We can’t fault the Oregon Department of Transportation for striving to make the state’s highways safer.
But the recent revelation that ODOT plans to reverse, albeit in a limited sense, the state’s long-standing aversion to spreading salt on its roads seems to us an unnecessary expenditure of time and money.
We use the word “revelation” intentionally.
ODOT didn’t ask the public, or even the state Transportation Commission, what it thinks before setting up the five-year pilot project.
The Oregonian reported last week that ODOT plans to experiment with rock salt, which melts snow and ice, on an 11-mile stretch of Interstate 5 near the California border, and the 120-mile section of U.S. Highway 95 in the state’s southeastern corner between Idaho and Nevada.
ODOT officials chose those highways because the three bordering states all salt their highways, creating the potential for drivers entering Oregon to almost immediately go from wet pavement to ice or packed snow.
ODOT didn’t offer The Oregonian any proof that this transition is responsible for highway crashes.
The evidence is overwhelming, though, that spreading salt on highways accelerates the growth of rust on cars.
Salt also can pollute streams and groundwater sources.
It’s not as if ODOT is powerless to deal with slippery highways.
The agency already uses deicing liquids that aren’t as likely as salt to damage cars or the environment.
Moreover, the prevalence of technological advances — key among them better studless snow tires and electronic stability-control systems, the latter mandatory on all new cars starting with the 2012 model year — has contributed to an unprecedented decline in highway deaths in Oregon.
In 2010, a total of 292 people died in highway crashes in the state, the fewest in more than 60 years.
The death toll rose slightly in 2011, to 310, but the rate is down 3 percent from last year so far in 2012.
Oregon’s roads, based on the volume of traffic, have never been safer. Salt might not make things safer, but they’ll definitely introduce new problems.
The crux of the presidential race is this question: Have President Barack Obama’s policies failed to revive the U.S. economy because they are flawed, or because they haven’t had sufficient time to take effect?
We believe the former is true.
That tops the list of reasons why we hope voters will elect Republican Mitt Romney to replace Obama.
To be clear, “flawed” is not synonymous with “wrong.”
The president’s faith in the federal government’s ability to cure macroeconomic ills is not implausible.
Yet the prescriptions he has offered during his term, most notably the 2009 stimulus bill, simply haven’t paid off as the president and his supporters in Congress insisted they would.
Despite recent hints of improvement — a relatively robust stock market, a modest decline in unemployment rates — we’re not willing to take the risk that four more years of similar approaches will reverse the nation’s troubling course.
Although Obama and Romney sometimes sound similar on the campaign trail in touting their plans to “get America working again,” the differences in their philosophies are significant.
As his maneuvering on the stimulus bill and on Obamacare showed, the president sees Washington, D.C., as the origin of an economic revival, regardless of what the people who have run successful companies believe.
Romney, for instance.
He makes the compelling argument that businesses are more likely to prosper when they face fewer impediments from the capital, whether those be taxes or regulations.
Although we’re not so naivé as to believe that Romney’s election will mark a new era of bipartisanship in Congress, his ability as the Republican governor of Massachusetts to work closely, and effectively, with a Democrat-dominated legislature is telling.
President Obama is a good and earnest man. But his record is one of failure. We urge Americans to give Mitt Romney a chance to do better.
Mitch Southwick has earned a third term as Baker County’s top law enforcement official.
Southwick has been an effective administrator — one so respected by his peers that they elected him as president of the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association in 2008.
Southwick has not been content, though, to manage from his office.
We appreciate his willingness to get involved in search and rescue efforts, to regularly visit outlying cities, and to be an active member of his community through the Lions Club and other outlets.
In addition to overseeing the sheriff’s office, Southwick is responsible for the Baker County Jail and the Parole and Probation Department.
We also find Southwick’s no-nonsense attitude refreshing.
Although he has maintained a good working relationship with the county commissioners, Southwick points out, and rightly so, that “my boss is the people of Baker County. I don’t work for the commissioners — I can oppose them if I want.”
Southwick’s opponent, Dee Gorrell, has impressive law enforcement credentials, including experience with the Baker County Sheriff’s Office.
