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Browsing the archives for the OR Senator Doug Whitsett category.

Newsletter from OR Senator Doug Whitsett

CA & OR, Federal gov & land grabs, Forestry & USFS, OR Senator Doug Whitsett

Feb. 16, 2015

Rural Oregonians have become all too familiar with the devastating effects of catastrophic wildfires. Those of us in Southern Oregon have witnessed the incredible destruction of the 2002 Biscuit Fire and the 2012 Barry Point Fire, as well as the Bryant Mountain and Oregon Gulch fires in 2014.
All of these wildfires caused severe damage and desolation on both public and private lands. The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) is charged with protecting most private and state owned lands.
Land owners pay ODF an annual assessment to defend their property against wildfires. The assessment insures that ODF will actively attempt to suppress wildfires but does not insure against losses caused by the wildfires. The State also allocates significant funding to support the fire suppression efforts.
ODF currently reports the cost of wildfires as the total amount of loss caused by structures damaged or destroyed by fire, the cost of the fire suppression effort and any human injuries or deaths resulting from the fire. These factors comprise only a small portion of the actual cost of wildfires.
The Department reports may actually convince stakeholders that the damages caused by wildfires are much less that what actually happens. They fail to provide a full portrait of the true losses, and may even serve to persuade citizens that losses are minimal.
In fact, Oregonians are often told that wildfires can have benefits that, weighed as a whole, may actually be favorable and helpful to the forest and rangeland environment.
I worked my way through college and professional school fighting fire for the United States Forest Service. During that time, our “hot shot” crew helped to suppress about 40 wildfires in nine western states. I have yet to see an out-of-control-fire that is beneficial to any environment!
There is currently no requirement in state law that agencies or Department officials report on the fire-related losses to private property owners. That is why I have joined my wife, Representative Gail Whitsett in sponsoring House Bill 2501.
HB 2501 requires that the State Forester provide information regarding the losses of timber, buildings, fencing, livestock and grazing capacity on private lands in a report to the members of the Emergency Board for each fire of 1,000 acres or more.
A public hearing was held on HB 2501 in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, Feb. 12. Representative Whitsett and I testified in support of the bill, along with representatives of the timber, ranching and farming industries. The presentation appeared to be well-received by members of the committee. No one testified in opposition.
We often hear rhetoric from environmental groups and others claiming that wildfires are “natural” and can be beneficial to the forest and rangeland environment. Unfortunately, many federal foresters have joined in that chorus. I have a broad depth of personal, firsthand experience that tells me otherwise.
The costs of wildfires not presently being reported are significant. They include the value of the timber that is incinerated, killed or otherwise damaged. The value of forage that is incinerated is also not quantified. This is particularly important, because that value is lost not only during the year of the wildfire, but often for at least the next two years as the landscape tries to recover.
Real estate values can be dramatically reduced in the aftermath of a wildfire. Once-pristine acreage becomes ghastly reminders of the true tragedy of the holocausts of wildfires. Virtually no one wants to locate their home in a burned-out forest landscape.
The value of killed and damaged livestock is not quantified. Those animals often sustain burns that results in their deaths or in significant loss of production. The overall loss of forage, grazing opportunity and overall production to agricultural, farming and ranching operations is immense and ignored.
Wildlife, birds and fish are killed during and after wildfires. Those creatures are often incinerated along with the forest and rangeland. Many others are burned too severely to survive.
Other direct and indirect impacts include the runoff of ash and sediment into streams. The result is both immediate fish kills and long-term habitat and spawning degradation. The erosion caused by fire damages watersheds for decades, if not for generations. The resulting prolonged loss of fish and wildlife habitat is enormous.
And despite the implementation of heavy-handed regulations allegedly for the sake of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our agencies don’t even attempt to estimate the emissions caused by wildfires. The massive emissions from wildfires are actually second only to volcanoes as a global source of greenhouse gases.
The best efforts of ODF to provide wildfire protection are complicated by the nearly 25,000 miles of contiguous border in Oregon that the agency shares with lands managed by the federal government. Out-of-control wildfires that start on federal lands often cross those boundaries, resulting in massive damage to ODF protected private lands.
There is little that ODF can do when a firestorm half a mile wide races across the federal forest boundary. I believe that the failed federal management of public resources will never be corrected until the people truly understand the magnitude of the cost of the mismanagement that is the direct cause of huge losses to private resources.
Much of the gruesome damage is the direct consequence of the lack of knowledge regarding the actual impacts of these horrific events. We believe that the public truly must understand the magnitude of the real costs of that mismanagement before we can expect to see a change in these failed federal policies.
HB 2501 represents a start toward providing the public with the information they need to understand the scope of those losses. The bill is not written to require, nor is it intended to require, a detailed catalogue of all of the damages caused by wildfires. But it is meant to ask ODF to provide rough estimates of objectively measurable losses caused by wildfires on ODF protected lands.
That, to me, is a good start towards obtaining the sensible management policies that this state, and its rural residents, truly deserve.
Please remember–if we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one will.

