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Who's footing the bills?


We weren’t especially bothered when the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Citizens United decision in 2010, allowed corporations and labor unions to spend as much money as they want on political advertising.

Our equanimity was based on two main factors.

First, the budgets for high-level campaigns were measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars before Citizens United. It’s not as if the high court’s ruling suddenly changed the American electoral system from a purely grassroots undertaking into a corporate-controlled echo chamber.

Second, even the justices among the 5-4 majority in Citizens United — and in particular Anthony Kennedy — emphasized that they intended that voters would be able to track which corporation or union was funneling money into campaigning.

So much for intentions.

In the 2 years since Citizens United, it’s become clear that creative accounting can in some cases obscure from voters’ eyes the dollars behind the messages that bombard us with each election cycle.

(And you can imagine the barrage which awaits us as Nov. 6 nears.)

A bill languishing in Washington, D.C., aims to remove that veil from voters’ view. The DISCLOSE Act  (the acronym comes from “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections”) would require organizations, including corporations, super PACs, unions and nonprofits (not including 501(c)(3) charitable groups) to disclose contributions of more than $10,000. They also would have to reveal the names of individuals who donate money to them for political purposes.

Some Republicans in the Senate, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, oppose DISCLOSE.

We wonder why these senators want to keep voters in the dark about who’s buying all those ads.

 

Rally around August


The thousands of motorcycle riders who congregate in Baker City for the annual Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally have pretty much everything the need here.

Except decent weather.

This dilemma is easily solved, though. We support the rally organizers’ plan to schedule the event, which has taken place in early June, for later in the summer.

Mid-August seems the most logical option. That doesn’t coincide with other local events, nor with the much larger motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., which is set this year for Aug. 6-12.

As for the weather, consider these numbers: average June rainfall: 1.33 inches; average in August: .85.

 

Inspectors nab nasty invaders


Oregon’s boat-inspection station in Baker County has worked better than state officials expected.

Which is a good thing.

And, perhaps, a bad thing.

In 2011 the Legislature passed a law requiring people hauling boats to stop if they see a mandatory inspection station.

One of those stations is at the Baker Valley Rest Area, along Interstate 84 about eight miles north of Baker City.

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Cautious optimism on logging


Our optimism about a new effort to avoid legal tussles over national forest management, and thus bring more logs to Northeastern Oregon’s sawmills, is optimism of the decidedly cautious variety.

The collaborative approach in place on the Umatilla National Forest, and in the fledgling stage on the Wallowa-Whitman, has the potential to aid the ailing timber economy.

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Merger has real potential


The proposed merger of the two Baker County organizations that help residents deal with mental health and substance abuse problems could benefit those who need such assistance.

Officials from Mountain Valley Mental Health Inc. and New Directions Northwest Inc. are considering combining their agencies.

This merger makes sense.

Starting Aug. 1, money for patients covered by the Oregon Health Plan and Medicaid will be distributed to local or regional groups called Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs).

Having a single entity providing these crucial treatments should be more efficient — and more importantly, cheaper — than dividing those responsibilities. Ideally, the cost savings will make it possible for the new, merged agency to help more residents than are eligible now for government assistance.

Baker County commissioners heard last week from local residents who have struggled to get help for addictions and other problems, in part because agencies have a full caseload.

We urge the boards of directors from both Mountain Valley and New Directions to continue their negotiations toward a merger.

 

Good news on job front


The improvements in Baker County’s job market during April are modest, statistically speaking.

But considering the economic doldrums that have beset much of the state and nation over the past three years, even modest improvements loom rather large.

In April, 9.8 percent of the Baker County workforce was without a job.

That’s the lowest rate since November 2011.

The greater reason for optimism, though, comes from comparing this April to last.

This April’s 9.8-percent rate is 0.6 percent below April 2011. That’s the biggest reduction, month-to-month, since May 2010.

That’s the sort of cut we can sink our teeth into.

 

Nanny state? Maybe so


There’s plenty of conspiracy theories based on the notion that the government has a voracious appetite and that its favorite meal is made up of our individual freedoms.

Most of these theories stretch our credulity to its limits; many are obviously the products of paranoia.

Yet once in a while some elected or appointed public official conceives a campaign which, though it doesn’t render the more fanatical theories any more plausible, at least makes a general distrust of the government’s motives seem reasonable.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s current offensive against high-volume, high-sugar drinks — think Big Gulps — exemplifies this sort of effort.

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City’s tank deal didn’t work out


We hope Baker City officials learn something from  the debacle over a pair of water tanks that serves fewer than a dozen homes at the city’s hilly southwest corner.

Unfortunately, it seems that any wisdom gained will come too late to save the city the estimated $150,000 bill to fix the problem.

Here’s what happened:

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Bad timing


The Baker School District Budget Board’s decision last week to endorse a series of pay raises for district administrators that was adopted last year is not without justification.

But the board’s timing could hardly be worse.

Less than a year after the district laid off employees, switched from a five-day to a four-day weekly schedule, and required staff, including administrators, to take three days off without pay, the board is acting as though the financial crisis, if not over, has abated considerably.

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Weaning from oil, and fuel taxes

There can be no doubt that Oregon, and every other state, will have to devise a method other than fuel taxes to pay to maintain and build roads and bridges.

The taxation system that states, and the federal government, have relied on for decades works so long as the vast majority of vehicles plying our roads burn petroleum products taxed at the pump.

Today that still accurately describes the nation’s vehicle fleet.

But a decade from now it might not.

Electric cars and hybrids will wean us off oil, but in doing so they’ll also cut off the flow of fuel tax dollars.

Read more...
 
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