- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers.

The Oregonian, Feb. 6, on the impact of Japan-Oregon flights

The Oregon economy could experience light turbulence this year as Japan decides new access levels at its Tokyo airports and Delta, the only airline to offer a nonstop flight from Portland to Tokyo, threatens to pull out altogether.

Portland and Oregon have, since the time of the flight’s inauguration, seen quantum growth in Japan as trading partner, with commerce moving in both directions. The Port of Portland estimates that $100 million in economic activity tethers to Delta’s once-a-day nonstop flight, departing from and arriving at Portland International Airport.

The reach of the flight extends well beyond Japan, as well - to business-critical destinations in China, Korea, Taiwan and other markets. While Portland-based Nike, Adidas and Wieden+Kennedy executives routinely colonize the business-class portion of Delta’s nonstop, there are more than 100 Japanese companies, among them Ajinomoto Frozen Foods USA, with a facility in Portland, that have built job-creating operations here and help to keep the flight reliably filled at 87 percent capacity. Such traffic gets Portland mentioned soon after Los Angeles and San Francisco as a significant player in Japan-U.S. commerce.

While the nonstop flight has been essential in growing Japan-Oregon partnerships, it would be inaccurate to say commerce between Asia and Oregon now depends upon it: There are multiple connections available through Seattle and San Francisco. But there is marquee value in Portland’s nonstop flight, as well as convenience - hopscotching between domestic and international terminals complicates baggage handling and adds valuable transit time to what otherwise is a 10-hour, 40-minute snooze on Delta.

The challenge, then, is not whether Oregon can support the flight: It does and will continue to do so. The challenge nests instead in sharp-elbowed aviation competition as two powerful countries seek to strike a balance between open competition and thumb-on-the-scale regulation. The negotiations ahead could head anywhere.

Delta has long been fighting for greater certainty in the Asian market, culminating last year in its failed bid to rescue the insolvent Japanese carrier Skymark. The deal would have made Delta a partner enjoying Skymark’s considerable airport access within Japan and make it a toe-to-toe competitor with American Airlines, already allied with Japan Airlines; and United, allied with All Nippon Airways. Delta has referred to the American/United partnerships in Japan as a Japan-approved “duopoly.” They could be right. Meanwhile, Delta’s not the only one to feel cornered. American Airlines last year petitioned authorities to take away Delta’s Tokyo flight from Seattle - a naked bid to win more market share but also, perhaps, punish Delta.

The sticking point for PDX, however, is carrier access at Tokyo Haneda Airport, a domestic facility situated far closer to Tokyo than the international Tokyo Narita Airport, some 40-plus miles away. Delta argues that if regulators provide only limited access to Delta at Haneda - surely to be a first choice among Tokyo-bound travelers - the airline would not be able to move its Narita-based hub to Haneda and compete with a duopoly enjoying greater access at Haneda. That would leave Delta straddled between the two airports, draining business away from Narita to Haneda while being profitable in neither. Delta has made plain it would probably be forced to cancel its seven-point network of service between the U.S. and Japan - Portland among the casualties.

“This is a big deal in the policy consequences for service levels between the U.S. and Japan,” Ben Hirst, Delta’s special counsel, told the editorial board of The Oregonian/OregonLive. “We’re scrambling. The airlines are playing chess. The governments are playing poker.” Hirst spoke from Washington, D.C., where he’d hoped to persuade officials of the need to consider the inherent protectionism of an action that could work to eliminate competition from the partnerless Delta.

Oregon officials are on the case. Bill Wyatt, the Port of Portland’s director, flew to Tokyo last week to plead Oregon’s case. Sen. Ron Wyden, responding to a request by the editorial board, said through a spokesman that he’d be talking with federal officials to ensure they understood “Oregon’s role in the global economy requires global connections.” It does, and Delta has been the connector.

