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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.

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:

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.

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.

Mascot overreach

The Oregon Board of Education might decide on Thursday to require 15 public high schools to do away with their mascots or logos, by 2017, because the symbols are associated with Native Americans.

We hope board members choose not to impose this one-size-fits-all edict on schools with mascots such as Warriors, Braves and Indians.

This is not to say that the concern which motivated the board’s discussion — that such symbols are offensive to some Native Americans — is trivial.

We don’t endorse mascots that demean, belittle or stereotype Indians.

So far as we can tell, none of the 15 schools intends to do so. Which is hardly surprising — mascots, after all, are sources of school and community pride, not ridicule.

The more compelling argument against a statewide ban, though, comes not from the schools, but from tribal members.

Steve Bobb Sr., a member of the Tribal Council for the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde in Western Oregon, said his tribe doesn’t oppose using Native American names or symbols in schools that “hold their mascots in a very high regard.”

Which is precisely where every high school we know of holds its mascot.

Gay marriage: Not a campaign issue

We don’t much care that President Obama has publicly expressed his support for gay marriage. Or that Mitt Romney has publicly denounced it.

Our response to Obama’s announcement last week is tepid because the issue of gay marriage, though a contentious social issue and one worthy of respectful debate, is neither vital to the nation’s future nor a matter under Obama’s (or Romney’s) bailiwick.

Whether same-sex couples can legally marry is a question rightfully reserved for the voters in each state.

5J board totters toward secrecy

The dysfunctional Baker School Board has compounded one recent mistake — censuring director Kyle Knight — by making another.

And this latest blunder could affect all of us, by compromising the public’s ability to keep tabs on its elected officials.

Moreover, this new mistake is based on illogical reasoning, about which more later.

On Tuesday a majority of the five-member board — chair Lynne Burroughs and directors Mark Henderson and Andrew Bryan — didn’t object when Dan Van Thiel, a local attorney who does legal work for the school district, recommended a policy that eviscerates the spirit of Oregon’s public meetings law.

Trim proposed street fee

We applaud the Baker City Council for making street maintenance a high priority for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But the proposed street user fee that councilors discussed Tuesday (no action was taken) — $5 per month for homeowners, $10 per month for businesses — would be too heavy of a burden on too many city residents.

That fee would bring add an estimated $250,000 per year to the city’s street-maintenance budget. Those dollars could be put to good use. City officials say it would take at least twice that much new money each year to reverse the decade-long downward trend in the condition of city streets.

But in a city with a significant number of residents living on Social Security or other fixed sources of income, an extra $5 per month can be painful.

We suggest a more moderate fee — say $2 per month for everyone — which could be increased by modest increments in the future. That would help smooth the streets without making for too bumpy of a financial ride for residents.

No need to leash ODFW head

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board

So much for the old adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

A quartet of environmental groups thinks it’s unseemly, and maybe worse, for officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to even be seen in public with people who don’t much like the gray wolves that that agency is responsible for managing in Northeastern Oregon.

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