Political News

Editorials from around Oregon

Posted September 19

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The Oregonian, Sept. 15, on the $100 million deal between Oregon and Oracle:

Few legal settlements are satisfying. The $100 million deal between Oregon and Oracle to square differences over the state's failed insurance exchange, announced Thursday, is no exception. But it is a wise and sobering outcome in the face of a high-stakes trial in which the state could have lost everything while paying an estimated $1.5 million a month to advance its fight against Oracle.

As it stands, Oregonians and American taxpayers will take it in the shins for more than $160 million over the spectacular failure known as Cover Oregon. That's disgraceful.

But Oregon managers had paid Oracle $240 million, much of it in federal funds, to help create Cover Oregon before tossing it in the trash in favor of a tweaked, off-the-shelf federal health insurance exchange. Heads rolled. Bruce Goldberg of the Oregon Health Authority, an overseer, stepped down. Former Gov. John Kitzhaber, embroiled simultaneously in the Cylvia Hayes drama, stepped down — but not before insisting the state sue Oracle to reclaim fees. Oregon's official ire over the situation reached the stratospheric level of its embarrassment: The Department of Justice sought more than $6 billion in a suit that accused Oracle and several of its executives of committing fraud, filing false claims and, even, racketeering.

Those are high stakes — and a high bar to prove in court. And they were accompanied by many fingers wagging in the blame game. With a settlement in hand, however, nobody will ever quite agree on who's most at fault.

But it is known that Oregon, with a poor record of information technology project success, had decided it would be its own contractor in developing the massive and complex Cover Oregon website. And it failed in timing and coordinating the project's many personalities, among them state project leaders who were at odds with each other — even about whether the website was sufficiently functional to launch. Oregon Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, summed it up well on Thursday in a statement: "While Oracle clearly made mistakes, there is no escaping the fact that the state, too, shares blame for the failure of Cover Oregon. From the very beginning, the project was mismanaged and wracked by the failures of our bureaucracy." Oracle, meanwhile, was left to run up a tab as it saw fit.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who succeeded Kitzhaber, deserves credit for dissuading the Justice Department from fighting on — at potentially deeper cost to taxpayers and by prolonging the toxic Cover Oregon hangover. It wasn't easy, apparently.

Jeff Manning of The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had at one point refused Brown's directive to settle, an action Oracle saw as unconstitutional. As things dragged on, meanwhile, it was a fine day for lawyers. By this summer, Manning reported, Oregon had spent more than $16 million at the firm Markowitz Herbold and three other firms hired to handle different aspects of the case. The ironic result of the settlement is that the bulk of its terms comes in the form of services and software to be provided by the vilified Oracle.

Fine. The hard lesson is that state government leaders do not get to be cavalier, even cocky, in deciding they automatically know how to do what they have never done before. Oregonians do deserve aspirational visions from leaders; Cover Oregon might have been one. But Oregonians also deserve the confidence that newfangled projects will be managed prudently and transparently, with metrics for success built in at the front end. In this sense, Cover Oregon was an organizational debacle with Oracle at the center.

Nobody's innocent. Everybody pays. The settlement, however unsatisfying, is proof of it.

___

The (Pendleton) East Oregonian, Sept. 16, on the proposed corporate tax:

Aside from electing the next leader of the free world, Measure 97 is the most important decision Oregonians will have to make on the November ballot.

And it will be a hard one.

The measure, if passed, would bring in nearly $3 billion a year to state coffers. Depending on your outlook, it will either solve many of Oregon's chronic problems or be a crippling weight thrown over residents and the state economy.

And that's really at the heart of the disagreement: If you trust government and the legislature's ability to spend that money wisely — to revamp Oregon's flagging education system, to improve health care in our state, to solve a serious crisis in funding state employee retirements — then Measure 97 is a no-brainer.

But if you're more suspicious, this looks like the largest tax increase in Oregon history, a bureaucratic cash grab with no defined plan for how to spend the windfall.

