- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The (Medford) Mail-Tribune, Jan. 26, on boating license fees:

The state Marine Board’s proposal to treat nonmotorized boats the same as motorized ones, including assessing fees, is a reasonable response to the increasing popularity of floating the state’s waterways and will benefit floaters in tangible ways.

Nonmotorized water activity is now equal to or greater than motorized boating, and nonmotorized boaters account for half the boating fatalities in the state each year.

Lawmakers in 2015 directed the Marine Board to address the issue of nonmotorized boats. House Bill 2320 would create a program and require nonmotorized boaters to purchase permits. The money would help pay for boat ramps and other facilities, as well as the marine patrol program now supported by license fees paid by operators of motorized boats.

Motorized boaters are accustomed to paying a license fee and a separate invasive species permit that funds efforts to prevent the introduction of quagga and zebra mussels that attach themselves to watercraft. There is no reason why nonmotorized craft should enjoy a free ride.

Marine patrols and water rescue operations are not cheap, and it’s only fair that nonmotorized boaters should help cover patrol costs as well as facilities maintenance. In addition, river floaters could see a tangible benefit from removal of so-called “strainer” trees and other navigational hazards, paid for with license fees.

The proposed fees are not onerous: $4 for a one-week permit, $12 for a year and $20 for two years.

The proposed bill also would define as “nonmotorized watercraft” flotation devices such as innertubes and air mattresses that are not propelled with oars but support a person in the water, and would require users to wear a lifejacket.

The bill stops short, however, of subjecting users of such nonmotorized craft to citations for boating under the influence of intoxicants. The law currently applies only to craft defined as boats.

That’s unfortunate, not because a drunk innertube jockey poses much of a danger to anyone else, but because that person is more likely to wind up needing to be plucked from an island or rescued from a rock, at public expense.

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The Statesman Journal, Jan. 27, on addressing the state’s $1.8 billion budget shortfall:

Baseball, football and basketball fans should be familiar with the game, “You Make the Call.”

It’s where armchair athletes second-guess rulings made by umpires, officials and referees.

In February, Oregon’s Democratic lawmakers will offer residents their own version of the game as they host six or seven town halls around the state. The Legislative Assembly members plan to crisscross the state, informing the public about a $1.8 billion budget shortfall, and getting public opinion on ways to cut spending and increase revenue.

Required by the state constitution to balance a 2-year budget by the time the session adjourns, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney and Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek hope the public sessions will give them ideas for spreading the pain. Courtney warned the Statesman Journal editorial board that special sessions would probably be required because painful cuts are inevitable and no one wants to talk about them.

“This is going to be a very tough job,” Courtney said. “We try to get it done early so the more than 190 school districts across the state know how much they have to spend, but there’s no avoiding this starting point.”

Passing out copies of a summary of the Joint Ways & Means Committee co-chairs’ “Existing Resources Budget Framework” for the 2017-2019 biennium, Kotek and Courtney used it to illustrate how the budget currently shapes up using general and lottery funds. It also shows proposed cuts. They emphasized that in some cases, cutting state support for critical programs triggers a reduction in federal funding as well.

The end result is that losses to Oregonians could add up.

On the chopping block are education at all levels, health care, Department of Human Services and public safety. Also subject to the swing of the state knife are the judicial, natural resources and transportation departments, to name a few. Deficits ranged from 1.4 percent to 27.5 percent.

No department was spared.

Sen. Ted Ferrioli, the senate’s minority leader, agreed there would need to be a reduction in spending and an increase in revenue, but he said Gov. Kate Brown’s budget was flawed.

“I found the governor’s budget exceptionally cynical when it calls for cuts in services to veterans and seniors and yet comes up with a $145 million pay raise for state employees,” Ferrioli said.

He also said Republicans can support a transportation package and PERS reform, of course, both come with caveats. He believes the new session offers the opportunity for decisive action.

That’s where Oregonians come in.

