- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Register-Guard, April 25, on Hoyle for Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner:

Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries is one of the better known state agencies, partly because it affects many businesses and workers and partly because current Commissioner Brad Avakian has been involved in some high-profile enforcement actions that drew significant media coverage.

But the depth and breadth of BOLI’s responsibilities are not well known to the general public. These include enforcing wage-and-hour and other employment laws and working with employers to develop the skilled workforce they need. The bureau defends the civil rights of all Oregonians, including equal opportunities in employment, housing and public accommodations. Avakian sometimes pushed the boundaries in this respect.

Avakian is stepping down, and two candidates with very different views of BOLI’s responsibilities and priorities are competing fiercely for the nominally non-partisan position: former Democratic state Rep. Val Hoyle and long-time Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden, a Republican. (A third candidate, Union County Commissioner Jack Howard, a Democrat, is running a low-key campaign. He did not respond to interview requests from The Register-Guard or place a statement in the Voters’ Pamphlet.)

Hoyle represented West Eugene and Junction City in the state House of Representatives for seven years, including as House majority leader, before giving up her seat to run, unsuccessfully, for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state in 2016.

Ogden’s experience is at the municipal level - he has been mayor of Tualatin since 1995 - and he summarizes his position as “I’m the one who is going to put the ‘I’ back in BOLI.”

Of the two most active candidates, Hoyle’s broad experience in the Legislature and her more comprehensive view of BOLI’s role make her the better candidate.

Hoyle comes from a blue-collar background, and her campaign has received significant financial support from unions. But she also has received support from businesses and industries such as the Oregon Home Builders Association - an indication that they believe her when she says the BOLI commissioner needs to respond to the needs of both workers and employers. Her stance is to look for the win-win rather than the win-lose solution ,

Both Hoyle and Ogden said there is a need for more apprenticeship programs and job training, with Ogden questioning whether employers should be required to pay trainees the minimum wage.

But Hoyle has the broader and deeper knowledge of both the impact on employers of the shortage of skilled workers and the need to prepare Oregonians for family-wage jobs. And she is looking not just at current workforce needs, but what will be needed 20 and 30 years into the future.

Her experience as a legislator working with employers and industry groups, such as the growing tech industry in Lane County and the building trades statewide, puts her in a strong position to address these needs, and her contacts will provide her with continuing input.

Ogden recently secured an important endorsement from the Oregon Chamber of Commerce, which said its primary criterion is a candidate’s support for local businesses and economic development. But the chamber officials also said that Hoyle’s election most likely would represent an improvement for local business as well.

While Ogden characterizes BOLI as being “heavy-handed” and “over-reaching” in its enforcement of wage and hour laws, Hoyle has a more nuanced approach. She advocates strong enforcement action against employers who are “bad actors” and deliberately violate employment laws, which she says is unfair to workers and to firms that obey the law.

But she also sees the need for BOLI to do more outreach to businesses that want to comply with the law but are having trouble navigating often-complicated employment laws or accessing resources. Hoyle also differs from Ogden in her emphasis on BOLI’s mandate to defend the civil rights of all Oregonians, an important part of its responsibilities.

The role of BOLI commissioner is an important one in Oregon, affecting economic development, business growth, employment conditions, education, poverty and civil rights.

It requires a person who sees and understand this, and who can work across party lines for the good of all Oregonians. Val Hoyle has the best qualifications for this daunting task.


The (Bend) Bulletin, April 24, on plan that would drive people off of public land:

Outdoor recreation is an economic engine supported by access to federal land. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry that Central Oregon has thrived on, replacing the logging of the past.

But a new proposal from the U.S. Forest Service drops an anti-people bomb on the wilderness. The Forest Service is proposing strategies to dramatically limit access to wilderness areas in Central Oregon. Instead of the easy, free access available now, expect trailhead quotas and fees.

It’s the wrong answer.

The Forest Service argues it must do something because of impacts on the wilderness areas from people. It says there are too many people and visitor traffic is trending upward. Too many people litter, it says. They don’t properly dispose of human waste.

Any determination that there are too many people is a judgment. There is no objective standard. Different people disagree about what’s a reasonable expectation for a wilderness area a quick drive from Bend. We can’t argue with the littering problem or the human waste. Anyone who hikes trails along the Cascade Lakes Highway can likely see that on the most popular trails.

It’s impossible to make an informed judgment about the Forest Service’s proposed alternatives. That’s because it is not saying what the fees will be. When we asked, it provided examples in other areas of fees from $10 or $20 per permit. Will that be per person or per group? How can people judge the idea of this permit system without knowing the fees? Is this going to place the wilderness out of the reach of people with low incomes?

To be fair, it’s not the Forest Service’s fault that it can’t roll out fee proposals at the same time it proposes management strategies. Federal law dictates that the process to determine fees is separate from determining limits to public access. But that doesn’t make it right to ask the public to decide if a strategy is good without necessary information.

