- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers.

The (Medford) Mail-Tribune, April 8, on the state’s fire insurance policy

Nearly everyone who owns a house carries fire insurance. It’s considered prudent to insure against a catastrophe that can destroy everything you own, and mortgage lenders require it to protect their interest. But the state of Oregon carries fire insurance, too - against the wildfires that have become almost routine in recent summers.

Wildfires are so routine, in fact, that Oregon nearly lost its fire policy through Lloyd’s of London after the state maxed out its coverage in 2013 and 2014. The only thing that saved the policy was that the 2015 season was bad enough to qualify for federal reimbursement for some of the most severe fires.

This year, Lloyd’s is offering the policy again. For a premium of $3.5 million and after paying a deductible of $50 million, the state would be eligible for up to $25 million from Lloyd’s. Private timberland owners, who are eligible for the coverage as well, would help to pay the premium and the deductible.

That sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but the $3.5 million premium is actually down $300,000 from last year because the state did not need to tap the policy in 2015 after the federal reimbursements.

The Bulletin newspaper in Bend reports net state firefighting costs after reimbursements averaged $8 million in the 10 years prior to 2013, but then expenses exploded. In 2013, costs were $75 million, and $47.7 million in 2014. Climate change models from the Oregon Department of Forestry predict an increased chance of catastrophic fires in this part of the state and elsewhere in coming years.

Some lawmakers are discussing the possibility of creating a permanent fund of up to $60 million to cover firefighting costs, essentially making the state self-insured. That’s worth serious consideration. But for now, the state should take Lloyd’s up on its offer and buy a policy for the 2016 fire season.


The (Bend) Bulletin, April 10, on allowing bikes in the wilderness

Bring up the possibility of bicycles in wilderness areas and some people react as though vampires are coming to suck the wilderness dry.

But bicycles don’t belong lumped into the same category as motorcycles and ATVs. Horses can do more damage to trails than bikes or hikers. And horses are allowed in wilderness areas.

We don’t want bikes everywhere in wilderness. There should be, though, an end to the ban that says they can go nowhere. They should be allowed in some areas.

That’s the idea behind a proposal from a group called the Sustainable Trails Coalition. It may become a bill in Congress. The idea deserves consideration and debate.

Bicycles weren’t banned by name from wilderness areas in the legislation that created the areas. But they were banned in 1984 because they are a form of “mechanical transport.”

Many conservationists see bikes in wilderness as a nonstarter. They argue bikes are unnatural and shatter the feel they want in wilderness.

You can’t dispute that. Allowing bicycles on some trails in wilderness areas would change the character of the experience. Bikes coming down the trail can be like being charged by Lycra-clad, neon cavalry.

Mountain bikers would help their own case if the first thing that came to everyone’s mind when seeing them was: Oh, it’s another group of those polite people.

There’s a slugfest over public lands: Hikers versus bikers versus ATVs versus equestrians versus skiers versus snowmobilers versus mining versus grazing versus whoever else we have left out. Don’t expect detente. Expect headaches.

They all must learn better to share and how to play nice together. You don’t start by banning bikes from all wilderness areas. You start by letting bikes in on some of the trails. If trails are really so delicate, bikes don’t belong, but neither do horses or hikers.

So end the bike ban in wilderness areas. It will create more support for wilderness areas if bicyclists know that they aren’t completely locked out.


Albany Democrat-Herald, April 11, on Gov. Brown’s state of the state speech

Gov. Kate Brown gave her second state-of-the-state speech on Friday in Portland, and, as you would expect from a moment like this in the midst of an election year, it read like a longer version of the stump speech she’ll be using as she seeks election to the post she assumed in 2015.

Nothing wrong with that; it would have been surprising, in fact, if the speech had been anything different.

In her speech, Brown summoned the legacy of Tom McCall, the Republican governor who helped drive vital changes in Oregon during his terms, including landmark land-use legislation.

It’s way too early in Brown’s term as governor, now barely a year old, to judge her against McCall. But there’s an important distinction she should keep in mind: As governor, McCall frequently needed to work with Democrats to push his key agenda items. (Of course, McCall didn’t really fit into the mold of a traditional Republican, at least as we understand that today.)

Although Brown, a Democrat, had a reputation for building partnerships across the aisle during her terms in the Legislature and as secretary of state, we haven’t seen that happen much during her time as governor. Maybe that’s because she hasn’t needed to, with Democrats firmly in control of the Legislature. But it’s worth noting that the major accomplishments she touted during the speech - the increase in the minimum wage and the passage of the bill weaning Oregon from coal-generated power - both passed the Legislature without any Republican support.

If Republicans are able to pick up some seats in the state House during the 2016 elections, as GOP leaders think they will, Brown will need to show some bipartisan leadership - especially if she hopes to pass any sort of transportation package that relies on additional taxes, such as an increase in the gas tax.

Brown gave her speech to the Portland City Club, and so it was clearly crafted with the metro area in mind. To be fair, the speech does make some passing references to the issues facing the state’s more rural areas: The economic recovery, she said, “has been slower across our 36 counties, with some rural counties still struggling with unemployment as high as 7 or 8 percent.”

The answer, she said, is supporting the growth of Oregon’s small businesses, and she touted the work of her Small Business Advisory Cabinet and Business Oregon.

And that’s fine, as far as that goes. But it’s telling that the speech made no references whatsoever to agriculture or timber or, for that matter, any of the state’s natural resources. It made no reference to the growing frustration many of Oregon’s counties feel with the state government, frustrations that have helped to drive Linn County’s lawsuit over management of state forests. The speech also did not explain how increasing the minimum wage and forcing higher prices for energy (one likely result of the state’s coal legislation and its clean fuels program) will benefit small businesses in rural Oregon.

