Editorials from around Oregon
Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Oregonian/OregonLive, April 4, on elected officials and employees using public email accounts for public business:
Back in 2016, when transparency in Oregon government was all the rage, state agencies were reminded of some basic tenets of open government. Among them: Public employees and officials should use their state-provided email accounts for public business. If they had to use their personal email, they should copy the message to their public accounts as soon as possible.
This was more than just an idle recommendation. With the resignation of former Gov. John Kitzhaber amid allegations - since confirmed with his recent settlement with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission - of misusing his public office for personal gain, Oregonians learned just how opaque Oregon government is. Some of the evidence against Kitzhaber and his fiancee Cylvia Hayes, whose own state ethics case is ongoing, came from emails they sent from private accounts that few in the public knew even existed.
Unfortunately, even with such clear-cut examples of the need to conduct public business on public email, the calls for transparency haven’t always stuck. The Oregon Board of Education is a case in point.
The board, charged with setting educational policy for the state’s K-12 system, includes seven voting members appointed by the governor and two non-voting members representing the secretary of state and state treasurer. They are public officials serving on a public body that is subject to Oregon’s open meetings and records laws and have a duty to retain and make accessible its records.
But as a recent email showed, Oregon Department of Education staff sent materials for an upcoming meeting to members’ personal or work accounts — not the state accounts that the department opened in their names. The only member who received education-board materials at her education-board email account was Kim Sordyl, the secretary of state’s designee and a perennial thorn in the department’s side.
To be fair, there’s no reason to believe that members of the education board are conspiring in personal email exchanges. Charles Martinez, the chairman of the board of education, told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board that members don’t use email much beyond routine matters, instead reserving discussions for public meetings.
At the same time, there’s no reason that education board members should be using personal accounts in the first place. They all have state-issued email accounts through which the public expects them to conduct their work as members of the board of education. That’s Public Records 101, as State Archivist Mary Beth Herkert noted. If they must use a private email, they should immediately copy the record to their official accounts where they can be retained and preserved. Otherwise, how is the agency supposed to keep custody and ensure retention if such messages are in the control of Gmail or an internet service provider?
In fact, the state Department of Administrative Services reinforced that protocol as part of a model records management policy it issued in 2016. State agencies, including the Oregon Department of Education, adopted versions by October of that year.
Unfortunately, adopting a policy isn’t the same as ensuring it’s followed.
Chances are the board of education isn’t the only one still allowing widespread use of private emails. As The Oregonian/OregonLive revealed three years ago, elected officials and employees throughout state government routinely used private accounts rather than their state emails to handle public business.
The next step should be for agencies to evaluate how faithfully they are adhering to these best practices. The Department of Administrative Services should also assess their compliance. Provided that transparency is still the goal.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, April 4, on keeping fuel efficiency rules:
The Environmental Protection Agency has pulled ahead of the Justice Department in competition to become the federal bureau with the most Orwellian name. Administrator Scott Pruitt put the EPA out front on Monday by announcing his intent to “revise” — Newspeak for “discard” — fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. A drastic revision would be no way to protect the environment, and would be no way to serve the interests of consumers and the auto industry.
Pruitt claims that meeting the standards would add to the cost of new vehicles, and that safety might be compromised in pursuit of fuel efficiency. He has the shred of a legitimate argument on both points, and might have added that consumer preferences for heavier vehicles such as trucks and SUVs are making it harder for the auto industry to achieve ambitious improvements in overall fuel efficiency.
That’s why the 2012 rules allow for a midcourse review. The standards require an average fuel economy rating of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, about double the current average, which sounds like an impossible target. But the rules are flexible, allowing automakers to count such things as more efficient air conditioning toward the mileage rating. Vehicles’ real-world mileage by 2025 actually would be closer to 36 mpg. Detroit already is making vehicles that surpass that standard. Automakers agreed to the target in 2012, and some additional flexibility would keep them on course to achieving it.
