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Editorials from around Oregon

February 13, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The Bend Bulletin, Feb. 12, on letting locals make zoning changes:

We’ll agree with House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, that Oregon has a housing crisis and solving it is going to take creative thinking.

That said, Kotek’s belief that the Legislature is somehow better equipped to solve the problem than are local governments in Bend, Medford or La Grande is wrong. She ignores the role played by state land use planning laws that strangle city expansion and is the driving force behind a measure that does away with single-family zoning in much of Oregon.

She’s going after local governments with House Bill 2001, a measure that orders cities to do away with single-family zoning. Communities with more than 10,000 residents would be required to allow duplexes, triplexes and/or quadruplexes on all land currently zoned for single-family housing.

But, as the House Committee on Human Services and Housing heard Monday from a member of the Sherwood City Council, the change could have unintended, and ugly, consequences. For one thing, it could make it more difficult for school districts to predict and accommodate growth within the limits of their bonding capacity.

Another unintended consequence could be a shift from neighborhoods that do not restrict property owners’ rights with formal covenants, conditions and restrictions, to ones that do as people who can, seek out neighborhoods where multifamily housing is prohibited.

The worst problem with Kotek’s bill, however, is the way in which it cuts local citizens and local government out decision-making about their communities and the way they grow. In Bend, duplexes and triplexes are currently allowed in residential zones, and the city is working to add fourplexes to the mix.

But Bend’s changes were made locally, not forced by Salem. They came about after local discussion and local public hearings, as state land-use law now requires. Because they were a local creation, there’s been considerable local buy-in.

None of that will occur with Kotek’s bill. Instead, it effectively prohibits locals from deciding what’s best for their communities. It should be defeated.

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Mail Tribune, Feb. 12, on tone-deaf harassment training being inexcusable:

The Oregon Legislature is off on the wrong foot in its attempt to address a toxic culture of sexual harassment. It’s unclear who’s at fault, although the federal government shutdown may have played a role. The important thing is to get newly instituted staff training sessions back on track, and quickly, before disillusioned staffers give up and refuse to attend.

Training last fall reportedly went well, but last week, staffers who attended a session conducted by a trainer from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission walked out, saying the trainer appeared unaware of the culture of harassment that has become a major issue in the Capitol for more than a year.

The trainer reportedly joked about those who file harassment complaints, saying, “as you all know, snitches get stitches.” At another point, the trainer responded to the topic of inappropriate touching in a dismissive manner, saying “we all know this is bad; we don’t need to talk about that.”

It was inappropriate touching that ended the career of veteran State Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, after two female lawmakers accused Kruse of inappropriate behavior two years ago, including groping them in meetings. Kruse denied the allegations, but resigned his seat.

Then, last year, the state Bureau of Labor and Industries declared the Legislature a hostile work environment after an investigation. Legislative leaders have appointed a Committee on Culture to address the issue.

But before that committee can make any headway, it must fix what appears to be a tone-deaf approach by at least one trainer provided by the federal EEOC. According to one report, the trainer who conducted last fall’s successful session was unavailable because of the federal shutdown. State officials requested a different trainer for this week’s session, and representatives of the EEOC visited Salem to meet with legislative leaders on Friday.

Regardless of the reason for last week’s disastrous training session, there can be no excuse for it. If the EEOC can’t provide appropriate training, the state should look elsewhere.

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Albany Democrat-Herald, Feb. 12, on colleges being wary of governor’s budget plan:

When she released her proposed state budget for the two years beginning in July, Gov. Kate Brown didn’t include any additional money for higher education — but she did express a hope that legislators would be able to push through a $1.9 billion tax increase, and that some of the extra money could be funneled to help hold tuition increases to 5 percent or less.

It’s possible that part of Brown’s strategy on this was to persuade education officials to lobby legislators to support the tax increase. The governor has declined to offer specifics about what sort of tax increase she’d like to see, and has left that task to the Legislature.

It’s fair to say that some education officials have been, shall we say, cool to Brown’s approach: For evidence, look no further than Oregon State University Ed Ray’s state of the university speech, delivered last week in Portland.

“Under the governor’s budget,” Ray told a crowd of 700 or so OSU partisans, “universities would be forced to shunt even more costs onto the shoulders of students, and cut staffing and programs even more. Or both.”

A little later in his remarks in Portland, Ray added this: “I appreciate the governor for seeking new funding, but I must plan the university’s operations on what I know, not what I hope legislators and voters might approve at some future date.”

And certainly, considering how tax proposals have fared in the Legislature and among the state’s voters, it doesn’t seem like a good bet to count on that extra dough just yet, especially since it’s not at all clear yet what shape a tax increase could take.

To that end, Ray told the newspaper’s editorial board last week that work to identify potential cuts is underway at OSU. (Linn-Benton Community College has launched a similar process.)

Although Brown’s proposed budget is the first step, the process doesn’t really get going until legislative committees release their first budget drafts. That will happen after state economists release their latest revenue estimates.

(As an aside, it’s worth noting again that legislators likely will have a record amount of revenue at their disposal, but it won’t be enough to cover increased costs. Two big factors drive those costs: the state’s public pension system and the decision to expand Oregon’s Medicaid health insurance plan, also known as the Oregon Health Plan.)

It seems unlikely that the Legislature’s first budget drafts will follow Brown’s lead in terms of higher education funding. But, beyond that, little about the final shape of state budget is clear yet — and state colleges and universities don’t have the luxury of waiting until the Legislature is wrapping up its work in June to start thinking about their budgets.

Public universities also need to get approval for any tuition increases above 5 percent from the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission — and Brown has intervened when she believes proposed increases are too high. (Complicating the situation is that the governor has declined to back the estimated $220 million it would take to keep tuition increases under 5 percent, unless lawmakers approve the $2 billion in new revenue.)

In the meantime, business groups are beginning to weigh in on the proposed tax increases: Sandra McDonough, president of the state’s largest business association, Oregon Business & Industry, told legislators last week that her group believes that a business activity tax would be fairer and less harmful to businesses than a gross receipts tax, which is based on sales.

“We are committed to being part of the revenue discussion,” McDonough said.

That’s good to hear. But we heard the same thing two years ago, before these discussions went off the rails. In the meantime, higher education officials are charting out how they can make steep cutbacks in their operations — and if you were in their shoes, you’d be doing the same thing.

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