State wouldn’t track you

Just like an old-fashioned odometer, the gizmo would track miles driven, but only on Oregon public roads.

Just like an old-fashioned odometer, the gizmo would track miles driven, but only on Oregon public roads.

No, Senator Merkley, the concept of an Oregon vehicle mileage tax does not require people to disclose where they are going. It requires only that the in-state mileage on public roads be recorded. That's so the owners can pay a road user fee instead of the gas tax.

Jeff Merkley, Oregon's junior member in the U.S. Senate, held a town hall meeting in Corvallis the other day, on Jan. 12. Someone evidently asked him what he thought of the Oregon proposal for a road user fee for vehicles that get very high mileage. Since these vehicles use no or very little gas, their owners now don't pay a proportionate share of the cost of maintaining roads the way regular fuel buyers do. During this coming session the legislature will get a bill authorizing ODOT to start a road-user fee program by 2015.

According to a sketchy account of the Merkley town hall meting in the local Sunday paper, the senator said he would not support such a program if, in the words of the reporter, "it means people have to disclose where they are going to and from." This idea that the state might track where people go has been a common fear about the program. But the fear is misplaced. If vehicle owners choose the electronic mileage measurement option, the technology would record how many miles they drive on Oregon roads, but not where and when.

Besides which, people can already be tracked if they use cell phones, as we have learned over the years from various news stories about searches for people who get lost. The public does not seem to be worried about tracking of cell phones. So why worry about a system which, very much like the common odometer that each vehicle has, just measures how far the car goes? (hh)

Apophis: No answer to Social Security funding

See an asteroid there? Me neither. The tiny dot is a planet.

See an asteroid there? Me neither. The tiny dot is a planet.

NASA now says the chance that the asteroid named Apophis will slam into the Earth in 2036 is so small as to be not worth worrying about. So we are supposed to feel reassured. Actually, some of us were never all that worried. There's a pretty good chance we won't be around in another 23 years to find out what happens with that asteroid. But of course we should be worried about the younger generations. And we are. The asteroid measures about 350 yards across. That's a pretty hefty chunk of rock, and if it slammed into us at asteroid speed, which I guess is thousand miles a minute or something like that, we would probably know it. Or not. More likely it would be over before we knew what hit us. This giant rock apparently passes by the Earth every few years. And after it was discovered, in 2004, it was thought it might come pretty close to Earth in 2029. Further observation proved that fear was groundless, but a chance remained for a collision in 2036. On Jan. 10, though, NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena announced that they had now ruled this out. Ruled it out? Well, not quite. They said they had "effectively ruled it out" because they had determined the chance of a collision was less than one in a million. A chance of less than one in a million is still a real chance, as a lot of Powerball and Megabucks players keep thinking as they plunk down their money in the hope of getting rich overnight. Still, as far as that goes, it now appears life on Earth will in all likelihood go on past 2036, which among other things means that Congress really should try to figure out how to keep Social Security solvent well past that year. (hh)

Rural jobs in Nike bill?

More jobs in Oregon's rural area would be nice, wouldn't they?

More jobs in Oregon's rural area would be nice, wouldn't they?

When the Oregon legislature approved a special deal for Nike and possibly other job-creating companies last month, it threw a bone  to rural areas in the state. But it doesn't look as though it means anything, at least in the case of Nike. In the one-day special session on Dec. 14, lawmakers approved a bill allowing the governor to make contracts promising that Oregon will make no change in the tax policy on corporate excise taxes for a company that will invest at least $150 million and, within five years, create 500 additional jobs in Oregon. These contracts promising no tax change can last any number of years. The bill says the duration of each contract of this kind should be determined based on factors including the number of jobs to be created, how much the jobs pay, what other incentives the company receives, "and the extent to which the qualifying investment will create employment opportunities in rural Oregon." Governor Kitzhaber since then has signed a contract with Nike saying the method of calculating its Oregon income tax will not change for 30 years -- thirty years! So you'd think that maybe the creation of jobs in rural Oregon would have been one of the factors that prompted such an extraordinarily long contract. But then, the Portland   Oregonian reported on Jan. 11 that Nike was considering two or three sites for the promised expansion that caused the legislature to approve this bill in the first place. The sites were close to the Nike campus in Beaverton and near downtown Portland. Rural jobs? Apparently not. Evidently, the language in that bill was just window dressing. It doesn't seem to mean anything at all. (hh)

Grocery takes right approach

The underside of a bag from Ray's shows who made it.

The underside of a bag from Ray's shows who made it.

In the great plastic-bag debate, one supermarket chain is following the right approach. It is making a change as a business decision, without asking the state or local government to cover its back by passing a law.

The change was announced by C&K Market, a company based in Brookings which has grocery supermarkets in North Albany, on the Oregon coast, in Southern Oregon and California. Starting Jan. 14, the company said, it would no longer put most groceries in plastic bags. Instead, it will offer paper bags only and also sell 99-cent bags that can be reused many times.

Also in sharp contrast to stores in Corvallis, Portland and other cities where plastic-bag bans have taken effect, C&K stores, which include Ray's Food Place outlets, are not charging a nickel for paper bags, avoiding a likely annoyance to many customers. Instead, they will give customers a nickel discount for every reusable bag they bring with them to carry their groceries away. That's the way to handle this: No heavy-handed coercion by the government, no threats of fines from the plastic police. No sticks, just carrots.

