Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The Bulletin, April 28, on Sen. Wyden's political donation disclosure bill:
The U.S. Supreme Court has been consistent over the years: Americans have a right to contribute what they wish to the political candidates and causes of their choice. And the court's ruling in the Citizens United case in 2010 made clear that, where political contributions are concerned, businesses and unions are "people," too.
It's a ruling that continues to make many of us uncomfortable, however, and the discomfort grows during election season. The airwaves, in particular, are filled with advertising from outside organizations, some of it downright shameful, that makes all sorts of wild claims about candidates and issues, and it can be nearly impossible to find out who is paying for the stuff.
There is a solution, however. That's to require everyone, from not-for-profit to union, to disclose who or what made large donations to political efforts and to make that information public quickly. That's just what the Follow the Money Act of 2013, co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would do.
It would require reporting of any spending over $10,000 in a two-year election cycle and would require disclosure of donations of $1,000 and up, a limit set to allow smaller donors to remain anonymous. Independent spending and donations by everyone from labor unions to Indian tribes to superPACs would be subject to disclosure, and tax status would no longer allow some donors to hide their activities.
Moreover, it would require the Federal Elections Commission, beginning in 2015, to use a real-time system that would allow the public to see both donation and spending reports nearly immediately within 48 hours in some cases and within 10 days in some others. It would not require disclosure of such things as membership lists, however, unless members themselves donated more than $1,000.
Wyden and Murkowski have the right idea. As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in another 2010 case about elections, "Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage." That's a far better approach than simply attempting to deny a big portion of American society the right to speak out on matters that affect that society.
East Oregonian, April 29, on state arts tax credit should be renewed:
If Oregon really is the home of innovation, the state's Cultural Trust is the best recent example. Enacted by the 1999 Oregon Legislature, the Trust has become a national example of how to fund culture across an entire state.
Funded by a tax credit and license plate sales, the Oregon Cultural Trust has made grants of $12 million across the state since 2002.
The cultural tax credit sunsets this year. Thus the sitting Legislature must renew it. House and Senate bills have been introduced that would extend the tax credit for six years.
For those of us who live in rural Oregon, Trust dollars have made a big difference.
With our mix of history and both vibrant and fledgling arts centers, both Eastern Oregon's culture and economy are stimulated by the Trust and could be even more over the next six years should the extension pass.
Increasingly, economists are noting that culture draws new life to cities and towns.
Trust dollars have boosted a wide spectrum of organizations in Eastern Oregon and Umatilla County in particular.
In 2012 alone, more than $9,000 in grants was distributed in the county to recipients such as the Umatilla County Historial Society, the Oregon East Symphony, Desert Arts Council, Echo Drama Club, public libraries in Stanfield and Athena, Milton-Freewater's Harvest Time Art Show,?Pendleton Arts Council, music education in Pendleton,?Hermiston and Pilot Rock elementary schools and more.
With more time and money, the program will have an even greater impact here and throughout Oregon. Renewing the tax credit makes sense.
The Oregonian, April 26, on upcoming vote to raise property taxes in rural Oregon counties :
Rough & Ready Lumber Co. recently revealed plans to close the last sawmill operating in Josephine County. In a county that had 22 sawmills in 1975 and has been declining economically since the 1980s, the announcement was more symbolic than surprising.
But the timing of the bad news shines light on upcoming decisions that will have an even bigger impact on the future of Oregon's timber-dependent rural counties. On May 21, residents of Josephine and Curry counties will decide whether to raise property taxes to avoid further cuts in law enforcement. The importance of the votes resonates far beyond the two counties.
In Salem, legislators, Gov. John Kitzhaber, members of his staff and representatives of state agencies have discussed when and under what circumstances the state might step in to ensure public safety in the counties. Separately, a panel appointed by Kitzhaber continues to explore ways to reach a compromise that would allow more logging on former Oregon & California railroad lands.
In Washington, D.C., efforts to forge a new policy for the O&C lands have stalled in the same gridlock that snares everything in Congress.
Meanwhile, commissioners in Curry and Josephine counties approach May 21 with a mixture of hope and trepidation — not necessarily in equal parts.
Whether you're in Brookings, Grants Pass, Salem or Washington, D.C., this much is clear: Everyone has avoided the problem as long as possible. Regardless of voters' decisions, something needs to happen this year.
"A solution will be found," said Simon Hare, chairman of the Josephine County Board of Commissioners. The only thing left to be determined is what that solution will look like.
The path to an optimal solution begins with voter approval on May 21 of the proposed property tax increases. Josephine County is asking residents to approve a levy, designated for public safety, of $1.48 per $1,000 assessed value. It would raise $9.55 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Curry County's levy also is designated for public safety, with rates ranging from $1.84 to $1.97 per $1,000 assessed value depending on location. It would raise about $4.5 million next year.
The planned closure of the Rough & Ready mill underscores the difficulty commissioners and other levy proponents face in convincing voters to raise their taxes. Unemployment is above 11 percent in both counties and there is little reason to expect that to change soon.
Make no mistake, many residents of the counties would have a difficult time paying the increased taxes — even though the counties currently have the lowest property tax rates in the state. But it's equally clear that these tax increases would accomplish something.
Of the two counties, Curry sits closest to the financial cliff. There is increasing agreement among leaders in the county and in Salem that the state will need to provide some type of emergency assistance to ensure adequate law enforcement if the tax levy fails. The looming crisis led both the Republican and Democratic county central committees to endorse the tax levy, something county commission Chairman David Brock Smith said had never happened before.
Hare said Josephine County probably is a year away from that level of hardship, which unfortunately might be leading some residents to believe the county's financial woes are not urgent enough to merit a tax increase.
Yes votes would do more than simply avert disaster. Josephine and Curry county residents have a chance to put pressure on legislators in Salem and Washington to deliver a workable plan for increased logging on the O&C lands. Sen. Ron Wyden, D.-Ore., has said the counties need to increase revenue to show they're willing to be a part of the solution. If voters do that, they will put pressure on Wyden, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, to navigate legislation through the gridlock.
Residents of the two counties also should divorce themselves of the notion that emergency help from the state would come at no cost to them. The methods of assistance have not been determined, but legislators would face justifiable political pressure to receive some type of reimbursement from the counties for services provided.
For almost 30 years, residents of these and other timber counties have hoped for an easy answer when there isn't one. Many in the rest of the state ignored the counties' problems as long as possible.
No one will ignore the election results on May 21.