Haneda, which has the capacity for a robust Delta presence, must transform from a domestic to international facility in a climate of unfettered competition. To do so would comport with the passage in recent years of an Open Skies agreement between Japan and the U.S. To do so would help all carriers be at their best, ensuring competitive outcomes for the consumer. And to do so would rule out the worst, perhaps unanticipated, outcome: Reduced competition in a Tokyo market without Delta could ultimately raise fares charged to the Portland-Tokyo traveler. That would undermine the Open Skies agreement and thwart the efforts of those growing the Japan-Oregon partnership even further.

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The (Bend) Bulletin, Feb. 6, on the minimum wage

The new bad legislative proposal for the state’s minimum wage looks like an old bad proposal.

Gov. Kate Brown proposed a two-tiered minimum wage for Oregon. She wanted a $13.50 state minimum wage by 2022 and a $15.52 wage for Portland. She has proposed a compromise to bring those down a bit.

Then an earlier idea of three minimum wages for Oregon re-emerged. Portland would hit $14.75. Nonrural counties, including Deschutes, would get $13.50. Rural counties, including Crook and Jefferson, would get $12.50.

We get the concern for low-income families. We get that if the Legislature doesn’t act, there may well be a ballot measure aiming for a higher minimum wage than the Legislature is.

But why is the Legislature even talking about it?

If just increasing the minimum wage really worked, why is $14.75 an hour enough? Shouldn’t the state mandate that everyone be rich?

The reason the Legislature doesn’t do that is because it does not make economic sense. As dreamy as some are about the minimum wage, they know increases backfire. Prices go up. Businesses can afford to hire fewer people. And it doesn’t matter if there are three tiers or three hundred, the increases price some people right out of a job.

Why not look instead to remove some of the state barriers to creating jobs, instead of requiring a wage that will destroy them?

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The (Salem) Statesman-Journal, Feb. 6, on the state Legislature

Shame on the Republicans in the Oregon Legislature.

Even more shame on the Democrats, the majority party in the Legislature.

And perhaps the most shame lies with the rest of us Oregonians for letting the 2016 Legislature get away with a week of shenanigans.

The Legislature opened its 35-day session on Monday, yet the two parties still can’t agree on the Legislature’s mission.

The Democrats, with the assent of Gov. Kate Brown, seem prepared to ram a minimum-wage increase and other major bills through the Legislature. The Democrats apparently did not learn from last year, when they steamrolled Republicans.

This year, Senate Democrats even seem ready to steamroll their own Democratic governor, substituting their complicated proposal on the minimum wage for her “compromise” proposal.

Such is the state of leadership in Oregon.

Democrats have controlled the governor’s office, and most other statewide offices, for decades. They’ve run the Legislature for several years now. Under their governance, Oregon has achieved a deplorable high-school graduation rate and a dismal economy outside the Portland metro area.

Addressing those issues requires Oregonians to work together, starting in the state Capitol. Job creation and education improvements should be the No. 1 issues in this session, and probably the next several legislative sessions.

Republicans - some of whom have their own major initiatives - have resorted to slowing the session in hopes of stopping the steamroller. They are insisting that most legislation be read aloud in its entirety - page by page, line by line, word for word. That applies even to routine bills that have bipartisan support.

Reading bills in their entirety sounds laudable, as if it would ensure that lawmakers knew what the bills said.

If only …

Noise levels in the legislative chambers suggest few people are listening during the bill readings. Even if legislators were listening, most bills are nearly incomprehensible without the context of comparing them against existing laws. (To read individual bills, go online to oregonlegislature.gov/bills_laws.)

Some legislative grandstanding is normal, albeit infantile. But if the Legislature resorts to evening and weekend floor sessions to get the bills read, that merely drives up the cost to taxpayers.

Meanwhile, what Oregonians are looking for is an old substance that seems to have lost its relevance in the contemporary Capitol: statesmanship.

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The (Medford) Mail-Tribune, Feb. 7, on phasing out coal

Clean-energy advocates have long argued that coal-fired power plants should be phased out, and public opinion is increasingly on their side. Now a coalition of Oregon’s two largest power companies and environmental groups has settled on a plan to eliminate coal power from the state’s energy grid by 2030 and produce half the state’s electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2040.

