Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Dec. 6, on a monumental mistake
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended Tuesday that President Trump reduce the size of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Southern Oregon and three others, but didn't say by how much. The recommendation came the day after the president traveled to Utah to announce the shrinkage of two national monuments — one by half, the other by 85 percent. The actions threaten to make an important type of public land protection provisional, to the detriment of some of the nation's most important scenic, cultural and biological resources.
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Presidents create national monuments under authority granted to them by the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Cascade-Siskiyou monument was created by President Clinton in 2000, and expanded by President Obama in his last days in office. President Wilson scaled back the national monument that later became Olympic National Park, but the legal question of whether the Antiquities Act is a two-way street has not been answered by the courts.
It's about to be: Lawsuits have already been filed by Native American tribes and conservation groups against Trump's decision to reduce the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase Escalante monuments in Utah. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has said she may sue if the president withdraws protection from the Cascade-Siskiyou monument. The tribes may have a particularly strong case: Bears Ears was created to protect sites sacred to Native Americans from looting and desecration — the explicit original purpose of the Antiquities Act.
If the Trump administration prevails, monument designations would mean little — lands protected by one president could be opened to development by the next. Permanent protection would have to come from Congress, either by clarifying the Antiquities Act to block presidential rollbacks or by giving monuments some type of protective status. But Congress gave presidents the authority to create monuments for a reason: They are less likely to be swayed by parochial concerns, and can place the national interest above all else.
As part of his review of 27 existing monuments, Zinke has recommended that three new ones be created — in Kentucky, Mississippi and Zinke's home state of Montana. How long would those designations last? By asserting that previous presidents' decisions about monuments can be reversed, Trump is undermining his own authority.
The Oregonian/OregonLive, Dec. 6, on fixing Oregon's budget before the job-stealing robots arrive
As riveting as Steve Brown's speech on the future of robotics was, you can't blame anyone attending the annual Oregon Leadership Summit on Monday for feeling anxious by the time he finished.
In roughly half an hour, he laid out the technological advancements that have quickly enabled the development of robots capable of mimicking human activities and how that could revolutionize - or decimate - the job market. Already, robots are stocking warehouses, flipping burgers, sowing fields of barley, laying bricks, weeding gardens, steering semi-tractor trailers down freeways and even dropping life preservers for water rescues. A future where robots can displace people in performing these tasks isn't so distant, warned Brown, a former futurist for Intel who now speaks on the intersection of technology, business and social trends.
His speech offered both a fascinating and fearsome glimpse of how dramatically robots are poised to reshape our lives. The state's next steps and strategies will determine where on that spectrum Oregonians' view of the emerging technology will land.
One thing is clear: the presentation lends new urgency to the imperative that Oregon's elected leaders tackle the state's long-standing budget woes. Unless the state addresses its skyrocketing spending and its volatile revenue stream, Oregon will never be able to make the investments in education, job training and social services needed to give Oregonians a fighting chance in a technology-driven future. With the nation's third-worst graduation rate and 10,000 high-school dropouts a year, Oregon won't even be in the game.
The question of whether Oregon is "future ready" was the central theme for Monday's leadership summit, the annual gathering organized by a committee of business leaders that for 15 years has drawn elected representatives, entrepreneurs, educators and others to consider critical economic policy matters. But the most pressing concern, highlighted by Oregon Business Plan Committee Chairman Patrick Criteser was how to dig out from decades-old decisions that have profoundly shortchanged Oregon's classrooms and public services.
In contrast to last year's conference, in which Gov. Kate Brown demanded that the business community solve the state's budget problems, the governor seemed somewhat more receptive to the idea of pension benefit reform and curtailing spending. In an exchange with Criteser, she acknowledged the existence of a "structural budget deficit" that would require cost containment as well as new revenue. She said her office hopes to prepare proposals on shaving the $25 billion unfunded pension liability in time for the 2018 short legislative session. And she even floated the possibility of revisiting a bill from last May that would ask public employees to shoulder a small portion of the pension costs that the state now bears - something that employees in every other state already do.
While any progress is welcome, these are baby steps for a governor who is well versed on the magnitude of the budget crisis and the primary role that pension benefits play in causing it. Oregon's public employers - K-12 school districts, cities, universities, state agencies and others - must pay $2.9 billion in the current biennium to the Public Employees Retirement System to help fill the deficit, according to the state. That jumps to $4.1 billion for the 2019-2021 biennium and to a whopping $10 billion in the 2029-2031 biennium - more than the state spends on all of K-12 education.
