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

Sunday, June 29, 2003  

This is a weird story. The LA Times thinks Oregon's in the toilet (which is true enough, though the writer's a bit too gleeful for my taste). What's weird is this--they think Kulongoski is the visionary who's gonna lead us out of the mess. Am I missing something?

Kulongoski appears to believe. He comes across as a man convinced of the possibility of unlikely resurrections, like the grandson of a Polish immigrant rising out of a steel mill to become governor. He doesn't want to talk about unknowns. He wants to talk about what can be done.

"You need someone with the political will. You need a plan. You need a process. You need a public that believes a change is necessary, that we have to do things differently. This is the most difficult piece. It will take time, but we're on our way."

posted by Jeff | 9:26 PM |

Friday, June 27, 2003  

Not everyone agreed with the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Texas sodomy laws.

Albany Democrat Herald:

"It's hard to have much respect for the Constitution when the Supreme Court can easily bend it depending on what is popular now....

"The laws were constitutional from 1789 until now. Seventeen years ago, even the Supreme Court affirmed one of them.

"So what has changed? The Constitution has stayed the same, but popular culture has changed.

"One would think that in a democracy, there's an easy way to keep abreast of cultural changes. If the voters demand it, laws can be changed. It is easy to do so. A willing legislature can do it in about a week. No lawyers are required, except to draft the bill."

posted by Jeff | 9:51 AM |

Thursday, June 26, 2003  

Still working my way through this Governing Magazine report on state taxes, but here are a few interesting solutions.

Minnesota: Rooting out tax cheats

In the income tax arena, many states rely almost exclusively on the Internal Revenue Service, matching federal returns with state returns to seek out discrepancies and following up on IRS audits. Minnesota was one of those that used to do that, but in the mid-1990s, in the words of state tax director Jerry McClure, “the IRS presence just fell off the table.”

So Minnesota decided to develop a strong compliance system of its own. It did that so well that it now stands out from the pack. Under the old system, the state used to catch about 4,000 scofflaws every year. Now, citizens who treat tax fraud as a minor offense comparable to jaywalking are given a rude awakening. In 2000, the first year of the new compliance program, the Department of Revenue uncovered about 20,000 individuals who owed a total of $73 million. Since then, another 24,000 cases have been placed under investigation.

North Dakota: State-owned banking

North Dakota also stands out from the pack in that it has a couple of unusual — even slightly socialistic — revenue sources. As a vestige of the Progressive era early in the 20th century, the state owns a bank and a flour mill. Both do very well. Every year, some of the profits are transferred into the general fund, and in less prosperous times the state can reach in and take an extra large share. For the current biennium, the state is taking $82 million from the bank, rather than its allotted $60 million.

New Mexico: Taxing services

Take a look at New Mexico. It has more working poor than any other state, and its overall poverty rate is among the highest in the country. Yet its diverse tax structure serves it remarkably well.

New Mexico is a giant step ahead of most other states in revenue adequacy because it taxes a broad range of services as well as goods. “Manufactured goods are progressively a smaller part of the pie,” says Jim O’Neill, the state’s former director of tax policy. “Unless you tax services, your tax base is going to be shrinking.”

Among the services taxed are those of doctors and dentists, lawyers, engineers and accountants, plus a variety of other activities that are given a free pass in most states. The majority of labor services and repairs are taxed in New Mexico, as are construction contracts and just about all personal services, such as barbershops, laundries and health clubs.

posted by Jeff | 11:36 AM |

Tuesday, June 24, 2003  

So, here in Puddletown there's a tempest brewing over the old Memorial Coliseum. This is the building that Walton built, where the good, old Blazers used to play. It sits right next to the Rose Garden, where the bad, new Blazers play, and costs the city a wad of cash every year.

The city's taken proposals on what should become of the Coliseum, and it's come down to two choices, making it either: the Memorial Athletic and Recreation Complex (MARC), which will house "a three-floor, 350,000-square-foot amateur sports and recreation center inside the coliseum; or ... a Home Depot. Seriously. The reason this is an issue is because in the short term MARC will cost the city money, and Home Depotizing it will make them money. More on the proposals:


"The MARC would replace the coliseum's bowl seating and ice rink with three floors of competition and workout space, creating what supporters say would be North America's largest one-building athletic center. The mix includes a pro-size hockey rink, three pools, including the "world's fastest pool" designed to draw major swim meets, weight rooms, exercise rooms, children's party rooms, basketball and volleyball courts and a climbing gym. And that's just on the first two floors. The top-floor field house would include more courts, two artificial turf soccer and lacrosse fields, a jogging track suspended from the ceiling and retractable bleachers for competitions.

"The projected charge for customers: $475 a year for an adult or $825 a year for families, higher than public community centers but lower than most private gym rates, city consultants say. The projected building cost: $80 million to $104 million."