Instead of sitting in an armchair and carping about the lazy legislature, inefficient state leadership and overpaid lobbyists, attend a town hall and bring suggestions for reducing spending. Consider options you refused to entertain previously.

Oregon must tighten its belt. Its residents need to show up and help make the difficult calls.

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The East Oregonian, Jan. 25, on Oregon compliance with federal ID law:

The mountain of bills the Oregon Legislature will consider this session is certainly overwhelming. From minor rules to honorary proclamations to major policy, lawmakers will be asked to consider thousands of pieces of legislation that add to the vast rulebook Oregonians must play by.

We’d argue much - if not most - of the legislation comes from a place of political posturing, designed to appease a few constituents but not benefit the state as a whole. We trust our elected representatives are wise enough to not spend too much time on the extraneous and focus quickly on problems that really matter.

We have a suggestion for a good place to start.

The federal Real ID Act, passed in 2005, increased the required documentation for issuing driver’s licenses and identification cards, with the goal of thwarting terrorism. But many states, including Oregon, balked at implementing changes because no federal funding was available to cover the additional cost for states to implement.

Since then the federal government has been issuing waivers to Oregon and other states, but has indicated those waives will soon expire and leave card-carrying Oregonians in the lurch by 2020.

The biggest impact will be on those hoping to board a plane, which isn’t allowed without approved identification. In other words, it would take a passport for an Oregon resident to board a flight at PDX - even a domestic one.

Sen. Bill Hansell and Rep. Greg Barreto have presented a bill that would at least put a bandage on the problem, and create a path to solving it in the future.

Senate Bill 374 would allow Oregonians to pay extra to go through the additional steps and obtain a Real ID, while directing the Department of Motor Vehicles to set up a program to provide the enhanced IDs.

In short, it will give Oregonians who want to board a plane but not hassle with a passport the ability to do so, and also push the state closer to making the IDs available to everyone. It’s not perfect - not all Oregonians will be informed and many will be furious when they arrive at security and cannot pass.

But it’s better than nothing, and perhaps all our cash-strapped state can afford right now. We hope this bill will be plucked from the mountain of legislation piling up at the Capitol and given thorough consideration.

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The (Albany) Democrat-Herald, Jan. 27, on how the Clean Fuels Program will affect transportation deal:

Will Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program throw a wrench yet again into the Legislature’s ability to approve a transportation package?

That’s how it played out during the 2015 session, when attempts to approve a transportation deal to pay for badly needed improvements to the state’s roads and bridges foundered on Republican objections regarding the fuels program.

The program itself is a well-meaning attempt to reduce the carbon intensity of Oregon’s transportation fuels by 10 percent over the next decade. It’s not clear whether the program will do much to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, but it’s been estimated that it will increase the price of fuel: Previous estimates say it could cost consumers anywhere from 4 cents to $1 a gallon, although Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday that, thus far, the program has added less than a penny (0.25 cents) to the cost of a gallon of fuel in Oregon. (Remember that the Oregon Environmental Commission has voted to delay enforcement of the mandates until 2018 to allow time to develop cost-containment strategies and to work on other tweaks to the program.)

Democrats went ahead and renewed the fuel program during the 2015 session, despite warnings from Republicans that they would be unable to support any later transportation package that relied on an increase in the gas tax. Republicans said they didn’t want to saddle their constituents with what amounted to two separate price increases at the pump. GOP legislators stayed true to that promise, and since the increase in the gas tax required at least some Republican support, the transportation package died.

The 2017 session is scheduled to begin in earnest next week, and the transportation package is at or near the top on just about everyone’s “to do” list. And, in fact, a joint committee of legislators has been traveling the state to gather information for the package, including ways to pay for it. But if the package requires tax increases, it still will require some votes from Republicans.

And it became clear on Thursday, during a legislative preview session sponsored by The Associated Press, that Republican leaders still consider the Clean Fuels Program to be an obstacle to a transportation package. In fact, “obstacle” was the exact word used by Ted Ferrioli, the GOP’s minority leader in the Senate.

