- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers.

The Oregonian/OregonLive, May 11, on Portland State University’s tax effort

In one of Monty Python’s more memorable film scenes, King Arthur lops off both of the fearsome Black Knight’s arms and legs in a fight to cross a bridge. Undeterred, the Black Knight looks up from his lowered vantage point and offers, “All right. We’ll call it a draw.” There was a bit of the Black Knight feel to last Friday’s triumphal announcement that Portland State University would suspend its effort to pass a regional payroll tax.

The tax ploy was a disaster from the start. It angered area business leaders who already were worried about a huge corporate receipts tax that is likely to appear on November’s ballot - the very same ballot, in fact, that would have featured PSU’s money grab. To compound the injury, the PSU Foundation provided almost all of the funding for the campaign - money the foundation’s contributors, including many businesses, had expected to be used for scholarships and the like. There’s nothing quite like having your generosity turned against you.

The tax effort, cooked up and cheered on by PSU President Wim Wiewel, was the product of breathtakingly poor leadership, alienating friends in pursuit of a high-stakes wager. Imagine how difficult it would have been for the foundation to raise money from area businesses should the tax measure have flopped - and especially if it had succeeded.

Friday’s announcement was an acknowledgement of failure. Yet there was Peter Zuckerman, organizer of the defunct campaign, proclaiming victory. “We won without a public fight,” he said. “We won without a vote.”

This was not a victory for PSU or Wiewel, much less the PSU Foundation. It wasn’t even a draw. It was a disaster in which some of the businesses that would have been affected are helping Wiewel and others to save face. The fact that the cease-fire agreement might benefit PSU eventually - something that’s far from clear at this point - is incidental.

The victory about which Zuckerman gushed is this: A coalition of university, foundation and business leaders has formed with the intention of searching for the next two years for alternative sources of revenue. Among the things they’ll consider: the funding by businesses of a student scholarship fund; the identification of a regional revenue stream; the pursuit of more state funding and incentives to increase private philanthropy. In other words, everyone involved will try hard to find more money, but nothing is guaranteed.

And if no pot of gold materializes after two years of effort, will the payroll-tax proposal resurface? Don’t bet on it. If the idea were a winner, last week’s “victory” announcement would not have occurred. Those involved would have continued to pursue an actual victory.

Don’t get us wrong. We hope the so-called College Affordability & Success Coalition works diligently and produces something of value for the university and its students. Without a stable of big-wallet alumni and a large population of out-of-state students (and their big tuition payments), Portland State has some funding challenges.

But success will require the enthusiastic involvement of business leaders who agreed to join the coalition as an alternative to fighting off a payroll tax - and the support of a whole lot of other business leaders to boot. Their civic drive may well overcome the circumstances that brought them together, but the effort will begin without the buckets of goodwill squandered by Wiewel and the PSU Foundation in recent months.

The only big winner in all of this is the campaign’s political consultant, WinningMark, which received more than $130,000 in foundation funds.

Supporters of the deflated campaign can crow about their “victory” in public if they choose, but they - led by Wiewel - should be working desperately behind the scenes to repair the injury they’ve done to their relationship with the businesses whose support - again - they seek. And no, to quote the Black Knight, it wasn’t just “a scratch.”

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The Daily Astorian, May 16, on transparency and transportation issues

Few state functions generate as much interest, or cost so much money, as transportation. Keeping deliberations about transportation policies and priorities open to public scrutiny ought to be a top priority for all who truly care about government transparency.

Taking a page from the Obama administration, which talks a good game on openness but actually suppresses the free flow of information, Gov. Kate Brown takes the position that a majority of the Oregon Transportation Commission can meet privately as part of a planning committee without any notice. As Hillary Borrud of our Capital Bureau reported, the planning group - appointed by Oregon Transportation Commission Chairwoman Tammy Baney - is discussing what issues a contractor should examine as part of a review of the Department of Transportation.

There may very well be politically awkward aspects of the review. How this examination is framed will help determine the agency’s future directions and look at how state highways and other transportation infrastructure currently function. On the line are hundreds of millions of dollars in project spending the Legislature could approve next year.

In light of cities vying with rural areas, gas taxes, perennial suspicions about waste and favoritism, debates over motor vehicles versus public transit, and a host of other issues, these discussions obviously should be conducted in public.

Our open meetings law states: “The Oregon form of government requires an informed public aware of the deliberations and decisions of governing bodies and the information upon which such decisions were made.”