Home Depot

"By contrast, Isaac notes, the Blazers' big-box retail plan requires no public money and promises about $2.5 million a year in rent and property taxes for Portland. If the city rejects public reuse, Oregon Arena gets first crack at private redevelopment. Oregon Arena and Gerding/Edlen development would convert the coliseum into two retail stores with 950 parking spaces sandwiched in between. The former Thunderbird Inn, now owned by Allen, would become 400,000 square feet of offices along the Willamette River. The potential tenants are Costco, Home Depot, Target and Lowe's. Edlen describes the project as "pragmatic." But the project promises significant jobs, Edlen said: 530 retail jobs and 2,000 more in the nearby offices. It could stimulate development from the river east to Lloyd Center. And it would save Portland residents longer drives to the suburbs to shop."

Now, the really shocking news: the Coliseum will almost certainly become a Home Depot. So much so that backers for the MARC plan are having a hard time finding financial supporters (like Nike, Columbia Sportswear, and Adidas, who would be ideal for such a project), who say "It's difficult to spend a lot of time on something when you have this feeling that it's already been decided."

My standing as the most important independent Oregon voice carries a lot of weight, and I try to wield it rarely, but let me offer some advice. Stray the Home Depot scheme. No city ever improved itself by building a big box, even downtown. Cities flourish when they show a little flair and class. Plopping a Home Depot inside the city core hardly qualifies.

Let's look at the plusses and minuses. For the Home Depot, the biggest--and really the only--advantages are that it's a sure money generator and it creates jobs. Well, maybe. It's true $2.5 million's better than a poke in the butt with a broken beer bottle, but it's no golden goose. Most of the revenue will go to the multinationals, and the spare change will flow our way. And those jobs? No one's dying to work for Target, I'm here to tell you.

Now, how about the MARC? It's risky. The whole thing could tank. Despite the fact that it's at the nexus of all public transportation, the Rose Quarter is still a vacant no-man's-land. The Rose Garden didn't revitalize the area, so the MARC might fail as well. Fair enough--point taken. But the upside is enormous. Whereas the Home Depot will just bring people in their trucks who will buy lumber and leave, the MARC has the potential to be a hub. People might well work out before work, at lunch, and after work. They might play a game of hoops and then walk over and get a bite to eat or a beer. The clientele is the kind of base on which you can build other retail, unlike the clientele for Home Depot.

And intangibles are really off the charts. We're already a mecca for the off-beat sports--soccer and track--and this would enhance our standing there. If it is successful, Portland could become synonymous with urban athleticism and health. In any case, it's a bold move that could become a Portland signature. It moves some of the focus across the river, and has the potential to knit the Rose Quarter to the Conference Center (think Chicagoans are gonna leave the conference to walk over and shop for a new belt sander?). In short, it would be one of those civic moves Portland's famous for.

Converting it into a Home Depot is something LA would do. I like to think we have a bit more vision than that.

posted by Jeff | 5:55 PM |

Monday, June 23, 2003  

I discovered a nice report on state funding at Governing Magazine's website. (Hide the kids, this is one sexy mag: "Governing is a monthly magazine whose primary audience is state and local government officials: governors, legislators, mayors, city managers, council members and other elected, appointed and career officials.") It's a state-by-state report taxation: revenue adequacy, fairness to taxpayers, and system management.

Oregon's report will be familiar to Oregonians. It describes our situation pretty well (which I've edited for brevity, and highlighted for emphasis):

By the end of the 1990s, Oregon was one of only five states without a rainy day fund, and despite the urging of budget analysts, legislators were loath to leave more than a skimpy balance in the general fund at year’s end. In fact, most years they couldn’t set aside money, even if they wanted to. According to state law, if revenues come in more than 2 percent over estimates, all excess money is returned to citizens in the following biennium. As recently as the fall of 2001, after September 11 and with the economy tanking, Oregon officials were required to send $253.6 million in revenue back to the citizens.

One reason the state’s treasury thrived was the income tax.... But the income tax coin has another side. Oregon’s tech-dependent economy was hit harder than most in 2001, and its current unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation. Amid the high-tech bust, residents dropped to lower tax brackets and capital gains disappeared. The state faced a 17.4 percent decline in tax collections in 2002. Confronting an $830 million hole in its two-year budget, the legislature endured five special sessions last year, each of them even more acrimonious than the one preceding it. By December, the projected gap between revenues and spending for the upcoming biennium had grown to $1.8 billion.

All that acrimony obscured another finding by Governing.

Whatever one may think of Oregon’s tax system, the state does a good job of managing it. Customer service efforts are good and analysis is top notch. The state’s tax expenditure report, which keeps track of the cost of tax incentives for business, is one of the best in the nation.

