Editorials from around Oregon

September 5, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


Corvallis Gazette-Times, Sept. 4, on life returning to forests after blazes:

In a summer when Oregon residents already have learned many lessons about wildfire, the Columbia River Gorge has one more to offer:

Even after the most devastating fires, the land finds ways to recover.

Don’t misunderstand: The area of the gorge that was ablaze a year ago in the Eagle Creek fire isn’t the same as it was before a thoughtless teenager tossed a firecracker into tinder-dry brush. In some ways, the fire has permanently altered the landscape.

But, as The Oregonian reported in a thoughtful story over the weekend, the 49,000 acres burned in the fire already are showing signs of rebirth. Ten years from now, much of the burned forest will seem familiar to the hikers who frequented the gorge before the blaze.

The fire raced through a region that is well-loved by Oregon residents, within easy reach of the state’s most populated area. Smoke choked the metro area. Ash fell from the sky in Portland. The area’s tourism-driven businesses took serious hits.

The fire threatened the historic lodge at Multnomah Falls, which was saved only through the heroic actions of firefighters. The fire did destroy four homes. Interstate 84 was shut down for 10 days. Even navigation on the Columbia River was stopped for two days. A year later, the fire still has yet to be declared extinguished — hot spots continue to pop up, most recently in May.

All in all, it served as an urgent lesson, up close and personal, about the sheer power of wildfire.

And it angered people who were forced to pay attention, possibly for the first time, about that power.

The lessons that will play out over the next decades along the gorge will require long-term attention, but they’re just as important to absorb as we move toward a deeper understanding of wildfire.

But if you pay attention now, you can see the first chapters of this story starting to come into focus right on the land itself.

Oregonian reporter Jim Ryan did a nice job of capturing these early signs of recovery: Although reminders of the fire are everywhere you look, so too are the signs of resilience. Ryan noted greenery throughout the burned area, including wildflowers just off the Pacific Crest Trail.

By the time a decade passes — a long time for humans, but not even a blink of an eye on nature’s timeline — it will be much harder, but not impossible, to pick out signs of the fire. After all, most of the acreage burned in the blaze experienced only low and moderate burns; only about 15 percent was severely burned. In that area, mostly in higher elevations, dead trees (foresters and firefighters call them snags) will remain standing, but even these will have a role to play in the forest’s rejuvenation.

In his story, Ryan quoted Lisa Ellsworth, an Oregon State University fire and habitat ecologist, who made another excellent point about the Eagle Creek fire: We’ve been talking now for years about trying to restore fire to its rightful place in forest ecology. Part of the reason for that is to eliminate the sort of forest understory that, left unchecked, can help fuel the most intense wildfires. A fire that’s mostly contained to the forest floor can do just that.

To a large extent, that’s what happened in the Eagle Creek fire. Sooner or later, a fire was going to erupt in this landscape. It would have been better, of course, if the fire had been prescribed by foresters and carried out under controlled circumstances. But the first lesson here is that fire had a role to play in our forests.

The second lesson is just as important, and maybe even more so: Even after the most devastating fires, forests bounce back. That lesson will be playing out for decades in the Columbia River Gorge, if only we choose to look.


The Bend Bulletin, Sept. 4, on bar suit making good points:

A pair of lawyers is suing the Oregon State Bar, arguing they shouldn’t be required to pay dues to the agency that oversees the state’s lawyers. The suit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, which said government workers cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees if they choose to opt out.

While the bar association is not a union — it was created by the Legislature in 1935 to license and discipline lawyers — the issues are roughly the same and the same rules should apply. Lawyers should still be licensed by OSB, but those who wish to opt out of joining the organization should be allowed to do so.

The lawyers argue, in part, that membership fees go to support the bar’s political activities, violating their First Amendment free speech rights in the process. They point specifically to a statement published in the association’s April Bar Bulletin denouncing “White Nationalism and (the) Normalization of Violence.” We agree with the association’s statement, which was carefully worded and pointed out the varied views of OSB members.

It was accompanied by a second statement by nonbar specialty groups that specifically called out President Donald Trump as someone catering to white nationalists and encouraging their violence by doing so.

The statements are clearly political in nature. Other OSB functions may be political too, or not. Either way, lawyers should not be required to support speech and activities or belong to an organization with which they disagree.

That doesn’t mean lawyers should be allowed to practice unlicensed, or that the bar association should not be the agency to issue those licenses. Nor does it mean that nonmember lawyers should be able to take advantage of other programs the association runs free for its members without paying to do so.