The measure itself is quite simple, which is part of the design and also part of the problem. It would impose a 2.5 percent tax on all corporate sales in the state above $25 million, regardless of actual profits.

That means the big out-of-state corporations that make billions in profits and sell expensive things in Oregon would pay more taxes — companies like Intel and John Deere, say. But so too will Safeway and Pacific Power, Wal-Mart and Walgreen's and Powell's Books. Increasing taxes on those companies is likely to get passed along to the consumer in some form or in full, increasing the cost of living for everyone and costing middle-class private sector jobs, too.

As an editorial board, we are reluctantly standing against the measure.

We know schools in Umatilla County are not adequately funded, and our students are suffering for it. And we know that without a major overhaul, the state will never have the steady revenue stream required to continue improving, instead of constantly being mired in a cycle of cuts and temporary hires.

We know health care costs will continue ad infinitum, and we know that the state signed a contract — an unaffordable one, perhaps, but still a contract — with state employees.

The state needs to find ways to increase and stabilize revenue streams, but a big no-strings-attached money dump is not the answer.

Tax policy is terribly complex. The bluntness of Measure 97 will hurt Oregon, and the corresponding help is not quantifiably better. What Oregon should do is defeat this measure, then hold legislators and the governor accountable for getting business and labor together. Once at the same table, they shouldn't get up until we have a plan for stable funding for Oregon schools and health care programs. Measure 97 isn't it.

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The (Yamhill Valley) News-Register, Sept. 9, on the November ballot:

The seven measures making Oregon's 2016 general election ballot are a motley group, often featuring poor conception or poor execution, if not both. We can find full favor with only three, none of which figures to affect most Oregonians much.

We could be facing a far longer list.

More than 80 initiatives were filed this year. Historically, we once faced 37 in a single year, and twice faced a still daunting 32. We have been averaging a dozen over the last 10 general elections, held only in even-numbered years, so a mere seven amounts to something of a reprieve.

We recommend yes votes on Measure 94, lifting the arbitrary requirement that judges step down at 75; Measure 95, freeing state universities to join everyone else in investing capital reserves in equity markets; and Measure 100, prohibiting possession or sale of body parts from endangered species of animals.

Measures 94 and 95 would lift needless regulations limiting prudent exercise of good judgment, and Measure 100 would protect endangered species from heartless exploitation. They aren't of particularly broad impact, but are opposition-free and easy to endorse.

Measure 96 would amend the Oregon Constitution to mandate allocation of 1.5 percent of lottery revenue to veterans' services. Because veterans' services are administered almost exclusively by the federal government, the money is aimed at helping veterans connect with services — something every county is already doing.

The City Club of Portland has taken exception on four grounds: 1) Locking spending for a single program into the constitution, thus limiting ability to react to hard times and changing needs; 2) Diverting lottery money from other worthy causes, notably education, without demonstrating any pressing new need; 3) Counting on a flow of new federal benefits to offset new spending, with no accounting in support; 4) Offering no assurance new funding wouldn't simply free existing funding for other uses, providing no net gain. We concur on all counts.

Measure 98 would funnel dedicated funds into another commendable but narrow purpose — dropout prevention and college and career readiness programs. It would thus have some of the same negative effects — limiting ability to let circumstances shape budgets, diverting money from other uses without demonstrated cause and offering no assurance new funding wouldn't simply replace existing.

Measure 99 would raid the lottery pot for yet another feel-good cause — outdoor school programs, which virtually every school in the state already offers. We harbor the same objections — a burdensome new state mandate imposed for no good reason.

None of these needs, however commendable, is going unmet. They don't demand new state mandates, inevitably creating burdensome new regulations requiring oversight by yet another layer of bureaucracy.

On the plus side: We judge only one truly, catastrophically awful — Measure 97. We plan to devote an entire editorial to our objections, so will let it pass without further mention here.

