Editorials from around Oregon

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

_____

Corvallis Gazette-Times, Dec. 5, on Gov. Brown's proposed budget:

So let's say, for the sake of argument, that you're building a household budget for 2019. Let's say you think you might have a shot at a 5 percent increase in income during the year; good work on your part.

But let's say that there are some items on the expenditure side of the budget that you've been putting off for years. Maybe the house finally needs that new roof. Maybe you need to find a bigger house. But you've done a little bit of financial work and you don't think that 5 percent boost in income is going to cover those expenses.

So you say, what the heck: You go ahead and build all of those expenses into your 2019 budget, even if you're not clear where the money will come from.

What you have isn't really a budget. It's more of a wish list.

Which brings us to Gov. Kate Brown and the budget plan she released last week. The big takeaway from Brown's proposed budget: She's hoping to work with legislators to find an additional $2 billion to help fund K-12 schools (and to help them pay off their growing bills for the state's public pension system) and to stave off what would amount to cuts in the state's higher education system.

But Brown is silent on how to raise that additional money; she says she plans to work with legislators to craft a revenue deal. She might be aided by the fact that Democrats finally have a three-fifths supermajority in each chamber of the Legislature, which allows them to raise taxes without a single Republican vote, but the supermajority margins are slender indeed: In the Senate, it would take the defection of just one Democrat to eliminate the supermajority.

So what this plan amounts to is a wish list.

To be fair, the governor's budget represents just a starting point, and will get a thorough working-over from legislators when they gather for their 2019 session. And Brown does have some business allies on her side in her negotiations for revenue increases, most notably the Coalition for the Common Good, a new organization that includes Nike and some of the state's powerful public-employee unions.

Brown also is hoping to gain allies from the state's public universities: Her proposal now includes no general fund increases for university programs, despite projected cost increases of more than 8 percent for the state's public pension system and health care costs.

To be fair, Brown has termed that unacceptable, and has offered a carrot to higher education: If legislators find that additional $2 billion, she'll earmark more than $580 million of that for higher education. But if the revenue deal falls through, higher education officials say they may have no recourse but to cut programs and impose double-digit tuition increases. (There's a catch to that as well: Tuition increases over 5 percent require the approval of the state's Higher Education Coordinating Commission, and Brown has lobbied that body in the past to keep a lid on those increases.)

So it could be that higher education officials will be in Brown's corner as the Legislature convenes — why pass up a chance to collect an additional $580 million? — but you couldn't blame them for having a sour taste in their mouths.

That sour taste could extend as well to Oregon taxpayers, who might point to the fact that the state, despite signs of a looming economic slowdown, will collect more tax money in the coming two-year cycle than ever before but still will be some $623 million in the red, thanks mostly to rising costs for the state's Medicaid program.

In the meantime, Brown has said she didn't put a revenue proposal of her own on the table because she didn't want to eliminate any options. At some point, though, she's going to have to show her cards for this proposal to get past the wish stage.

___

The Bend Bulletin, Dec. 5, on lawmakers needing to ignore fuel industry and dare to be different:

Here's a prediction for the coming legislative session, which begins in January: The fuel industry, led by Chevron, will seek to change the law underpinning Oregon's Clean Fuels Program in a way that hides the operation of its credit market securely from public view. When that effort begins, legislators should consider the state motto, "She flies with her own wings."

This motto celebrates Oregon's independent spirit, which has sent the fuel industry into a tizzy in recent weeks. How dare Oregon be different!

Perhaps nowhere is this indignation more evident than in the words of Jason Schwenneker, executive director of Iowa-based biofuel giant Renewable Energy Group. REG has joined a November lawsuit brought by Chevron that seeks to block the release of credit-transaction information related to the Clean Fuels Program.

Disclosing such information, Schwenneker practically huffs in a court filing, would make Oregon's credit market "the only carbon compliance trading program in North America, if not in the world, in which this kind of disclosure occurs."

Since when is being different a bad thing, if that's what the public interest demands?

This transparency fight began in October, when the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality refused to release credit-transaction information requested by a Bulletin editor. The Bulletin appealed the denial, and in November the Oregon Department of Justice ordered DEQ to release the information. Chevron promptly summoned its lawyers to fight the release and, in an unmistakable message to journalists, sued the editor who'd made the request.

Transparency matters because the credit market is, at heart, a mechanism for spending public money.

Under the Clean Fuels Program, importers of conventional road fuels such as Chevron generate carbon deficits, which they eliminate by purchasing credits from a variety of entities, including producers of low-carbon fuels such as REG. This complex subsidy program is funded by motorists, who pay for carbon credits at the pump.

Problem is, the people footing the bill aren't permitted to see where their money's going, as DEQ makes only aggregate credit-sale data available to the public. Anyone who wonders which companies are winning big under the Clean Fuels Program, and whether the program is operating as lawmakers intended, is out of luck.

