Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Eugene Register-Guard, March 7, on restoring net neutrality:
Oregon's Legislature recently passed a net neutrality bill by strong bipartisan margins. House Bill 4155 now is awaiting the signature of Gov. Kate Brown, who previously has expressed support for the concept.
The bill was filed in response to the Federal Communications Commission's decision to repeal Obama-era regulations that aimed to guarantee equal access to the internet.
Underlying this is the recognition that the internet has become a necessity more than a frill for many, if not most, Americans. Students need it to do homework; business people need it to conduct business; physicians need it to communicate with patients, and vice versa; some government agencies require that various documents be filed online.
The internet doesn't just connect people with friends and families, it enables Oregon businesses to buy and sell goods and services all over the world, offers entertainment at the touch of the finger, is integral to public-safety operations, and gives Oregonians living miles from the nearest town a link to just about any information or product they need.
Net neutrality requires that internet service providers treat all websites, apps and other services on their networks equally. They are not allowed to favor those with money and power by providing slower service to those without. It also bars ISPs from blocking opinions or facts that the provider disagrees with or finds controversial, as has happened in the past.
Opponents of net neutrality argue that net neutrality will stifle innovation. But some of the greatest innovators in the world are American tech entrepreneurs, the vast majority whom are lined up solidly in favor of net neutrality.
Whether the bill will accomplish its goal of providing equal access to all once it becomes law is still very much a question mark.
The bill would bar government agencies and offices from contracting with any broadband internet service provider that doesn't observe the principles of net neutrality.
This may be problematic for a couple of reasons. No. 1, Oregon is a tiny market, so it's quite possible that ISPs simply won't care.
Second, the state government could be in the uncomfortable position of finding itself without internet service if the IPSs decide to thumb their noses at Oregon.
Oregon's best bet might be to join forces with other states that support net neutrality — starting with its West Coast neighbors — to gain more clout. Washington, for example, is home to dozens of tech companies, including Amazon and Microsoft . On Tuesday it became the first state to pass a net neutrality law, barring ISPs from blocking content or interfering with online traffic. Almost 30 other states also are in the process of taking action through state legislatures, law suits or executive orders (bit.ly/2ryotn4). And there is a growing pressure for Congress to use the Congressional Review Act to overrule the FCC's decision.
Oregon needs to join forces with other states to present a united front on this; the stakes are too high to do otherwise.
The Oregonian/OregonLive, March 6, on City Council considering making 'imperfect' arts tax even worse:
The bad news for arts tax scofflaws is that the city sees a path forward for tracking down more of them to pay the reviled $35-a-person arts tax. The worse news, however, is for the rest of us. To increase revenues, the city may gut one of the primary accountability metrics used to sell Portland voters on adopting the tax in the first place.
On Thursday, city commissioners will hear testimony about a proposal to nix a requirement built into the 2012 arts-tax ballot measure that capped the cost to administer the program at 5 percent of revenue collected. The cap, highlighted as a way to hold the program accountable, has been an inconvenient reminder of just how poorly conceived, designed and executed this tax has been. The city has blown past the cap each year, spending 7.7 percent on collections efforts and other expenses.
And city officials want the freedom to spend even more. While the tax has brought in enough money to fund arts teachers in Portland elementary schools as designed, it has fallen short of delivering the millions for area arts organizations that backers also hoped for. Because more collections would yield greater funds for arts groups, the city revenue department is recommending that City Council ditch the cap and decide for itself how much is reasonable to spend on administering and collecting the tax.
That's a bad call. Commissioners should recognize that swapping out the voter-approved 5 percent cap with a "trust us" metric only erodes Portlanders' faith in city government. Getting rid of the cap only sends the message that promises of accountability last only as long as they're convenient.
City Commissioner Nick Fish, who is sponsoring the proposal with Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, admits the "imperfect" nature of the arts tax. But he argues that nixing the cap is a fair deal for Portlanders. By spending a little more money to go after scofflaws, the city will fulfill voters' intent that "everyone pays their fair share," and that the proceeds benefit the arts, he told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board.
