- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The (Corvallis) Gazette-Times, August 1, a decline in state timber harvests:

The Oregon Department of Forestry last week announced that timber harvests in the state declined about 8 percent in 2015 when compared to the year before.

It was the first time in three years that Oregon’s timber harvest came in at less than 4 billion board feet. Last year’s tally from the state’s forests worked out to be about 3.79 billion board feet. (If that sort of number boggles your mind, the state provided this helpful fact: One board foot of lumber is 1 foot wide, 1 foot long and 1 inch thick. The construction of a house that’s about 1,800 square feet requires about 10,000 board feet. So now, we’ll do the math for you: Oregon’s 2015 timber harvest would be sufficient to build about 379,000 houses.)

We often have argued that Oregon’s economy would be healthier, especially in the state’s rural areas, if we were able to put more people back to work in our forests. The report from the Department of Forestry starts to suggest some of the reasons why that isn’t happening, and while some of those are our making, other factors are out of our control.

First, consider this: According to the state, about half of Oregon (49 percent) is forested. (It works out to be about 30.2 million acres of forested land.)

About 60 percent of those forests are under federal control, either by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. We already know how difficult it can be to get timber sales approved on federal lands. The harvest on BLM land dropped about 8 percent in 2015. The harvest on Forest Service land dropped about 5 percent.

In an ironic (but somewhat encouraging) note, the Forest Service actually reported an increase in the harvest in certain eastern Oregon counties, notably Grant and Harney. That work there is being driven by stewardship contracts. But the Forest Service harvest in western Oregon declined, dragging down the totals. It makes you wonder if the stewardship examples in eastern Oregon can help unlock the federal forests in the western part of the state.

State-owned forests make up just 3 percent of the total in Oregon. Interestingly, the timber harvest on these state lands was up about 26 percent, according to the Department of Forestry, jumping from about 230 million board feet to about 290 million board feet - important, but just a fraction of the harvest from federal forests.

Industrial forests make up 19 percent of Oregon’s total, and family forests add another 15 percent. Harvests on these private lands were down in 2015: Industrial harvest was down about 9 percent, the state said, while the harvest on nonindustrial private lands (essentially family forests) was about 453 million board feet, a decline of about 19 percent.

The Department of Forestry attributed much of the decline in the timber harvest to factors that have little, if anything, to do with the long-running environmental battles in the United States: The main culprit is the slowdown in timber exports to Asia. As Asian economies cool, so does the demand for logs.

We still believe that it would be helpful to Oregon’s economy to get more people working in our forests. But the state report suggests some of the reasons why that task is more complex than it might appear.

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The (Medford) Mail Tribune, July 26, on marijuana’s black market:

It’s been suspected for some time that a lot more marijuana was being produced by medical growers than could be consumed by patients, and now the evidence is beginning to surface.

First came the arrest of a Jackson County dispensary owner in Siskiyou County for allegedly hauling marijuana across the California line for illegal sale.

Now an economic analysis has concluded that a huge percentage of marijuana ostensibly grown in Josephine County for medical patients is instead feeding the black market.

The Grants Pass Daily Courier reports the study, prepared by the consulting firm ECONorthwest on behalf of Grants Pass and Josephine County, estimated 70 percent of the medical marijuana produced in Oregon is not being consumed by patients. The analyst who made that estimate admits it’s a guess, but it’s probably a fairly good one. And it suggests that those who defend the medical marijuana industry should get serious about cleaning up the image of what is supposed to be a compassionate endeavor.

When Oregon voters legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults, it put state statutes in conflict with federal law, which still considers marijuana illegal for any purpose. Federal authorities told state officials they would take a hands-off approach to what the voters had legalized as long as the state cracked down hard on black-market production that sent marijuana out of state.

The result was a new system of regulation for the medical marijuana industry, which had operated without much oversight for years. Growers and advocates protested that the new rules would jeopardize patients’ access to medicine they need to counter the pain of chronic and terminal illnesses.

The ECONorthwest study looked at the number of plants allowed the number of patients, and concluded that large quantities are “disappearing” from the market.

One grower in Williams disputed the 70 percent figure, saying the real numbers are probably reversed. That would mean 30 percent of the crop is being diverted. Even if that’s the accurate figure, it’s still too much if the goal is a functioning legal marketplace operating in the light of day and accountable to regulators who are trying to keep federal drug agents at bay.

The new world of legal recreational marijuana and stricter reporting requirements for producers of both recreational and medical marijuana will take time to sort out. In the meantime, growers who continue to operate illegally are doing their law-abiding colleagues no favors.

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The East Oregonian, July 26, on problems with Oregon’s foster care system:

Oregon’s foster care system for children in the midst of family crises is in serious trouble. Oregon Public Broadcasting has been shining a bright list at problems with foster care and finding situations that demand redress.

This is no new thing. OPB reported “cracks in foster care” five years ago. But by almost any reckoning, things have gotten worse. There are hundreds fewer foster care beds in Oregon this year compared to last. Children sometimes have to spend nights in state offices and motel rooms, with a couple of state workers detailed to watch them.

How did we get to this point? First, there was an understandable nationwide switch away from state-run institutions for neglected, endangered and abandoned children, toward what was viewed as a more benign system of housing children in family homes where foster parents received state compensation in return for providing a semblance of home life.

Oregon foster parents receive a base rate of $575 to $741 a month per child, depending on the child’s age. There is significant additional compensation to help deal with special needs and circumstances. All in all, payments are not transparently unfair.

Some, and perhaps even most, foster parents aren’t in it for the money but welcome the chance to be a savior to kids in need. So why do fewer and fewer participate? In part, our culture has changed.

