Editorials from around Oregon
Posted October 14
Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The (Salem) Statesman Journal, Oct. 9, on the corporate tax proposal and school funding:
Public school classrooms in Oregon are overcrowded. Our school year is shockingly short, and our school dropout rate is abysmal.
But Measure 97 on the Nov. 8 ballot is not the answer, even though it would add $6 billion to the state's two-year budget.
A coalition of public-employee labor unions wrote Measure 97. They wanted to raise at least $5 billion for the biennial budget — the amount they said is needed to fully fund the Oregon Quality Education Model. It turned out the measure would rake in even more than they expected, allowing government to grow even more.
Corporations headquartered outside Oregon would pay 82 percent of the taxes. After all, a tax on the other guy is the best kind of tax ... in public polling.
A number of Oregon businesses have signed on to support Measure 97. Not surprisingly, none of those are companies that would pay the tax.
A backward approach
Measure 97 is a tax on corporations in order to boost the state operating budget by 25 percent.
Schools need more money. But unlike state government, any smart business would first identify the specific problem, devise solutions, decide which ones were most cost-effective, implement those — and look to reduce costs elsewhere.
Measure 97 was written to do the opposite: It provides $3 billion a year — $6 billion for each two-year budget period — for the Legislature to spend as it sees fit.
Measure 97 supporters note that Oregon corporations pay a smaller percentage of state taxes than 40 years ago. That's true.
One reason is that Republican and Democratic legislators alike long ago realized that Oregon's various income taxes were a roadblock to attracting businesses, encouraging existing businesses to expand here and creating jobs.
In a meeting with the Statesman Journal Editorial Board, the measure's supporters could not point to any state that has recently added a big corporate tax like Measure 97. In fact, this would be the nation's highest state tax on business sales.
Obviously, that would put Oregon at a competitive disadvantage with other states. Despite what supporters contend, corporations locate — and expand — where their costs of doing business are lowest. Oregon's current 7.6 corporate income tax rate ranks roughly in the middle among states.
No one can say for sure whether some corporations would leave the state if Measure 97 passes. But it is clear that consumers would pay higher prices.
Why a sales tax?
Measure 97 imposes a tax on businesses that do over $25 million a year in Oregon sales.
The rub is that high-volume companies, such as auto dealerships and grocery stores, could easily hit that sales threshold while being barely profitable — or losing money.
The measure's supporters contend businesses don't pay "their fair share" — whatever that is — because the tax code is riddled with loopholes. If that's the case, let's address that problem, rather than adding Measure 97 with its own set of problems.
Not the only idea
Backers — who tested 25 tax ideas — say Measure 97 should be passed because it's the only proposal on the table to improve school funding.
If so, that's a failure of Oregon leadership. Being the only option does not equate to being a good option.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Oct. 7, on free tuition at Portland State University:
Portland State University's new tuition aid program is a further step in the evolution of a high-tuition, high-aid model for higher education.
On the one hand, it provides help for promising students whose families are struggling to pay for college — and as such, it is an investment in Oregon's future. On the other, there are questions about the implementation and impact of the program.
The "Four Years Free" program promises low-income freshmen with at least a 3.4 grade point average they won't have to pay tuition or fees if they enroll full time, starting in 2017. The program could save qualified students up to $8,400 a year.
The program has some conditions, none of which is unreasonable.
Recipients also must qualify for state and federal grants for low-income students, and must accept any grants that are offered, before receiving tuition help from PSU. This reduces the financial burden on PSU significantly and allows it to help more students.
Needy students still would have to pay for housing, food and incidental costs not covered by other financial aid. This is not an unreasonable requirement, given that PSU has a significant number of students from the Portland area, at least some of whom could commute, and that some other grants, such as federal Pell grants, can be used for room and board for those who need it.
Students must be enrolled full time each term and maintain a minimum 2.0 grade point average — a reasonable standard.
The awards cover a maximum of 12 credits per term, which could hamper students who want to graduate early by taking more classes. But this also allows the university to provide aid to more students than it could if it widened the scope of the grants.
It is not clear where the money for the program will come from or what might have to be cut to pay for the new grants, which is a troubling omission.
The school's director of admissions told The Oregonian that the grants would be funded by "reallocating our existing resources," without specifying where these reallocations would take place.
PSU also has said it doesn't have an estimate for how much in free tuition the "Four Years Free" program will guarantee. Blank checks written by public institutions are always somewhat alarming.