The overriding issue is the Forest Service has just not tried hard enough to increase enforcement. “We feel like we have done what we can,” Jean Nelson-Dean, a spokeswoman for the Deschutes National Forest told us. In the last seven years, it has increased the number of wilderness rangers from three to five employees. It has also supplemented that with occasional volunteers, which has grown from zero to 21 volunteers in the last three years. That’s inadequate to manage visitors in a vast and popular wilderness.

Instead of nuking people out of the wilderness, the Forest Service should first make a reasonable effort to enforce its regulations.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 23, on governor’s tax break being small potatoes:

A recent editorial took note of Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to sign a controversial tax bill while, at the same time, asking the Legislature to extend a tax break to the state’s smallest businesses. It was a politically savvy move: It adds money to the state’s coffers and also allows her to position herself during her re-election campaign as an ally to small business.

What it doesn’t do - presuming the Legislature goes along with Brown’s plan in a special session in the next few weeks - is give tax relief to a large number of state businesses: In fact, according to an analysis of Brown’s proposal making the rounds among legislators, it would give a tax break to only about 3 to 4 percent of the state’s 264,000 sole proprietorships; only about 9,000 businesses would qualify for the tax break. (The analysis was brought to light in a news story by OPB.)

We’ve reached the point at which some background is required: Earlier this month, Brown signed the tax bill, Senate Bill 1528, which was the subject of considerable partisan debate during this year’s short legislative session.

Here’s what you need to know about that bill: Oregon’s tax code is connected to its federal counterpart, so any tax reform enacted at the federal level, such as the measure passed last year by Congress, generally is duplicated in the state tax system. Last year’s federal tax reform included a provision allowing owners of so-called “pass-through” businesses (generally sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability corporations and S corporations) to deduct as much as 20 percent of their business income on federal tax returns.

Since the federal tax system is connected to Oregon’s tax code, owners of those businesses were in line to take the same deduction on their state returns. But the Legislature, without a single vote from a Republican, approved Senate Bill 1528, which breaks the connection between the federal tax reform and the state tax code on this particular provision.

The state winds up pocketing an additional $244 million in tax revenue, money that Brown said the state desperately needs. But as Brown announced her intention to sign the bill, she also said she planned to call the Legislature back into session for a day this spring to give a tax break to sole proprietorships, which had been left out of a previous tax break, passed in 2013.

It’s a clever attempt by the governor to thread the tax needle: The state, which faces yet another budget shortfall next year (despite what will almost certainly be record revenue), pockets millions to start filling the gap. And Brown gets to cast herself as a friend to Oregon’s smallest businesses as she hits the re-election trail.

The problem for Brown is that her proposed tax break won’t give relief to that many businesses: According to the OPB story, about 200,000 of Oregon’s sole proprietorships report that they made money. But only about 13,000 of those pay wages, which is a requirement for getting a better tax rate; of those 13,000 businesses, only about 9,000 filers report paying enough employees to qualify.

So Brown’s proposal won’t be enough to shield her from Republican attacks that she should have vetoed Senate Bill 1528; had she done so (and, to be fair, she did appear to be undecided on this for weeks), many more businesses would have received a tax break.

A spokesman for Brown said last week that a one-day session isn’t the place to tackle more complicated tax reform, so this small proposal would have to suffice. “More complex tax reform is better done in a long session,” the spokesman said.

That’s true enough. But it begs the question: What should “more complex tax reform” look like when the 2019 Legislature convenes? This is a question that should be near the top of voters’ lists as they evaluate the candidates running in 2018’s election.


East Oregonian, April 23, on noderate candidates offering best challenge to incumbents:

Eastern Oregon voters have an important say in two major state and federal races in this upcoming primary election.

Republicans have a full stable of candidates jockeying to challenge incumbent Governor Kate Brown in November. Democrats have lined up to make a case against U.S. Representative Greg Walden.

This plethora of candidates may show that the two entrenched incumbents are vulnerable. At the very least, it is proof that a number of people who disagree with them think so. Running for a position that requires significant financial resources and lots of travel across a large geographic space is no small task. And 13 people have signed up for that expensive, exhausting opportunity.

The two races have plenty in common, and plenty in opposition as well. But we include our endorsements in both races in one editorial for a clear reason: Democratic and Republican voters can either use the primary to pick a specialist and partisan who they may have more in common with, or they can choose the candidate who has the best chance to win a general election - and in the meantime bring the debate toward the middle.

In both races, we think the latter option is better.

Republican candidate for governor

When Knute Buehler declared his candidacy, he immediately became the favorite to challenge Gov. Brown in November. In the primary campaign, he has been largely absent in the media, in debates and large gatherings of voters. He has instead chosen to use his time for one-on-one campaigning, and to amass his war chest, which is crucial to winning any statewide race.

In his relative absence, both Greg Wooldridge and Sam Carpenter have made a little hay. Carpenter has run his “Make Oregon Great Again” campaign in the image of Donald Trump, surely a losing strategy in a state that Trump lost by 11 points in 2016 and where he is likely even less popular two years later.

