- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Dec. 12, on DACA being an economic issue

The issue of “Dreamers” - children who were brought to the United States as children by undocumented parents, and many of whom are now young adults - has been hotly debated, with many of the arguments based on emotion. But economics is increasingly looming as a major issue in the debate.

Dreamers have been allowed to remain in the United States without threat of deportation since 2012 under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. This is conditional on them staying out of trouble with the law and either being in school, completing high school (or a GED) or being honorably discharged from the military.

The emotional argument for allowing these young people to stay is compelling - they often know no country other than the United States. But there is also an economic component that economists and local and state officials are becoming increasingly concerned about.

Taxpayers have invested in these young people’s growth and education. The DACA youth repay this by contributing to America by working, paying taxes and creating jobs.

So when the Trump administration announced on Sept. 5 that it would rescind DACA, leaving it to Congress to determine the Dreamers’ fate, concerns arose among financial experts and economists across the country.

It’s not just that U.S. taxpayers have invested in the education of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers. Also to be considered is what those Dreamers are contributing in return, and will be contributing in the future.

In Oregon alone, about 9,800 workers could be affected, according to the nonprofit Center for American Progress, resulting in a hit to the state’s economy of $600 million per year.

Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read is sufficiently worried that he joined his fellow state treasurers and other state and civic public finance leaders last week in asking Congress and the Trump administration to support a no-strings-attached Dream Act.

“Without a course correction … it will hurt our economy, impair labor markets, dampen profitability of key industries, and erode local tax bases,” Read said.

Many economists have debunked the notion that Dreamers are taking jobs away from Americans, including Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, who told National Public Radio there is no evidence to support this and called repeal of DACA “particularly wrongheaded as economic policy.”

What Dreamers actually do is create more jobs - as consumers, as employees and in some cases as employers, many economists agree. They pay an estimated $2 billion a year in taxes, including income, property, sales and excise taxes. In Oregon alone, they pay about $20 million per year in state and local taxes, according to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. They also are helping to keep Social Security afloat, with the money they pay in going to fund current Social Security checks.

All of this needs to factor into the discussion of DACA. For every day that passes without DACA renewals, Read and others said, effects are already being felt - in measurable decreases in consumer spending, in tax receipts and in Dreamers who lose their jobs and leave. It’s not too late to stop this economic drain, which will only accelerate if nothing is done.


Albany Democrat-Herald, Dec. 12, on public comment period for water allocation

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is nearing the end of the public comment period in a process that could have big implications for how water from 13 dams in the Willamette Valley is stored and allocated.

The bad news thus far is that, considering the importance of the topic, relatively few comments have been received.

The good news is that there’s still time to comment: Laurie Nicholas, the project manager for this Willamette Basin Review, said public comments will be accepted until Dec. 22.

If you haven’t been tracking this effort, it’s easy to see how you might have lost track: The study has been in the works now for more than 20 years, and was launched to take an in-depth look at the shifting needs for water under the Corps of Engineers’ control in the mid-valley. The trick is to balance a variety of needs: The area has a growing population that obviously requires water. But farmers need water as well, to irrigate their crops. And fish also need adequate supplies of water.

The study began in 1996, but in 1999 bull trout and Chinook salmon were listed as threatened species, a listing that resulted in the study being put on hold for years. But funding to renew the project came through in 2014, and the Corps of Engineers started the most recent study in August 2015. The goal, Nicholas said, is to have it completed by August 2018. Information gleaned from public comments will help the Corps manage the dams for the next 50 years.

And we’re talking about a project that has a big footprint: The 13 dams hold a maximum of 1.59 million acre-feet of water. They serve an area that extends 187 miles from south of Cottage Grove to the north, where the Willamette River flows into the Columbia River. The basin covers about 11,200 square miles - about 12 percent of the state’s land mass.

The primary purpose of the dams is flood control, but they have other responsibilities as well: They generate electricity, provide water for municipal, industrial and agricultural uses and also help to provide recreational opportunities, both for reservoirs such as Green Peter and Foster but also for rivers. In addition, adequate water must be allocated into streams for fisheries.