The university's goal of shielding low-income students from the ever-higher cost of college is laudable, but PSU needs to extend that goal to another group: middle-class families. Students from such families often do not qualify for aid, but are increasingly squeezed as tuition becomes the mainstay of public universities' operating budgets.
It is time for PSU — and other state schools — to address this issue. As universities adopt the high-tuition, high-aid model, they must strive to implement the second half of the formula as well as the first.
The (Medford) Mail-Tribune, Oct. 5, on high school dropout prevention, benefits for veterans and outdoor education:
Three statewide ballot measures set out to accomplish good things for Oregon, but only one gets our nod.
Measure 98 is a well-researched, carefully crafted plan to take direct aim at Oregon's abysmal graduation rate by funding career and technical education (CTE), college-credit classes for high school students and dropout prevention programs. It would do this by directing the Legislature to increase the state school budget by about $150 million — $800 per high school student. The extra money would come from expected growth in state revenues, so no tax increase would be necessary. Districts would design their own programs and apply for funding from the state.
Studies clearly show that students with access to CTE are more likely to graduate. Dropout-prevention programs also are proven to prevent at-risk students from leaving school early. And college-level coursework for those students headed for post-secondary education will better prepare them for college.
If Measure 98 has a weak spot, it's the reliance on projected growth in revenue in a state that is facing huge bills for public employees' pensions. If Measure 97 — the controversial gross receipts tax on large businesses — fails, all bets could be off. We'll have more to say about Measure 97 in Sunday's paper. But Measure 98 is a solid investment in our students' futures, and deserves a yes vote.
Measure 96 and Measure 99 would do good things as well, but both would raid state lottery proceeds in the process — not a wise use of those funds.
Measure 96 would direct counties to help veterans connect with federal benefits they qualify for — something counties already do. It would pay for that effort with 1.5 percent of lottery funds, reducing the share that now goes to economic development. Carving up lottery dollars into smaller and smaller shares is no way to run a state. What's worse, Measure 96 would lock this funding into the state constitution, so lawmakers couldn't alter it without a vote of the people.
Everyone is in favor of helping veterans. But they are already being helped, and this is not a cost-effective way to increase that assistance.
Measure 99 would require every school district to provide outdoor school so fifth- or sixth-graders can spend a week camping with their classmates and learning about the natural world. It's something many districts have done for years but some have dropped or reduced in favor of other budget priorities. No one questions the value of outdoor school, an Oregon tradition for more than half a century. But this measure would also tap the lottery, taking up to $22 million of money that now goes to economic development.
If outdoor school is more important than other programs, the Legislature should find funding for it outside the lottery.
We recommend no votes on measures 96 and 99.
The East Oregonian, Oct. 3, on protecting gray wolves:
You must forgive us if we feel a bit gobsmacked every time a pro-wolf group runs to the judiciary to complain that their favorite apex predator isn't getting enough love from wildlife managers.
It is an act aimed at getting publicity and raising money and has little or nothing to do with the welfare of gray wolves in the West.
The wolves are doing just fine. Really.
There is no shortage of gray wolves. Some 55,000 live in Canada, and 10,000 or so are in British Columbia alone. Up to 11,000 live in Alaska. An estimated 4,000 roam the Great Lakes region of the U.S. More than 1,200 more are in Montana and Idaho. The populations in Washington state and Oregon are growing at an annual rate of more than 30 percent, meaning they will double every few years. Wolves have even taken up residence in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
So what, exactly, is the problem? The pro-wolfers appear to have won the battle, and the war. Why are they pressing their case against wildlife managers for not providing "adequate" protection for wolves?
In our opinion, it's about money. Environmental and conservation groups can never declare victory and go home. They can never congratulate themselves for a "mission accomplished" and move on with their lives. That's not how it works.
How it works is the wolf cause is held up as a "matter of the life and death," and is usually accompanied by a plea for money.
If a conservation group were to tell supporters, "Yep, the gray wolf populations are now in good shape, thanks to us (and a poorly written Endangered Species Act). It's time to get back to our lives," that group would never be able to raise a penny. Instead, their money pleas will continue, along with efforts to stop livestock grazing on public land. Because of poorly written federal laws and a judiciary that is easily swayed by fuzzy logic, these groups will continue.
The irony is the gray wolf would have succeeded even if radical conservation groups never existed. By reintroducing wolves to Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, and with protection from wildlife managers, the wolf population would have increased even without conservationists hollering from the back seat.
Wolves are robust, smart and have a survival instinct unsurpassed in nature. Because they live in packs and follow food sources, they spread naturally across the landscape. In fact, they were never reintroduced in Washington and Oregon; they dispersed from Idaho and British Columbia naturally. If they find food, they will stay. If they don't, they will move on.