And while Brown said her office is looking at how to convene businesses, labor unions, elected leaders and others to begin brainstorming fixes for Oregon's budget woes, that work should have started months ago. There's no reason Oregon must wait for Congress' resolution of possible federal tax changes, as the governor intimated, to bring people together and build trust, identify goals and sketch out the logistics of how to achieve them.
Fixing Oregon's fiscal problems won't prepare Oregonians for the robotic future by itself. And it's hard to know how the state will react as businesses adopt new technologies that displace workers. Oregon has a long history of innovation, individualism and entrepreneurialism; at the same time, it's also a state that can resort to protectionist policies. This is, after all, one of only two states in the nation that bars drivers from pumping their own gas.
But until and unless Oregon makes structural changes to its revenue and spending problems, the state won't have a say in directing how the robotic revolution plays out. That's a future no one should be ready to accept.
The Daily Astorian, Dec. 5, on health authority audit interference being outrageous
State officials went to great lengths to stymie an audit of the Oregon Health Authority.
That is the most troubling aspect of the audit, which state auditors were able to complete after Gov. Kate Brown appointed a new director for the beleaguered agency.
The audit report, which Secretary of State Dennis Richardson delivered last Wednesday in a highly politicized announcement, found that the agency inadvertently misspent millions of state and federal dollars. That is not a big surprise, as news about the agency's missteps has dribbled out for months. However, the audit also showed that the health authority is above average nationally for its handling of federal Medicaid money.
In that sense, the audit report contained both bad and good news regarding Oregon's $9.3 billion-a-year Medicaid program. New Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen, who on Friday marked his 90th day on the job, agreed with the auditors' recommendations and said the agency already was implementing some of them.
The report states that the health authority previously had impeded the auditors' work but goes on to say, "OHA's new management has been more proactive and transparent in addressing these issues."
Audits are an integral part of cost-effective governance. Brown ousted former health authority Director Lynne Saxton this summer; but it's disconcerting that until then, the agency aggressively interfered with what could be considered a routine audit.
That interference included hiring an outside auditing firm as an intermediary between the health authority and the state Audits Division. That seems unprecedented in state government. Allen said he canceled the outside firm's $200,000 contract as soon as he learned about it.
According to the audit report, the health authority also had monitored what its staff was telling auditors, potentially creating a chilling effect, and ordered front-line workers to go through management instead of communicating with auditors.
"Preventing direct follow-up slowed our work, potentially limited our access, and created a bottleneck for both us and OHA. We had questions that staff could answer in minutes, but were instead required to ask managers, who sometimes provided incorrect information because they lacked the same level of familiarity as staff," the report says. In addition, "OHA delayed answering requests and at times provided incomplete or erroneous information."
Such interference, regardless of where it occurs in government, is outrageous. Republican Richardson, who oversees the Audits Division, and Democrat Brown, who oversees the Oregon Health Authority and other agencies in the executive branch, should have known about the problems and promptly worked together to ensure a thorough, forthright audit.
Their failure to do so creates a stain on state government.
Salem Statesman Journal, Dec. 5, on expanding permit system in Oregon wilderness being a necessary evil
If it's accessible, they will come.
And they will leave their trash and cause environmental damage.
We wish it wasn't true, but it is. And now because too many are turning to the outdoors for its free recreational opportunities, the rest of us will have to pay to preserve these spots for future generations.
The U.S. Forest Service proposed new regulations in June that would require hikers and backpackers to purchase a permit before heading into five wilderness areas between Mount Jefferson and Diamond Peak.
Oregon's outcry was fast and furious. More than 500 members of the public responded. But it's really just a case of federal land managers in Oregon catching up with their peers in Washington, California, Arizona and elsewhere across the country.
The permitting system is the most equitable way to make increased use, and overuse, pay for itself. The areas being considered for an advance-purchase permit ranging from $6 to $12 are the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Three Sisters, Waldo Lake and Diamond Lake wilderness areas. The proposal includes limits for the number of day hikers and backpackers.
The permit system in local wilderness areas was deemed necessary because of explosive growth in the number of people hiking and backpacking in the Central Cascade areas around the Three Sisters and Mount Jefferson.
Unlike state or national parks, wilderness areas don't have a lot of options for handling the hordes of people using the areas and the unfortunate damage that accompanies them.
Only two areas in Oregon currently require a permit to hike or backpack: the Obsidian Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness and Pamelia Lake in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. The success of those permit programs instituted in the past, and their ability to stem overuse, influenced the current proposal.
Fewer people have used these areas, and our thoughts are that the folks getting the permits are more mindful of their impact on the environment. Some officials say the areas have been returned to their status two decades ago.