Of course, that's just the way the fuel industry likes it. To paraphrase REG's Schwenneker, if secrecy is good enough for the rest of North America — and maybe the world — why shouldn't it be good enough for Oregon?

We're in no position to judge the operations of credit schemes elsewhere. But to the degree that other schemes resemble Oregon's fuel program, a better question might be why transparency is the exception rather than the rule. Consider Schwenneker's arguments for secrecy.

The Bulletin, Schwenneker notes, requested information that would show "the timing of trades, the identities of the participants, the number of credits to be transferred and the price to be paid per credit."

The release of such information, he argues, might allow competitors "to undercut and manipulate others' pre-existing trading relationships, which in many cases have been developed over the years with significant effort and investment."

Transparency certainly would change the credit-trading landscape.

However, as the DOJ argued in its order requiring disclosure, "it is at least as likely the efficiency of the credit market will improve as a result of greater transparency."

An economist consulted by the DOJ noted, for instance, that "transparency should make it easier for the market participants and others to detect any collusive — and potentially illegal — market behaviors that could contribute to market inefficiencies."

You'd think such a policing mechanism would reassure market participants. Yet Schwenneker argues that credit sellers "like REG, which have opportunities to do business in multiple markets, may opt to take their business elsewhere." Harrumph!

But even as he insists upon secrecy, Schwenneker accidentally makes a case for its opposite: "To function effectively," he argues, "a market requires an adequate supply of both buyers and sellers at each point when a transaction is needed. Oregon's CFP credit market has already struggled with striking this balance. To date, the market has suffered from a lack of liquidity resulting from an insufficient supply of available credits when needed."

So, even after two years in operation, the state's Clean Fuels Program still doesn't work well. And as a consequence, it suffers from a supply and demand mismatch that could, one imagines, encourage the sort of market behaviors about which the DOJ warns.

Yet journalists, lawmakers and other members of the public can do no more than imagine the kind sort of sausage that's being made inside Oregon's super-secret credit market. They must place their trust, instead, in program regulators. What could possibly go wrong?

If insisting upon transparency is weird, then state lawmakers should embrace weird next year. Resisting attempts to bury credit-market information even deeper would be a good start. Better yet, legislators should require its regular disclosure as a matter of law.

If such transparency causes the Clean Fuels Program to implode, as Schwenneker warns, that's not necessarily a bad thing. If he's to be believed, it doesn't work well anyway.

And surely a state that prides itself on its independent spirit can come up with a way to subsidize alternative-fuels businesses and reduce carbon emissions without keeping the public utterly in the dark.

___

Capital Press, Nov. 28, on DeFazio's wolf comments being out of line:

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that would remove the grey wolf from the federal Endangered Species list. The bill passed on a 196-180 vote.

The measure would strip wolves of federal protection in California, and the western two-thirds of Oregon and Washington. Wolves already have been de-listed in Idaho and the eastern one-third of Oregon and Washington.

Cattlemen are hailing the measure's passage. It now goes to the U.S. Senate where, because chamber rules require 60 votes to end debate, it faces extremely long odds.

We take exception to comments made by Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat who represents Oregon's 4th District, in defense of keeping federal protections on wolves. He called the bill "a talking point for a few idiots."

We recognize there are honest disagreements about wildlife policy, but insulting the intelligence of your opponents is hardly the stuff of thoughtful debate. The cattle and sheep producers of the West are not idiots and they deserve more respect from an elected representative.

We also think DeFazio should consider those who have to deal with the wolves first hand.

DeFazio told the House about Oregon's famous "wandering wolf,"

OR-7. OR-7 hailed from northeast Oregon. He wandered to California, came back into the southern Cascades where he found a mate and has produced pups. He and his progeny, seven or eight wolves in total, comprise the Rogue pack — so named not for their behavior but after the river valley where they roam.

"Guess what? We are not having catastrophic predation on cattle in Southern Oregon," DeFazio said. "We could accommodate more wolves."

The Rogue pack has a taste for livestock. It was credited with five confirmed kills in a three-week period earlier this month. Producers say the toll is higher, but those kills have not been confirmed by state wildlife officials.

Are the losses to depredation in Western Oregon "catastrophic?" Certainly not, if you aren't running cattle or sheep on public and private grazing allotments.

Maybe DeFazio would have a different opinion if his livelihood was being devoured on the hoof and there was little he could do about it because the federal government tied his hands.

The gentleman from Springfield need not fear. His district will get more wolves. But should ranchers be forced to continue to bear their losses?

We have always believed that wolves have a place in the wild. But we've never believed that cattlemen and sheep producers should be required to provide a free buffet.

It's time to end the protections for wolves as they continue to multiply and spread across the region without any help from wildlife managers.