Best Regards,
Doug
Oregon Senate District 28

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News from Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett

OR Senator Doug Whitsett

A public hearing on Senate Bill 324, the adoption of an Oregon low carbon fuel standard, was scheduled for the very first day of the 2015 Legislative Assembly. The timing of the hearing appears to signal that the majority party simply cannot wait to test its newfound supermajority voting muscle.
LCFS was first enacted by a Democrat supermajority in 2009 through the passage of HB 2186. That bill passed without a single Republican vote in either the House or Senate, and was also opposed by some Democrats in those chambers.
HB 2186 granted broad authority to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and evaluate similar programs being done by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the states of California and Washington. It also defined the term “low carbon fuel standards” and allowed DEQ to adopt, by rule, standards for gasoline, diesel and fuels that could be used as substitutes for them. Those standards are also applied to greenhouse gas emissions that could be attributed to fuels throughout their lifecycle, including their production, storage and transportation.
The law required that its provisions expire, or sunset, at the end of 2015. No fewer than three bills, SB 488, HB 2237 and HB 2791, were introduced during the 2013 regular sessions to extend the sunset. All three failed to pass.
The alleged purpose of the low carbon fuel standard is to reduce the “carbon intensity” of fossil fuels. Once implemented, the standard would maximize the blending of so-called lower intensity alternative fuels into standard gasoline and diesel. Producers of ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels will be given “carbon intensity credits” for their production of “renewable” energy products. Conventional suppliers of gasoline and diesel will be forced to purchase these “carbon intensity credits” to “mitigate” their carbon dioxide emissions.
One fact is abundantly clear regardless of stated intentions by supporters of the bill: Everyone that purchases gasoline and diesel fuel will ultimately be required to pay the increased costs resulting from the purchase of those credits.
DEQ estimates that applying the low carbon fuel standard’s artificial cost enhancements to fossil fuels will increase the price of gasoline by about 19 cents per gallon at the pump. However, consumer user groups are estimating the cost of compliance with the low carbon fuel standard to be much closer to $1 per gallon of fuel.
The hidden fuel tax would be rolled seamlessly into the price at the pump, because under the current provisions of the bill, no notification of the covert tax is required to be provided to consumers. Most Oregonians won’t even realize that they are paying an extra $2 to $20 to fill up their gas tanks.
In a recent article, the Oregonian editorial board stated:
“What has always been misguided policy, driven by misrepresentation from the governor’s office on down, now carries a depressingly familiar stink…the low-carbon-fuel standard is opaque and costly…it is a roundabout way of taxing gasoline and diesel fuels to subsidize alternative road fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel, and other biofuels.”
It is no surprise that the producers of these alternative fuels are among the strongest supporters of the low carbon fuel standard. They will also receive virtually all the direct financial benefit from the hidden fuel tax.
Governor Kitzhaber and his supporters continue to claim that the low carbon fuel standard will SAVE Oregonians up to $1.6 billion over the next ten years. The Oregonian editorial board also pointed out that the governor “conveniently failed to mention” that achieving such savings would require spending an equal $1.6 billion on alternative fuel powered vehicles. His selective use of data belies the fact that the same article that reports the potential $1.6 billion in savings also prominently states that the savings is dependent upon the expenditure of $1.6 billion for alternative fuel vehicles.
I have to categorically agree with the editorial board’s opinion that “opacity sold by half-truths is cause for alarm.”
At the end of the day, the low carbon fuel standard is not really about saving the planet. Oregonians comprise only about five ten thousandths (0.0005) of the global populace and only 1.3 percent of the population of the United States. Even the complete elimination of ALL Oregon greenhouse gas emissions would not result in a measurable difference in global emissions.
The low carbon fuel standard proposed under SB 324 is not about social justice, either. Families living at or near poverty levels spend the highest percentage of their income for energy. In fact, Oregon’s poorest families will suffer the greatest harm by forcing artificial and unaffordable increases in energy prices upon them.
The low carbon fuel standard represents little more than a political scheme to social-engineer huge subsidies for alternative fuel suppliers. Not surprisingly, many of those fuel suppliers provide enormous political contributions to compliant politicians.
The low carbon fuel standard is a political partisan issue. I do not expect a single Republican to vote to enact the standard. The only way it can be created is by a party-line Democrat majority vote.
Oregonians concerned about this misguided policy would be wise to contact their state representatives and senators and urge them to oppose SB 324. The outcome of this legislative session will depend largely upon participation from the public. That’s especially important, as an emergency clause currently attached to the bill would make it effective immediately upon passage and prevent citizens from being able to challenge and repeal the law through the referendum process.
People need to make their voices heard; otherwise, we may end up with laws like SB 324 that will ultimately undermine the prosperity and well-being of working people throughout the state.
Please remember–If we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one will.