The state's mostly open-trail policy has spoiled Oregonians and visitors alike. The Forest Service's proposed new rules generated comments mostly against the proposal. Likely because most outdoor users cherish and respect the environment, they try to leave it as they find it, and they resent paying to use public lands.
Unfortunately, a growing number of users assume someone else will clean up after them. Wilderness rangers report coming across unburied human feces more than 1,000 times, some of it in campgrounds. Rangers have hauled more than 1,200 pounds of other human beings' trash.
The government maintains spots for camping and campers leave their solid waste next to a fire pit?
As is often the case, a few abusers force the majority of users to pay for the consequences for their actions. But this time, growth in Bend and across the Mid-Valley has brought more people outdoors each year.
This growth has pushed wilderness areas to their breaking points. The forest service says visitors to the Three Sisters Wilderness jumped to 132,118 last year, up from only 46,999 in 2011.
It would be nice if everyone carried out their own trash (and their dogs'), left nothing except footprints and took care that the environment is left unspoiled for another generation to enjoy.
But not everyone lives by that credo.
A permit system works in others states; it will work in more spots in Oregon, too.
Baker City Herald, Dec. 1, on voting no on Measure 101
You're likely to see the number 350,000 often between now and Jan. 23, 2018, when Oregon voters will cast their ballots on Measure 101, which would adopt a slate of health care taxes the Legislature approved earlier this year.
The 350,000 figure is the estimated number of Oregonians enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan who, according to Measure 101 supporters, could lose health insurance if voters reject the measure.
This is no minor issue in Baker County, where an estimated 11 percent of the population — more than 1,500 people — could be affected by cuts to health insurance programs for low-income residents.
But we believe there are other ways to ensure all those Oregonians retain the coverage they received through an expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Moreover, those ways do not require Oregon to impose taxes for the next two years on some larger city hospitals (St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Baker County would not be subject to the tax) as well as on an estimated 15,500 small businesses that provide health insurance to their employees, and to an estimated 230,000 residents, including more than 11,000 college students, who buy insurance in the private market.
Measure 101's origins are in a bill the Oregon Legislature passed earlier this year. House Bill 2391 includes a 1.5-percent tax on insurance premiums paid by managed care organizations (such as HMOs), some public employees and an estimated 217,000 Oregonians who buy insurance, including some who receive subsidies through the Affordable Care Act. The bill also includes a 0.7-percent tax on net revenues for some larger hospitals. The taxes would cease after two years.
Two Republican legislators, Reps. Julie Parrish of Tualatin and Cedric Hayden of Roseburg, led a campaign that gathered enough signatures to get Measure 101 on the ballot. Here's where it gets a bit confusing, though. Although Parrish and Hayden put Measure 101 on the Jan. 23 ballot, they're urging Oregonians to vote no on the measure. That's because if the measure fails, some parts of House Bill 2391 — including the taxes on insurance premiums and on some hospitals — would not happen. Both lawmakers voted against House Bill 2391.
If voters reject Measure 101, that would reduce the bill's revenue by an estimated $330 million. According to Measure 101 proponents (who also supported House Bill 2391), that would put those 350,000 Oregonians in peril of losing coverage under the Oregon Health Plan.
Parrish and Hayden disagree. We think they make a compelling argument, which is why we urge Oregonians to vote no on Measure 101 next month.
The state can continue to enroll those 350,000 Oregonians by tapping other revenue sources, two of which were announced earlier this week, and potentially by cutting wasteful spending in health care.
The state, according to its own economists, will collect about $47 million more this fiscal year in tax and Lottery revenues than was projected. In addition, economists project the state's revenue for the next two-year budget cycle, which starts July 1, 2019, will exceed previous forecasts by about $158 million.
Last Wednesday, the Secretary of State's office released an audit of the Oregon Health Authority that found the agency overestimated its caseload of Medicaid recipients by 47,600. That mistake will make almost $100 million available to the Legislature during the current biennium, according to the Secretary of State's office.
Parrish and Hayden say they're committed not only to defeating Measure 101, but also to promoting bills in the month-long legislative session, which starts Feb. 5, 2018, that would save even more money and further solidify the Oregon Health Plan without imposing taxes or otherwise making health insurance even more expensive for Oregonians. One of these bills would transition some public employees into the health exchange, a move that former Gov. John Kitzhaber estimated could save the state $1 billion over a two-year budget cycle.
Measure 101 proponents contend the taxes in House Bill 2391 are necessary to prevent major cuts in the Oregon Health Plan. But the financial data show otherwise. Voters should reject those taxes and demand that lawmakers take advantage of their other options rather than increasing the burden on Oregonians already struggling to afford health insurance.