- Associated Press - Monday, November 3, 2014

Newspaper editorials from around Oregon

Albany Democrat-Herald, Oct. 28, on the gubernatorial race

It’s been a bad month for Gov. John Kitzhaber, but has it been bad enough to cost him his re-election bid? That still seems like a long shot.

According to a recent poll from The New York Times and CBS News, Kitzhaber still holds a 6-point lead over his Republican opponent, state Rep. Dennis Richardson. In a story about the poll, The Oregonian noted that the 6-point bulge is about the same as it was before controversy erupted over Kitzhaber’s fiancée, Cylvia Hayes.

Now, 6 percentage points isn’t an insurmountable lead, but it still would be a remarkable comeback for Richardson, especially considering that just one week remains before Election Day. (The Hayes controversy has helped Richardson raise some badly needed campaign cash - he collected $689,715 in donations over the past week. But his campaign has been underfunded from the start, and Kitzhaber still enjoys a fundraising edge, with $3.9 million raised this year as opposed to Richardson’s $2.5 million.)

Barring a remarkable comeback from Richardson, here’s a political question that might be more interesting: How will the various disclosures that have hounded the governor during the last month shadow his fourth term? We think it’s possible that a politically wounded governor might have a hard time pushing through any sort of ambitious agenda, even if Democrats manage to increase their control of the Legislature.

In other words, you can say farewell to any sort of effort in the next four years to overhaul Oregon’s tax system, which Kitzhaber earlier had said he might be inclined to tackle during a fourth term. To be fair, though, that’s a task that would have been difficult even for a governor with plenty of political capital to spend.

And Kitzhaber, even if he wins re-election, will enter his fourth term with virtually no political capital in his account. The catastrophic rollout of the Cover Oregon health insurance website took care of most of that. Recent news reports suggesting that a state government agency attempted to suppress a harsh report from a Cover Oregon consultant before it became a public document won’t help - and could haunt the governor throughout a fourth term.

And the variety of reports involving Hayes also could shadow a Kitzhaber fourth term. To be sure, news accounts of Hayes’ activities before she met Kitzhaber should have no bearing on the governor; no one has suggested that he had any inkling of those before they were reported.

But reports that Hayes has used her position as first lady to advance her private consulting business are a different matter and likely will continue to hang over Kitzhaber for months, if not longer.

Kitzhaber has said other goals he’s set for a fourth term include continuing to roll out some of the health care and education reforms he helped spearhead during his third term. That’s fair enough - but he may well find that pursuing even that more modest agenda is more difficult than he thought.


The (Bend) Bulletin, Oct. 31, on Oregon’s mileage tax experiment

Oregon’s dashboard warning lights are on. The state is going for another first. It’s trying to be the first state to mine car mileage for taxes to pay for roads, instead of a tax on gas. The state has already tried one experiment and is trying to find people to sign up for another.

Oregon, every other state and the federal government do face a problem. Gas taxes don’t do a good job anymore of capturing enough revenue to pay for roads.

State and federal gas taxes have not kept up with inflation. For instance, the Oregon Department of Transportation says that for every mile of road that Oregon could build in 1993 it can build only about half that in 2014.

What’s the answer? Increasing the gas tax won’t likely be a long-term solution. Cars are getting more efficient. More people use hybrids or electric cars.

So, Oregon has been trying to figure out how to make a mileage tax work. Some of it sounds like creepy government intrusion. To measure mileage and charge for it, you need to track a vehicle’s movement. Oregon’s experiment includes devices to be installed in people’s cars that have GPS built in. And there is an option to just record mileage. And there is another option in which consumers can pay a flat fee every year with no mileage being tracked.

The state law requires some privacy protections. Personally identifiable data is supposed to be stripped out, and mileage data is supposed to be destroyed after 30 days. But there are exceptions to those protections.

There are still many other challenges that the new experiment hopes to smooth over. Asking for a refund for out-of-state mileage could be a hassle for some drivers. The bigger challenge is the state’s ability to do a big statewide project involving technology. This is not Cover Oregon. But one is about people and taxes and computer programs and the other was about people and health care and computer programs. What could possibly go wrong?

A big difference is that for Oregon’s mileage tax there is no hard and fast launch date. There is no federal deadline. Legislators should ensure Oregon’s lust to be first will not mean Oregon’s mileage tax will be the first to flounder.


Grants Pass Daily Courier, Oct. 30, on funding state roads and the mileage tax experiment

Oregon is once again looking at alternatives to the traditional gasoline tax, which has funded the state’s roads and highways for generations.

At the time the gas tax was first established, it was all so logical: People who use the roads need to put gas in their vehicles, so the tax was a fair way of having the people who use the roads the most also pay the most for those roads.

However, ever since the first gas shocks of the 1970s, American drivers - not just Oregonians - have been demanding more fuel-efficient vehicles. Still, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the gas tax formula seemed to work pretty well, even if people who bought gas-stingy vehicles received a bit of a financial windfall.

Now, however, the gas mileage figures for hybrid vehicles are through the roof and some cars like the Nissan Leaf run completely on electricity. Consequently, even if gas-tax revenue isn’t in decline, it certainly isn’t growing rapidly enough to keep up with the needs of Oregon’s highways, both in terms of maintenance and building new roads that are necessary as the state’s population increases.

A trial program is planned for next summer involving 5,000 volunteers who will be charged 1.5 cents per mile, with their mileage tracked via one of several options: a daily diary, a GPS system or a device connected to their odometer. In exchange, they’ll receive a rebate check for the gas tax portion of the money they spend at the pump.

It seems that ODOT wants to maintain the quid pro quo between use of the roads and taxes paid. However, the time has come to sever that connection.