But Southwick’s resumé is longer still — including 28 years with the Oregon State Police, 18 of those years as a supervisor or manager, before he “retired” and was elected in 2004 as sheriff.
More importantly, though, Southwick has proved his ability to perform his current job at a high level, and expressed his eagerness to continue doing so for four more years.
Knute Buehler has taken an interesting approach to the inherent challenges of his candidacy for Oregon Secretary of State.
One of those is to convince voters that Secretary of State is a vital job, and that choosing the right person for the post can have wide-ranging effects on residents across the state.
Buehler, who already bears the considerable burden of being a Republican in a state that has elected few candidates from his party to statewide office in the past 30 years, has emphasized — correctly — that the Secretary of State can have a major influence on important issues.
More to the point, he makes a compelling argument that his challenger, incumbent Democrat Kate Brown, has not wielded that influence with much vigor.
Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS), for instance, is not, strictly speaking, under the Secretary of State’s bailiwick.
Yet PERS’ exorbitant, and growing, appetite for tax dollars not only at the state level, but for cities, counties and school districts statewide, is a looming fiscal disaster, and Buehler, unlike Brown, has proposed a series of reforms that could help ease the PERS threat.
That’s what we expect from an elected official, regardless of what their official job description says.
We also like Buehler’s enthusiasm for taking a more active role as a member of the State Land Board, and questioning the status quo. The Secretary of State is one of three members of that board, which among other things sets policy for how state forests are managed.
Finally, we believe Buehler will be more aggressive than Brown has been in using the state’s audits division, which the Secretary of State oversees, to find frivolous spending in state agencies.
Oregon voters should elect Buehler and give him a chance to make good on his plan to turn the Secretary of State into something more than another office in Salem.
When someone suggests the government should get to keep more money earned by individuals or businesses, our first question is always: “What’s the government going to do with it?”
Proponents of Measure 85 on the Nov. 6 ballot, which would end Oregon’s corporate tax “kicker” system, answer our query with the predictable: “It’s for the kids.”
Except it might not be for the kids.
The money could, in fact, be used for pretty much whatever the Legislature decides.
That uncertainty is why we urge a “no” vote on Measure 85.
To be clear, the measure has nothing to do with the other leg of Oregon’s unusual income tax kicker system. The personal kicker, which gives rebates to people and families when income tax revenue exceeds the state’s projects by more than 2 percent, wouldn’t be affected by Measure 85.
The measure instead targets the corporate kicker, which works the same way but is by far the smaller, in dollars, of the two legs. Since the kicker system started in the late 1970s, the state has “kicked back” $2.6 billion in personal taxes, and $527 million to corporations.
Measure 85 would divert any future corporate kickers — there have been just three in the past 20 years — to the state’s general fund.
The measure’s backers say that money is destined to prop up Oregon’s financially ailing public schools.
But there’s a lot more to the general fund than schools. And Measure 85 doesn’t require the Legislature to spend corporate kicker dollars on schools.
Ultimately the measure isn’t necessary anyway.
The Legislature already can vote to keep the corporate kicker — and it has, most recently in 2007.
On that occasion lawmakers put the money into a rainy day fund that can’t be tapped except with the support of two-thirds of the Legislature.
That at least put a level of restraint on how the money is spent.
Measure 85, by contrast, would simply dump the dollars into the maw of the general fund. If we’re going to stamp out the corporate kicker we need more assurance that the money will be spent wisely.
Baker City voters have a long list of qualified candidates to choose from as they sit down with their ballots and pick four people to represent them on the seven-member City Council.
Each of the nine candidates has qualities that would be valuable at City Hall.
We believe the quartet of Mike Downing, Barbara Johnson, Kim Mosier and Milo Pope combines the best mixture of experience and perspective.
Pope, a retired judge who presided over the Baker County Circuit Court, is the only incumbent on the ballot.
We have at times disagreed with Pope.
In particular we chastised him for intentionally missing a City Council meeting in August 2010 and attending a private gathering instead.
That said, Pope has been an effective councilor who frequently asks good questions about the city’s budget. He has also been a consistent advocate for finding a new source of revenue to maintain our streets, which have been degrading for more than a decade.