Best Regards,

Doug
Senate District 28

Email: Sen.DougWhitsett@state.or.us I Phone: 503-986-1728

Address: 900 Court St NE, S-311, Salem, OR, 97301

Website: http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/whitsett

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News from Oregon’s State Senator Doug Whitsett 1-7-15

OR Senator Doug Whitsett

Oregon taxpayers may receive a pleasant surprise in the form of an income tax “kicker” refund check, in the event that state revenues continue to outpace current projections. But a much stronger possibility exists that steps will be taken in the upcoming legislative session to deprive Oregonians of this benefit for the sake of further growth in state government.
The state’s kicker law was a product of the dismal economic conditions of the 1970s that were driven by inflationary pressures and fears of runaway property tax increases. In response, the 1979 Legislature passed laws to limit property and income taxes. Both the corporate and personal income tax “kickers” were included as part of those reform efforts.
Stated quite simply, the personal income tax “kicker” refunds excess taxpayer dollars to those who paid the taxes in the first place. In the event that the income tax actually collected exceeds the estimated income tax revenue by two percent or more, the entire amount in excess of the estimate is returned to the people.
The initial purpose of the “kicker” was to limit the amount of money that the state government could spend during flush economic times. It remains the only functional spending limitation for Oregon state government. It only stands to reason that the enormous sums of money that the “kickers” have returned to taxpayers would otherwise have been spent on expanding bureaucracies and programs beyond our citizens’ abilities to fund them in bad economic times.
Taxpayers have received “kicker” tax refunds repeatedly over the years. The first refund was in 1985, when $90 million was repaid to taxpayers after revenue exceeded the forecast by nearly eight percent. Two years later, more than $220 million was refunded when revenue was over 16 percent above projections. The year 1989 saw roughly $175 million returned to taxpayers after revenue exceeded projections by almost 10 percent.
That same trend continued into the mid and late 1990s. Over $160 million was refunded to Oregonians in 1995; $431 million in 1997 and $167 million in 1999.
The “kicker” refunds proved so popular with Oregonians that they passed Measure 86 during the 2000 election. That measure, which passed with 62 percent of the vote, embedded both the personal income tax “kicker” and the corporate “kicker” rebate into the Oregon Constitution. Since that time, abolishing, reducing or repurposing the peoples’ “kicker” refunds would require a constitutional amendment.
Subsequent to the passage of Measure 86, taxpayers were refunded a whopping $253 million in 2001 and nearly $1 billion in 2007. Refunds were especially high that year because revenue projections were underestimated by over 18 percent.
The Legislature has already made several attempts to limit the refunds owed to the people. The “kickers” have been altered, delayed and suspended by various legislative actions. The corporate “kicker” rebate has actually been repurposed by a constitutional amendment.
In 2012, the people passed Ballot Measure 85 to amend the Oregon Constitution to eliminate the corporate tax rebates. The corporate refunds are now retained by the State in its General Fund to be used to provide additional funding for public K-12 education. In short, the state now keeps the excess corporate taxes instead of refunding them to the corporations that paid the taxes.
Governor Kitzhaber’s current proposed budget represents a salient example of why it is so important to have the “kicker’s” intended spending limit in place. He proposes to spend nearly every penny of projected revenue while neglecting to put adequate sums aside in case of emergencies or an unexpected economic downturn. His budget also continues to borrow money up to the state’s credit limits. Moreover, it fails to set aside money to pay for the refunds in the event that the “kicker” is triggered by higher-than-anticipated income tax collections.
Unfortunately, this is not unusual. Because the revenue forecasts take place long before the revenue is actually collected by the state, it ends up coming out of the general fund in the following biennium. Reducing the revenue available to spend in the next biennium enhances the perception of the “kicker” as contributing to the overall volatility of the state’s tax system.
Due to the results of the 2014 election, Democrats will have an 18-12 supermajority in the Oregon Senate and are only one vote short of having a supermajority in the House. In my opinion, it is very likely that they will use these newfound majorities to find a way to keep or repurpose the peoples’ “kicker” tax refunds.
I predict that a law will be enacted this year to refer a measure to voters to amend the Oregon Constitution to eliminate, reduce or repurpose the personal income tax “kicker.” The measure will dedicate the repurposed rebate to fund a particular set of “critically needed” priorities. The Governor’s proposed budget actually anticipates spending additional available revenue to increase funding for post-secondary education. A cynic might predict that keeping the “kicker” will likely be expressed in terms of providing critical funding for university education.
One party’s near complete political control of the legislative process would enable that law to direct the Legislature to write the ballot title, summary and statement of explanation. It could also prevent the Attorney General and the Oregon Supreme Court from exercising their oversight over the language used in the measure.
All this can be done without a single Republican vote.
A similar set of circumstances occurred during the 2009 legislative session, which was dominated by Democratic supermajorities in both the House and the Senate in the aftermath of the 2008 elections. Two tax-raising bills were passed on largely party-line votes. An adequate number of signatures were gathered, which prompted a special election on what became ballot measures 66 and 67.
Democrats used their legislative clout to essentially rig the process for naming the measure. That process is typically done by the attorney general’s office. But instead, Democrats formed a joint committee to draft the title and explanatory statement. The language was favorable to the measure, prompting a court challenge by opponents.
The courts ultimately ruled in favor of the measures’ proponents, and they were ultimately passed by voters in January 2010.
If these predicted events take place, it will then be up to the voters to determine whether or not they want to keep the income tax “kicker” in place. As you can see, it has refunded billions of dollars to individual citizens, who have then used it to stimulate the economy by investing, spending or saving their money as they see fit.
There is never any shortage of people in government who believe they can find better uses for taxpayer dollars. They are willing and able to spend all of the money available in the absence of some kind of spending limit.
Voters should remember that the state is likely to have as much as $2 billion more to spend in the next budget cycle than ever before. I believe that the personal income tax “kicker” refund has succeeded in its intended purpose of keeping the state from spending even further beyond its means.
Oregon voters would be wise to keep their constitutional “kicker” spending limitation in place.
Please remember–If we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one will.