It bears mentioning, if for no other reason than to refute the Don McIntire (and friends) assault for the past ten years on public governance. It's such a common view that we had a big debate about it earlier this month (on this blog). Describing state government as profligate is the easiest way to cut funds--and an effective one statewide for more than a decade.

I'll dig around the report and see if there's any tips for Oregon in the way other states raise revenue. In the meantime, here are some scattershot observations from the main report.

State Tax Situation
Truth is, many states’ current maladies are rooted in long-diseased tax systems. And although some state leaders are still living in denial, today’s problems were nothing if not predictable. In July 1999, while money was rolling into state coffers, the late Hal Hovey, one of the most perspicacious observers of state finances, wrote, “While spending for current services will grow at about the same pace as personal income, state and local revenues from existing taxes will not do so.” The result, he noted, would be a shortfall in state and local budgets “that is almost entirely attributable to the characteristics of state and local tax systems.”

On Balanced Tax Structures
A balance between the four sources of revenue is ideal. Income taxes tend to move more dramatically than the economy. Property taxes are much slower to oscillate. Sales taxes tend to fall somewhere in between. “A diversified revenue structure is important,” says Don Boyd, director of the fiscal studies program at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. It brings some stability and a shot at a more constant revenue stream.

Blundering in the Boom
Overall, net state tax reductions amounted to $35.7 billion between 1995 and 2001, but state tax receipts still grew at an annualized rate of 6.4 percent.... Nonetheless, the political pressures to cut income taxes and make political capital out of the windfalls are intense when there’s a lot of money flooding the coffers. According to one prominent budget official, budget directors were telling their governors throughout the boom years that the good times wouldn’t last, that the windfall had to be used for one-time spending.

Corporate Income Tax
Corporations still contribute significantly to state and local revenues through property taxes and sales taxes. But, according to a report by Nicholas Jenny of the Rockefeller Institute, their contribution through corporate income taxes has wasted away: In the early and mid-1990s, corporate income taxes contributed about 8 percent of total tax revenue to the states; recently, they stood at less than 4 percent. And that may be the good news. Most tax experts think the corporate income tax will continue to fall as a percentage of total tax revenue.

Today, Oregon raises more money from its lottery than its corporate income tax. In Nebraska, the corporate tax has become so minimal that legislators have jokingly speculated that the only reason to keep it on the books is so they’ll have a tax to give back when they want to attract new companies to the state.

Michigan's Activity Tax (?)
Even the most elegant and fair tax idea won’t wash if no one else is doing it. Consider the Single Business Tax in Michigan. The state was a national leader when it established it in the 1970s. At the time, this modified value-added tax was heralded by many academics and public finance scholars as good tax policy. But because the tax is so different from anything levied by other states, it complicated life for interstate businesses. An effort to keep businesses happy resulted in a proliferation of credits, thus hurting the revenue-raising benefits of the effort and compromising fairness. The tax is now being phased out.

(I believe that last quote refers to the tax Michigan had and which Senator Schrader is proposing in Oregon. I'll have to make Michigan my first stop in looking at how other states tax.)

posted by Jeff | 8:57 AM |

Friday, June 20, 2003  

[Sorry to get to this so late. I still have not much time, so it's liable to be incoherent as well as late. Enjoy!]

So yesterday the Governor spoke in Missoula about forests. He joined other governors and Interior Secretary Gale Norton, and they talked about--among other things--the President's "Healthy Forests Initiative." As usual, Ted K-- seemed befuddled.

He listened to Norton fortell of the beauty and health of the forests, discuss fututistic techonology, and opine "And the future of technology will allay many of the concerns about the methods for achieving forest health." When it was his turn to speak, Ted K-- refused to go on the offensive. In yet another attack from the administration--this one direct, aimed at actual Oregon terra firma--Ted K--seemed not to understand that his state was on trial.

Let me help, Governor. You are under the misapprehension that what you're witnessing is an exchange about public policy. It's not. You're being confronted with people who have a purely anti-government agenda. Like religious zealots, they're not interested in discussing public policy because they already know what they think about public policy--they want it abolished. All of it: programs, regulation, government (well, all right, a little for the military and Halliburton). So it's a bit much to expect the question of "healthy forests" to be taken seriously. In fact, Republicans haven't even considered it. They've devised a law that will deregulate another industry, then consulted Orwell for a title.

