- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The East Oregonian, July 15, on a problem with loose dogs:

Eastern Oregon has a problem with domesticated animals on the loose. They pose a danger to residents and tie up emergency personnel who have better things to do.

Just last month, a Hermiston woman was attacked by two dogs near the Diagonal Road walking trail, outside of city limits in the jurisdiction of Umatilla County. The dogs left her with wounds on her hands and shoulder that required more than 20 stitches.

In the last five years, there have been serious to minor attacks everywhere from Boardman to Milton-Freewater. Interspersed are innumerable animal neglect calls, which arise when a resident believes a pet is being mistreated with lack of water, shade or health care.

Umatilla County has no animal control division, which means that deputies must deal with animal problems that crop up - everything from corralling escaped dogs or livestock, deciding if a pet left outside on a hot day is a criminal matter and whether a wandering animal is a public nuisance or a threat.

It’s a difficult job for anyone, and an impossible one for many area police departments who are already overworked and stretched thin on both bodies and budgets.

As we’ve argued before, we think carving out room from police or public works budgets to hire an animal control officer is a good use of funds.

It protects residents, increases livability and helps reduce one of the age-old stresses that pits neighbors against neighbors.

Animal control divisions are very common across the country, and in similar-sized counties near us, such as Union. Pendleton police have a full-time code enforcement officer who handles most of the non-criminal animal complaints, but Hermiston has no such officer specifically tasked.

More city and county employees specially trained, educated and outfitted for encounters with animals would be helpful. We have some local nonprofits who can offer places to keep and care for animals. (Those same nonprofits can always benefit from additional resources to help them do so).

Sergeant Joshua Roberts with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office told our reporter earlier this week that his department handles an average of seven to 10 calls a week involving dogs. Many more issues must go unreported.

Eastern Oregon is a place that loves its animals - from the beefy variety that graze our pastures to the smaller, furrier ones that curl up at our feet.

But if we value those relationships, voters and residents must require someone be tasked with keeping those animals safe when they escape, and other people around them safe, too.

Remember the old political cliché: Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.

Although we have improved, there are still places in this county where there are no local laws when it comes to pets, and no one to enforce them anyway.

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The (Albany) Democrat-Herald, July 14, on the state’s low-carbon fuel law:

Even as a committee of Oregon lawmakers is working to come up with a transportation package for the 2017 Legislature, Gov. Kate Brown is making it clear she has no intention of repealing the state’s low-carbon fuel law.

A recent story in The Oregonian reported on a May invitation-only meeting in Portland between the governor, lawmakers, lobbyists and business executives. At the meeting, Brown said that any repeal of the state’s Clean Fuels Program was off the table.

You may recall the fuss over the program during the 2015 legislative session. 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 is relatively clear that it will increase the price of fuel: Estimates say it could cost consumers anywhere from 4 to 19 cents a gallon. (It’s worth noting here 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 renewed the program in 2015, 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. To the astonishment of Democrats (and some Republicans), GOP legislators held steady on that promise, and since the increase in the gas tax required at least some Republican support, the transportation package died.

Now, a group of legislators is working to come up with the outlines of a transportation package to present to the 2017 Legislature. The key question, of course, is how to pay for the package of badly needed work on the state’s transportation infrastructure, and at least some Republicans were thinking that any proposed increase in the gas tax might be more palatable if it went along with a rollback of the Clean Fuels Program.

As governor, Brown likes to keep her cards close to her chest (we still don’t know her positions on the proposed corporate tax increase or capital punishment, for that matter), so it seems a little out of character for her to take one possible negotiating chip off the table so soon.

The governor’s communications director, Kristen Grainger, didn’t shed much light on the matter, telling The Oregonian in an email that “Brown doesn’t think Oregonians should have to choose” between clean air and better roads. “We need both.”