Currently, all water stored in the reservoirs is considered “joint” usage, including agricultural irrigation, fish and wildlife and municipal and industrial.

The Willamette Basin Review would lead to allocation of the water to specific areas. Four allocation alternatives are being considered:

- The preferred plan so far would allocate 962,800 acre-feet to fish and wildlife; 253,950 acre-feet to agricultural irrigation; and 73,300 to municipal and industrial. In addition, 299,950-acre feet would remain in the joint-use category and could be allocated each year based on available water needs.

- Alternative A would allocate 1.2 million acre-feet to fish and wildlife; 250,800 acre-feet to agricultural irrigation; and 122,250 to municipal and industrial use, with none in the joint-use category.

- Alternative B would allocate 1.5 million acre-feet to fish and wildlife; 81,400 acre-feet to agricultural irrigation; and no water to municipal and industrial. Again, no water would be allocated to the joint-use category.

- Alternative C would allocate 1.1 million acre-feet to fish and wildlife; 327,650 acre-feet to agricultural irrigation; and 159,750 acre-feet to municipal and industrial. Again, no water would be allocated for joint use.

You can see the importance of this process. Anyone who relies on this water for recreational, agricultural or any other purpose has a stake in speaking up.

The sidebar with this editorial has details about how you can comment. But don’t delay; before too much longer, the opportunity to participate in this important mid-valley business might be water under the bridge.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, Dec. 12, on importance of Oregon’s craft beverage business

Here’s something to ponder the next time you’re sipping on one of Oregon’s microbrews:

The craft beverage business has become so important to the state’s economy that an Oregon city is offering incentives to a brewery to open an establishment there.

The city in question is Madras, 40 miles to the north of Bend, one of the state’s unquestioned capitals for craft breweries. Madras officials are weary of losing all that business to Bend, so they’re on the hunt for an enterprising brewery to open in their city. According to a recent Associated Press story, Madras officials say they’ll assist in site selection and costs of architecture, engineering, permits and building renovation. The city also offers expedited permitting, technical assistance and an opportunity for a startup loan.

In other words, all an applicant need do is bring brewing skills. The city will help take care of just about everything else.

“Madras is ready for a brewery or brew pub to call its own,” Madras Mayor Royce Embanks says in the online appeal from the Madras Redevelopment Commission. “The vision is for a vibrant community gathering place and an inviting destination for friends, family and tourists.”

Leaving aside for a second the fact that Madras has 6,300 residents compared to the 91,000 souls who occupy Bend, the notion that an Oregon city or town isn’t complete without its own brewery is interesting.

Certainly, the numbers confirm the booming business in Oregon craft beverages: Consumption of craft beer in the United States in 2016 rose 6.2 percent, to 24 million barrels, according to the Brewers Association. (This doesn’t even take into the account the growing business in distilleries.)

Vermont has the most craft breweries per capita in the nation, with 10.8 per 100,000 adults. Oregon isn’t far behind: It ranks fourth in the nation, with 8.1 breweries for every 100,000 adults.

And if you’re looking to document the economic impact from craft breweries, consider this: The Oregon Brewers Guild says that the state’s brewing establishments employed more than 9,000 people in 2016 and that the rate of job growth from 2015 to 2016 was 8.3 percent.

No wonder Madras wants its cut of the action. And if this scheme pans out for Madras, it could usher in a new economic strategy for officials: Instead of boasting about “shovel-ready” property, developers could say they have a location that’s “tap-ready.”

Maybe it’s unreasonable to assume that every Oregon nook and cranny can have its own brewpub. But it sounds as if communities are willing to give it a shot. That’s good news for fans of good brew - not to mention their designated drivers.


The Coos Bay World, Dec. 11, on interference of OHA audit

State officials went to great lengths to stymie an audit of the Oregon Health Authority.

That is the most troubling aspect of the audit, which state auditors were able to complete after Gov. Kate Brown appointed a new director for the beleaguered agency.

The audit report, which Secretary of State Dennis Richardson delivered Nov. 29 in a highly politicized announcement, found that the agency inadvertently misspent millions of state and federal dollars. That is not a big surprise, as news about the agency’s missteps has dribbled out for months. However, the audit also showed that the health authority is above average nationally for its handling of federal Medicaid money.

