Taxes: Dems want still more

Albany's Andy Olson and all other House Republicans opposed the $275 million tax hike.

Albany's Andy Olson and all other House Republicans opposed the $275 million tax hike.

You  may have noticed that for Democrats in the Oregon legislature, more is never enough. On April 24 Republicans in the House refused to provide the two votes the Democrats needed, in addition to the 34 votes of their own, to pass a $275 million, two-year tax increase on individuals and businesses. But in both the House and Senate, Democratic leaders say they will keep pushing for the increase anyway.

The news stories on this never mentioned that just in 2009, Democrats won approval of higher taxes with Measures 66 and 67, which were sold with the slogan that the taxpayers affected by them should pay their fair share. Well, how come the fair share of those measures is no longer fair enough?

The news stories on the latest House vote also did not mention that even without a tax hike, state revenue for 2013-15 is expected to increase $1.7 billion or more than 10 percent. You would think that this kind of healthy revenue growth would be sufficient for the government of a relatively small state. But it's not, apparently, because of the sharply rising cost of the public employee pension system.

Reforms to slow down those cost increases have been proposed by the Republicans -- and even by Democratic Governor Kitzhaber -- but legislative leaders refuse to consider them. They had better reconsider, though, because they won't get a big tax hike as long as the Republicans hang tough. (hh)

Speed up that new fire station

Albany's main fire station must be replaced.

Albany's main fire station must be replaced.

Just last month the state came out with yet another report on the catastrophic effects the next really big earthquake will have on everybody in the Willamette Valley and on the coast. And as always, the report said this calamity is overdue. It could happen any day or night. So you would think the first priority would be to make sure our emergency services can respond if and when it happens. The Albany City Council, though, has yet to get the word.

For years now the council has known that the city's main fire station is unsound. In the big earthquake it will probably fall down, trapping the engines and firefighters inside. Even now, the place is a problem. The plumbing leaks, the wiring is flaky, and during a recent power failure the emergency generator failed with the result that the big doors of the apparatus bays could not be opened for a short while.

For at least two or three years the council has talked about this and paid money for studies on whether to try to rehab the old station or where and how big to build a new one. The fire chief meets with the council now and then and makes proposals -- usually in closed session because real estate transactions may be involved. The council usually has other ideas or suggestions of its own and asks for more information. And so the endless mulling of this issue continues.

The chief has been working on this for years, and he knows what is necessary and how it could be accomplished. The council ought to get behind him so a plan to proceed can go to the voters. That new station must be ready when the big one hits. (hh)

Gordon L. Shadle responded on April 25: In 2010 the Council had $18.5 million of Pepsi money. Since then they've spent almost $10 million on various pet projects. They have about $8-9 million left. (You wrote an informative article last August providing specifics on how the money has been spent.)

Albany honors first responders

Fire Chief John Bradner with Lt. Jamie Smith, center, and Firefighter Curt Wilson.

Fire Chief John Bradner with Lt. Jamie Smith, center, and Firefighter Curt Wilson. (More photos below.)

Wednesday's meeting of the Albany City Council was unusual in the number of blue uniforms that crowded into the meeting room at City Hall. About two dozen firefighters and police officers were on hand to receive commendations for their role in responding to a house fire in Albany on Jan. 12, 2013, and saving the lives of two people caught in the burning structure. Fire Chief John Bradner singled out for special recognition Lt. Jamie Smith and Firefighter Curt Wilson for pulling the fire victims to safety and getting them treated. He also gave a unit citation to everybody involved in the response. Police Chief Ed Boyd did likewise for the officers in his department who were involved in this life-saving operation.

Mayor Sharon Konopa expressed her and the city's appreciation. Cooperation between these departments is to be expected, especially in life-threatening emergencies, but it would not necessarily happen when it counts without training, leadership and the kind of dedication to duty that Albany fire crews and the police department put on display on that dire occasion in January of this year. (hh)

Firefighters line up as they receive a unit citation.

Firefighters line up as they receive a unit citation.

Chief Ed Boyd commends officers of his department.

Chief Ed Boyd commends officers of his department.

Are these school bills necessary?

The House in session last week.

The House in session last week.

The Oregon House has passed three school-related bills that deserve additional comment before the Senate takes them up.

House Bill 3438 allows any city in Oregon to operate speed radar in school zones. To their credit, Sara Gelser of Corvallis and Sherrie Sprenger of Scio were among the minority to vote against this bill. In many places the 20-mph speed limit in school zones is unnecessary, and catching more drivers who go a little faster is not in the public interest.

House Bill 3014 would require schools to give students a chance to salute the flag in a classroom once a day. Nothing against flag salutes, though when required, they soon become an empty ritual. It would be far better for schools to give students a thorough appreciation of the history of America's drive to secure freedom and opportunity for all. Finally, the House on April 22 also approved Gelser's bill to allow students to opt out of mental health screenings in school. Mental health -- the alleged shortage of it -- has lately become a national obsesssion. But ideally, schools would use their limited time to work on education and not try to unearth a need for therapy as well. If they did, there would be no call for bills like this. (hh)

At the Capitol: No action on amendments

Under the Capitol dome in Salem.

Under the Capitol dome in Salem.

When this session of the Oregon legislature began, some of its members had grand ideas for amendments to the state constitution. So far, though, a little more than midway through the session, none of them looks like it's headed for the ballot.

The deadline for committee action in the originating chamber of each proposed constitutional amendment was April 18. As near as I can tell, almost none of the ones I looked at this week survived that first hurdle. Among the casualties was, for example, a proposal to change the constitution to allow sobriety checkpoints by the police. Another called for voter registration up through election day.

One would have allowed local option tax levies to exceed the constitutional tax limit and to run for 10 instead of the current five years. And one would raise the taxable value of property to the real market value when it's sold, instead of it being assessed at a ratio comparable to similar properties.

All that's on the Senate side. In the House, committees also failed to advance amendments to outlaw the death penalty and a proposal  by Rep. Sara Gelser of Corvallis to allow higher school taxes.

The only amendment that cleared its first hurdle on the way to the ballot was one to guarantee a constitutional right to hunt, trap and fish. Some of these other proposals might still be revived, but for now they look dead. (hh)

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