Most modern families have only one or two children. In such small settings, foster children can necessitate major changes in “household chemistry.” This means most contemporary families won’t even contemplate joining the foster care program.

Those who do may find themselves weighed down by bureaucracy that is viewed as essential in today’s abuse-conscious and litigious society.

It’s becoming clear in Oregon and throughout the U.S. that we must develop and fund alternatives to traditional foster care. The Oregon Department of Human Services and the Legislature must confront this issue head on. We must do a better job of caring for children who are having the worst time in their lives.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, July 29, on Oregon’s Retirement Savings Plan:

Americans employed in the private sector are pretty much on their own when it comes to financing retirement. Company-paid pensions have all but vanished, and Social Security benefits average $1,341 a month. Unless workers have managed to accumulate a sizeable pool of savings, their choices in old age will be to live in poverty or stay on the job. A new program taking shape in Oregon will broaden those choices, and ultimately reduce the burden on public services.

The easiest way to save for retirement is through employer-sponsored programs such as 401(k) plans that deposit a portion of each paycheck into an investment account. The deposits are sometimes matched by the employer. Workers who have access to such plans are 14 times more likely to save for retirement than those who do not.

But nationwide, 42 percent of full-time private-sector employees between the ages of 18 and 64 have no workplace retirement savings plan. In Oregon, about half have no access to a such a plan. That helps explain why 55 percent of households with a worker between the ages of 55 and 64 have retirement savings of less than $25,000. Unless these people act on their own to set up an Individual Retirement Account or something like it, they’ll face old age without savings.

The Oregon Legislature confronted this problem in 2015 by creating the Oregon Retirement Savings Plan, which will begin enrolling workers next July. The plan will be open to all workers whose employers do not offer a plan of their own. It will be administered by the Oregon Retirement Savings Board, with the state treasurer as its chairman. Last week Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who pushed for approval of the plan, announced details of how it will operate.

The high points: Enrollment will be automatic - workers will participate unless they choose not to. No employer contribution will be required. The savings rate will be 5 percent, unless workers choose to contribute at a higher or lower rate. The money will go into Roth IRA accounts, which means that contributions are made with after-tax dollars but investment gains and eventual withdrawals are tax-free. Investments will be tailored to the age of the worker, with the objective shifting from growth to preservation of capital as retirement nears, unless the account-holder chooses a different investment objective.

Workers who think they can’t afford to save 5 percent of their pay, or who prefer to set up their own savings plans, can opt out of the state program. But automatic enrollment has been shown to double participation in workplace savings plans. And even low-wage workers in a plan with modest investment returns can accumulate a sizeable nest egg over the course of their working lives.

A majority of states are considering publicly sponsored retirement savings plans; Oregon is further ahead than all but a few. The social benefits will be broad. Oregon will be a better place for everyone if fewer senior citizens are living in poverty and turning to the government for help with housing, medical and living expenses. Americans are increasingly on their own in preparing for retirement - and programs like Oregon’s will make self-reliance easier.

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The Bend Bulletin, July 30, on the corporate tax proposal:

Measure 97 is a bad idea, but there’s clever marketing behind it.

The most recent is a study produced by Our Oregon and the Oregon Consumer League that reaches a flawed conclusion.

Let’s review. Measure 97 is on the November ballot. Our Oregon helped get it there. The measure would create a 2.5 percent tax on the sales of C-corporations exceeding $25 million, which does not include The Bulletin. It would raise some $3 billion in taxes per year.

Raising corporate taxes can be popular. It’s not like a straightforward tax on Oregonians that would be felt directly, such as a sales tax, an income tax or a property tax. It’s a tax on big, impersonal corporations. It’s a sneaky tax. The impact of the corporate tax doesn’t show up on a sales receipt. It’s largely invisible.

But who pays?

Corporations are made of people. There are the owners, the managers and the employees. When taxes go up, profits go down and there is less money for the owners, managers and employees. It may not mean people lose jobs, though that could happen. It could very well mean that new people are not hired, new equipment is not purchased, or existing employees don’t get raises or improvements in benefits. The corporation could also raise the prices on the goods it sells, passing the cost to the consumer.

Our Oregon paid Portland State economists to do a study of the impacts of Measure 97. Guess what the study said? The tax could increase prices to consumers. The Legislative Revenue Office, a nonpartisan state agency, was less equivocal. It estimated that the increase would be about $600 more a year in taxes per Oregonian.

That’s bad news for the supporters of Measure 97. Our Oregon and the Oregon Consumer League tried put a better spin on it. They looked at prices of goods sold by national chains in different states. Their study points out that the prices are remarkably similar, despite the differences in tax policy in different states.

“Our study shows that, despite what corporations may say, an increase in state corporate taxes will not translate into higher prices for common, consumer goods,” the report concludes. “Measure 97 affects national companies, and national companies use national pricing.”

That’s a flawed conclusion. You can’t take $3 billion in taxes and not expect a price will be paid.

First of all, Measure 97 does not only affect national companies. It will affect C-Corporations in Oregon with sales of $25 million or more.

Second and more importantly, some national companies may have national pricing strategies. That doesn’t mean that their national or Oregon prices would not be lower if their tax burden were lower or that prices won’t increase if Measure 97 passes.

And don’t forget all of Measure 97’s other flaws - some pointed out by the study that Our Oregon paid for and others by the Legislative Revenue Office’s analysis.

Measure 97 socks it to the poor. It’s going to have a regressive impact on consumers, meaning it is going to hit the poor the hardest. It could tax some goods over and over again as they move through the production process. It forces businesses to pay whether or not they are making a profit.

Measure 97 is so rich in faults it deserves to fail.

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