Best Regards,

Doug
Senate District 28

Email: Sen.DougWhitsett@state.or.us I Phone: 503-986-1728
Address: 900 Court St NE, S-311, Salem, OR, 97301
Website: http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/whitsett

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News from Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett

CA & OR, OR Senator Doug Whitsett

Dec. 3, 2014

It is often said that bad ideas are never truly defeated in the legislative process; they simply remain dormant until being resurrected in a different form for a future Legislature to debate.
House Bill 3436 is one of those very bad ideas. It was introduced and deliberated during the 2013 Legislative session to establish government-sponsored retirement plans for private sector employees.
It was strongly supported by State Treasurer Ted Wheeler as well as by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Association of Retired People (AARP). In fact, Wheeler was presented with the “2014 Legislator of the Year Award” by the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems for his strong advocacy for their policies.
HB 3436 was promoted under the guise of providing private sector employees with opportunities for better retirement security. That concept may certainly appeal to the uninformed who may be anxious about their long-term financial stability.
However, a variety of thriving tax-deferred retirement plans is already available to anyone who wishes to participate. An entire private sector, free-market industry contends to match the best individual plans with each family’s goals. Market competition ensures the most effective retirement outcomes.
In its original form, HB 3436 did not have enough votes to pass in the Senate. For that reason, it was amended into another version that was passed, signed into law and established the Oregon Retirement Security Task Force. The task force was appointed by Gov. John Kitzhaber, spearheaded by Treasurer Wheeler, and charged with making recommendations to the Legislature on ways to enhance retirement security for workers, especially those in the private sector.
The amended version of HB 3436 passed on largely party-line votes. I was among those who voted against it because I strongly believe it is taking Oregon in the wrong direction.
This very flawed idea will undoubtedly return for Oregon’s 2015 legislative session, where Democrats will have firm control of both the House and the Senate.
The actual real-world implementation of this concept almost certainly has underlying motives that are not as altruistic as its proponents suggest. In fact, one might wonder why the largest public employee union in the nation, SEIU, is so deeply concerned with private sector retirement benefits.
In 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1234, otherwise known as the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Trust Act. That bill will eventually require all businesses that have five or more employees, and that do not already offer a retirement plan, to automatically enroll them in a plan. The plan will be funded by a three-percent payroll deduction paid by the employee. In its current form, employees are able to opt out of the plan.
The funds created by the payroll deductions will be managed and invested by CALPERS, California’s public sector retirement system, or by another unidentified contracted organization.
What could possibly go wrong with this scheme?
For starters, CALPERS has a very poor track record of managing the public employees’ retirement assets. Three California cities–Mammoth Lakes, San Bernardino and Stockton– have already filed for bankruptcy caused by retirement system insolvency.
In fact, huge infusions of cash may be required to maintain the solvency of their entire public sector retirement system. Where better to find the source of that critically needed funding than within the very vibrant and solvent private sector retirement plans?
Comparable proposals with very similar themes have been put forth by SEIU and AARP in several other states. They begin with voluntary automatic payroll deductions that could eventually morph into mandatory participation. The expected next step would be to require matching employer contributions. Strong efforts would be made for management of the funds by existing public sector retirement funds such as CALPERS or Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) to avoid the expense of duplication.
Anyone with enough foresight to be considering their long-term retirement goals already has many options available to make that happen. So why should it become necessary for the state government to get involved? This is especially worrisome, considering the multitude of issues that Oregon has already experienced with both the funding and solvency of PERS.
Is it entirely possible that these issues may be directly related?
The precedence already exists for governments to use both public and private sector retirement plans to offset their sovereign debts. The United States has “borrowed” and spent virtually all of the Social Security reserve funds accumulated from decades of mandatory employee payroll deductions matched by employer contributions. Various European nations, including Poland and Russia, have effectively nationalized private sector retirement plans as well.
It’s no secret that our federal government is deeply in debt, to the tune of $18 trillion. That enormous sum represents only direct sovereign debt. It does not include even greater trillions of dollars in other unfunded liabilities including Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, as well as debt incurred by myriad public pension funds.
Taxpayers are on the hook to pay for all of that debt incurred through the generations of gratuitous government spending that has taken place throughout various administrations. That debt must eventually be paid and will have to come from somewhere.
We need to make certain that if Treasurer Wheeler is successful in leading our state government into the business of establishing pension plans for private sector employees, it must be done for the right reasons and accompanied by concrete assurances that the funds will not be diverted for other purposes.
Employee contributions must remain voluntary. Employers must never be compelled to match employee contributions. Government-sponsored plans must never be allowed to compete with or replace private sector sponsored plans.
Private sector retirement funds must be constitutionally protected from government repurposing. Specifically, that constitutional protection must include prohibition against borrowing the funds for any purpose. It must forbid redirecting the use of the money to any other purposes, such as providing additional leverage for the sake of bailing out bankrupt public retirement systems.
Accumulated funds must be managed by private sector investors, whose only goals are the secure appreciation of capital to benefit private sector employees. Investments of the private sector retirement funds must not be influenced by the politically motivated social engineering that so often is currently practiced by many public sector investors.
The much better course of action would be for Oregon to simply reject this very bad idea.
Please remember–If we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one will.

