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Economy of the future

The future of Baker County’s economy is already here.

We just need to start tapping it.

The term you hear most often is alternative energy, but why don’t we just delete the “alternative?”

Energy is energy.

Your light bulbs don’t burn brighter if the electricity was generated by burning coal rather than flowing water or gusting wind.

Semantics aside, energy sources such as wind and biomass bring so many potential benefits, and pose few if any pitfalls, that there’s no legitimate reason why local officials and residents should not pursue them vigorously.

The planned hydroelectric plant at Mason Dam is a good start, and the iron is quite hot now for more — the $700 billion financial bailout includes $17 billion in tax credits for renewable energy.

Here’s a deal: Trees make money just standing around

Selling carbon credits sounds farfetched, but the process could be one of the best things ever to happen to Baker County’s private forests.

It could benefit a somewhat larger area, too — the Earth.

Oregon is one of three states picked to participate in a carbon credits pilot project through the Chicago Climate Exchange.

Here’s how the market works:

Companies and other entities that emit airborne carbon, and thus contribute to climate change, can buy credits from people who own forests, which absorb carbon and hold it in the trees so the element doesn’t foul the atmosphere.

Or to paraphrase, polluters pay people to counteract the effects of pollution.

Election’s coming

If you intend to vote in the Nov. 4 election, there are two crucial dates during the next week that you ought to jot down

The first date is this Thursday, Oct. 9.

That’s when the American Association of University Women will conduct its candidates’ forum in Baker City. The Baker City Herald is a co-sponsor.

The event is scheduled for 7 o’clock that evening in the Baker High School Commons, 2500 E St.

Candidates for Baker City Council and the Baker County Commission are invited to the forum, and everyone else is invited to ask the candidates questions or just listen to their answers.

The second red-letter date is Tuesday, Oct. 14.

That’s the last day you can register to vote in the Nov. 4 election.

You can register at the County Courthouse, 1995 Third St. If you don’t remember whether you’re registered to vote in Oregon you can check your status online, via a link at the Baker County Clerk’s Web site: www.bakercounty.org/Clerks/Elections.html, or go to www.oregonvotes.org.

The ESD debacle’s expensive lesson

There is much to learn from the several-year saga of the Union-Baker Education Service District.

Unfortunately for several Northeastern Oregon school districts, the lesson will be an expensive one.

Oregon’s Department of Education wants 41 school districts to repay the state $2.2 million they received.

That’s a preliminary figure — the final amount could be determined after a meeting scheduled for today in Pendleton to which officials from all 41 districts were invited.

State officials say the districts owe that money because the UBESD, between 1999 and 2004, reported that those districts had more students in their alternative school programs than were actually enrolled, and that employees were working with students for more hours than they really were.

Expand drug court to juveniles

Baker County’s Journeys Recovery Court program has helped a dozen adults defeat their drug or alcohol addictions during the past four years.

But addiction is an affliction that’s not limited to adults.

Which is why we support Circuit Court Judge Greg Baxter’s campaign to start a similar “drug court” for juveniles.

New Directions Northwest contributed a $5,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation for the new program.

Baxter admits that he was at first skeptical of the drug court concept. The judge, like many people, wondered whether the program gave criminals an avenue to avoid punishment.

Baxter soon learned that drug court isn’t like that at all.

First, the people who enroll in the program must first plead guilty to a crime.

Then, before sentencing, they have to tell Baxter they’re interested in drug court.

Kulongoski sees the light on salaries

Finally someone acknowledges that boosting salaries for public employees when the economy is floundering feels like a slap to the face of the taxpayers who foot the bill.

Or like a hand clutching for their wallet.

What surprised us was who made that admission: Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

It was just last year, after all, when the governor approved 33-percent pay raises for about 60 state agency directors over the 2007-09 biennium.

Last week Kulongoski decided to trim those raises, but only slightly.

Agency directors will not get the 3.2-percent cost-of-living raise scheduled for Nov. 1.

“The governor recognizes families are tightening their belts, and state government needs to as well,” said Anna Richter Taylor, the governor’s spokeswoman.

Build the bandstand

Baker City already has one of the nicer parks in Oregon.

A bandstand would make Geiser-Pollman Park better.

We’re glad the City Council voted unanimously last week to allow a 1,200-square-foot bandstand to be built near the center of the park.

Our only concern about the bandstand was the possibility that it would degrade the qualities that make Geiser-Pollman such a great place — its bounty of shade trees, its expanses of well-tended grass, its picnic tables and playground.

But the drawings the bandstand committee showed the City Council eased our fears.

Steve Ellis’ choice

Steve Ellis, the supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, is slated to decide late in 2009 how severely to limit where motor vehicles (except snowmobiles) can go on the 2.4-million-acre Wallowa-Whitman starting in 2010.

Now, on about 1.3 million of those acres, they can go just about anywhere.

But four years ago then-Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth decided that such unfettered access by motor vehicles posed a threat to wildlife habitat and other resources on national forests. Bosworth ordered all forest supervisors to revamp their travel policies. His message was succinct: Wide open policies such as the Wallowa-Whitman’s will not continue.

Ellis’ decision comes down to two main matters: first, how many of the forest’s 4,261 miles of rarely maintained roads should remain open, and to which types of vehicles; and second, should any part of the Wallowa-Whitman stay open to cross-country travel via motor vehicle?

A team of Wallowa-Whitman workers has drafted several options for Ellis to consider.

We prefer Alternative 4.

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.

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