There are a few problems with that view, however. The council has already carved out exemptions for certain groups of people, including retirees who receive public pension payments but don't earn other income of $1,000 or more. Are they among the "everyone" paying their fair share?
In addition, the plain language of the ballot measure suggests a different interpretation of "voters' intent." The measure states that revenue will be used for arts and music teachers at K-5 schools where Portland students attend. It then directs "remaining funds" to be used for grants to nonprofit arts organizations, other nonprofits and schools. And finally, the ballot notes accountability measures including the clear statement that "administrative costs are capped."
In other words, the ballot measure doesn't promise a single penny to arts organizations but only includes a vague commitment that "remaining funds" will go to arts groups. At the same time, there's nothing vague about the accountability measures. The ballot measure unequivocally promises that administrative costs are capped.
Yet, city leaders believe that they should ignore the explicit accountability pledge in favor of the aspirational goal of delivering more money to arts groups?
There's an easy way to get confirmation of that theory. They could put it on the ballot, although that's unfortunately unlikely. The one commissioner who has raised the idea, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, is not running for re-election and told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board he doesn't envision pushing for a referral in his remaining months in office.
Regardless of what happens with the arts tax, Portland leaders and voters alike should take a few lessons from how this tax evolved and note the many ways our current policy diverges from promises the city made.
City leaders should publicly commit to review the discussion and internal communications from 2011 and 2012 to see where the city went wrong in fashioning the ballot measure, both with regards to who should pay it and how much it would cost. As Revenue Director Thomas Lannom noted last year, the 5 percent cap "polled very well in 2012 as a number to shoot for. But it was never realistic." His comments raise the question of who pushed the 5 percent cap forward and whether that was based on data or marketing. Voters deserve to know if city leaders intentionally sold them a bill of goods on what they could deliver.
It's also a reminder to Portlanders to look past campaign rhetoric and consider critically whether the city is equipped to administer whatever new tax, program or responsibility it asks voters to approve. In this case, city officials weren't. They had no existing system for collecting an income tax, expenses have far exceeded what leaders said they would, revenue has been less than expected and taxpayer compliance, in its best year, has been under 75 percent.
Despite its best intentions, the arts tax was never a good idea. City commissioners should leave bad enough alone and refrain from making it worse.
The Daily Astorian, March 2, on Bureau of Land Management bigwigs needing to move west:
A bipartisan group of senators and congressmen says the headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management should move out of Washington, D.C., and relocate in the West, where the agency manages 385,000 square miles of public lands.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees the BLM, agrees. So do we.
Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner introduced a bill to move the BLM to one of a dozen states in the West — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington or Wyoming.
"You're dealing with an agency that basically has no business in Washington, D.C.," Gardner told The Associated Press.
Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton introduced a similar measure in the House, and three Democrats signed up as co-sponsors: Reps. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jared Polis of Colorado and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado.
The logic of this idea isn't hard for people in the West to understand. BLM manages huge swaths of Western states. (The BLM owns only one small parcel in Clatsop County, but much more in Tillamook County and many thousands of acres elsewhere in Oregon.) Its decisions impact the livelihoods of people who populate rural communities, but those decisions are made far from the forests, grasslands and high deserts they call home.
Not everyone is in love with the idea, particularly the special interests who court influence inside the Washington beltway.
Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club's public lands program, said the Bureau of Land Management is already decentralized, and moving the headquarters would waste money.
"It's a solution in search of a problem," he told AP.
Critics say the BLM and other agencies need to be headquartered in the capital to be included in budget and policy discussions. But having all those discussions in Washington is part of the problem. That's better for K Street lobbyists and the environmental special interests, but not so good for the people those policies impact.
While it's true that less than 5 percent of the bureau's 9,000 employees are stationed in D.C., they have more say and less access to the national treasures they administer than their colleagues in the field.
