Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Eugene Register-Guard, August 2, on transportation package
The signature achievement of the 2017 Legislature was its bipartisan approval of a $3.8 billion transportation funding package - a bill notable both for its size and for its innovations in public policy. The bill shows how tensions between opposing parties and between rural and urban areas can be harnessed for productive purposes. No one supports all elements of the package, but it will advance the interests of the state as a whole.
This year’s success has its genesis in a failure two years earlier, when a deadlock over the state’s clean- fuels standard killed a plan to fund improvements to the state’s transportation network. Lawmakers then formed a 14-member committee that toured the state and heard the usual demands for repairs and improvements to roads and bridges.
There were some unexpected messages as well. Congestion on Portland-area freeways was having an effect on transport and commerce throughout the state. And Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, co-chairman of the committee, reported strong statewide support for improved mass transit.
The transit element of this year’s transportation package is its biggest departure from the past. The state Constitution prohibits the use of gas-tax revenue for any purpose other than to build and maintain the road network. That means state support for transit systems must come from another source. Lawmakers settled on a 0.1 percent payroll tax, which will raise $100 million a year.
Mass transit is often regarded as an urban concern, and a new tax of any kind for any reason is a unicorn in the legislative bestiary. But enough rural legislators supported the tax, because as Beyer found, transit services are increasingly vital to mobility in mid-size and smaller communities. Enough tax-averse Republicans supported the payroll tax because it raises a significant amount of money at a low rate. The Lane Transit District can expect an increase of about 15 percent in its general fund as a result of the new state tax.
A second innovation is a tiered vehicle registration fee, with electric and highly fuel-efficient vehicles paying the most. Vehicles that use little or no gasoline pay little or nothing in gas taxes, making them free riders on the road network. The differential fee works against the state’s goal of reducing fossil fuel consumption and emissions linked to climate change. But as fuel efficiency improves, gas consumption will need to be decoupled from transportation taxes. And the unwanted effects will be offset by rebates on the purchase of electric vehicles, financed by a 0.5 tax on the sale of new cars.
Oregon also will impose a $15 tax on the sale of new adult bicycles costing more than $200. This tax was the price for the support of legislators who believe bicycles are subsidized by the current transportation funding system. Revenue from the tax will be used to create more and safer bike routes - and might even reduce the long-running tensions between bicyclists and motorists.
The package’s big-ticket projects are mostly in the Portland area - improvements to Eugene’s Randy Papé Beltline are conspicuously absent. But the Portland projects are likely to be financed in part by tolls. Portland-area lawmakers’ willingness to accept the possibility of tolling shows how serious congestion problems in that part of the state have become.
The transportation bill passed by a vote of 39-20 in the House and 22-7 in the Senate - more than the three-fifths majority needed in each chamber. It shows what can be achieved when legislators are willing to listen to people throughout the state and compromise on issues such as the clean-fuels standard. The success contains a lesson for lawmakers in Oregon and elsewhere.
The Oregonian/OregonLive , August 1, on defending integrity
As disappointing as it is that another Oregon law enforcement officer has broken faith with the public by committing official misconduct, there is a silver lining in the case of Woodburn detective Timothy Cobos.
Cobos was sentenced in Marion County Circuit Court last week to 18 months of probation and 40 hours of community service after pleading guilty to three counts of official misconduct. The detective, who also surrendered his police certification, had sex on duty multiple times and was also accused of using a law enforcement database to benefit a girlfriend, according to a story by The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Carli Brosseau.
So where exactly is the good news? It comes in the statement made by Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris at Cobos’ sentencing. Ferraris did not mince his words in condemning Cobos’ actions. Noting that he was representing the “40 sworn and professional staff men and women who are the Woodburn Police Department,” Ferraris observed that “holding Mr. Cobos accountable for his betrayal and the disrespect of our badge and the law, and seeing that he never, ever wears a police uniform again is exactly how I should back my officers.”