As an incumbent, Pope won’t need to familiarize himself with major city issues.
The continuity he would bring is especially important in 2013 as the Council deals with the effects of a rising PERS bill, and negotiations with all three of the city’s labor unions, whose contracts expire at the end of June.
Downing is a Baker City native who has already shown his commitment to public service. He served as a pro tem Justice of the Peace and was a candidate for that position earlier this year, and he has worked as a reserve dispatcher at the Baker County Consolidated Dispatch Center for the past five years.
Like Downing, Mosier has young children, and one of her goals it to work to make sure Baker City continues to be an excellent place to raise a family.
As a former deputy district attorney in Baker County and former assistant attorney general in the Oregon Attorney General’s office, Mosier has considerable experience in analyzing complex issues and making decisions based on a thorough consideration.
Johnson brings a different, but equally vital, perspective.
Like Pope she is a senior citizen who understands the unique concerns that older residents have. This is no minor matter in Baker City, where 20.5 percent of the population is 65 or older — well above the Oregon (13.9 percent) and national (13.3 percent) averages.
We were also impressed with Johnson’s enthusiasm for working on behalf of Baker City, a community where, in her own words, she moved “in 2004, not knowing a soul.”
Three other candidates — Jack Turner, R. Mack Augenfeld and Terry Schumacher — are also seniors.
Turner has been a major player in economic development, and we like his ideas about demanding results from the city’s investment in trying to attract new businesses. Turner lacks experience as an elected official, however.
That’s not the case with Schumacher and Richard Langrell. Both are former councilors with considerable experience in city government.
But unlike Pope, neither Schumacher nor Langrell has worked with the current city manager, Mike Kee.
Kyle Knight has shown a propensity for scrutinizing the spending of tax dollars as a member of the Baker School Board, a desirable trait in any elected official.
But the school board position is a major commitment. Moreover, Knight recently filed a civil lawsuit against the school district. The current controversy in which the school board is embroiled seems to us too great a distraction, even for an energetic candidate such as Knight.
‘Tis the season for slimy political tricks, but the example that a local resident brought to the Herald office on Thursday is particularly disturbing.
The package, which was sent by regular mail, attempts, in a pathetic and clumsy way, to besmirch the reputation of Steve Bogart, one of two candidates for Baker Justice of the Peace.
It’s based on a 1995 incident in which current Baker County District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff, at that time a deputy D.A., was arrested for drunken driving in Union County.
Bogart was at that time Baker County Judge — not an actual legal judge, but the position we now call chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners. Bogart did not fire Shirtcliff, who completed an alcohol treatment program and probation, and who has gone on to a successful career as district attorney.
The person who sent the mailer lacked the fortitude to attach a name to the missive.
But under the cloak of anonymity the person levels a blizzard of nasty-sounding charges against Bogart, suggesting that he is unqualified because he lacks a “true moral anchor,” “possesses a foul sense of justice” and, egads, he used to work in a lumber mill.
We hope few people received this insulting compilation in their maibox.
Moreover, we hope no voter is influenced by this affront to reasonable political debate.
We believe both Bogart and his challenger, Don Williams — who we’re confident had nothing to do with the mailer — are eminently capable of serving as Justice of the Peace.
In fact we’re so confident in both candidates’ abilities, and in the similarity of their qualifications, that we’ve chosen not to endorse either in the election.
We feel this is a reasonable position, given that Williams and Bogart themselves, when we asked each if his opponent was qualified to serve as Justice of the Peace, both showed great honesty and civility by saying yes, the opposing candidate was qualified to do the job.
Re-electing the incumbent in a congressional district which one party has dominated for decades can become something like a habit.
Oregon’s Second District, which includes all of the state east of the Cascades, hasn’t sent a Democrat to Washington, D.C., since Baker’s Al Ullman, who served a dozen terms, the last ending in 1981. Fortunately, our current representative, Greg Walden, has been such an effective and diligent voice for our region that endorsing him for an eighth term is hardly a rubberstamp.