Porr Ted K-- doesn't realize it. Nor does he realize that conservatives have hijacked the state legislature with an identical purpose. The agenda is to disembowel government in some great, noble act of hara kiri, so approaching these people in a spirit of compromise is much like helping to select a dagger. But of course, conservatives have no interest in compormise. (Recall the assualt on Dr. No.) The only hope he has is the same hope all Dems have: quit engaging the discussion. Instead, lead with a progressive agenda that does serve the interest of the state. And get out of the habit of compromise, Governor. Republicans are playing smash-mouth politics and you're playing ping pong. Put down the paddle, strap on the brass knuckles, and get out there and lead.

posted by Jeff | 5:25 PM |

Thoughts in a few hours on Governor K-- 's recent speech about forest management. No time at the moment.

posted by Jeff | 10:32 AM |

Wednesday, June 18, 2003  

So I suppose I should comment on the Michael Mooney scandal. After all, it is my alma mater we're talking about (class of '90). For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, here's a thumbnail sketch: Two years ago, Lewis and Clark College President got a hot tip about a start-up company in Nampa, Idaho that was trying to figure out how to recycle used motor oil. He dipped into the college coffers without telling the board (or anyone else, apparently), and loaned the company $10.5 mil. The company went broke, and Mooney's out on his ear (he resigned Monday).

Three board members resigned, and there's speculation that it could send the college into a fundraising tailspin. The Willamette Week broke the story and this letter to the editor seems typical of some of the reaction:

While I will remain thankful for my time at Lewis and Clark and my education from the college, I will be seriously considering dropping my financial support of the school given the recently revealed financial shenanigans involving Michael Mooney.

Here's my take. This isn't a case of the college's financial mismanagement. Mooney clearly broke the school's policy when he made the loan, and now he's out of a job. Whenever you have financial mismanagement, you look to see if the checks were in place to reasonably protect the institution, and if so, you chalk it up as one of those things. The bonehead who wrote that letter to the editor has some kind of personal beef with Mooney, and he's slagging LC by association (in his letter, he yammered on about Mooney as the "omnipotent sovereign leader"). That's his perogative, but others shouldn't rush to the same conclusion.

Over Mooney's tenure, the college has made serious strides to attract good scholars and students. I doubt seriously that I could get accepted there now--and it was my safety school in '86. The board of trustees has made a serious effort to improve the school, and alumni and the city can be proud of what it's become. It sucks that Mooney's fine tenure was marred by this strangely naive blunder, but the shame is his, not the school's. Based on all the reports I've read, they've handled this perfectly responsibly.

posted by Jeff | 1:13 PM |

What is wrong with the guv? For the first time in decades, the Oregon legislature's sitting down and considering serious change to the state's tax code. This, as has been obvious to everyone in the state for at least a full year, is a critical process. Kulongoski's response?

"I believe so strongly that's not the way we'll solve [the budget crisis]."

Kulongoski appears to confuse fiscal responsibility with paralysis. I don't know if this is some kind of horrible misreading of the public's interests, or an effort to avoid the "governor who raised taxes" label when he runs for re-election. Either way, it's stifling the legislature who are finally--finally!--awaking from hibernation. The Governor has gone so far as to threaten to veto any tax changes--even before he's heard what they are.

"Disappointment" isn't an adequate discription of his tenure thus far.

posted by Jeff | 12:58 PM |

Tuesday, June 17, 2003  

All right, I've made the call: Dennis Kucinich.

He doesn't have snowball's chance in hell (at least not the way it looks now), he has no money and no real support outside Ohio, he has an unpronouncable last name that, unfortunately, none of the media are trying to pronounce, anyway. But if you want to make a change in America, forget Dean. Kucinich is the one who really speaks to progressive issues. Here are some highlights from his ten most important issues:

Universal Health Care with a Single Payer Plan

Withdrawal from NAFTA and WTO

Repeal of the "Patriot Act"

Balance Between Workers and Corporations
(Explanation: "What’s needed is a resurgence of organized labor, and a Kucinich administration will tenaciously defend the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Since the purchasing power of the minimum wage has dropped 21% in two decades, it’s time for living wages, not minimum wages. And it’s time to reverse tax cuts that benefit the already well-to-do, and retain an estate tax. Investing $500 billion to rebuild schools, roads, bridges, ports, and sewage, water and environmental systems will do more to stimulate our economy than tax breaks for the wealthy.")

A Renewed Commitment to Peace and Diplomacy

Restored Rural Communities and Family Farms

Environmental Renewal and Clean Energy

He's a wonk's wonk, with 29 issues listed on his candidate webpage, including these titles: "Drug war," "Genetically engineered food," "Anti-ballistic missle treaty," and "Department of Peace." Department of Peace? Come on!

Time to start organizing for Kucinich. He ain't gonna win if we don't do it, and even if he doesn't win, I want him on national TV talking about his proposal for the Department of Peace. All you people who wished for a truly progressive candidate when you voted for Nader, let me tell you--this is him. And he's not a Green, which means he actually has a shot. Come on now, Kucinich in '04!

"As we stand on the threshold of a new millennium, it is time to free ourselves, to jettison our illusions and fears and transform age-old challenges with new thinking. We can conceive of peace as not simply the absence of violence but the active presence of the capacity for a higher evolution of human awareness, of respect, trust, and integrity. Of peace, wherein we all may tap the infinite capabilities of humanity to transform consciousness and conditions that impel or compel violence at a personal, group, or national level toward creating understanding, compassion, and love. We can bring forth new understandings where peace, not war, becomes inevitable. Can we move from wars to end all wars to peace to end all war?

