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Congress leaves counties in the lurch

We’re glad some in Congress seem so eager to spend $700 billion to try to save the country’s economy, but we wish lawmakers showed even a smidgen as much interest in helping Baker County and dozens of other rural counties.

For what it’s worth, Congress, helping the counties is a whole lot cheaper.

No golden parachutes to worry about, either.

Last week, while legislators were fretting about the financial crisis and debating the $700 billion bailout, Democrats in the House deleted from a bill — which the Senate passed by a 93-2 vote — a pair of programs that are crucial to counties such as Baker.

The cost of continuing those programs is $3.3 billion — slightly less than one-half of one percent of the bailout total.

Apparently it takes a whole lot of zeroes to goad Congress  into action.

Lawmakers’ inability to continue the county payments and in-lieu-of-taxes programs is especially galling because the victims in this case — in contrast to some of the irresponsible high-rollers who got us into this credit mess — are innocent.


Yes on Measure 56

The good thing about Oregon’s double-majority law is that it encourages people to vote.

The bad thing about the law is that it also discourages people from voting.

We think the latter factor outweighs the former, which is why we urge voters to approve Measure 56 on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Measure 56 would partially overturn the double-majority law that’s been in effect since voters approved it in 1996.

Here’s the situation now: Except during general elections in even-numbered years, any measure that would raise property taxes — whether statewide or in an individual city, county, school district or special district — can’t pass unless two things happen (hence “double majority”): half of the eligible voters cast a ballot, and at least half of those who do so vote yes.

Measure 56 would eliminate the double-majority rule for all property tax-raising measures on ballots in May or November. Double-majority would still apply to tax measures that go before voters in other months.


Bailout bitter pill to swallow, but. . . .

The $700 billion bailout bill Congress is debating is the legislative equivalent of an inoculation.

It hurts, but it’s necessary.

Congress should pass the bill because the consequences, should lawmakers dawdle, could be disastrous.

That said, the public must demand that Congress tailor this bailout so that, to the fullest extent possible, the people being bailed out are those who didn’t contribute to the financial morass in which America’s economy, and much of the rest of the world’s, has gotten mired.

The reality, of course, is that many people who are partly responsible will benefit from Congress’ intervention.

People who signed mortgages they couldn’t afford — a fact which anyone with the math skills of a second-grader could have calculated.


Training helps protect all of us

If you live in Baker City, almost every day dangerous substances pass within a couple miles of your home.

And considerably closer than that, if your address is near the freeway or the railroad tracks.

But we never see the toxic chemicals or other similarly hazardous stuff that rolls through on the road or the rails.

At least we hope we don’t.


Who’s out of order?

Baker City Resolution 3407 states in admirably blunt language how city councilors are supposed to behave during their meetings.

Based on what transpired during the Council’s Sept. 9 meeting, it seems to us that some councilors ought to re-read that resolution.

Section 5(a) of the resolution includes this sentence: “All members of the Council shall accord the utmost courtesy to each other, to city employees, and to public members appearing before the Council and shall refrain at all times from rude and derogatory remarks, reflections as to integrity, abusive comments, and statements as to motives and personalities.”

Section 7 of the resolution reads “A member shall confine discussion to the question under debate, avoid personalities, and refrain from impugning the motives of any other member’s argument or vote.”

Compare those sentences with what Councilor Terry Schumacher said near the end of the Sept. 9 meeting.


One day’s ‘losses’

The television commentator frowned as she dissected Monday’s carnage on Wall Street.

People with 401(k) retirement accounts, she opined, must be plain sick about all the money they just lost.

What money did she mean?

Certainly not the currency most of us spend every day.


More talk, not less

Baker City Councilors are elected to do three main tasks:

1. Supervise the city manager

2. Oversee the city’s budget.

3. Approve city policies.

Last Tuesday Councilor Gail Duman asked a legitimate question about Dan Van Thiel, the city’s contract attorney, representing City Manager Steve Brocato in a personal legal matter that didn’t involve his work as city manager.

Unfortunately, Duman, along with the rest of the council and city residents, received only a partial answer to her question Tuesday because Mayor Jeff Petry was so quick to bang his gavel.

Brocato said he did not spend city money to hire Van Thiel — a statement which Van Thiel’s billing records confirm. That answers the budget question.


Click It or Ticket

On Sunday police agencies across Oregon started a two-week campaign to ensure kids riding in cars are properly buckled in.

The Oregon Department of Transportation will use federal dollars to pay for police overtime during the “Click It or Ticket” effort.

This is money well spent. According to ODOT, about one-third of kids younger than 8 who were killed or hurt in a car crash last year were either unrestrained, or were not sitting on a booster seat.


Weather foils best efforts

Jim Lunders’ job hardly changes from year to year but his approval ratings, for want of a better term, fluctuate as widely as a scandal-prone politician’s.

This is because Lunders’ performance depends largely on the weather.

Lunders gets paid to kill mosquitoes.

This is never an easy task in the 200,000-acre district that Lunders manages. But some years his duty is considerably more daunting than in others.

The past two years illustrate this point perfectly.


Closing roads: We don’t all get a vote

Let’s be clear on one thing: The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s road-closure process is not a democratic one.

Only one person will decide which roads on the Wallowa-Whitman that are now open to motor vehicles will be closed.

His name is Steve Ellis. He’s the Wallowa-Whitman supervisor.

But although no one other than Ellis will make that decision, everyone else has the right to lobby him.

This includes residents of the five counties across which the Wallowa-Whitman sprawls: Baker, Union, Wallowa, Grant and Umatilla.


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