What was not clear on Thursday - and likely will not be clear until later in the session - was whether Democrats are willing to consider changes to the fuels program. Sen. Ginny Burdick, the Democratic Senate leader, urged flexibility from both sides but noted that she was gratified that the focus was on finding the best ways to reach the state’s overall goal of carbon reduction and not on a debate over whether the state should be reducing emissions in the first place.

Gov. Brown said Thursday that she was open to options, but has said in the past that she’s not in favor of wholesale changes to the program - and the fact that she was ready with that new estimate of increased fuel costs suggests that she still feels that way.

But she, and other Democrats, might need to set those feelings aside and prepare to do some bargaining. The logjam over the transportation package was likely the signature failure of the 2015 session. In fact, you might recall, Brown vowed early in the session that she wouldn’t let legislators leave Salem until that particular deal was done. Then they left, with no deal in hand.

This session will be considerably more difficult than its 2015 counterpart, especially with a $1.8 billion budget shortfall looming. Still, the Legislature can’t afford to leave Salem this year without a finished transportation deal.

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The (Corvallis) Gazette-Times, Jan. 26, on the timber lawsuit against the state:

We were surprised this week when the Benton County Board of Commissioners, on a 2-1 vote, decided to remain in a lawsuit over management of some state timber lands.

But maybe we shouldn’t have been: When the dust clears, and the final tallies are taken in Linn County Circuit Court, only about 10 of the 150 or so plaintiffs in the class-action suit will have chosen to drop out. (The final count won’t be known until the court receives documents from all the jurisdictions that intend to opt out. The deadline to have the documents postmarked was 5 p.m. Wednesday, so it’s possible that the number might grow slightly.)

At issue is a $1.4 billion lawsuit filed by Linn County on behalf of 15 Oregon counties, including Benton, and dozens of smaller taxing districts. It argues that the state of Oregon and the Oregon Department of Forestry have failed to maximize logging revenues from 650,000 acres of state forest trust lands scattered among the 15 counties.

Although the lawsuit raises important issues about the management of state lands, at its heart it is a reasonably straightforward breach-of-contract case: The claim is that state managers failed in their duty to generate as much revenue as possible from the state forest lands, mainly logged-over or fire-damaged properties that were acquired by counties through tax foreclosures starting in the 1920s and then turned over to the state for management.

A 1939 law says these lands must be managed for “the greatest permanent value to the state.” At the time, the assumption was that “greatest permanent value” meant maximizing timber harvests from the lands, and therefore maximizing revenue flowing to the counties from those harvests.

But over the years, the state broadened the definition of “greatest permanent value” so that it included other goals as well, such as clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and carbon storage. As those goals came on line, the money flowing to the counties started to erode, hence the claim that the state has breached its contract with the counties.

That idea of revenue “erosion” likely prompted Benton County Commissioner Xan Augerot to vote to stay in the lawsuit. Augerot, the newest commissioner on the board, comes from an environmental background, so her vote was surprising - and she said it was a difficult decision for her.

But listen carefully to what she said on Tuesday during deliberations: “I feel it is appropriate for counties to fire a shot across the bow of the state and say no more of this erosion.”

When Linn County filed the lawsuit back in March of last year, it might have been tempting for Oregon’s elected statewide officials (at the time, all Democrats) to write it off as the work of a bunch of cranky Republicans from one of the state’s most reliably red counties.

They might need to reassess that now that one of the state’s most reliably Democratic counties has elected to remain in the lawsuit. Maybe it’s not so much a shot across the bow as it is friendly fire, but there’s a message there.

This lawsuit still is in the early stages: It’s still in Linn County Circuit Court, and you can be sure any verdict in the case will be appealed.

But it’s clear this suit is about more than timber management: It’s also about the tattered relationships between the state of Oregon and many of its counties.

When the lawsuit was filed, Roger Nyquist, the chairman of the Linn County Commission, said the county was prepared to pursue the case by itself, even if every other plaintiff dropped out. Now it seems Linn County has plenty of company.

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