--Dennis Kucinich on the Department of Peace

posted by Jeff | 9:31 AM |

Monday, June 16, 2003  

In case you were wondering, this is a good proposal:

Senate Bill 886 would set up a pilot project to determine whether caseworkers can better tap into religious or community groups that state aid recipients are affiliated with -- without overstepping the constitutional separation of church and state or a client's privacy. The groups would be asked to supplement, not replace, state services. . . .

Sen. Frank Shields, D-Portland, the chief sponsor, said the bill is a way to more formally enlist groups to provide services such as mentoring, transportation or employment networking that could help people move off state aid by getting a job, for example, or staying off drugs.

I'm leery about fiddling with the church-state balance--and with Bush's faith-based initiative, I'm really leery. But this law has different goals and strikes me as good child welfare policy. It only brings churches in when they are already part of the family's (the client's) pre-existing community. For people struggling to take care of their kids, churches can be one of the most positive supports.

Furthermore, there are a few safeguards in place:

But SB886 would allow caseworkers to ask state aid recipients if they are affiliated with any community or religious groups, such as a church, mosque or synagogue. Caseworkers could ask whether clients are interested in seeking help from the group and want the state's help to make contact.

But caseworkers could not tell the group that a client is receiving state aid without clear permission from the client. The client could refuse any connection with a group and could not be pressured to seek its help.

The American Civil Liberties Union won several amendments to the bill to ensure that people could not be coerced into interacting with a faith-based or other group and could sever a relationship with the group without losing state aid, said Andrea Meyer, ACLU lobbyist.

I have some connection to the state's child welfare agency (which everyone still calls CSD--though that was two names ago), and this is a great law. Particularly with dwindling resources both on the supply and demand side (the state budget crisis had hurt private nonprofits who depend on government contracts), this is a welcome addition to the menu of services caseworkers can offer. That benefits the kids, and that's what we want to see.

posted by Jeff | 8:59 AM |

Saturday, June 14, 2003  

Why Bush Won't Win Oregon

News today that Bush plans to barnstorm our fair state in '04.

"Smith and other Republican leaders say White House officials -- particularly Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove -- are anxious to break the Democratic dominance on the West Coast. They believe their best target is in the Northwest, particularly in Oregon where Bush lost in 2000 by fewer than 6,800 votes. Democrat Al Gore defeated Bush by 5 percentage points in Washington."

Well, I have a little news for the Prez: ain't gonna happen. He may have lost Oregon by just a hair in the double aught debacle, but that was a long, long time ago. As is usual with the President, he only dimly understands the consequences of his actions. Let's review:

- He got out of the gates by backing Ashcroft's attempt to overturn Oregon's Death with Dignity law.

- Ashcroft had further troubles here when he tried to get ahold of library records.

- After 9/11, Bush and Ashcroft again ran against the state when they tried to crack down on immigrants and Portland said, "Nuh uh."

- Bush waged a wildly-unpopular war.

- Bush tax cuts have very visibly damaged our listing economy, and insult to injury, he refuses to fund his own "no child left behind" legislation, even while Oregon schools make national headlines for their poverty.

Did I miss anything?

Bush may be able to fool a lot of the people a lot of the time, but very few of them live in Oregon. Go find your suckers somewhere else, pal.

posted by Jeff | 10:01 AM |

Wednesday, June 11, 2003  

I'm way too busy to be blogging this week. Nevertheless. . . .

Today Kurt Schrader's "activity tax" bill (or "business tax," or "consumption tax") got its first hearing in the legislature. This thing is far too technical for me to understand. Even the straightforward part--wherein a tax is imposed on activities like payroll, rent, and interest--isn't clear. What's getting taxed? How? It's not clear to me. Then, add to that Schrader's other plans: eliminating corporate income tax, cutting capital gains tax in half, and reducing personal income tax by 10-20%. That's a lot of balls in the air. I'm guessing even qualified economists are having a hard time running those numbers.

Still, I'm not against the discussion. (It's hard to be against the legislation when you haven't the vaguest clue what it would do.) Nor am I against the discussion of a sales tax. Today Jack Bogdanski points out that sales taxes are regressive (and the rap against Schrader's activity tax is that it's even more so). They are, no getting around it. And history tells us that once introduced, they're with us for the long haul. Both good reasons to eschew such a tax.