It does not bode well for Gov. Brown’s views of transparency that she sees no contradiction in her rhetoric and actions on this matter.

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The (Bend) Bulletin, May 13, on Oregon’s minimum wage law

Oregon’s new three-tier minimum wage law is nothing if not confusing. If all goes well, however, rules on how the law will work, which are being created by the Bureau of Labor and Industry, should make things clearer.

While the law raises the minimum wage across the state, it’s a tiered raise that changes depending on location, and it will take six years to be fully realized.

That makes sense. If a person lives in Crook County, he’s living in the region where the minimum wage increase will eventually reach $12.50 in 2022. The increase will be higher in Deschutes County, $13.50 in 2022, and higher still in the Portland metropolitan area, $14.75 in 2022.

It’s reasonable to pay according to where someone works.

Otherwise, it could create odd situations of minimum wage pay disparity in a region.

The rules are a bit trickier when a person actually spends time working in two different regions.

Thus, if a person works for a single employer but spends part of his or her time in Deschutes County and part of it in Jefferson County, with its lower minimum wage, the employer has two choices. Without extra record keeping, wages can be paid at the rate set for the higher wage region. If the employer wants to pay based on where the employee is actually working, he or she must keep records on just how much time is spent in each region.

In the end, unfortunately, the law might not bring the prosperity some expect.

Only about 5 percent of the workforce makes the minimum, mostly women 25 or younger and working part time, according to the state Employment Department. Too, Oregon’s minimum wage today has the same buying power as 1980’s $3.10 per hour minimum did.

Moreover, while small increases apparently have a relatively small impact on the economy, the Employment Department says, no one knows for certain what happens with bigger increases. We’re about to find out.

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The (Pendleton) East Oregonian, May 13, on allowing state prisoners to work in Pendleton

In the 1980s, when Oregon changed a state facility in the heart of Pendleton from a hospital to a prison, it came with stipulations.

One was that prisoners would not leave the grounds. Pendletonians were rightfully nervous about thousands of felons taking up residence in city limits, and they wanted to be sure the prison’s walls were high and its barbed wire was sharp.

Residents were also nervous about becoming a “prison town,” where the high walls and barbed wire and shackled work crews could make Pendleton look less safe, lively and free.

And that’s the way it has been for decades. In 1987, the city of Pendleton put what had been a verbal understanding into writing. The council and EOCI agreed that no inmates from the prison would work within city limits, and that ban has remained for almost 30 years.

But desire for change has arrived. EOCI superintendent Jeri Taylor told city council that allowing their prisoners to work in the city - like Two Rivers Correctional Institution and Umatilla County already can - will be good for both the prison and for Pendleton.

“We have a lot to offer the city and the surrounding area,” Taylor told the council last month. “We think that our inmates are pretty well received around the state.”

We agree, and are supportive of lifting the ban.

The city and its residents, businesses and nonprofits have much to benefit from EOCI prison crews. Especially in a town like Pendleton, the heart of which pumps with the power of volunteers, an infusion of labor could reinvigorate the city. It’s also important for the prisoners themselves - the vast majority of whom will some day be released back onto the streets. They need to feel a sense of ownership and goodwill for the civilization they will soon rejoin.

And yes, there is some danger.

But the responsibility for safety and security rests solely with the prison and its administration - a mantle they are willing to assume. It is up to them to choose inmates who do not have a history of violence and attempted escape, who are respectful and hard workers. People who can be counted on to treat time outside of prison walls as a grateful break - and be on their best behavior in order to earn future breaks.

Anyone who has stepped inside EOCI for a day is shocked by the demographics of the people they see. This is not prison as it appears in television and movies, with yards and cells filled with the tattooed and over-muscled and angry.

Those kinds of prisoners exist at EOCI, of course. But a large percentage of those incarcerated there have gray hair, shuffle slowly in sweats, and work small jobs to keep the place clean and pass the time. Those are people we can use to pick up litter, keep Pendleton parks and streets clean, fill potholes, reduce government budgets, provide skilled labor, etc. The possibilities are numerous.

Rules and regulations must be clear. The work must have community benefit, and it cannot harm existing and operating businesses. It has to be done aboveboard and with transparency. There can be little tolerance for prisoners who don’t obey the rules.

But if the city and the prison work to set those rules, there is no reason to think that 30 years is enough time for people to change their minds. Clearly, city council will get some pushback from this decision - and they take on a risk if something does go wrong - but oversight and high expectations can make it a success and net benefit.

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