Walden, whose opponent, as in 2010, is Democrat Joyce Segers of Ashland, has since his first term been a tireless advocate for vital local issues such as managing public lands for multiple uses, including responsible logging, and making sure farming and ranching, the linchpin of Baker County’s economy, remain viable businesses.
The biggest change during Walden’s tenure is his increasing power in the Capitol. Although the only Republican in Oregon’s delegation, Walden is also the only member in a leadership position in Congress.
Voters should make sure our region retains that position by giving Greg Walden two more years as our representative.
Were the backers of Measure 80 — the marijuana legalization measure on the Nov. 6 ballot — interested solely in allowing people 21 and older to grow and to smoke the stuff in the privacy of their homes, they’d have a better chance of persuading voters to approve the initiative.
But there’s a lot more to Measure 80 than letting adults get a legal high.
The initiative reads like propaganda designed to convince voters that marijuana is not only just another intoxicant, like alcohol, but a wondrous substance that can help to cure the state’s physical as well as fiscal ills.
Measure 80, with its emphasis on establishing state-licensed pot shops, seems to us more beneficial to people who want to sell marijuana than to people who just want to smoke it.
A keystone of the measure is creating an Oregon Cannabis Commission. This commission would, among its many other duties, issue licenses to qualified marijuana growers, license stores that could sell marijuana, set prices, and even establish standards for the “quality and potency” of pot sold at sanctioned stores.
So much for the rustic “grow your own” ethic of past decades.
Besides which, five of the seven members of the commission would be elected at large by marijuana growers and processors.
Last we checked, Jack Daniels and Jim Beam aren’t members of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
Although Measure 80 supporters insist that legalizing marijuana will make it harder for kids to get pot, that claim, based on the language of the measure itself, seems laughable.
For instance, although the measure regulates marijuana that’s ready to smoke, it specifically exempts hemp from any regulation. Yet the measure defines hemp as including marijuana seeds and starter plants.
Notwithstanding proponents’ touting of hemp for its various industrial uses, including biofuel, it’s obvious that the vast majority of the marijuana grown now ends up in people’s lungs, not their fuel tanks.
Pretending that marijuana seeds and starter plants won’t eventually be put to that use, and thus don’t need to be regulated, is ridiculous.
It used to be that supporters of legalizing marijuana tended to frame the issue as one of personal freedom, the right for adults to decide for themselves what they eat or smoke or drink, without interference from the government.
Measure 80, though, seems designed to get the state government intimately involved in the marijuana business.
That’s not a proper role for the state, and voters should reject Measure 80.
When the economy is humming along, government coffers tend to be full.
The relationship could fairly be described as symbiotic.
Businesses pay employees to produce goods and services that customers buy. The government takes a piece of the action, in the form of income and other taxes, and uses the money to maintain roads and emergency services and schools that make efficient and profitable commerce possible.
Trouble can arise, though, when the economy stagnates.
When tax revenues decline, government agencies sometimes look for new sources.
The danger comes when the government, by imposing a new fee or tax, discourages economic activity and thus prolongs the financial doldrums, ultimately hurting both the private and public sectors.
A real estate transfer tax is an example.
And although there is only one such tax in effect in Oregon now — in Washington County — the Legislature and the governor could create a statewide tax and change the law to allow local governments to do the same. A statewide tax has been proposed several times, in fact.
Voters, though, can take away that authority by voting “yes” on Measure 79. We think they should.
There’s no legitimate reason for government at any level to tax the transfer of real estate. Imposing such a tax now, with the housing market barely beginning to recover from the recession, would be particularly ill-timed.
Fortunately, voters can get rid of a similarly onerous and unnecessary tax by voting “yes” on Measure 84. It would initially reduce, then eliminate altogether, the state’s inheritance tax. Currently, estates worth up to $1 million are exempt, but amounts above that are subject to taxes.
Although the tax system includes credits for farms and ranches that can exempt from taxes operations worth as much as $7.5 million, there are plenty of farms and ranches in Oregon, including in Baker County, that exceed that value. Inheritance tax revenues are barely a blip in the state budget — 1.5 percent of the general fund — but the tax can be an insurmountable burden for people who want only to keep a business in the family.