Best Regards,

Doug
Senate District 28

Email: Sen.DougWhitsett@state.or.us I Phone: 503-986-1728
Address: 900 Court St NE, S-311, Salem, OR, 97301
Website: http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/whitsett

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News from Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett

Federal gov & land grabs, Forestry & USFS, OR Senator Doug Whitsett, Over-regulations

 

News from Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett

Natural systems endure an ever evolving cycle of growth and decline. The deterioration accumulates and dominates the landscape when we fail to put the growth to productive use. Too often, failure to manage and utilize the productive growth results in catastrophic destruction through disease and wildfire.
Left to its own devices, the natural way is a boom and bust cycle. These systems can and are being managed to be both more productive and less destructive.
We recently returned from a road trip through four western states.Throughout the trip we observed the stark difference in the management of private and public lands. In general, private lands show the pride of ownership while public lands demonstrate the widespread deterioration inherent in failure to manage resources for sustainable production. Nowhere is that failed management more apparent that in our national forests and parks. Our current federal land management is clearly not working.
Our federal government owns 60 percent of Oregon’s forest lands. Another 34 percent is privately owned, 4 percent is owned by the state, and tribal interests own the other 2 percent.
As recently as 1989 Oregon annual timber harvest exceeded 8.5 billion board feet. Nearly 5 billion board feet of that timber was harvested from Oregon’s federally owned forest lands equaling 60% of the total Oregon timber production. More than 400 timber mills provided family wage jobs to nearly 46 thousand Oregon families. Our per capita income was among the top third in the nation and Oregon’s rural economy was thriving. Timber harvest taxes were a mainstay of local government budgets, providing a significant portion of county expenditures for education, public safety, human services and transportation infrastructure.
Then disaster struck in the form of a false assumption promulgated by government scientists. The Northern Spotted Owl was proposed for listing as a threatened species in 1989. Scientists hypothesized the decline of the owl was being caused by loss of habitat due to logging activities and the encroachment of man.
Two years later a federal district court ruled that the owl was threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The court determined that nearly unlimited critical habitat was required to preserve the bird from extinction. Congress reacted with the Northwest Forest Protection Plan that virtually outlawed the harvest of mature trees on federally owned land. The combined forest harvest regulations imposed by court order and Congressional action decimated our forest industries.
Twenty five years later we know that the hypothesis was false. The Northern Spotted Owl can and does mate and reproduce almost anywhere. The cause of its decline is now understood to be the encroachment and competition of the Barred owl. In fact, foresters armed with shotguns are now dispatched throughout Oregon forests to hunt and kill the barred Owls

Nevertheless, timber harvest restrictions to protect the owl remain in place. It will take decades to unwind the laws and regulations that were promulgated to allegedly protect the owl. The entire travesty is the direct result of the acceptance of unverified and statistically insignificant scientific assumptions.
Oregon’s annual timber harvest from federal lands plummeted from 60 percent to 12 percent. Nearly 300 timber mills closed and more than 30,000 family wage jobs were lost. What once was Oregon’s largest industrial sector has been reduced to a shadow of its former stature. Klamath, Jackson and Josephine counties together lost 41 mills and 9,000 forest sector jobs. In fact, those federal actions have cost the three counties more than 21,000 total private sector family wage jobs.
Congress appeared to recognize that it is unfair for the federal government to own two thirds of the land in a county and not to participate in the funding base for those communities. It responded by adopting the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-determination Act in the year 2000.
The law was intended to act as a funding bridge for local governments while rural communities developed non-forest dependent private sector jobs. The Act provided federal tax money to the counties in lieu of timber harvest taxes for six years. The money was to be used by affected counties to help fund education and transportation. It also authorized county projects for search, rescue and emergency services including fire fighting, community service work camps, conservation and recreation easement purchases, forest related education opportunities, fire prevention and county planning for community forests.
Portions of the Act have been repeatedly reauthorized to continue some of the payments to counties.