Putting BLM headquarters in Denver, Boise or Seattle wouldn't change its statutory mission. But it would give the agency bigwigs a different perspective and a better-than-nodding acquaintance with the territory they manage and the people who live there.
Baker City Herald, March 2, on it being time to decide on tree trims:
There is an inherent conflict between the trees that beautify our city and the power lines that keep our homes bright and warm.
Trees, and their limbs, sometimes fall. And when they fall onto power lines problems result, ranging from a few homes going without power to an entire neighborhood being left in the dark.
We understand, then, why Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative has to trim, and sometimes remove, trees growing close to power lines in the public right of way.
But many of those trees, though they're in the public right of way, are the responsibility of the adjacent resident. And of course those trees also add value, both aesthetic and actual, to the private property.
We think it's reasonable, then, that the city require OTEC to notify those private property owners before the cooperative or its contractor prunes or removes trees from the public right of way. The purpose of the notification is to give the property owner the option of hiring an arborist to do the work, which gives the resident some measure of control over the trimming. The work would still have to satisfy OTEC's need for space between the tree and the power line.
The city's current code doesn't require advance notice of tree-trimming. The city's Tree Board wants to change that, and it recommends OTEC and other utilities alert residents at least 30 days before pruning or removing trees.
Ned Ratterman, OTEC's director of operations, told the City Council Tuesday that the 30-day requirement would complicate OTEC's pruning schedule, and increase the cost. Ratterman suggested a notification period of one to two weeks. Councilors tabled the discussion Tuesday.
We understand OTEC's concern. But we also think residents should have a reasonable chance to exert some influence on how trees are trimmed — albeit, at their own expense rather than OTEC's.
We suggest a 21-day notification requirement. After all, the more people who choose to trim their trees, the less money OTEC has to spend to do the work.
East Oregonian, March 2, on a safe place for kids:
There is no foolproof plan for keeping children safe from harm all the time.
It's a hard fact of life, but children are vulnerable. There is no fence, lock, seatbelt, vaccine, helmet or training that guarantees trouble will stay away. As they learn about life, children are open to its risks but without the maturity to know how to handle them.
But we do owe them our best when it comes to safety, to watch for danger as it arises and to train them to see it for themselves, too.
Through the month of March, the East Oregonian will be reporting on schools' roles in keeping our children safe.
It's a big job. In Umatilla and Morrow counties, thousands of students from thousands of different homes and families enter the buildings every day. Some schools are brand new, others have been around since before their grandparents were in kindergarten.
Some pupils come from a healthy home full of support and love, others don't know where they're going to sleep each night. Some students are expected to bring home As on their report cards and join a handful of clubs and activities. Others don't believe graduation is within their reach and would rather go unnoticed by teachers and counselors.
Keeping them safe is more than just putting up a higher fence and crossing our fingers that no one jumps over with ill intent. It's more than running drills or hiring armed guards or arming teachers. School safety isn't just about preventing a moment of terror and violence. That is highly important, and where we begin our series in today's paper, but the solution to better protecting our children must be holistic.
It means reaching out to the children on the margins, and showing their peers how to do the same. It means teaching them the importance of healthy decisions outside of the school walls. It means taking threats to their safety very seriously, not just from their fellow classmates but from the adults whom we trust to be mentors to them. It means knowing the signs of depression, suicide, abuse and neglect — and knowing how to act.
For those of us not on the front lines in the schools, it means being willing to fund the necessary work of not just teaching academics, but educating young people about how to keep themselves and others safe and secure. And, yes, sometimes building that taller fence, better lock or newer building.
We can talk policy and procedure until we're blue in the face, and strategize on how we'll respond if worst comes to worst. That's appropriate.
But while we're doing that, we must also realize that the biggest threats to schools are inside the building all along. We must think prevention — not just to avoid a front page tragedy, but to ensure a better society going forward.
School is still among the safest places for children to be. But it's also a microcosm of society. And in order to make that society better, we must be willing to invest time, care and funds in all our students and schools.