For Albany-area customers of Ray's, there's only one downside to all this. The paper bags, though very handy for lots of things after you get them home, are made by International Paper. The bags thus remind you of the company that bought the Albany Paper Mill a few years ago and then shut it down, refusing to make it available for anyone else and killing about 200 well-paying jobs, an action whose ripple effects dealt a heavy blow to the city of Millersburg and the entire mid-valley economy. I've heard one customer at the checkout stand say he'll take plastic because he won't use an IP bag. He may not be the only one around here who feels that way. (hh)

From Rhea Graham: (Subject: Paper bags and International Paper) Oregon legalized growing industrial hemp a few years ago.  Let's get the DEA educated to the easily identifiable and distinct differences between the cultivation of cannabis and hemp and get hemp growing in this "Grass Seed Capital of the World." We could put thousands of people to work, not only in the growing and processing - but it leads to so much more!  Fiber, rope, paper, compost-able plastic, hempcrete and more can be made from the hemp plant, employing THOUSANDS!  They have a job ... have money to spend and it goes around and around in our local economy.The hemp plant really will save our country, if we allow it to.  Please encourage others to learn more!

Albany issue: What kind of majority?

You could have watched Albany council members starting new terms being sworn in on Wednesday night. Soon, council meetings will also be live on cable channel 28 in Albany.

You could have watched Albany council members starting new terms being sworn in on Wednesday night. Soon, council meetings will also be live on cable channel 28 in Albany.

A big question still hangs over the upcoming special election in Albany, according to the city council. But the council won't seek to have it resolved until after the vote.

As you remember, the city of Albany scheduled a special election for March 12 on two initiatives successfully sent to the voters by city resident Tom Cordier. The more significant of the measures would limit the city's "debt" -- not further defined -- to the amount the city had last Feb. 28 unless an increase is approved by the majority of city "electors in a primary, general or special election."

Mayor Sharon Konopa and City Attorney Jim Delapoer believe that, based on the definition of "elector" in state law, the initiative would require an absolute majority for any debt increase. That would mean yes votes from more than half of all the city's roughly 25,000 registered voters. And if that's right, the initiative itself would have to be appoved by an absolute majority as well in order to take effect.

Cordier, the sponsor, disagrees and says it requires only a majority of those voting. And when someone last summer filed an election law complaint against him charging him with lying on that point, the secretary of state found the complaint unwarranted, in effect backing up Cordier's claim that only a simple majority is required.

On Wednesday night (Jan. 9), the council voted to ask a court for an interpretation, but only after the election, and only if the initiative has received a simple majority of yes votes. The rationale: A court would not take the case until there is a concrete issue. Also there is this: If an absolute majority approves the measure, it's approved period. If any kind of majority rejects it, it's dead and nothing further is required. But if a simple majority approves it, the council then has to determine whether the measure was approved or fell short of what's required.

To voters in that election, this may all seem like unnecessary mumbo-jumbo, as it does to Cordier. He asked the council Wednesday not to pass the resolution but to have the city attorney meet him at the courthouse in the morning to try to get an answer from someone. The council ignored him -- as it has done before, which prompted this whole mess in the first place. Cordier says he may file something with the circuit court on his own, seeking a declaration that his interpretation of the majority question is correct. He won in court before, when Judge Tom McHill threw out the ballot title written by the city attorney. If Cordier files something with the court now, he may win again. And for clarity on the majority issue, voters then would have him -- not the city council -- to thank. (hh)

The commentary prompted a reponse and a rebuttal. Please read on. (If you have any comments on this issue or what should be done about it, please send them to hassohering@gmail.com.)

Albany Councilman Ray Kopczynski responds:  "Cordier, the sponsor, disagrees and says it requires only a majority of those voting. And when someone last summer filed an election law complaint against him charging him with lying on that point, the secretary of state found the complaint unwarranted, in effect backing up Cordier's claim that only a simple majority is required." The Sec. of State didn't find the complaint unwarranted, only that there was not enough information (at this time) upon which to make a decision. That's different than "unwarranted."

"Cordier says he may file something with the circuit court on his own, seeking a declaration that his interpretation of the majority question is correct." Isn't that *exactly* what the city is attempting to do?  As stated, I will be very surprised if any court/judge would make any ruling until after the measure fails or passes.  If the measure fails "straight up," there's no basis from which to make a ruling -- so we'll never know.  If it passes; there is that basis.  This happens all the time vis-a-vis ballot measures.  There's nothing unusual about the process.

"He won in court before, when Judge Tom McHill threw out the ballot title written by the city attorney." I disagree.  He did not "win."  The judge threw out *both* titles as written and wrote his own.  In addition, the judge also stated: "Clearly, the City consulted with bond lawyers for assistance in trying to capsulate the idea that there would be limitations in the city's capacity to borrow money if the measure passes as an effort to describe the initiative's 'major effect.'  While such might be the result of passage...” [my bold]  So, while admitting he could not (at this time) make a legal determination about these specifics, the judge had no qualms about stating his opinion.

As you're very well aware, words DO matter.  As such, I believe Mr. Cordier knows exactly what the potential end result of passage of this will be, and is exactly why he wrote the two ballot measures using different voting requirements.

From Tom Cordier: The secretary of state's disposition of the untruthful charge never uses the language Ray claims. Ray quotes "not enough info (at this time)." Their letter states: "Not finding a violation of election law, the Elections Division determines this investigation is closed and does not intend to pursue this matter further".
About winning the case, Ray failed to include the statement following the one he quoted. Here is that quote. "In 'explaining' the potential effects of passage ,it
appears to this Court that [Delapoer's] proposed title editorializes where it should be more concise and impartial." Indeed we did win, to the point where the City was required to refund Court costs to the petitioner.

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