That’s a telling statement that shows the chief recognizes that the integrity of his department and his employees depends on their willingness to call out and hold accountable those few individuals who compromise the professional and ethical standards that they hold dear. Giving Cobos a pass for his years of service would only bring down the reputation of the others who represent the Woodburn Police Department.
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts and his top command staff might want to reflect on Ferraris’ message. Their relative silence regarding the criminal misconduct by former Det. Jeff Green, who failed to conduct the most basic of investigations on dozens of cases, has been disheartening. It also stands in stark contrast with the strong call for accountability from the Clackamas County Peace Officers Association, the union representing sheriff’s office employees. The union knows what its members stand for. Hopefully, Roberts will also figure it out.
The East Oregonian, July 31, on rail-transload facility
Officials in southeast Oregon are calling a proposed rail transload facility in Malheur County a game changer for the local agricultural economy.
It’s big news, particularly after a disastrous winter that saw local farmers lose 100 million pounds of onions from last year’s crop when heavy snows destroyed 60 storage sheds.
The $5.3 billion transportation package passed by the Oregon Legislature includes $26 million to create the facility near Ontario.
The facility will be a big benefit to the area’s agricultural sector, particularly the onion industry, Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, said.
The 300 growers in the Treasure Valley of Oregon and Idaho raise 1.5 billion pounds of Spanish big bulb onions each year. There are 30 packer/shippers.
Much of the crop is shipped to East Coast markets by rail now. But to do that, the onions first have to be trucked more than 200 miles to the nearest transload facility in Wallula, Wash. Shippers say that costs about 50 cents per 50-pound bag of onions, and wipes out the geographic advantage the area has over competitors in Washington.
Packers say the facility could put $15 million a year back into the hands of farmers, and turn a trip to the final market that now takes weeks into days.
“This thing is huge,” Paul Skeen, an onion farmer who is president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association, told Capital Press. “It’s a big, big deal. It will allow us to move product faster and cheaper.”
Getting onions to market faster and cheaper is a big deal in itself, but growers also see the opportunity to expand the region’s market share once its access improves.
Kudos go to Bentz, who has been working over the last couple of years to get Oregon’s urban legislators to pay a bit more attention to the needs of rural Oregonians, particularly those in his far eastern district.
At Bentz’s invitation, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, made a three-day trip to Eastern Oregon last year and saw first-hand the challenges farmers and other businesses in the region face.
That eventually led to the passage of House Bill 2012, which provides $5 million for a special economic development region in Eastern Oregon.
In the context of a $5 billion spending package, a $26 million investment in Eastern Oregon is small potatoes. But it will produce a big return for people in a region that hasn’t had a lot of good economic news over the years.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, Aug. 2, on heatwave
It was supposedly Mark Twain who said “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” (We say “supposedly,” because it’s not at all certain that Twain said this; the actual ownership of this frequently quoted bon mot remains unclear.)
But regardless of who actually said it, no one has ever challenged the truthfulness of the statement. It’s especially true now that we have weather apps on our smartphones and check them every 15 minutes or so to see if the forecasts surrounding the mid-valley’s heat wave have changed at all. The highest high (or, in winter, the lowest low) wins.
So bear with us as we roll through an assortment of weather-related items:
. The number to beat this week is 108, by general agreement: That’s the hottest temperature ever recorded at the Hyslop Weather Station, the spot between Albany and Corvallis that serves as the mid-valley’s official weather station. That glorious day occurred on Aug. 10, 1981. Since temperatures at Hyslop tend to be a little cooler than in more urban areas around the area, it seems certain that the 108 reading translated into considerable misery throughout the mid-valley. (A report of a high temperature of 109 in 1905 is disputed, so 108 remains the mark to beat.)
If you’re curious (and we know that you are), the second-hottest day in the mid-valley came on July 20, 1946, when the mercury hit 107. July 13, 1935 recorded a high temperature of 106. The temperature has reached 105 on six separate occasions, ranging from July 12, 1906 to July 30, 2009.
. Regardless of whether the mid-valley sets any heat records this week, these still are conditions that require not only that you take care but that you check in on others - friends and neighbors who may be particularly vulnerable to the heat.
