- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The (Bend) Bulletin, May 31, on managing Oregon’s federal forests

Both Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, have backed legislation to better manage Oregon’s federal forests.

With their leadership, what could possibly go wrong?

They are both skilled politicians and undeniably influential, but getting forest legislation passed has proved challenging - to put it nicely.

Wyden has draft legislation titled “Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act.” It’s aimed at improving forest management and wildfire budgeting. It’s bipartisan.

It’s got a fix for what’s called fire borrowing. That’s the practice of taking money away from wildfire prevention and improving forest health and using it to fill the yearly hole in the budget to put fires out. The bill would reduce the number of alternatives that must be analyzed for some forest projects, which might save time and money. It has some $500 million in it to reduce wildfire risk near communities.

There is a snag. Wyden has tried to pass similar legislation before. It didn’t happen.

Why should we think it will happen this time?

His office said in a statement that Wyden “is optimistic the bipartisan draft legislation announced this week builds on those years of work with additional key allies from both parties to take a positive step toward resolving this issue once and for all.”

In the House, Walden has worked with his Democratic colleagues in Oregon - Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader - to produce the The Resilient Federal Forests Act. It also tries to fix fire borrowing. It aims to simplify environmental requirements, speed them up, reduce their costs and protect the environment.

This bill already passed this year. Next stop: the Senate, then debate, and maybe even passage.

Not so fast. This bill passed the House back in July 2015. The Senate never took action on it. Other forestry legislation by Walden passed the House in 2013 and 2014. Those weren’t acted on by the Senate either. Perhaps some of Walden’s allies in his party in the Republican-controlled Senate should give him a hand.

This time around, things might be slightly different. The Senate has already passed energy legislation. This bill was put inside energy legislation. So it could actually be discussed. Cross your fingers.


The (Eugene) Register-Guard, May 27, on an investigation into Cover Oregon

A congressional committee wants to launch a criminal investigation into Cover Oregon, the state’s ill-fated attempt to set up an online health insurance exchange.

More than $300 million in federal money vaporized during this debacle, so Congress has a legitimate stake in finding out what went wrong.

But the proposal by the Republican-dominated House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is a thinly veiled attempt to target the state’s Democratic leadership in an election year. It makes no pretense of attempting to find out how Cover Oregon operated or what went wrong.

Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said a committee report - titled “How Mismanagement and Political Interference Squandered $305 Million Federal Taxpayer Dollars” - was the result of a year-long investigation.

Cover Oregon, which was approved by a bipartisan vote of the state Legislature in 2011, was envisioned as a one-stop social service hub, allowing people to shop for health insurance and other public services.

It was a grand idea. But it failed.

State officials have blamed the company they contracted with, Oracle Corp., and sued the software giant.

Chaffetz has now waded into the fray, with letters to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum demanding a criminal investigation - and prosecution - of state officials.

Chaffetz also asked Rosenblum to recuse herself from any investigation because of her “closeness to several of the prospective defendants.”

Chaffetz alleges state officials misused federal funds and commingled political and official government funds to boost the political prospects of then-Gov. John Kitzhaber.

This isn’t the first time congressional Republicans have targeted Cover Oregon in an election year. In 2014, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden sought an investigation by the federal Government Accounting Office.

Chaffetz’s demand for criminal prosecution comes during another hotly contested election year.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee issued a minority report this week, flatly contradicting the GOP report on Cover Oregon.

Democratic committee members laid the blame for Cover Oregon’s failure at the feet of Oracle and said GOP committee members ignored the company’s admissions that it massively “screwed up.”

Oracle failed to deliver a functioning website by the deadline, admitted its work was deficient - as borne out by independent analysts - and misled state officials by claiming everything was on track when it wasn’t, the minority report said.

Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking minority member on the committee, stopped short of calling the GOP-led investigation a witch hunt. But he noted it focused on state officials, rather than the company responsible for the website. More than 170,000 pages of documents were obtained from the state government, including the governor’s office, and only 3,200 pages from Oracle, Cummings said. There were no depositions or transcribed interviews with Oracle employees, he said.

Chaffetz released the report as an “unofficial staff report” rather than an official committee report, thereby avoiding requirements that it be considered, debated, voted on and approved by the entire committee. This also meant the report was not subject to amendment or required to include minority views.

Cover Oregon was a failure that was costly both to the state and the federal government. An investigation into what went wrong and what, if anything, can be learned from it is warranted - as is a review of any official wrongdoing. Looking at how other state exchanges are faring also would be valuable.

But this report, timed for release in an election year and designed to avoid scrutiny or debate, is at best a distraction.

Affordable health care for everyone is a critically important issue for the United States and deserves careful consideration and sincere efforts to achieve this goal.

The attempt by the GOP majority in the House Oversight Committee, led by Chaffetz, to turn it into a political “gotcha” is disheartening. The country deserves better.