In that sense, the audit report contained both bad and good news regarding Oregon’s $9.3 billion-a-year Medicaid program. New Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen, who on Friday marked his 90th day on the job, agreed with the auditors’ recommendations and said the agency already was implementing some of them.

The report states that the health authority previously had impeded the auditors’ work but goes on to say, “OHA’s new management has been more proactive and transparent in addressing these issues.”

Audits are an integral part of cost-effective governance. Brown ousted former health authority Director Lynne Saxton this summer; but it’s disconcerting that until then, the agency aggressively interfered with what could be considered a routine audit.

That interference included hiring an outside auditing firm as an intermediary between the health authority and the state Audits Division. That seems unprecedented in state government. Allen said he canceled the outside firm’s $200,000 contract as soon as he learned about it.

According to the audit report, the health authority also had monitored what its staff was telling auditors, potentially creating a chilling effect, and ordered front-line workers to go through management instead of communicating with auditors.

“Preventing direct follow-up slowed our work, potentially limited our access, and created a bottleneck for both us and OHA. We had questions that staff could answer in minutes, but were instead required to ask managers, who sometimes provided incorrect information because they lacked the same level of familiarity as staff,” the report says. In addition, “OHA delayed answering requests and at times provided incomplete or erroneous information.”

Such interference, regardless of where it occurs in government, is outrageous. Republican Richardson, who oversees the Audits Division, and Democrat Brown, who oversees the Oregon Health Authority and other agencies in the executive branch, should have known about the problems and promptly worked together to ensure a thorough, forthright audit.

Their failure to do so creates a stain on state government.


The Oregonian/OregonLive, Dec. 9, on barrier preventing tiny homes from helping homeless

Multnomah County wasn’t even ready to start recruiting homeowners for a pilot project seeking hosts for homeless families to live in county-built tiny homes on their property when the inquiries started pouring in. A Willamette Week story and other coverage prompted 1,000 homeowners to contact the county’s Idea Lab asking to be considered for the program.

The strong response from homeowners offering to be part of the solution stands as one of the few bright spots in a housing crisis that has sown deep dissent among neighbors, businesses and elected leaders about how best to address it. While the idea lab is working with only four homeowners for its pilot project, the widespread interest suggests that if the project is successful, the county could deploy tiny homes, otherwise known as “accessory dwelling units,” on a much broader scale.

That is, provided the city of Portland removes barriers that could delay or discourage tiny-home development. As The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Molly Harbarger reported, the county eliminated many homeowners’ sites from consideration due in part to their conflicts with Portland’s tree code, which regulates the preservation, protection and removal of trees during development. While the county had a long list of criteria for selecting the best candidates, the tree code was one factor “that came into play for many, many sites,” said Idea Lab Director Mary Li. Similarly, Kol Peterson, an ADU consultant, said navigating tree code requirements - such as a tree’s location on a site and how much room to leave for its root structure - is a common problem for homeowners seeking to add an ADU. While solvable, they can pose an unexpected and significant expense.

That’s why the city should take the time now to review the code and work with developers and housing advocates to iron out solutions to keep tiny-home construction as economical as possible. That could include expanding exemptions for affordable housing commitments, lowering tree-removal fees that can total thousands of dollars or loosening other site-development restrictions to allow trees and ADUs to co-exist. The city, now in its third year of a declared housing emergency, needs to evaluate how its development requirements align with goals of increasing density and boosting the supply of housing at affordable prices. Unfortunately, as we wrote last month about proposed new rules for neighborhood development, the city too often adopts contradictory policies that only ensure the housing emergency will persist for a fourth year - and beyond.

It remains to be seen how the county’s pilot project, still in its earliest stages, will fare. And ADUs alone won’t bring the tens of thousands of units that the housing market needs. But even now, months after the county stopped taking homeowners’ names, people continue to contact the county, Li told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board.

Such enthusiasm shows how easily an idea like this can take root. Portland should do a better job of preparing the soil.

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