But let's put those absolutes aside and consider this: the principal beneficiaries of the revenue Oregon is trying to replace are the poor(er). Under the current system, the poorest Oregonians already pay the highest tax, and generally, tax burdens are flat across all economic groups. I'm not yet convinced that a targeted sales tax, along with adjustments to income taxes and tax credits, wouldn't reduce the amount the poorest Oregonians pay. Furthermore, stable funding of services that benefit the most vulnerable--health, supportive services, education--will give them far better long-term benefit.

On the other hand, I'm no economist (I just play one on blogspot).

posted by Jeff | 4:28 PM |

Monday, June 09, 2003  

Portlanders, sign the form!

Hey all, on that Bill of Rights Defense Committee--if you're in Portland, you should sign the form. I think this isn't well-publicized enough, because only 3,249 folks have signed the form, and I know there are a lot more who agree with it.

It's easy: read the text here to affirm that it's a good proposal. Now go here to sign the thing online. If you're more comfortable signing it in hard copy, go to the .pdf version here, print, sign and mail.

Finally, the City Council resolves that this Resolution shall be severable if any phrase, clause, sentence or provision of this Resolution is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction to be contrary to the Constitution of the United States of America or the State of Oregon. If the applicability thereof to any agency, person or circumstances is held invalid, the validity of the remainder of this Resolution and applicability thereof to any other agency, person or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.

Therefore, in recognition that the City of Portland, Oregon, houses a diverse population, including non-citizens whose contributions to the community are vital to its character and function; and that several law enforcement officials, including previous heads of the FBI, have decried the USA PATRIOT Act and these Executive Orders as unnecessary to the prosecution of, and protection from, terrorism; the City Council of Portland passes this resolution as a manifestation and covenant of and for the citizens of Portland's wish, desire and need to defend their constitutionally-protected rights to liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness from unnecessary and unconstitutional governmental intrusion and oppression.

posted by Jeff | 5:32 PM |

Clatsop County Stands up to Ashcroft

Things are getting pretty bad when an editorial in the Daily Astorian sounds like a lefty blogger's rant:

Last week, the Justice Department’s own inspector general issued a harshly critical report on policies that consigned 762 innocent men to months in prison in the year following the Sept. 11 attacks. Many subsequently have been deported for visa irregularities, but none was charged with a crime.

During their months behind bars, most were denied access to legal counsel for long periods, weren’t informed of what charges they might face, and were subjected to a variety of physical, mental and emotional abuse by their captors. Federal authorities did little to distinguish between real terrorist suspects and hapless immigrants swept up in the panicky post-9/11 manhunt. . . .

Ashcroft, defiantly lobbying Congress June 5 for even more power to do things like detain suspects without bond for indefinite periods before trial, said in response to his inspector general’s report that no apologies are owed anyone for the excesses of the past two years.

That figures, coming from a political hack who believes he has a direct pipeline to God. Ashcroft’s moral certainty is of precisely the same type that once burned witches and heretics. The people of Missouri knew what they were doing when they turned him out of the U.S. Senate in 2000.

The paper isn't the only institution in the county that doesn't dance to Ashcroft's goose step shuffle.

The Clatsop County Bill of Rights Defense Committee is gathering signatures on a petition in an effort to convince the Astoria City Council to pass a resolution concerning the Patriot Act. Among other things, it would urge Oregon’s congressional delegation to strive to repeal any laws which limit or violate fundamental constitutional rights.

(If you're in Portland, you know about the chapter there, right?

posted by Jeff | 5:23 PM |

Nice editorial from Albany about the hometown legislator's plan to kick the kicker:

Frank Morse, the mid-valley's state senator from Albany, is doing Oregon a service by pushing for reforms in the 2 percent kicker law. The Legislature should take his advice and give the people a chance to fix this unfortunate mistake. . . .

Morse, along with others in the Legislature, has come up with a reasonable answer, now embodied in Senate Joint Resolution 2-2. It is to collect any revenue in excess of 1 percent more than the forecast and put it in a reserve fund. Once the reserve fund reaches 10 percent of the general fund, any further unexpected revenue would then again be returned to taxpayers. The reserve fund could be released only with the consent of two-thirds of the House and Senate.

Morse commissioned a polling firm to gauge public opinion on this subject. The firm asked 500 people what they thought over two days in May. Sixty-two percent favored the idea of a general fund operating reserve. Seventy-one percent favored putting surplus taxes into a rainy-day fund. And 62 percent favored the kind of rainy-day fund that Morse and the others are proposing.

I hadn't heard that a poll had been done, so this is additionally good news. Apparently the people are more fiscally-responsible than their legislators. Let's see what happens when Don and Bill start up the anti-tax machines to defeat the measure, though. I expect support will diminish. But how far--isn't that always the question?

posted by Jeff | 5:08 PM |

Saturday, June 07, 2003  

You recall the assorted horrors hidden within the Bush tax cut this year; well, Oregon's planning to strike back. The provision is the one that allows self-employed folks to deduct the cost of their 6,000-pound SUVs. Originally intended to help small businesses who use the trucks in their work, Bush expanded it so that anyone who's self-employed can use the deduction. As a secondary effect, it would cause the states to lose money (as does much of the Bush tax cut). But Oregon's not taking it:

"The [Oregon] SUV bill would not apply to the farmers, loggers, and construction workers for whom the tax break was originally meant. But all other self employed SUV buyers would get a state tax increase to offset the federal tax cut. (Emphasis added.)

