In Salem, the statehouse halls are echoing with shallow breathing and elevated heart rates.

Its the final minutes, hours or days of the 2001 legislative session, and there is business yet to be done.

Sadly, in a year when legislators will be making last-minute end runs at establishing a cultural trust fund and creating incentives to bring professional baseball to Portland, the future of dedicated state funding for county fairs remains unresolved.

House Bill 3530, a proposal that would devote 1 percent of the net lottery proceeds annually to support fairs in Oregons 36 counties, has passed both the House and Senate. For the Baker County Fair, which begins the last week of this month, that amounts to nearly $40,000 the majority of the fairs budget, according to manager Bonnie White.

There has been speculation that Governor Kitzhaber will veto the bill because he doesnt like its reliance on lottery dollars.

While we can commiserate propping up such important programs as public schooling with a tax on the mathematically challenged is not a healthy, long-term solution, either we urge the governor to give his approval to HB 3530.

The preamble to the bill says it best (albeit in the perennially awkward, legislative style):

The Legislative Assembly finds and declares that financial support of county fairs will result in economic development for areas where fairgrounds are located by promoting, expanding or preventing the decline of businesses ...

Baker Countys two fairs one in Baker City, another in Halfway are gathering points for the people who live on the agricultural operations that dominate our countys economy. The youth who show animals are the next generation of producers; the adults who show quilts or recipes are the holders of a practical knowledge we cannot afford to lose despite the convenience store-ease of our modern age.

That may not be economic development in the traditional Investment X equals Y Jobs form. But it is more like economic preservation, retaining two weekends in Baker County when the businesses in Baker and Halfway benefit and the people gather to share ways of producing value from the land or saving money through your own ingenuity.

Portland can have baseball. But dont cost us our opportunity once a year to be proud of our pickles, or show our sheep. That is a cultural trust; Governor Kitzhaber can fulfill it with a stroke of his pen.