Well, it’s hard to read between the lines of that kind of “false choice” blather. But here goes: Maybe Brown is betting that at least some Republicans will come around by the time the 2017 session begins, and there are some indications that might be a good bet. Maybe she’s betting that the cost-containment work going on now will pay dividends in the next couple of years.

Or maybe she’s walking a finer line: Could be signaling that while she’s against outright appeal, she might be willing to considering rolling back the program?

In any event, the governor needs to keep as many options open as possible: The failure of the 2015 transportation package was the session’s major disappointment. In fact, Brown pronounced during the session that she wouldn’t let legislators leave Salem until the transportation deal was done.

Then they left Salem without the deal. Neither the governor nor Oregon can afford a similar ending in 2017.

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The Oregonian, July 14, on the corporate tax proposal:

If the secretary of state’s office really wants voters to understand how a massive corporate tax proposal on the November ballot would affect state spending, it should add this sobering sentence to the voters’ pamphlet description for Initiative Petition 28:

“The measure states that all revenue generated by the tax increase ‘shall’ go to education, health care and senior services; however, current and future Legislatures may choose to spend it in any way they see fit.”

Unfortunately, the current description for the measure, which would levy a 2.5 percent gross-receipts tax on certain corporations with more than $25 million annually in Oregon sales, is not so clear. As The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Hillary Borrud reported, the draft financial estimate statement for IP 28 states the expected $3 billion annually in revenue from the tax “will require increased expenditures by the state in the areas of public early childhood and kindergarten through grade 12 education, health care and senior services, but the exact amount and the specific uses within the three identified programs cannot be determined.”

The problem with that statement, however, is that the Legislature isn’t required to spend more money in just those three areas. IP 28 proposes a change in state law - not a change in the state Constitution - and the Legislature regularly revises such laws by passing new legislation and deciding where to appropriate state funds. That’s their job, after all. There’s no immunity for laws brought about by voter-approved initiatives.

As Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson told The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board, “when through the initiative process, a law is passed, the Legislature or voters in the future are free to change that.” His nonpartisan office, which does not take a position on initiatives, provides legal services to the Legislature.

The campaign behind IP 28 acknowledges lawmakers’ authority to change the law. But spokeswoman Katherine Driessen told the editorial board that “considering the billions of dollars of need in our critical services, we believe the Legislature won’t do that.”

But you don’t have to look far to see government officials already plotting how they would use such a big increase in revenue. Gov. Kate Brown already revealed the squishiness of any such spending directives when she released her “corporate tax implementation plan” last month, outlining how she would want to target spending if voters pass the measure. Not surprisingly, the plan calls for action in areas beyond education, health care and senior services.

For example, she includes proposals to increase assistance and tax credits for low-income families, as well as providing incentives for businesses to invest. They may be worthy programs to mitigate the expected negative effects of the gross-receipts tax, but they don’t fall within the education, health-care or senior-services areas that the measure dictates. When asked about the inconsistency, Brown’s spokeswoman said new tax money would free up other general fund revenue to pay for such needs. But even that conflicts with the ballot measure, which calls for new revenue to be appropriated in addition to existing funding for those areas.

Certainly, voters could reasonably believe that some of that extra $3 billion a year would go to education, health-care and senior services. Considering the size of the proposed tax increase would supersize the budget - general fund spending currently amounts to roughly $9 billion a year - voters might be fine with lawmakers’ carving off some of those funds for non education, health-care and senior-service programs.

But voters should also weigh the cost at which that extra revenue will come. An analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office finds that the tax will act as a consumption tax passed on to all Oregonians, with low-income families disproportionately feeling the burden of such increases. The office also concludes the tax will likely dampen the state’s employment and economic growth.

There are so many problems with the tax that even Brown, in her “implementation plan,” acknowledges the need for legislative fixes if voters pass it. But that circular path only underscores the conclusion that voters should come to in voting against the measure. Setting tax policy is a responsibility best handled by legislators.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, July 15, on Oregon setting an example for nation on voting by mail:

Three Oregon members of Congress are trying to expand Oregon-style voting by mail nationwide. It’s an idea whose time has come.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, all Democrats, said they introduced their bills in large part because of new voting restrictions 17 states have adopted - just in time for the 2016 presidential election - that will make it harder for many people to vote, or will disenfranchise them entirely.