What's more, it will actually become law. As the legislature is looking to come up with that billion smackers, they've started cutting deals. Rural Republicans, sensing an opportunity, agreed to support the SUV law if Dems supported one of theirs--a restructuring in the way wood lots are taxed. (I believe this is that law Ted Ferrioli referenced when he threatened to try to seize Multnomah County's new school taxes.) So now everyone's happy.

Take that, Mr. President.

posted by Jeff | 10:26 AM |

Friday, June 06, 2003  

Appropos of our discussion, I have to quote from Hendrik Hertzberg in this week's New Yorker:

"It’s tempting to suggest that the Bush Administration is failing to provide Iraq with functioning, efficient, reliable public services because it doesn’t believe in functioning, efficient, reliable public services—doesn’t believe that they should exist, and doesn’t really believe that they can exist. The reigning ideologues in Washington—not only in the White House but also in the Republican congressional leadership, in the faction that dominates the Supreme Court, and in the conservative press and think tanks—believe in free markets, individual initiative, and private schools and private charity as substitutes for public provision. They believe that the armed individual citizen is the ultimate guarantor of public safety. They do not, at bottom, believe that society, through the mechanisms of democratic government, has a moral obligation to provide care for the sick, food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and education for all; and to the extent that they tolerate such activities they do so grudgingly, out of political necessity. They believe that the private sector is sovereign, and that taxes are a species of theft. To paraphrase Proudhon, les impôts, c’est le vol.

"In a way, Iraq has become a theme park of conservative policy nostrums. There are no burdensome government regulations. Health and safety inspectors and environmental busybodies are nowhere to be seen. The Ministry of Finance, Iraq’s equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service, is a scorched ruin. Museums and other cultural institutions, having been largely emptied of their contents, no longer have much use for public subsidies. Gun control is being kept within reasonable limits. (Although the occupying authorities are trying to discourage possession of heavy munitions, AK-47s and other assault weapons—guns of the type whose manufacture Tom DeLay and most of the House Republicans plan to re-legalize back home—have been given a pass.) And, in the absence of welfare programs and other free-lunch giveaways, faith-based initiatives are flourishing. The faith in question may be Iranian-style militant Shiism, but at least it’s fundamentalist."

posted by Jeff | 8:41 PM |

Thursday, June 05, 2003  

Now, to that question Rhett asked: "Is a tax increase that spectacular of a victory?" I like it because it questions the theory and implementation of providing taxpayer-funded services. As Oregon bumps along, trying to figure out what it's priorities and responsibilities are, it's a question long overdue.

As a society, we have a finite amount of wealth and energy, and a finite number of individual and community needs. Addressing the questions of taxes and services means deciding how we use the resources we have to pay for the services we need. I know economists and sociologists have probably done a lot of research on this issue, so I'll try to keep the discussion as brief as possible.

The Value of Services
In a nutshell, the liberal view about providing services is this: society is confronted with a number of challenges (or needs), and the most efficient, cheapest, and compassionate means of addressing them is through taxpayer-supported services. (The neo-conservatives [who have dominated the conservative view since '94] believe these needs are best met by getting government out of the way and letting people use their own money to arrange for the services they want.) The liberal solution has two basic assumptions:

1. One way or another, the needs of the community will be accounted and paid for. (For example, if schools are well-funded, social problems like drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and crime will be low, and social benefits like a good economy will result. If schools are badly funded, then expenses will rise in addressing the social problems, and the resources will be fewer--which is like a cost.)

2. As a liberal democracy we are ethically (or morally) obligated to take care of all our citizens, even the ones with profound needs.

(For an arcane statistical explanation of why the liberals' approach to meeting the needs is superior, see the addendum below.)

The Progressive Tax
Because they believe that taking care of society's needs is a community responsibility, Liberals argue that the burden should fall on citizens proportionally. That's why they believe in progressive taxation: because the rich have more, in order to give to society proportionally (and here I mean in terms of sacrifice), they must give a larger percent of their wealth. This isn't a penalty, it's a recognition that in order to live, one needs a certain amount of money, and even after giving a higher percent of their income, the wealthy still have ample on which to live.

It's not a winner-take-all philosophy, which is the central argument of the neo-cons. It is, however, a model that serves people better--both individually (because everyone is pulling a similar weight) and societally (because benefits acrue to all, not just the poor). It's why I thought Kulongoski's promise never to raise taxes was short-sighted and miserly, and it's why I think the current plan to spend one to two billion more is a huge victory.

