- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

The (Medford) Mail Tribune, July 1, on a state-imposed property tax

A proposed amendment to the Oregon Constitution setting a minimum property tax rate for all counties isn’t as outlandish as it might seem at first glance. It’s unlikely to see a vote in this legislative session, which is rapidly approaching adjournment, but residents of low-tax counties flirting with bankruptcy should take note.

Because amending the state Constitution requires a vote of the people, the legislative measure is a joint resolution to refer the question to the ballot. Voters would be asked to set a minimum property tax rate of $2 per $1,000 assessed value in every county in the state.

If approved, the amendment would affect only 13 of Oregon’s 36 counties, because all the others - including Jackson - have permanent rates above $2 already. Among the 13 are Josephine and Curry counties, where voters have repeatedly refused to take responsibility for their own public services by turning down levy proposals to pay for police protection, prosecutors and jails.

Some reasonable leaders in those counties support the idea of imposing a statewide minimum, frustrated at the failure of their electorates to pay for public services. Of course, there are opponents; one Josephine County resident warned anonymously of armed resistance if officials tried to collect more taxes.



Josephine commissioners are remaining neutral on the issue. State Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, says he opposes the idea, because residents of Portland, Salem and the Willamette Valley shouldn’t make decisions for his county.

But it may come to that, and here’s why: Residents of Josephine County, with the state’s lowest tax rate of 59 cents per thousand, have in effect made decisions for other Oregon residents already by refusing to support their own criminal justice system. The result is that Oregon State Police are being diverted from patrol duties in Jackson County to respond to incidents in Josephine County because the sheriff’s department can’t provide 24-hour coverage. The cost of that assistance comes from Oregon taxpayers.

That situation cannot continue forever. If such a constitutional amendment gets to the ballot, Oregon voters outside the 13 counties would be justified in protecting their interests by requiring taxpayers in those counties to live up to theirs.

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The Oregonian, July 5, on Phil Knight leaving Nike

Phil Knight’s announcement last week that he plans to relinquish his role as Nike chairman and move most of his company stock into a limited liability company was not surprising. He’s 77 and has focused increased attention in recent years on non-corporate matters, including University of Oregon sports and the Knight Cancer Institute. A little succession planning makes sense.

Knight and Nike have endured their share of controversy over the years - from scrutiny of labor practices at overseas factories to the current investigation into the company’s sponsorship deal with the Brazilian national soccer team. Knight also has been intensely private. And at times, he has flexed political muscle. How many people can convince a governor to call a special session just to address an issue - in this case tax rules - affecting his company?

But there should be no question that over the past 50-plus years Knight and his companies (Nike started as Blue Ribbon Sports) have been an overwhelmingly positive influence on Oregon. Nike has grown to be by far the largest Oregon-based business, has helped attract many other companies to Oregon, has donated millions to charity and has become an integral part of the state’s image. If you want an idea of how successful Nike has been, the website 24/7 did the math. Over the past two decades, Nike’s stock rose 2,300 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500, a measure of the broad market, gained 324 percent.

As Nike’s stock soared, so did Knight’s net worth - to about $24.6 billion, according to a Forbes’ estimate. By moving the bulk of his Nike stock into an LLC, Knight accomplishes several things. The move likely reduces taxes, though how much depends on details only Knight and his advisers know. It also likely simplifies transfer of ownership when Knight dies and therefore helps provide continuity to both the company and the family.

The question for Oregon is whether the state is prepared for the post-Knight era. The state’s political leaders could learn some lessons by looking at how Nike grew into one of the world’s most recognizable companies:

Build a great brand: This is one Nike trait that Oregon already shares to a certain degree. Just like its largest company, Oregon is known as hip, innovative, tolerant and an overall cool place to be. Unlike Nike, it’s not necessarily known for success. Let’s just say Nike stock charts look a lot more impressive than Oregon unemployment charts. To take its brand to the next level, Oregon needs to work out some of the kinks (creating more jobs would be a good place to start) and continue to market the state aggressively.

Build beyond your natural strengths: This might very well be one of the most significant differences between Nike and the state it calls home. Oregon took advantage of Intel and Tektronix to build a robust high-tech industry. Nike’s presence helped make Oregon the global epicenter for athletic apparel. The state’s natural beauty and commitment to environmental stewardship have positioned it well in both tourism and green-related industries. And climate, soil conditions and innovation helped the state emerge as a force in the wine and beer worlds.