The Daily Astorian, May 26, on making landslide prevention a priority

The Willapa Hills and Oregon Coast Range are comparative youngsters when it comes to mountains, having been born something like 40 million years ago, compared to 300 to 500 million years for the superficially similar Appalachian Mountains.

Like all youngsters, our local hills are subject to rapid change - including landslides, a geological equivalent of growth pains.

Human actions can trigger landslides through development, timber harvesting on steep slopes, poorly designed roads or drainage systems, and other forms of land-use malpractice. But often, landslides just happen. For example, there have been some in Cape Disappointment State Park in recent years in places no human has touched in decades, if ever.

The slide on the Upper Naselle River in Washington combines several risk factors, starting with the fact that it previously experienced severe slippage. There are questions about drainage design and a choice by Pacific County to not enforce a weight limitation, which sent many thousands of tons of logs over a fragile road with a 5-ton limit.

There have been numerous expensive landslides throughout the Lower Columbia region in recent years. A December 2007 mudslide did extensive damage in Woodson between Astoria and Clatskanie, blocking Oregon Highway 30 for a time and costing about $1.5 million to repair. A huge slump on KM Mountain in 1990 between Naselle and Longview closed Washington State Route 4 for so long a backcountry detour was paved. In February 1998, a deep-seated earth flow in the Aldercrest neighborhood of Kelso resulted in loss of 138 homes. The list goes on and on.

The Statewide Landslide Information Database for Oregon (www.oregongeology.org/slido/index.html) shows Clatsop County having the state’s densest concentration of sites with very high susceptibility to landslides. With parallel geology but only about half as many residents, Pacific County has similar hazards but fewer chances they will impact residents.

A number of implications flow from our area’s propensity to slide downhill at awkward times and places:

-Land-use planning must do better at concentrating residential growth in safer areas, while acknowledging that inevitable population growth will push housing into places prone to landslides.

-Agencies must place a top priority on personal safety in landslide-prone areas. This means enforcing weight limits on roads, funding better culverts and insisting private landowners do the same, mapping hazard zones and making sure this information reaches the public, mortgage lenders and insurers.

-Forestry practices still allow clearcut logging on slopes that are inappropriately steep, where land failures may one day put human lives or valuable natural assets like the Naselle River at risk. Local residents and agencies can be pro-forestry and yet insist that companies bear the full costs and risks associated with logging.

In an historical context, we are still in the early days of modern-style development on the far West Coast. Many generations of intense development lie ahead. Climate predictions suggest more intense rainfall events, which play a major role in triggering slides. It is crucial we lay a rational groundwork now to avoid expensive and dangerous mistakes in the centuries ahead.


The Yamhill Valley News-Register, May 26, on a proposed sales tax

An analysis released this week confirms what many Oregonians have suspected from the outset: Initiative Petition 28 is bad for our state and bad for our pocketbooks. It has little if any upside. Just making the ballot, the measure puts us in a lose-lose situation.

The sponsoring coalition, consisting largely of public employee unions, is proposing a historically large tax increase on companies doing business here - probably the largest ever imposed. Signatures were submitted last week to qualify IP 28 for the November ballot.

Under IP 28, a tax of 2.5 percent would be imposed on all sales over $25 million, in addition to the corporate minimum tax on the first $25 million. A corporation with $50 million in sales would incur a minimum tax of $655,001.

The report from the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office exposes the measure for what it is - a consumption tax that would ultimately be passed on to consumers.

The office estimates people with incomes of $21,000 or less would pay $372 more in indirect state taxes. Those making between $48,000 and $68,000 would pay $613 more, those with incomes between $103,000 and $137,000 would pay $751 more, and those with incomes over $206,000 a year would pay $1,282 more.

A Better Oregon, the union-led nonprofit behind the measure, claims it’s a case of out-of-state corporations paying their fair share. It claims the gusher of new revenue would boost education and health care services.

But we see it as a money-making scheme to address the ongoing Public Employee Retirement System shortfall. In essence, the public unions are seeking a bailout from corporations and consumers.

Because it functions as a gross receipts tax, not taking into account profit and loss, companies operating on smaller margins would be forced to raise prices. The best example would be grocery stores.

“Taxes initially born by the retail trade, wholesale trade and utility sectors are expected to result in higher prices for Oregon residents,” the report concludes.

Furthermore, it concludes that just 50 of the 1,051 firms subject to the tax would take more than half of the hit. Being taxed millions of additional dollars to bail out PERS is a sound reason for CEOs to look elsewhere to establish business and provide jobs.

Some are predicting it will trigger the most expensive political fight in Oregon’s history, as business and labor interests battle public union rhetoric. It will thus mean more division and less constructive compromise as Oregon seeks solutions for the future.

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