The fact of the matter is that Brown likely can win election by doing well in the state’s metro areas and paying little, if any, attention to its rural counties. That’s how John Kitzhaber beat Chris Dudley in 2010. In Tom McCall’s day, though, the state had half of its current 4 million people, and the Portland area didn’t dominate state politics the way it does now. Statewide candidates needed to give rural Oregon more than a passing reference or two. Maybe those days have passed.


The (Salem) Statesman Journal, April 10, on Oregon’s economy

Gov. Kate Brown is right. Oregon’s economy is blossoming …

If you live in the right areas.

“I am pleased that, on the whole, Oregon has turned a corner on the Great Recession,” Brown said Friday in her second State of the State address. “But that recovery has been slower across our 36 counties, with some rural counties struggling with unemployment as high as 7 or 8 percent.

“The key to continuing to grow the economy in every corner of our state is Oregon’s small businesses.”

Her attention to small businesses is much appreciated. More than half of the Oregon workforce is employed in small businesses.

Along with being a small-business state, Oregon is a manufacturing state.

And it is a state, like many others, that is heavily reliant for tens of thousands of jobs on out-of-state companies that have chosen to locate some operations in Oregon. Those companies range from fast-food franchises that give youths their first jobs to high-income software developers.

Consequently, the actual key to sustaining and widening Oregon’s economic growth is to align the state’s tax, political and environmental policies with the state’s economic goals. But Oregon’s policymakers seem to be doing almost everything they can to deter business development. That is curious, because at the same time they are highlighting Oregon’s desperate need for affordable housing. It should be obvious: More family-wage jobs would mean greater housing opportunity for Oregonians.

It was disconcerting to hear Brown, during a question-and-answer period after her speech to the Portland City Club, say that tax reform should include ensuring that out-of-state corporations pay their fair share.

“Fair share” sounds good, especially following the Panama Papers revelations about global investors stashing profits in low-tax havens.

But “fair share” is in the eye of the beholder. Oregon’s November ballot is expected to include a union-backed initiative to substantially boost taxes on some out-of-state corporations doing business in Oregon. That proposal already has had a deleterious effect, as evidenced by the drop in out-of-state companies considering the Mid-Valley for expansion.

And the irony of that tax proposal is that backers promote its expected $2.6 billion revenue as a way to fund more state services. Certainly, if Oregon voters dampen the economy by approving the measure, those services definitely will be needed.

Government grows in times of need. In contrast, a robust economy lessens the need for government services.

Tom McCall, the legendary Republican governor whom Democrat Brown quoted in her speech Friday, understood that. Known today for protecting the environment, he also cannily marketed the state’s economy. His immediate successors, Democratic Gov. Bob Straub and Republican Gov. Vic Atiyeh, also recognized that Oregon’s quality of life depended on its being a business-friendly state.

Brown has done a lot during her first year-plus as governor. She had reason to be optimistic during Friday’s speech. But economic storm clouds not only are on the horizon, but they have been raining on much of Oregon far too long.

Oregon should learn from history. Strong Oregon businesses, including out-of-state corporations, are part of a good quality of life for Oregonians.


The (Eugene) Register-Guard, April 6, on section dredging

Oregon won a key victory in federal court recently when it comes to protection of the state’s rivers and streams. But it’s not the end of the fight.

Oregon began tightening rules several years ago on gold miners’ use of suction dredges and other motorized equipment in the state’s waterways. The move came after California clamped down on the dredging, saying it destroyed fish habitat and stirred up mercury that got into drinking water.

After the crackdown in California, but before Oregon imposed new rules of its own, miners migrated north. From 2008 to 2012, permits issued by Oregon’s Department of State Lands for suction dredge mining almost tripled, to 2,251.

Fishermen and environmentalists, among others, became alarmed, noting the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that had been spent restoring waterways.

In response to these concerns, the Oregon Legislature in 2013 approved a five-year moratorium on the use of suction dredges and other motorized equipment. The moratorium took effect this year.

The gold miners were not happy. They promptly sued the state, alleging that federal laws denied Oregon the right to protect waterways.

But U.S. District Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke now has ruled that Oregon acted legally. Clarke found that Oregon has the right to protect water quality and fish habitat, and that its protections were not in conflict with federal law.

Environmental groups greeted Clarke’s decision with joy, saying that “Oregonians can breathe a sigh of relief that many of our rivers and most sensitive salmon fisheries will be protected this summer from the toxic plumes of mercury that suction dredge mining releases.”

While the court’s decision was a victory for Oregon’s right to prevent motorized mining in its streams and rivers, it’s only one step in the process of protecting Oregon’s waterways, not a permanent bar to suction dredging.

The state Legislature was supposed to draft permanent rules for such dredging last year, but didn’t get it done.

And the current moratorium on use of motorized mining equipment in and near habitat essential for salmon - to protect both fisheries and water quality - is in place only through 2021. After that, it expires.

While Clarke has said that the state has the legal right to protect its rivers and streams from mining pollution, it’s up to the Oregon Legislature to take the ball Clarke has handed it and run with it.

That means drafting permanent regulations to protect clean water and sensitive habitat from motorized dredging equipment.

It’s an action that has potential effects across the region, bolstering similar protections in California and Idaho “while giving Washington a path forward for protecting wild salmon and water quality from suction dredge mining,” a representative of the Native Fish Society said.

Oregon has spent millions of dollars protecting and restoring its waterways, which are important to the state for many reasons, including salmon habitat, drinking water and tourism. It’s time for the Legislature to finish the job of protecting them against motorized mining.

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