However, Congress has apparently forgotten its obligation as representatives of federal land owners to participate in the community revenue base. Each time it has become more difficult to convince a congressional majority to continue the funding. Our congressional delegation is not at all confident that reauthorization will continue to occur, especially in the midst of the current critical need to curtail federal government spending.
Congress appears to also have ignored the fact that, because two thirds of the land in many of the affected rural counties is owned by the federal government, the opportunity for alternative job creation is severely limited. Although it assumed that reindustrialization would occur within a decade, it provided virtually no meaningful incentives for that alternative industrialization to occur and to replace the lost jobs. It also ignored the reality that its actions directly destroyed the multi-generational culture of timber dependent employment in many of these communities.
Moreover, the federal government has virtually stopped managing its public land resources. It has demonstrably failed to produce meaningful economic value or even renewable energy from the land it holds in trust for the people. Furthermore, it is actively working to close down the public’s access to their public lands. Our vast federal forest resources are being allowed to deteriorate, to “naturally” die and rot in the forests, until catastrophic wildfires destroy all merchantable value, not to mention millions of forest animals.
I strongly believe that the time has come for the western states to take back the ownership of federal lands. Our Constitution, federal law and more than two centuries of precedent dictate that the federal government is obligated to rescind its ownership in the vast expanses of forest and rangeland to the states and to the people.
Other western states are engaged in a concerted and cohesive effort to make that transfer of ownership take place. The wealth that can and should be generated from the sustainable use of our forest, rangeland and mineral resources would solve all of our funding problems for schools, public safety and infrastructure needs
It is time for Oregon to join in the effort to restore the economies of our western states.
Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.
Best Regards,
Doug

 

1 Comment

Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett news

Agriculture, CA & OR, Federal gov & land grabs, Forestry & USFS, OR Senator Doug Whitsett, Oregon governments, Over-regulations

July 1, 2014

Natural systems endure an ever evolving cycle of growth and decline. The deterioration accumulates and dominates the landscape when we fail to put the growth to productive use. Too often, failure to manage and utilize the productive growth results in catastrophic destruction through disease and wildfire.
Left to its own devices, the natural way is a boom and bust cycle. These systems can and are being managed to be both more productive and less destructive.

We recently returned from a road trip through four western states.Throughout the trip we observed the stark difference in the management of private and public lands. In general, private lands show the pride of ownership while public lands demonstrate the widespread deterioration inherent in failure to manage resources for sustainable production. Nowhere is that failed management more apparent that in our national forests and parks. Our current federal land management is clearly not working.

Our federal government owns 60 percent of Oregon’s forest lands. Another 34 percent is privately owned, 4 percent is owned by the state, and tribal interests own the other 2 percent.

As recently as 1989 Oregon annual timber harvest exceeded 8.5 billion board feet. Nearly 5 billion board feet of that timber was harvested from Oregon’s federally owned forest lands equaling 60% of the total Oregon timber production. More than 400 timber mills provided family wage jobs to nearly 46 thousand Oregon families. Our per capita income was among the top third in the nation and Oregon’s rural economy was thriving. Timber harvest taxes were a mainstay of local government budgets, providing a significant portion of county expenditures for education, public safety, human services and transportation infrastructure.
Then disaster struck in the form of a false assumption promulgated by government scientists. The Northern Spotted Owl was proposed for listing as a threatened species in 1989. Scientists hypothesized the decline of the owl was being caused by loss of habitat due to logging activities and the encroachment of man.
Two years later a federal district court ruled that the owl was threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The court determined that nearly unlimited critical habitat was required to preserve the bird from extinction. Congress reacted with the Northwest Forest Protection Plan that virtually outlawed the harvest of mature trees on federally owned land. The combined forest harvest regulations imposed by court order and Congressional action decimated our forest industries.
Twenty five years later we know that the hypothesis was false. The Northern Spotted Owl can and does mate and reproduce almost anywhere. The cause of its decline is now understood to be the encroachment and competition of the Barred owl. In fact, foresters armed with shotguns are now dispatched throughout Oregon forests to hunt and kill the barred Owls.