But while building on those strengths, the state chose to disregard another natural resource - timber. It also watched traditional manufacturing decline, a nationwide trend but one that is particularly painful here because of manufacturing’s role in the economy and the lack of employment alternatives for blue-collar workers.

Phil Knight, in contrast, started out focusing on running shoes. But Nike became a global power to a significant degree because of the branding power created by Air Jordan basketball shoes in the 1980s. In ensuing years, it would create a leading golf brand from scratch by linking up with Tiger Woods. And as the Nike brand grew, the company became the leading outfitter of college and professional sports teams and became ever more creative in designing uniforms - making the brand even more powerful.

Don’t let mistakes cripple you: It’s not like everything Phil Knight touched turned to gold. Few remember this now, but at one point in mid-1980s Reebok passed Nike and became the No. 1 U.S. athletic shoe company, in part by putting more emphasis on fashion. Nike broadened its product line, introduced the “Just Do It” slogan, regained the No. 1 spot and never looked back. Anyone who has looked at Nike apparel lately knows the company learned the lesson about fashion.

Oregon, in contrast, has gone from one unproductive education initiative to another and has largely ignored the problems in rural Oregon for two decades.

Despite all his success, Phil Knight was never hugely popular in Oregon, except among fans of Oregon Ducks sports teams. Some of that probably is a product of his personality and some of it because Oregon does not easily embrace financial success. And maybe that’s the biggest difference of all between Nike and Oregon. It’s hard to be successful without fully embracing success.

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The Argus Observer, July 5, on the legalization of recreational marijuana

It’s a green new world in Oregon. Recreational marijuana has been legal statewide for four whole days.

The Argus covered various aspects of the new law throughout the week. We outlined legal and illegal activity, explored fears that legalizing marijuana could make it easier for kids and teens to get their hands on the drug, and looked at how different workplaces are handling pot-related policy. We’ve covered action in the Legislature regarding marijuana and talked to people who consider its legalization in Oregon as historic as Woodstock or the moon landing.

There are more stories to tell - and there are some things too early to tell.

Local law enforcement officers on both sides of the state line have been bracing for marijuana’s legalization ever since voters approved Measure 91 in November. They’ve predicted a rise in crime and challenges for staffs that are already stretched thin.

Whether that will prove to be the case has yet to be seen. Certainly our border community could face unique challenges other cities throughout the state won’t have to deal with. Certainly there will be people who abuse marijuana, just as there are people who abuse other legal drugs, including prescription medication and alcohol. We’re hopeful, however, that by and large, those who do choose to use the drug will do so responsibly.

We’re also hoping that decriminalizing recreational marijuana could have a positive impact on law enforcement. It could actually free up officers who might otherwise be tied up arresting someone for pot possession to assist on other calls. Police or deputies who might previously have faced a dangerous situation alone could have more backup available.

Now that it’s legal, access to marijuana has become an issue of personal liberty. We may not personally want to light up a joint of our own, but by golly, we support your right to do so - out of sight on private property if you’re older than 21, of course. Freedom of any kind always goes hand in hand with responsibility.

We know if given the choice, Malheur County wouldn’t have approved Measure 91. Sixty-nine percent of those of us who voted on the issue in November opposed legalizing pot. But it’s here now, and it’s up to us to make sure this new road travels as smoothly as possible.

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The (Albany) Democrat-Herald, July 6, on driving legislation

Maybe you’ve noticed this as well, but it seems as if every time the Legislature meets, it spends more time than it should pondering the way that the rest of us drive.

This is likely a result of all the time legislators spend on the road between Salem and their homes, and we should emphasize before we continue that we’re sympathetic to these road warriors.

Since they’re racking up some serious mileage, it’s no wonder that legislators get to think long and hard about the bad habits of other drivers. (Just as we’re sure that our own driving behavior is beyond reproach every time we slide behind the wheel, we’re certain that every legislator is a model of driving purity, hands locked in the 10 and 2 positions on the steering wheel and never even being tempted to check why the cellphone is constantly ringing with new texts.)

The logical result is that every legislative session gets filled with proposals likely meant, in some way, to show these idiot drivers on the road how things should be done. Most of these proposals get shot down, as they should, in the course of the session.

This year’s session also has included a variety of measures meant to change the way we drive.

