of taxation and benefit in Oregon, I'm convinced a targeted sales tax could help. But so might other options--tinkering with measure 5, tinkering with PERS, tinkering with SAIF, tinkering with local taxes. I'm all for a good discussion of these possibilities.

But lemme tell you, tinkering is just that: jury-rigging a broken system. The problems are systemic, and they're several. If we're going to address the long-term health of Oregon funding, we're going to have to address these problems first.

1. The initiative process.
This is a sacred cow in Oregon, and possibly it would be harder to address than sales taxes, abortion, or gun control. But that doesn't diminish the damage it causes. The problem is that initiatives stink when they're addressing complex issues. By virtue of a decade of tax-control measures, the state is trapped trying to work around these single, blunt measures that inevitably throw taxing out of balance. Worse, it saps politicians' will because they're scared to death to try to change initiative-passed law. What we end up with is five special sessions in which little is accomplished, and in the end, the real work is passed on to the public in a ballot measure.

2. Lack of a state vision.
As the legislature's dysfunction becomes ever more obvious, Oregon has to take a look at its statewide priorities. Particularly, the suspicion and hostility with which the rural and urban areas view each other has become debilitating. We can all take the blame on this one--but we're also going to have to take on the responsibility. Until the two Oregons come together, we'll be headed in opposite directions.

3. Priorities.
Well, what is it--services or tax cuts? You can't have both, but that's exactly what our legislature seems to want. The main difficulty is having the discussion. Both sides are busy using the rhetoric of lost services or tax cuts to excoriate the other rather than having a discussion about what's right for Oregon and what it should cost. Republicans, Democrats, Greens, and Libertarians should all agree that our politicians are selling us short here. We deserve a discussion.

Once we begin to address these bigger issues, the tinkering will come a lot easier.

posted by Jeff | 9:58 PM |

New blogger: Rob Salzman. Right, Salzman, no relation to Dan Saltzman of the City Council. Seems cool; go say hi.

posted by Jeff | 8:59 PM |

Friday, March 07, 2003  

A Taxing Issue

In a nutshell, this is the situation: Oregon’s broke (financially, but yes, that was an intentional double entendre, thanks for noticing). We can either cut services or raise taxes.

The problem is, while the Portland metro area wants to restore services and raise taxes, the rest of the state wants their services back, but they don’t have the stomach to raise taxes. Case in point: the senate debate over tinkering with Measure 5. The proposal is to raise the tax on assessed property value from $5 to $7 per $1000 of assessed value. That extra money would go to local coffers, who could spend it as they see fit. But rural districts don’t want to do this, because they say this would imbalance the education equality—in which money is spread out equally across the state.

On the surface, this sounds reasonable. Senator Tony Corcoran (D-Cottage Grove) argued, “I can’t for the life of me see how this benefits any but the wealthiest districts in the state.“ But when the issue of raising taxes statewide for schools is raised, rural Republicans put the kibosh on it: “Statewide revenue increases aren’t in the cards,“ (Sen. Frank Morse, R-Albany).

And we’ve already learned that if Portland tries to raise its own taxes, the rest of the state is going to try to seize some of the money for its own schools.

The upshot of which is: Portland can’t raise local taxes, the state can’t raise property taxes to benefit local communities, and the state won’t raise taxes to benefit the entire state. And so the Portland Public Schools are being held hostage by rural legislators for whom the only option bribery: give us some of your money or else.

The only way I can see to read this is that the rest of the state hasn’t yet digested the facts of the situation. So let me repeat: we can either cut services or raise taxes.

posted by Jeff | 9:56 AM |

Thursday, March 06, 2003  

I've falling down on the blogging. Won't improve today: my apologies.

Damn life, interrupting the leisure to blog...

posted by Jeff | 3:08 PM |

Wednesday, March 05, 2003  

Beer in the News

Never mind Ash Wednesday, it's Beer Wednesday! Besides, who knows what Ash Wednesday is, anyway?

PETA is known for wacky PR ideas, but this one's pretty good: they're urging Wisconsin to switch their state beer from milk to beer. The only thing that's wacky about this idea is that they aren't lobbying Oregon, where beer truly is king (with apologies to Tillamook County).

Beer news? Well, it IS the Oregon Blog.

posted by Jeff | 1:18 PM |

Tuesday, March 04, 2003  

Three cheers for teachers--and a thousand boos for those who have lately vilified them. Yesterday the Portland Public School teachers voted to approve a two-year contract that costs them money. They gave up ten free days and a 5% pay cut and got--well, they got to keep their benefits, which in modern America counts as a labor victory.

I assume they'll be praised for this, and they should. What they did is a model for all Oregonians: they made a personal sacrifice in tough time for the public good. It's a shame that they had to take a hit like this to appear noble, but that's the way it is when you decide to teach. The only way to get good press is to give even more.

These are professionals who have one of the most important jobs in our society. On the plus side, they usually score pretty high on those most-respected-professions polls. On the down side, we generally only hear about them when we feel displeased.

Seriously--what gets them in the news? Accusations of incompetency, overcompensation, strikes. We may hear a story about a single good teacher, but when they're written about as a whole, it's negative. Well, kudos to you. Once again, you've shown us why you are worthy of our admiration. You've reminded us that Oregon is a giving state, a state that cares about its citizens and its future. You've given the example of someone willing to act out of something other than personal greed.

To the lumps in Salem I ask: did you notice that?

[Update: No sooner writ than delivered: today's Oregonian editorial praises teachers--but only insorfar as it provides an opportunity for finger-wagging preaching (for some reason it's not online to link): "But teachers should not forget the looming burden on Portland taxpayers. The contract may have been ratified by teachers, but the whole funding package still rests on voters. Whatever individual teachers can do to strengthen these fragile relationships, support good principals and engender public trust will do wonders for their profession--and for the long-term quality of Portland Public Schools." See, already you need to do more so that the Big O can be convinced you've 'done wonders for your profession.' Ah, fuggedabout it, you'll always be their whipping boys (and girls): strike next time instead.]

posted by Jeff | 7:45 PM |

Monday, March 03, 2003  

I love the crinkle of newsprint. I like to engage in the quick-scan, which is only possible in hard copy. I'm an eat-and-read-er. And yet, there's something really wonderful about the gestalt of internet headlines all lined up for you. For the media critic and poet alike, irresistable. One of the best on today's Statesman-Journal state news page:

New budget Band-Aid to be debated. Some Republicans are upset about plans to restore services.

State’s economic woes drain community colleges

College maintenance slips through the cracks

Campus outreach classes trimmed

Prisons cut funds for inmate classes

‘Survivability’ determines who gets health assistance

When the news comments on itself, what more can a poor blogger say?

posted by Jeff | 3:42 PM |