Nevertheless, timber harvest restrictions to protect the owl remain in place. It will take decades to unwind the laws and regulations that were promulgated to allegedly protect the owl. The entire travesty is the direct result of the acceptance of unverified and statistically insignificant scientific assumptions.
Oregon’s annual timber harvest from federal lands plummeted from 60 percent to 12 percent. Nearly 300 timber mills closed and more than 30,000 family wage jobs were lost. What once was Oregon’s largest industrial sector has been reduced to a shadow of its former stature. Klamath, Jackson and Josephine counties together lost 41 mills and 9,000 forest sector jobs. In fact, those federal actions have cost the three counties more than 21,000 total private sector family wage jobs.
Congress appeared to recognize that it is unfair for the federal government to own two thirds of the land in a county and not to participate in the funding base for those communities. It responded by adopting the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-determination Act in the year 2000.
The law was intended to act as a funding bridge for local governments while rural communities developed non-forest dependent private sector jobs. The Act provided federal tax money to the counties in lieu of timber harvest taxes for six years. The money was to be used by affected counties to help fund education and transportation. It also authorized county projects for search, rescue and emergency services including fire fighting, community service work camps, conservation and recreation easement purchases, forest related education opportunities, fire prevention and county planning for community forests.
Portions of the Act have been repeatedly reauthorized to continue some of the payments to counties. However, Congress has apparently forgotten its obligation as representatives of federal land owners to participate in the community revenue base. Each time it has become more difficult to convince a congressional majority to continue the funding. Our congressional delegation is not at all confident that reauthorization will continue to occur, especially in the midst of the current critical need to curtail federal government spending.
Congress appears to also have ignored the fact that, because two thirds of the land in many of the affected rural counties is owned by the federal government, the opportunity for alternative job creation is severely limited. Although it assumed that reindustrialization would occur within a decade, it provided virtually no meaningful incentives for that alternative industrialization to occur and to replace the lost jobs. It also ignored the reality that its actions directly destroyed the multi-generational culture of timber dependent employment in many of these communities.
Moreover, the federal government has virtually stopped managing its public land resources. It has demonstrably failed to produce meaningful economic value or even renewable energy from the land it holds in trust for the people. Furthermore, it is actively working to close down the public’s access to their public lands. Our vast federal forest resources are being allowed to deteriorate, to “naturally” die and rot in the forests, until catastrophic wildfires destroy all merchantable value, not to mention millions of forest animals.
I strongly believe that the time has come for the western states to take back the ownership of federal lands. Our Constitution, federal law and more than two centuries of precedent dictate that the federal government is obligated to rescind its ownership in the vast expanses of forest and rangeland to the states and to the people.
Other western states are engaged in a concerted and cohesive effort to make that transfer of ownership take place. The wealth that can and should be generated from the sustainable use of our forest, rangeland and mineral resources would solve all of our funding problems for schools, public safety and infrastructure needs
It is time for Oregon to join in the effort to restore the economies of our western states.
Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.
Best Regards,
Doug

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News from Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett

OR Senator Doug Whitsett

The College of Veterinary Medicine, at Oregon State University, has asked me to speak at their graduation for each of the past ten years. Last Sunday, Representative Whitsett and I were once again privileged to participate in their Commencement.

My comments to the new veterinarians were focused on their obligation, as scientists and new doctors, to watch over the legitimacy, and the truthfulness, of what we call science. I told them:

  “Computers are wonderful devices. They can greatly enhance our ability to learn and to understand complex issues. And computer models, when accurately calibrated and properly applied, can be incredibly effective tools. 

However, a computer model is little more than a glorified mathematical spread-sheet. Its usefulness depends entirely upon the validity of the data, with which the model is calibrated. 

A corrupt investment counsellor can calibrate a spread sheet to make the worst and most inadvisable investment, look perfectly golden. So too, can an unethical scientist calibrate a computer model to fabricate virtually any outcome that he or she is paid to produce. 

The product of any computer model is only as accurate as the data selected to calibrate the model. The data used must be empirically collected, reproducible and statistically significant.

Estimated, assumed, surrogate or fabricated data points predictably produce ‘counterfeit-science’. 

Too often, we are asked to believe that biological systems are just ‘too complex’ to support science that is statistically significant. Moreover, we are expected to accept the unsubstantiated and often unverifiable assumptions that are used to calibrate the models. 

Scientific reports that are not statistically significant are by definition, insignificant. They are irrelevant, immaterial and inconsequential. 

Worse, computer models are too often manipulated to fabricate alleged scientific support to justify a political end.

The modelled reports are then employed to mislead those who believe that science is the ‘final word’. 

There is no such thing as ‘the final word in science’.

Moreover, there is no such thing as ‘scientific consensus’ or ‘settled science’. The scientific method requires that we continue to question, continue to probe, and continue to debate the validity of every scientific assumption.”

        Politically motivated science and statistically significant science are much like oil and water. First, they are nearly impossible to mix. Second, oil rises to the top like science that is fabricated to support political motives. Computer models that are designed and applied to achieve political ends are well on their way to destroying the economy of the Upper Klamath Basin.

For instance, the Upper Klamath Lake TMDL is based on the false assumption that development of the Upper Basin by European man has resulted in significant increases in the phosphorous concentration that helps to cause poor water quality in Upper Klamath Lake. To accept that assumption, we must ignore the reality that several thousand feet of phosphorous rich sediment accumulated in the Lake long before the Basin was settled. Further, each time the wind blows several million tons of that phosphorous rich sediment is re-suspended in the Lake water. This process has occurred for millennia and will continue to occur regardless of “restoration” efforts.

We are asked to assume that the alleged decline of the endangered suckers is the result of declining water quality. To accept that assumption, we must ignore the written journals of every European explorer that explain in detail how foul and odorous the Lake was before European man settled in the area. Further, we must ignore the effects of predation on the young suckers by birds and other introduced fish species.