Wooldridge has a stellar biography and found an interesting political niche, but Oregon voters have seen their share of out-of-nowhere Republicans with a great image get beaten handily by Democrats at the polls. David Stauffer, Jeff Smith and Bruce Cuff have failed to distinguish themselves.

For us, that means Buehler is the candidate to go forward and give Brown the best race. We already mentioned his significant financial backing, but there is also his statewide name recognition and his moderate voting record, a plus if he gets elected to lead the state alongside a Democratic Party-controlled Capitol.

If Republicans want the best chance to win the governorship in November, they should vote for Buehler this May.

If he gets the nod, we’re looking forward to hearing from him on the debate stage next to Gov. Brown.

Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative (Second District)

The overriding desire of most Americans in the 2018 election will be to rein in the power of Donald Trump. That can happen if the U.S. House and Senate switch to Democratic majorities - which now seems within the realm of possibilities thanks to the retirement of many Republican incumbents and the continuous swirl of controversy around the White House.

Perhaps realizing they may be surfing a wave of anti-Trump pushback, many Democrats filed to take on powerful incumbent Greg Walden.

But we think Democratic voters should stand behind Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who has the best chance to give Walden the toughest race.

She has worked hard to traverse the district, and distinguished herself both in debates and in personal discussions with voters. She has also avoided the pitfalls that can sink a Democratic candidate in a largely rural area. She is knowledgeable and supportive of using natural resources, but balances that well with environmental protection. She has made clear her support for gun rights, and has family ties that go back generations into the Eastern Oregon ranching community. Her history of government and non-governmental work, with an emphasis on professional ethics and efficient operation, seems like the right message to take to an interesting general election.

Jenni Neahring is an interesting candidate as well. The Bend doctor has a ton of knowledge and some good ideas about health care - and the ability to fundraise - but we’re not sure that would translate into enough votes come November. Jim Crary has some name recognition, having challenged but been beaten by Walden before, and we’re unconvinced anything has changed this time around. Tim White, Michael Byrne, Raz Mason and Eric Burnette make up the other four candidates.

In our opinion, McLeod-Skinner stood out among the crowded field as offering the Democratic candidate who would best appeal to Eastern Oregon voters. She would be up against it in November, but she has the best opportunity to upset the Walden applecart.


The Daily Astorian, April 23, on Oregon lacking political will on PERS:

Oregon has become the national poster child for public pensions gone awry.

A recent New York Times story cast a spotlight on Joseph Robertson, an eye surgeon who retired as head of the Oregon Health & Science University last fall and gets a whopping $76,111 per month. More than 2,000 other state retirees get pensions exceeding $100,000 a year.

Although that number is eye-popping, the largess of the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System has been well-documented for years, with a seemingly endless succession of news stories and the resulting editorial outrage.

Fortunately, that number is also an outlier. The average starting monthly pension for state employees who retired in 2015 is $2,362, according to PERS figures.

The thrust of the Times story is that money that could go for teachers, police officers, firefighters, child-welfare caseworkers and other public employees instead must be used to prop up the bloated PERS system. Oregon’s “experience shows how faulty financial decisions by states can eventually swamp local communities,” the story said.

Some other states are in worse shape. Oregon stands out because our PERS problems contradict the state’s national reputation for fiscal discipline (a reputation some Oregonians might raise their eyebrows about).

PERS has an unfunded actuarial liability of about $22 billion. That’s how short the system is of being able to cover its projected pension outlays.

Neither the current PERS board and management, nor most of the current politicians, are to blame for the long-ago decisions that led to this fiasco. But Gov. Kate Brown and the 2018 Legislature must bear the responsibility for taking only tepid steps to reduce PERS’ burden on more than 900 local governments and school districts, as well as state agencies.

The Legislature did approve Brown’s proposed matching funds to help schools and other governments pay down their PERS liabilities. But unless far more is done, PERS will gobble increasingly larger shares of state, school and local government budgets.

Much harm already has been done.

Consider the public workers whose jobs became casualties of employers’ needs to put more into PERS. Think about those employees who didn’t take vacation or sick days - whose use would have contributed to overall productivity - in order to beef up their final pensions. Remember Oregon’s abysmally short school year and large class sizes. And on and on.

As the New York Times reported, “Oregon now has fewer police officers than in 1970, is losing foster-care workers at an alarming rate and has allowed earthquake and tsunami preparations to lapse.”

Solutions exist. Tri-Met, the Portland area’s regional transit system, righted its pension system by eventually switching to defined contributions instead of defined benefits. The progressive Portland City Club and other groups also have put forth reasonable ideas.

The courts have closed off some avenues but not all.

What Oregon lacks is political will among Gov. Brown and the Legislature’s Democratic leadership. They pride themselves on the state’s progressive reputation.

Maybe Oregon’s tarnished national reputation will cause them to act.

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