A substantial rollback in the mileage goal would erase one of the Obama administration’s most significant actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Pruitt doesn’t care about that — he rejects the evidence of climate change — but he ought to care about the auto industry, which benefits from a nationwide market with a single vehicle mileage standard.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 allows California to set its own pollution rules, and permits other states to adopt those rules as their own. Thirteen states, including Oregon, have done so, and California has no intention of backing away from the 2012 standards. That threatens to divide the American market for cars and trucks in two, raising automakers’ costs from design through production.
In addition, American automakers that hope to compete abroad will need to make vehicles that meet European and Asian standards that are even stricter than the current U.S. rules. China, for instance, already requires that 12 percent of new vehicles sold be emission-free.
Pruitt also should care about consumers, who stand to save an estimated $140 billion in 2030 as a result of improved fuel efficiency. The savings — about $8,000 over the lifetime of a 2025 vehicle — will have the additional virtue of either reducing U.S. demand for imported oil or extending the life of domestic petroleum reserves.
These benefits, along with regulatory pressure for improved fuel efficiency coming from California and the rest of the world, do not mean mileage goals can be reached without the federal standards adopted in 2012. A weakening or repeal of the 2012 rules would invite the auto industry to ease up on its efforts to improve fuel efficiency for at least a substantial portion of the market.
The fuel standards need to be flexible enough to account for changes in technology, consumer preferences and energy costs. But long-term goals should be consistent. Pruitt would serve no one with a rollback.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 3, on hotel tax for fairgrounds being worth a look:
The Linn County Board of Commissioners is kicking around the notion of initiating a countywide lodging tax, with the proceeds to be earmarked for that county’s fairgrounds. The idea caught our eye initially because, well, it’s unusual to hear the Linn County commissioners talking about a new tax.
The more we thought about it, though, the more it seemed that the idea is worth exploring.
It might be worth considering for Benton County and its fairgrounds as well.
It’s too early to tell how this proposal will float in Linn County, but the general idea now is to add 2 or 3 percent to the lodging tax that people pay when they check into a hotel room or similar facility in the county. That county tax would be in addition to lodging taxes already levied by cities and the state. In Corvallis and Albany, the city lodging tax is 9 percent, and that’s in addition to a state lodging tax that is currently set at 1.8 percent but will drop back to 1.5 percent in 2020.
So let’s say, for purposes of illustration, that the Benton County commissioners implement a 2 percent lodging tax. The state, county and city lodging taxes combined would add about $20 to the cost of a hotel room that rents for $150 a night; the county tax share of that would be $3.
The city and state lodging taxes generally go to support tourism promotion efforts but can be used, in some cases, for other purposes as well. But Linn County’s idea is to use its share of the lodging tax specifically for its fairgrounds and Expo Center. The extra tax generally would not be paid by county residents, who presumably have access to a bed of their own somewhere in the county; instead, the tax would be paid by visitors. (And, to put that amount of money into perspective, the extra two or three bucks wouldn’t cover the cost of opening one of the beers in the minibar.)
And every dollar raised by the tax could be used to offset the amount of general fund money the fairgrounds receives each year. For example, Linn County’s current budget calls for allocating $330,000 from the general fund to the fairgrounds.
Benton County allocates about the same amount of money from its general fund to its fair fund: The county’s two-year budget calls for spending $343,000 each year for the fair fund. Of that annual amount, $120,000 per year is devoted to facility maintenance and $223,000 for operating support.
Now, some people believe that these county fairs should break even or maybe even make a profit. But we think that’s unrealistic. (And, to be clear, we think the benefits provided to county residents by the fair and events at the fairgrounds help justify that deficit.)
With that said, though, every dollar the fair doesn’t take from the general fund frees up another dollar that can be spent on public safety or road maintenance.
In addition, think about the money that could be generated from a county lodging tax as an investment in the fairgrounds. Benton County’s fairgrounds has a certain charm, to be sure, but the $120,000 devoted to facility maintenance can only go so far each year. Being able to generate additional money for upkeep and improvement could increase the facility’s ability to attract events. And more events at the fairgrounds could translate into additional visitors to the county’s hotels. That, in turn, could attract additional visitors to the county’s hotels — which would, it perhaps goes without saying, could increase the amount of money generated by the lodging tax.