Separating licensing and membership and coming up with fee schedules for all the services OSB now provides wouldn’t be easy, but it would be the right thing to do. Bar officials should get busy before being ordered to do so by a court.


The Eugene Register-Guard, Sept. 4, on kicker rebates on recession’s eve:

The state Office of Economic Analysis could not have conjured a better illustration of the perversity of Oregon’s kicker law: In 2020, the office’s forecasters predict, Oregon will return $686 million to individual income tax payers — just as the state tips into a recession. It’s the fiscal-policy equivalent of spending your savings on a vacation the week before you need to pay for a kidney transplant.

To taxpayers, it looks a little different — at first. The median Oregon household, with an income of $36,000, will receive a state income tax credit of $162 in 2020, a relatively small but welcome infusion of cash that will arrive when Oregon’s long economic expansion comes to an end. It could even have a modest stimulative effect on the state’s economy.

But the credit will be tilted steeply toward those who need it least, with the top 1 percent of households — those with incomes higher than $400,000 — receiving credits of $6,787. Households in the bottom 20 percent will get $13, and those in the second quintile, with incomes between $11,200 and $26,300, will get $75. These lowest-income households are most likely to be affected by recession-induced cuts in state services, cuts that could have been ameliorated with the $686 million in refunds triggered by the kicker law.

The kicker law was passed by the Legislature in 1979 in an effort to head off a California-style property tax revolt. The revolt came anyway when voters passed of Measure 5 in 1990, which capped property tax rates and shifted responsibility for financing local schools to the state. In 2000, voters approved a legislatively referred ballot measure to add the kicker law to the state Constitution.

The kicker law is unique to Oregon. It requires that when state revenue exceeds official forecasts by 2 percent, the entire amount above the projected figure must be returned to taxpayers. Before the start of the 2017-19 biennium, the state’s economists projected $18.4 billion in revenue from sources other than the corporate income tax, mostly the personal income tax. The latest projection, released last week, revises that figure upward to $19.2 billion — a 3.7 percent increase, well beyond the kicker law’s 2 percent threshold.

A separate kicker applies to corporate income taxes, which are also flowing into state coffers at a higher-than-expected rate because of a strong economy and changes in federal tax law. In 2012, voters amended the state Constitution’s kicker provision to divert the corporate kicker funds to school funding.

After nearly 40 years, the personal-income-tax kicker appears to have become a permanent fixture of Oregon’s fiscal policy. An outright repeal would be a tough sell politically — particularly with the prospect of another refund on the horizon. But Oregonians might be willing to modify the kicker law in a way that makes public services, particularly education, less vulnerable during economic downturns.

The vulnerability stems from Oregon’s heavy reliance on personal income taxes — the state has no sales tax, and property taxes are reserved for local governments. To a greater degree than sales or property taxes, income tax revenue flows freely during periods of economic growth, and slows dramatically during recessions. One way to dampen this volatility is to build up a rainy day fund during boom times, and use these savings to cushion the effects of a downturn. The kicker is an obstacle to such a countercyclical practice.

Oregon has two rainy-day reserves — the Oregon Rainy Day Fund and the Education Stability Fund — that are fed by corporate taxes, lottery revenues and other sources. These reserves will contain $1.2 billion at the end of the 2017-19 biennium, according to the latest projection. That would not be enough to carry Oregon government through a recession that is deep, long or both.

The kicker law could be amended to require that all or a portion of refunds be deposited in the rainy day reserves until they contain savings equal to, say, 15 percent of the general fund, which would amount to about $3 billion. After that threshold of adequacy was reached, kicker refunds to taxpayers would resume. Such an adjustment to the kicker law would ensure that larger-than-expected income tax receipts aren’t immediately spent, and provide refunds to taxpayers once a degree of fiscal stability is achieved.

Such a system would entail some deferred gratification for Oregon taxpayers. But it would be more sensible than providing big tax refunds on the eve of a recession.


East Oregonian, Sept. 3, on Oregon’s carbon plan needing to be non-starter:

Oregon was a national pioneer on land-use planning. It led the way with the Bottle Bill. Its protection of public beach access is legendary.

In each case, Oregonians benefited from the state’s landmark legislation. That’s not the case with the carbon tax-and-invest proposal being shaped by a committee of Oregon legislators.