Wyden said that working people, young people, people of color and people with disabilities will be faced with significant new hurdles.

Since Oregon adopted vote-by-mail in 1996, it has proved efficient, cost-effective and popular. About the only complaints that have surfaced are a few expressions of nostalgia for polling places and some complaints that Oregon is making it too easy for people to vote, particularly the wrong sort of people - generally speaking, liberals.

On the other side of the scales are compelling arguments for expanding vote-by-mail nationwide:

-It doesn’t disenfranchise people who have trouble getting enough time away from work to commute to their polling place and vote.

-It doesn’t hamper or disenfranchise people who have mobility issues, including elderly people, those without cars or people with physical challenges.

-It doesn’t burden people with small children who are trying to vote while wrangling tiny people who may be running, crying, exploring or some combination thereof.

-It avoids last-minute voting machine malfunctions and long lines. Remember the people waiting up to five hours to vote in this year’s Arizona primary? And the 126,000 people in New York who were purged from the voting rolls? Polling places that ran out of ballots?

-It also avoids situations like that of Rhode Island, which slashed the number of polling places by two-thirds earlier this year, outraging voters.

-It eliminates the problem of voters showing up at their polling place only to find it’s been moved or is opening late, and the problem of finding enough poll workers.

-It allows people to research issues as they fill out their ballots, instead of standing in the voting booth and trying to remember what Measure 77 is about - or showing up with a summary of recommendations ripped from a newspaper and blindly following those.

-The cost to administer an election in Oregon dropped by nearly 30 percent after vote by mail was adopted. In Colorado, costs dropped an average of 40 percent.

-It eliminates current inconsistencies among states: three states conduct elections solely by mail, and 22 states allow some elections to be conducted by mail.

All states currently allow any voter to request an absentee ballot for any election, although a number demand a reason. Requiring all states to offer vote by mail as an option would not only provide equity, it would keep states from asking voters what is going on in their private lives that merits an absentee ballot.

There have been a few complaints or questions in Oregon about signature verifications on ballots.

In 2009, Orange County, Calif., which was considering vote by mail, investigated Oregon’s experience and found no confirmed reports of voter coercion or fraud.

There are no compelling arguments against national vote by mail. There are, however, compelling arguments for it.

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The Bend Bulletin, July 17, on opening university meetings to the public:

The presidents of Oregon’s seven public universities - Portland State, Oregon State and University of Oregon, plus four smaller schools in Ashland, Klamath Falls, La Grande and Monmouth - are meeting together regularly behind closed doors.

That may, or may not, be legal. At the moment it’s unclear whether the new group is subject to the state’s open meetings law - the Legislature’s lawyers say probably not, though they believe minutes of the group’s session are subject to public disclosure. So far Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has not weighed in on the subject.

Oregon’s system of higher education has undergone dramatic changes in the last few years. Former Gov. John Kitzhaber persuaded lawmakers to replace the state’s old Board of Higher Education with a Higher Education Coordinating Commission in 2011. As part of the change, the individual universities were given more autonomy, including the right to create their own boards of governors.

HECC exercises considerable control over the universities despite the changes, to be sure. It decides how much money for higher education to ask lawmakers for every two years. It approves new degrees and academic programs. And, its power extends beyond the universities to community colleges; state-supplied, needs-based financial aid to students; trade schools; programs aimed at veterans; and more.

Given the breadth of HECC’s reach, it’s easy to understand why the public universities want to ensure they approach the commission with a single voice and message.

Yet arriving at that message should not be done in secret. The schools, after all, receive millions in taxpayer dollars, and collectively they are the largest supplier of post-secondary education in Oregon.

The university leaders should decide to make their meetings public.

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