It’s premature to say how the idea of a countywide lodging tax will pan out in Linn County. But Benton County officials would be well-advised to keep a close eye on what happens with this idea on the other side of the river.
The (Bend) Bulletin, April 3, on keeping pressure on to change banking laws:
It’s unrealistic to expect a quick change to federal banking laws regarding money made in the marijuana industry. That doesn’t mean the effort should be abandoned.
Today some 29 states, including Washington, Oregon and California, allow the legal sale of recreational or medical marijuana, or both. It’s largely a cash business, thanks to laws and regulations that keep banks, credit card providers and others in the financial industry from participating.
That’s a problem, or a series of problems.
It puts pressure on marijuana shop owners who take cash from customers. It makes marijuana dispensaries and recreational shops targets for criminals. Banks worry about losing federal deposit insurance if they work with the pot industry.
It creates danger. It’s dangerous for shop owners and employees who must somehow secure the cash. It’s dangerous for police officers who may be called in to deal with criminals intent on grabbing the cash. And it can be dangerous for the general public, which runs the risk of being caught between police and criminals should robbery occur.
The federal government could change that. Congress could act to change the law so that banks could accept deposits of marijuana receipts without fear of losing their deposit insurance. So far bills in both houses of Congress that do just that have failed to get enough traction even to get out of committee.
That’s probably to be expected. Only nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of recreational marijuana, and a powerhouse voting bloc they’re not. Combined, they contain less than a quarter of U.S. population. Another seven states may deal with the subject this year.
In other words, American attitudes toward legal marijuana are shifting, and as they do more and more members of Congress come from states in which sale of some form of marijuana is legal. As the shift occurs, so, too, does the likelihood that changes to federal law will also occur. Supporters of the change should keep up the pressure. They may not succeed this year, but they need to keep trying.
East Oregonian, April 2, on the weak argument for newsprint tariffs:
American newspapers are under attack — from a Pacific Northwest paper company and the U.S. government.
It’s an odd and unfortunate situation that will drive up costs for newspapers, including this one, unless the government reverses itself.
As you probably know, newspapers already face strong economic headwinds. Online shopping via big-name websites has hurt local merchants, whose advertising is the financial foundation of this newspaper and others. Meanwhile, many readers have shifted from print newspapers to online versions, although both versions have their attributes.
Like other newspapers, it’s our job to adapt to changing readership habits and advertising opportunities. We have no desire to reduce our services and our local community coverage.
But a paper mill in Longview, Washington, is taking a different tack: It’s crying foul, claiming foreign competitors don’t play fairly.
North Pacific Paper Co., which produces newsprint and other paper, claims the Canadian government subsidizes Canadian paper manufacturers, enabling them to “dump” — that is, sell — their products at below-market prices in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Commerce bought that argument and has imposed substantial newsprint tariffs on newsprint imported from Canada.
The result has been a 20 to 30 percent jump in newsprint prices around the U.S. Newsprint already is the second-largest cost, next to personnel, for publishers. You can see that the price hike will have a big impact.
It’s not only the economics that concern us. It’s mind-boggling that the Commerce Department accepted such a weak argument. Yes, paper mills have closed in Oregon and around the U.S. But Canadian competition is not the reason. The reality is that newsprint demand throughout North America has dropped 75 percent since 2000 as technology has replaced paper.
Most folks understand that. The tariffs, or duties, are opposed by the majority of U.S. newsprint manufacturers; by their trade association, the American Forest and Paper Association; and by newspapers and their trade groups, including the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association.
The opponents also include a wide range of other groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, religious publications, book companies and chambers of commerce.
By boosting costs, these tariffs will harm local businesses, including commercial printers, bookstores, directory publishers and newspapers. Unlike Wall Street and the hedge fund that owns North Pacific Paper, most local businesses survive on thin operating margins. Forced to spend more in one area, they must trim elsewhere — and the local economy suffers.
That’s why we’d like your help. We’d be most appreciative if you could take a moment to contact members of Oregon’s congressional delegation, asking them to overturn the “countervailing” and “antidumping” duties being imposed by the Commerce Department on Canadian newsprint and similar paper.
Your voice matters.
So does the voice of community newspapers across this great nation.