The greenhouse gases emitted by Oregon truckers, commuters, utilities, manufacturers and other entities are so small that they are barely measurable on a global scale. Neighboring California has a huge impact, not Oregon.

Oregon officials might win environmental plaudits for taking action, but the actual atmosphere would hardly notice. In fact, there’s a distinct chance Oregon could worsen the global situation.

Cap-and-invest is a market-based system in which U.S. states or Canadian provinces place caps on the amount of allowable carbon emissions. To exceed those caps, companies can buy allowances from the government. The allowances can be sold or traded on the open market, with the government investing the income in environmentally friendly projects.

California, Quebec and Ontario are the North American leaders. Key Democratic legislators in Oregon want to join them.

The catch is that Oregon’s environmental initiatives already are stronger than those in many states and nations. The world, not just Oregon, loses if companies leave the state for less restrictive locales. Or if Oregon companies switch to buying products manufactured — and shipped — under lighter regulations. Transportation is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases.

California now is the world’s fifth-largest economy, larger than the United Kingdom’s. That reality creates the incentive for many California corporations to invest in carbon reduction there. In contrast, Oregon’s economy ranks in the middle of the pack among U.S. states — about the size of Egypt’s and smaller than Pakistan’s, Bangladesh’s or Finland’s.

The Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Carbon Reduction must prioritize how cap-and-invest, or any other scheme, would alter the state’s economy as well as its environment.

“What we’re proposing here is a big and serious program, and I think it’s legitimate to expect people to be concerned about the effects on the economy,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, a chief architect of Oregon’s cap-and-invest proposal, said at a committee meeting this summer.

Such concerns ride especially high in rural Oregon, reflecting both the Democrat-Republican and urban-rural splits on the committee.

“I can’t go to cap-and-trade yet,” Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, said at the same meeting. “If you listen to the testimony today, it sure seems like we’re going to make rural Oregon pay the cost of all this, and I don’t see urban Oregon stepping up to the plate, and that really bothers me.”

Sen. Alan DeBoer, R-Ashland, has a more modest approach — a carbon-pollution tax, with related projects to improve forest health and reduce the destructive, carbon-emitting wildfires around the state.

“Cap-and-invest is contentious for many reasons, but a broader discussion about sunsetting a carbon tax may be a better way to solving one of the most quarrelsome arguments in Salem,” he said in a constituent letter last month.

Gov. Kate Brown and other key Democrats are eager for the committee to act.

But there should be no rush. Do what is best for Oregon — all of Oregon.


Baker City Herald, Aug. 31, on sanctuary law repeal being sensible:

We think Oregon voters should repeal the state’s 31-year-old “sanctuary” statute by approving Ballot Measure 105 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

That said, we’re not bothered by Baker County Sheriff Travis Ash’s decision to not join 16 of his 35 counterparts who signed a letter that urges voters to pass Measure 105. The letter was written by Clatsop County Sheriff Thomas J. Bergin.

In a written statement, Ash said he declined to sign Bergin’s letter because Bergin cited as an example the recent murder of Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa. The man charged with her murder apparently is a Mexican national living illegally in the U.S.

“I didn’t agree with using the Mollie Tibbetts family’s personal tragedy for political purposes,” Ash wrote, “especially without knowing how they felt about it.”

It seems that Tibbetts’ father, Rob, would not think much of Bergin’s letter. Rob Tibbets, while giving his daughter’s eulogy, said “the Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans.”

Ash didn’t take a position on whether he supports or opposes Measure 105.

But he said that whether or not voters approve the measure, “it will not affect the way we do business at the Baker County Sheriff’s Office.”

Ash, who also oversees the Baker County Jail, said his policy, which he says is consistent with Oregon’s current law, is to notify federal immigration officials if an inmate who is in jail on other charges is also suspected of being in the country illegally.

But Ash also wrote that such situations are “rare.”

That’s not necessarily the case, however, in some of Oregon’s more populous counties.

We agree with Knute Buehler, the Republican candidate for governor, who said he will vote for Measure 105 because he believes repealing the sanctuary law will eliminate confusion and potential discrepancies in how individual counties deal with illegal immigration issues.

Opponents of the measure contend its passage would encourage police to engage in the noxious tactic of racial profiling. But the 1987 “sanctuary” law is not the only bulwark against profiling. In 2015 Gov. Kate Brown signed a law — one we support — that creates a database of profiling complaints against police, and an independent task force to review those complaints.

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