But the surprising thing is that some of these measures survived the cut and are headed to Gov. Kate Brown. And the real surprise is this: They’re worthy of support.

The Legislature last week backed a bill that would raise the speed limits from 55 to 65 mph outside the city limits in Central and Eastern Oregon. Interstate 84 from The Dalles to Idaho would rise to 70 mph, as would all of U.S. 95 in Oregon’s southeast corridor. These changes are overdue. Anyone who’s spent any time driving on the eastern reaches of Interstate 84 knows the experience of counting the minutes until you leave Oregon so that you can speed up just a bit. These are wide-open stretches; raising the speed limit so that it’s more in sync with the speed limits in Washington state and Idaho simply makes sense.

The Legislature also backed a bill that allows self-service gasoline late at night in counties with no more than 40,000 residents. The idea is to allow motorists low on fuel in lightly populated areas the chance to get gas without waiting for a station to open.

It’s a small crack in the state’s ban on self-service gasoline, and, truthfully, it’s a crack that’s not likely to get any bigger any time soon. But the measure did generate some light-hearted soul searching, including this Twitter message from mid-valley Sen. Sara Gelser: “Today I voted for limited self-service gas in extremely rural areas late at night. Am I still a real Oregonian?”

But legislators wisely shot down a bill that would have designated the left lane on four-lane highways as a passing lane and allowed police to ticket motorists who failed to move over for faster traffic. These slowpokes in the left lane are annoying, to be sure, but it still seems extreme to label their behavior illegal.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, July 6, on student test scores

Rob Saxton, who stepped down last week as Oregon’s deputy superintendent of public instruction, inadvertently fueled the rebellion against the new Smarter Balanced tests when he predicted that about two-thirds of students would fail them. The state, critics charged, was raising the bar too high, and then branding students as failures when they couldn’t clear it. But Saxton and critics alike underestimated students’ capabilities, which should lead all Oregonians to recognize the potential usefulness of the Smarter Balanced tests.

The tests are designed to measure whether third through eighth graders and juniors in high school are mastering the skills set forth in the Common Core, a set of standards adopted by about 40 states, including Oregon in 2010. The idea is to ensure that students throughout the country learn what they will need to succeed in college or careers, and to measure whether that learning is taking place. The Smarter Balanced tests are expected to be of particular value in comparing educational results among states, and in showing whether particular groups of students, such as those from low-income or minority families, are getting the education they deserve.

Saxton’s prediction was based on the fact that the Smarter Balanced tests are tougher than the tests Oregon used before, and on the fact that about 70 percent of students enrolling in the state’s community colleges require some form of remedial education. The latter statistic is strong evidence that large numbers of students aren’t learning all they should by the time they finish high school.

But when results from the first round of testing came in last week, they brought a pleasant surprise: Students far exceeded Saxton’s expectation. About 55 percent met or surpassed the Common Core standard in reading, and 45 percent met or surpassed the standard in math. Five percent of the tests have yet to be scored, and those results are expected to pull the averages down, but it’s clear that about half of Oregon students have risen to the challenge of the Common Core. The percentage should rise in future years as teachers and students become more familiar with curricula designed to serve the standards.

The test results can be interpreted as showing that Oregon’s educational glass is half full, or that it’s half empty - but what’s more important is how the information is used. In addition to the fear that poor results would be used to shame students, critics have worried that they would be used to evaluate teachers, despite assurances that neither would occur, at least initially. But the best use will be as a tool for evaluating the education system as a whole.

Such a tool would be valuable in several ways. Test data will allow Oregon to find and strengthen those aspects of Oregon school curricula that are helping students meet the standards, and also to identify areas of weakness that need to be corrected. Special efforts can be made to address the needs of groups of students who are found to be falling short of the standards. And Oregon can compare the results of its education system to results in other states, and do what it can to implement the best practices developed elsewhere.

Students in Washington state, for instance, outperformed their counterparts in Oregon at most grade levels. The two states’ levels of education spending are about the same, so a search can begin for other factors affecting student achievement.

As comparable results come in from more states, the strengths and deficiencies of Oregon’s schools will come into sharper focus. Oregon’s school year, among the shortest in the nation, and its class sizes, among the biggest in the nation, are likely to be found to affect student performance, providing evidence-based arguments for efforts to address both problems. The first-year results are not as bad as feared, but certainly can be better - and the Smarter Balanced tests can help the state identify the most effective and urgent improvements.

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