The solution could be to leave the gas tax at its current level, or maybe even reduce it a bit, and then use income tax money from the state general fund to pay for roads and highways. Even if it requires an increase in income tax rates, this is preferable for several reasons to a per-mile tax on vehicles.

First, Oregonians are unlikely to approve of such an invasion of their privacy.

Second, we all benefit from more fuel-efficient vehicles because they put less pollution into the air. Also, these vehicles help drive gas prices down through simple supply and demand - if demand for gasoline weakens, prices will decline in response.

Third, we all benefit from the trucks that deliver goods to the retail stores we shop at, yet the truckers themselves are taxed heavily for this “privilege.”

It is time to treat our highways as an asset that benefits all of us. We should all share in the cost of maintaining them, rather than looking for a way to mete out responsibility on a mile-by-mile basis.


Klamath Falls Herald and News, Oct. 30, on the economic benefits of building trails

Economic development can come in many packages. So can recreation and good health, and they often go hand in hand.

That’s why it’s good to see the growing enthusiasm for building trails in the Klamath Falls area. They represent connections in a number of good ways - connections from one place to another without motorized transportation, connections to better health, connections to fun and, possibly, connections that will lead to enough economic activity to give birth to some small businesses.

Last week the Subaru-International Mountain Bicycling Association, a mountain bike advocacy group from Boulder, Colo., gave presentations at the Running Y on trail building and the benefits and the processes involved.

Klamath Falls already has a pretty good start on a trail system, thanks to citizen volunteers, the city of Klamath Falls, the Oregon Parks Department and legislation that commits a portion of state road funds to building bike paths.

Perhaps the most important are the volunteers who spearhead the effort and often turn out to build and repair trails and bike paths, such as the OC&E Woods Line State Trail and those in Moore Park.

Many of the new trails in that area are being built by mountain bike enthusiasts who see a real future for the sport in Klamath Falls.

Well-known established trails include the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, which runs from its origin near Sixth Avenue and Washburn Way east through Klamath County, covering nearly a hundred miles. Others include the Link River Trail, the A Canal bike path (part of which is a popular route to school for students at Ponderosa Middle School), and the Wingwatchers Trail along Lake Ewauna. Those routes connect with each other.

There also are less well-known trails in the Moore Park area that were built primarily for and by mountain bikers, whose enthusiasm is leading to more opportunities to be involved in the sport.

Mountain biking can be a big sport for an area that offers good venues and good facilities. A town that comes to mind in this regard is Moab, Utah, population 5,130, that is swarming with mountain bikers and other outdoor recreationists at least eight months of the year.

Moab does have the advantage of incredible vistas of red rock mountains and trails and being near two national parks and the Colorado River. But Klamath Falls is near Crater Lake National Park along with thousands of acres of backcountry managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. A new mountain bike trail also is being built on Spence Mountain.

Through the Klamath Trails Alliance, some of the region’s most scenic areas are planned for developments as segments of the 100-plus mile Great Klamath Circle trail that will eventually connect Klamath Falls to Crater Lake National Park. Now that’s something to think about.

Meanwhile, we appreciate the enthusiasm and the effort being shown by those trying to build the local trail system.


Baker City Herald, Oct. 31, on forest thinning in Northeastern Oregon

There’s no shortage of talk about how Northeastern Oregon’s forests are ailing, and how the remedy requires an increase in logging.

Trouble is, it’s easy to hear all these conversations because the chain saws aren’t drowning out all the words.

This needs to change.

And although we’re not brimming with confidence that this reversal is imminent, we believe there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.

One is the possibility that Republicans will gain control of the U.S. Senate in next week’s elections.

That would greatly increase the odds that Rep. Greg Walden’s forest bill, House Bill 1526, will advance from its current Capitol Hill purgatory.

Walden’s bill is designed to make it easier for the Forest Service to thin overcrowded forests and do other restoration work that reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfires and creates jobs.

A lack of legislation isn’t the only factor holding back forest restoration, though.

Money is an issue, too, and to that end we’re pleased that the Oregon Department of Forestry is proposing to double the state’s contribution to forest collaboratives on federal lands. The amount isn’t overwhelming - the Forestry Department is asking the Legislature for $6.5 million for the 2015-17 budget cycle - but the money could go a long ways if it’s used wisely.

The idea behind forest collaboratives is to gather all interested parties, including environmental groups, and design restoration projects that aren’t likely to be challenged in court.

Most of the debate over forest management involves public lands. But insects, disease and drought don’t discriminate between public and private forests.

We’re glad, then, to see that years of planning have yielded fruit in the form of the Blue Mountain Woodland Cooperative. Private forest owners who join can get a 15-percent boost in prices for their logs. That makes restoration work affordable for some landowners.

Neither legislation nor money nor cooperatives will cure the region’s forests quickly. But in a job this big, every acre counts.


The Daily Astorian, Nov. 3, on Cylvia Hayes

What should we call an unelected, unhired policy adviser to a governor?

First lady? That’s the title that Cylvia Hayes insisted upon in the office of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

When Hayes came to Astoria in 2010 for Astoria’s bicentennial observance, she insisted upon speaking to the crowd, along with the governor, Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen, Sen. Ron Wyden and other elected officials. In other words, Hayes on that occasion advertised her significance to the public life of Oregon.

Now state officials are telling us that email traffic between Hayes and others who were seeking something from Kitzhaber are off limits, because she used a private email account for those communications. Hillary Borrud of our media group’s statehouse bureau wrote on that topic in last Friday’s edition.

Lawyers will parse and split hairs, and judges eventually will judge on this question. But there is often a gap between law as it is interpreted and public expectations. In the case of Cylvia Hayes it insults the public’s intelligence to say that the public policy communications of this self-proclaimed first lady are off limits.

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