A bill to transition away from coal failed to pass in the 2015 legislative session, and advocates launched three initiative petition drives intended to place a measure on the November 2016 ballot. Pacific Power and Portland General Electric took the if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em approach and drew up a compromise bill the utilities say achieves the same result but gives them more flexibility and will cost a great deal less. The environmental groups have agreed that if the bill passes, they will drop the ballot measure campaign.

House Bill 4036 seeks to take advantage of a recent move by Congress that extends a 30-percent tax credit for renewable energy projects that start within five years. Utility officials say that discount, along with the declining cost of renewable power in general, means the cost to ratepayers should be negligible.

PGE and Pacific Power provide 70 percent of the power in Oregon. Pacific Power is the primary provider in this part of the state.

PGE operates the only coal-fired plant in Oregon, at Boardman. That plant is already on its way out by 2020, but this bill would stop the purchase of power generated from coal in Wyoming and other places as well. That wouldn’t stop those plants from operating, but their days are numbered. Coal power will get steadily more expensive as federal restrictions increase.

As is the case with several bills in the 2016 Legislature, HB 4036 is intended to head off ballot initiatives that would be more heavy-handed. Backers say this bill will cost $600 million less than the initiative. Pacific Power estimates rate increases as a result of the bill would be less than 1 percent annually through 2030.

At least one public opinion survey indicates strong support for HB 4036. It is complex legislation for a 35-day short session, but the gamble for lawmakers is that if it doesn’t pass, the ballot measure might, resulting in higher costs. And lawmakers can adjust legislation in the committee process, while ballot measures are an up-or-down proposition.

Coal is clearly on its way out as a source of electric power. Lawmakers can take control of the phase-out process or leave it up to voters and the marketplace.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Feb. 3, on the shooting of one of the Malheur refuge protesters

After last week’s shooting death of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, one of the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, social and mainstream media sites lit up with rumors, speculations and allegations.

People claiming to be eye witnesses, or to have talked to eyewitnesses, insisted that Finicum was shot in the face, while kneeling on the ground, with his hands in the air.

The FBI took the unusual step of releasing unedited aerial video of the shooting. The special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon said: “We know there are various versions of what occurred during this event: most inaccurate, some inflammatory. To that end, we want to do what we can to lay out an honest and unfiltered view of what happened and how it happened.”

While the video put paid to some of the alleged facts, showing for example that Finicum was not kneeling with his hands on his head when he was shot, it became something of a Rorschach test. Many people saw in it what they wanted to see.

Some said it proved that officers had acted properly, that Finicum was reaching toward a pocket that held a loaded gun. Others said it showed he was reaching across his body to regain his balance in the deep snow.

At least one viewer insisted that Finicum was reaching first to his hip, in response to a gunshot wound, and then to his shoulder, in response to a second gunshot wound - although police have not said where, or how many times, Finicum was shot. Finicum’s family reportedly obtained a private autopsy but has not released the results.

Some viewers of the video purport to know what Finicum was saying to officers, although there is no audio on the video, which was shot from a police airplane overhead.

One person riding in the truck where Finicum had been riding claimed that more than 100 shots were fired into the truck, although none of the occupants were hit and the truck did not appear to be riddled with bullet holes.

While some of these “eyewitness accounts” quietly faded away after the video was released, others continue to spread, usually as part of a call to action.

An official investigation of the shooting, which was by an Oregon State Police trooper, is now underway, in accordance with state law.

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation, with help from the Bend Police Department, Redmond Police Department, and Oregon State Police.

Everyone else should wait for the results of this investigation, and information that will surface in court hearings for the occupiers who have been arrested, before rushing to judgment.

The people of Harney County have reacted with great grace and restraint in response to the influx of occupiers, protestors and counter-protestors, and media into their community. They did not seek this spotlight, nor have they indicated they welcome it. Quite the contrary.

At this point, they deserve to be left alone while the legal and public safety systems deal with the remaining few occupiers and complete the official investigation.

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