We urge voters to observe a time-honored guideline: If in doubt, just vote no.

___

The Daily Astorian, Sept. 15, on addressing issues for Oregon's coastal voters:

It's not surprising that polls show Gov. Kate Brown has a substantial lead against Republican challenger Bud Pierce heading into November's general election.

The governor is a Democrat in a heavily Democratic state and she has been concentrating on garnering votes, banking campaign contributions and voicing support for the controversial Measure 97 corporate tax initiative along the Interstate 5 corridor where most of the state's population resides. Most career politicians would say that's a smart strategy, a sure way to win the race.

But what is surprising is that Brown is giving the appearance of marginalizing Clatsop County by ignoring coastal voters and their concerns on issues like gillnetting, emergency preparedness, pension reform and aging infrastructure.

Along those lines, it didn't help that perception earlier this week when Brown turned down an opportunity to debate Pierce here on the coast to address those issues in person. The Daily Astorian's parent company, EO Media Group, was among four sponsors of the debate proposal, and the sponsors would have foot the bill for the debate as a community service.

Pierce was eager to participate in a coastal debate. But the governor is already participating in five other debates with Pierce, four of which are on the I-5 corridor with the fifth in Bend, and according to her campaign staff, a sixth debate in Astoria — although desired — wasn't logistically possible.

That's too bad because Brown hasn't visited Clatsop County since February — and, prior to that, June 2015 — and it would have afforded her a leadership opportunity to be transparent and inclusive in front of voters who tend to cast ballots their own way and who potentially aren't sold on her political leanings or her leadership qualities.

If Brown wants to change those perceptions, she should start serving coastal constituents by addressing those issues instead of spending her time casting for valley votes and campaign contributions.

With the serious problems Oregon faces, the state needs inclusive leaders in all areas, not just career politicians out to win elections.

___

The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Sept. 14, on managing Oregon's aquifers:

A recent report by The (Portland) Oregonian about the massive amount of water being pumped from Oregon's underground reservoirs, much of it for agricultural uses in Eastern Oregon, with little oversight or control, should set off enough alarm bells to wake the dead.

Once upon a time, the idea of taking deserts and dry landscapes and turning them into productive agricultural land was seen as a triumph of man over nature.

Through ingenuity, hard work and technological advances these useless areas could become useful, creating jobs and wealth, providing food and other crops, the thinking went. And the main resource needed to do this — water — was there for the taking, stored in underground aquifers.

Over time, in large part thanks to a strong environmental movement, there has been an increased awareness of how the different types of landscapes fit into a larger ecosystem, each fulfilling a role. And there has been increased awareness that resources are not infinite.

But this hasn't yet translated into a comprehensive plan for managing the different ecosystems within Oregon for the long-term protection and use of one of the state's most precious resources, water.

Farmers are still allowed to pump vast quantities of water from Oregon's aquifers — up to almost 1 trillion gallons per year — with no apparent recognition that as more and more water was being pumped out of the ground to supply households and irrigate farmland — by far the largest use — it was not being replaced by an equal amount of rain and snow melt.

Not only that, there is no enforcement mechanism for what limits there are on water usage, as determined by approved water rights.

Instead, the state has generally stepped in only when there has been a significant and obvious drop in an aquifer, sometimes slashing water users' allowances. This system, if indeed it can be called a system, is a recipe for disaster.

Not only does Oregon have no plan for how it will meet future water demand, it has no good data on current supplies, let alone projections of supply and demand. This type of information is desperately needed before the state's Water Resources Department can even begin to map out the scope of this issue and start planning for the future. Fees can and should be assessed on current holders of water rights if there are insufficient funds in the state budget to pay for this.

This issue is far too important to Oregon's future to allow it to be ignored, or to become a political football.

Water is one of the state's most critical resources, necessary to life itself. It is shameful that the state's leaders have not dealt with these concerns before, planning for the future. Let's not wait until we are in a crisis.

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