A relatively small number of wolves have created problems by preying on livestock, killing sheep and cattle. If every one of those wolves had been killed immediately, the overall population would still be rapidly growing.
Yet in Oregon, wolf groups are again heading to court, arguing that wildlife managers are not providing adequate protection. Note: Wolves will not be killed anywhere in Oregon without the express permission of wildlife managers. In all phases of the state wolf plan, non-lethal methods of stopping wolves from attacking livestock must be undertaken before lethal removal will even be considered.
In our book, that's good protection for wolves.
So it goes: lawsuits, fundraising, even the occasional mindless threats against anyone who happens to get caught up in the issue. And all the while wolves are doing just fine.
The (Portland) Oregonian/OregonLive, Oct. 5, on affordable housing in Portland and pot taxes:
MEASURE 26-179: Yes. It would be difficult to live in Portland and not know that housing availability and affordability combine to test the public's will as never before. The most obvious manifestation of the housing crisis is seen in homelessness. More than 1,800 people sleep outside at night, but at least as many more spend their nights temporarily in public shelters and by makeshift arrangements, sometimes on the living room couches of friends and relatives.
Behind the homeless spectacle, however, lurks a larger piece of the problem: Thousands of Portland renters at the lower end of the income scale — wage workers and seniors on fixed incomes among them — suffer as apartment and house rents soar, with evictions looming. It is estimated that half of Portland families generating less than $37,000 a year for four people are unable to find a suitable rental space in a city now estimated to lack 24,000 affordable homes.
If not a new problem, it's grown far worse. The post-recession economy revs higher and higher, suggesting prosperity. Swank new buildings go up, drawing more and more people to the city from elsewhere. Yet the affordable housing challenge rises, as well, with perverse outcome: Residents unable to pay higher bills risk joining the homeless, expanding the cohort of homeless families with kids in school and, in some cases, jobs to perform. It's tough showing up from a tent to learn or to earn.
Portland is not alone. San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles acutely suffer from lack of affordable housing. Each claws for public money to create more housing and girds against the feared downstream effects of higher public spending for an expanding socially dependent homeless population.
In Portland, rent control has become an election issue. Historically, however, it does nothing to generate more housing or housing opportunity. New York City, a stronghold of rent control, has seen its homeless population soar to new heights as pricey new housing goes onto the market, making homelessness there, too, the ugly twin of prosperous times.
That's why it is essential that Portland's affordable housing bond proposal going to voters in November pass. It would tax the average Portland homeowner about $75 a year to support bond spending by the city of $258.4 million to create at least 1,300 affordable dwelling units that would house nearly 3,000 Portlanders. All qualifying renters would meet the threshold of being low-income. About 600 of the households served would be ranked as very low income, however, or showing earnings that amount to only 30 percent of this region's median family income — about $22,000 for a family of four.
The new units would comprise renovated existing housing and new construction. Significantly, the cost-per-new-unit would hit $200,000 — a comparatively hefty sum for mainly two-bedroom apartments that, Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman argues, would be built to last at least 80 years in scattered but pricey sections of the city offering transit and other options.
Oversight of wage and cost controls during construction will be essential. While the measure provides for them, most promising is the city's partnership with the Portland Business Alliance, which pledges to ensure construction efficiencies and proper maintenance of the new dwellings. Street Roots, another partner, would work to keep the project close to the real needs of those who are homeless or close to it.
Portland's housing gap won't be filled soon. But Portlanders should approve the housing bond proposal as an investment in the well-being of the entire city, not just those at the lower end of the income scale. Prosperity and engaged citizenship, if they are to be valued, can't be declared until everyone has a home.
MEASURE 26-180: Yes. When voters approved legalization of recreational marijuana, the potential for new tax revenue was an enticement. Already, a state-only tax has brought in $33.5 million from January through July, far exceeding expectations.
Now Portland is poised to jump in, hoping voters will authorize a local tax. Referred to the ballot by Portland city commissioners, the measure would levy a 3 percent tax on recreational marijuana retail sales. The tax would raise about $3 million a year that would go to drug and alcohol treatment, public safety and support for neighborhood small businesses.
The combined state-and-local tax rate would be 20 percent, less than the 25 percent the state has temporarily charged with no apparent harm to the burgeoning industry. While marijuana businesses and potential taxpayers should be concerned about talk of using such revenue for unrelated needs as air-quality programs, that should not deter voters from passing the tax. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz has pledged public reporting of how those funds are spent in addition to oversight by the city's budget office.