You know what to do on these very hot days: Stay hydrated (even if you don’t feel thirsty), slow down, stay indoors if possible, wear light-colored lightweight clothing. But someone just next door might be suffering. It won’t hurt to knock on the door to make sure they’re OK.
. If you or someone you know needs to get out of a residence that isn’t air-conditioned, a variety of options are available. For example, the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library plans to show animated movies on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons. The library is air-conditioned. One of the movies is “Frozen,” which seems oddly appropriate. A little bit of research will yield many other options for escaping the heat.
. We are impressed by the variety of creative ways in which mid-valley agencies and businesses are coping with the heat wave. Oregon State University, for example, is suggesting to its employees that they might want to consider working at home; some of OSU’s buildings are not air-conditioned. The city of Albany intends to keep many of its employees inside for the next three days. The Benton County Fair, which starts today, has put together a variety of beat-the-heat options on short notice. And Republic Services will be starting its routes early this week; what that means for you is that you should be sure to get your garbage out the night before the scheduled pickup.
. This next point would seem to be an unnecessary reminder, but it’s worth repeating: Don’t leave children or pets alone in enclosed vehicles, not even for a few minutes. The National Weather Service says a car left in 80 degree weather yielded an inside temperature of 95 degrees and rising in just two minutes.
. Finally, keep this in mind: Just six months from now, we’ll likely all be bellyaching about a stretch of cold and wet weather. And just like now, we won’t be doing anything about it.
Daily Astorian, August 1, on government transparency
When it comes to government transparency and accountability, open records laws provide a great check and balance for the public and not just through the media.
That proved true once again as it played out recently in Mississippi, when a simple records request from an attorney representing a former University of Mississippi football coach led to the resignation of the Ole Miss coach, Hugh Freeze.
According to Yahoo Sports and other reports, the former coach, Houston Nutt, felt disparaged when Freeze and leaders at the taxpayer-supported university deflected NCAA accusations of program misdeeds to the prior coach and administration. According to the reports, the most serious of the violations - if proven true - would have occurred during Freeze’s tenure, and Nutt wanted that publicly acknowledged. When the university balked, he sued.
Nutt’s attorney, Tom Mars, in conjunction with a defamation lawsuit against the university, filed a records request seeking telephone logs of Freeze and the athletic director to try to show that Nutt had been thrown under the bus. In examining the records, a one-minute call from Freeze’s state-issued phone turned out to be to an escort service. Freeze initially claimed it was a “misdial,” but university officials, alerted by the attorney’s findings, investigated further and found what they said was a “pattern.”
Up to that point, the media wasn’t involved in seeking the records. Freeze, who is married and religious, immediately resigned and headlines ensued.
Had Freeze been a private citizen rather than a high-ranking state employee, calling an escort service would have been a private moral matter and the accountability would have been between he and his conscience. But as a public figure in a position of high visibility and trust - especially with parents, recruits and players - his phone records are public and he’s subject to the same accountability as those in public office.
That level of accountability is important in all states, not just Mississippi.
In Oregon, legislators recently took strides to improve records access, but there’s still room for reform.
Among legislatively approved changes are the implementation of specific deadlines for responses to records requests and the delivery of requested information that isn’t covered by numerous legal exemptions. The goal of the change is to prevent bureaucratic officials from purposely stonewalling records requests.
The Attorney General’s Office will also compile a full list of the state’s more than 500 exemptions and make the list publicly available, while a “sunshine” committee within the Department of Justice will work with lawmakers and others to review the exemptions for potential reform.
Legislators also approved the creation of a post for an appointed public records advocate who will mediate records disputes. The advocate, appointed by the governor, will also chair a newly created Public Records Advisory Council and will engage in training public officials on records disclosure.
The changes here are meaningful, and as the Mississippi instance illustrates, the disclosure there wouldn’t have come to light without a records request and the clout of the law behind it. Taxpayers benefit from laws that create that transparency and accountability.
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