Reasonable people need to discuss how much taxation and how many services are the right amount. Obviously, with over-taxation the benefits begin to diminish and the negatives start to increase. I think there's almost no reasonable people in Oregon, though, who think that the current level of funding is appropriate.

When the neo-cons say the market is the best solution to meeting society's needs, they're being disingenuous. Here's why. Imagine in your mind a bell curve measuring the needs of society (needs ascend along the bottom, number of people along the left-hand side). The market can make money offering solutions for most of these needs. But at a certain point, there's a line on the right side of the bell curve after which the solution will actually cost businesses money. This is why pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of money developing a cure for impotence--which affects tens of millions--and nothing on obscure, costly diseases. The liberal approach looks at the whole bell curve, and figures out solutions for even those way out on the right-hand side.

posted by Jeff | 11:24 AM |

Wednesday, June 04, 2003  

I had intended to comment on Rhett's initial question: "Is a tax increase that spectacular of a victory?" (which I think was rhetorical), but I ran out of time. Now I'm off to an evening meeting, so I'll try to get to it tomorrow. Thanks for the great discussion, folks.

(Teaser: the answer to Rhett's question is yes.)

posted by Jeff | 6:09 PM |

Tuesday, June 03, 2003  

On Sunday's thread, B!x pointed out a cool site Kos hosts. It's a clearinghouse for state news, posted by bloggers from around the country. Today Mary from the Watch has a wonderful description of Oregon's current budget situation.

It's possible to filter by state, or read what's going on around the country. Go give it a look.

posted by Jeff | 10:56 AM |

So maybe all those bills about bicycle helmets and anti-abortion measures were really just a warm-up. Now the fun really begins:

On the eve of crucial state budget talks, Republican leaders are signaling a willingness to spend $1 billion beyond existing revenue of $10.5 billion for the next two years, to keep 100,000 low-income people on the Oregon Health Plan and to preserve other services.

The new Republican position is far less than what Democrats propose spending for the two-year period beginning July 1. But it significantly narrows the gap between the two sides as they commence budget negotiations this week with the governor. It also commits Republicans to work with Democrats on a new-revenue package that could include some tax increases.

This seems like a pretty marked change for the Republicans. And, because both sides are pushing for more spending, the Republicans are in a weak position to hold the line on $1 billion. As we've seen in Washington (tax cuts, war, homeland security), once you cede the argument, it's hard to set the agenda. It makes me wonder: did the Republicans see the writing on the wall when some of those local tax measures passed? Have they done some polling? Well, whatever the reason, things are finally looking up.

posted by Jeff | 10:32 AM |

Sunday, June 01, 2003  

Exposing the Booby Traps

I seem to be a day or two behind the news here. Beautiful timing for a blog, no? But late or no, I wanted to discuss this:

Lawmakers are so worried about a repeat of last year's spectacle of five special budget sessions that they're talking seriously about keeping the income tax kicker, or at least part of it, as a hedge against recession.

You don't say.

Of all the boneheaded policies our state has adopted in the past 24 years, this is the most boneheaded. Actually, it takes a few more bricks to make it a fully implemented boneheaded wall: the constitutional requirement that the state balance its budget, and efforts to defeat any kind of contingency fund in case of dark times.

It's a prescription for--well, for gutting government periodically. This was, no doubt, the unstated objective of Don "Now I want to see that calamity" McIntire and his fellow anti-tax, no-government types. But along the way, there were a number of constituents who were unclear that by virtue of receiving $189 bucks in one biennium as a kicker, they might see their children's school year cut by 3 weeks in the next.

It seems nothing short of fiscal mismanagement to me--and I have all of this recent data to point to as evidence. Since 1985, the state of Oregon has paid back $2.2 billion in kicker funds. It's not unreasonable to say that if we're going to be beholden to giving back every nickel we raise over the budget, then the budget ought to have an untouchable fund--and a fairly fat one--to handle times like this.

But that's not what the kicker is really about--not legislatively. Legislatively, the kicker functions as a booby trap. You sell it as fiscal responsibility (returning money to taxpayers), but what you're actually ensuring is catastrophe. And a catastrophe that will occasion an opportunity to forward a radical, and wildly unpopular agenda: cutting popular programs. The very existence of a kicker is irresponsible. But then, try making that argument when the other team's literally paying off the electorate.

This time, though, the booby trap may have bombed the boobs. Things are so grim that profiteering on the hardships of others is unseemly. For once, people have the context they need to see that the $189 check may not offer the ROI that, say, the third grade does. It's brutal that it takes a situation like this to force change. On the other hand, we should be pleased to see that, presented with this situation, the legislature's actually considering taking action.

posted by Jeff | 9:21 PM |