        We are asked to assume that Coho Salmon are threatened in the Klamath River due to water storage for the Klamath Project.

To accept that assumption, we must ignore the fact that Coho are an introduced species in the Klamath River and that the release of 70 degree plus water from Upper Klamath Lake during summer and fall months could be lethal to the fish.

We are asked to assume that the Northern Spotted Owl is endangered due to man-caused loss of habitat. To accept that assumption, we must ignore the fact that the Owl can and does breed almost anywhere and that their decline is directly attributable to the encroachment and competition of the Barred Owl.

We are being asked to assume that the declining numbers of sage grouse are the result of loss of habitat due to cattle grazing. To accept that assumption, we must ignore the facts that the sage grouse has hundreds of millions of acres of habitat; that cattle grazing significantly reduces the danger of wildfires that utterly destroy sage grouse habitat, and that government agencies refuse to promote or allow the control of predation by coyotes, skunks, raptors, crows, ravens and other critters.

We are being asked to assume that increasing global temperatures are the result of man caused greenhouse gas emissions. To accept that assumption, we must ignore the reality that global temperatures have been cooling for the past 15 years, and that the same data sets were employed to predict global winter in the mid-1970’s. The Klamath Basin is a semi-arid desert because periodic drought conditions have prevailed in the area for millennia.

We are being asked to assume that local air quality in dangerous to our health and that draconian measures are necessary for self-preservation. To accept that assumption, we must accept the absurdity that the Department of Environmental Quality can accurately model air quality from a single point of measurement within the entire Klamath Falls urban area.

Most recently, we are being asked to cooperate with the regulation of groundwater by the Oregon Water Resources Department based on a regional computer model that can only be described as fraudulent. To accept their assumption, we must accept the preposterous allegation that our aquifers are unconfined, uniform and continuous when we know they are confined, faulted, fractured and compartmentalized.

The quality of the science is directly proportional to the quality, reproducibility, and statistical significance of the date used to calibrate the computer models. Much of the data used to calibrate the groundwater model is demonstrably false. In my opinion, it was created and calibrated to support the political will of state and federal government to regulate surface and groundwater conjunctively.

We are expected to accept those assumptions because we are being told they are based on sound science. They are not!

They are based on computer modelled studies purchased by our governments to achieve predetermined political ends.

The only way to “restore” the economy of our natural resource dependent communities is to challenge the veracity of every false assumption. The battle is lost as soon as we accept a false assumption, because the following debate and legal action is then focused on how the false assumption will be enforced rather than the veracity of the assumption.

Government agencies agree to settle with those who challenge their false assumptions using taxpayer dollars to quell the dissent. They admit no culpability, and employ signed confidentiality agreements that effectively pay for the enforced silence of those who agree to settle.

Our governments continue to employ this ruse only because the people continue to allow it to work. There is little hope for the travesty to end until the people refuse to accept government developed scientific assumptions unless they are proven to be based on statistically significant science.

Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.

Best Regards,

Doug

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Explaining the Klamath Tribes wins over Upper Klamath water

Agriculture, CA & OR, CORRUPTION, Federal gov & land grabs, Klamath River & Dams, Klamath Tribe, OR Senator Doug Whitsett, Property rights, Sham Science, Threats to agriculture, Water rights, Water, Resources & Quality

PNP comment: Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett explains the current situation with the Klamath Tribes winning control of water in the Upper Klamath Basin. This is well-worth reading and digesting. — Editor Liz Bowen 

News from Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett

The Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement (Agreement) was signed at Collier Park on March 5, 2014. The Agreement was described by the Klamath Tribes as reaching “a landmark settlement that will, if approved, protect our long and hard-fought time-immemorial in-stream water rights while providing conditional limited water use for irrigators who are junior water right holders in the Upper Klamath Basin”.

The negotiations came about after the Klamath Tribes made a call on the surface water that shut down most irrigation in the Upper Klamath Basin in 2013. The signing of the “intent to support” the Agreement was reached following more than eight months of deliberations in confidential and closed meetings by a team of negotiators representing Tribal, state, federal, and ranching entities. The majority of the Klamath Tribal Council and irrigation interests have subsequently signed their intent to also support the provisions of the Agreement.

Many farm and ranch owners characterized their resolve to sign the Agreement as “a business decision”, made necessary in order to maintain their ability to irrigate their land. They were advised that most who refused to sign would no longer be allowed to use either their surface or groundwater rights in most years. Many of those water rights date to 1864 priority. They were further advised that those who refused to participate would likely be subject to severe restrictions on the use of their land due to the “potential listing” of new endangered species.

The Klamath Tribes provided an informational letter to Tribal Council members strongly urging them to support the historic settlement. The Tribal document described the nearly 100 page Agreement as having seven primary objectives.

The Agreement requires the destruction of the four mainstream hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. The settlement is essentially an extension of Section 16 of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). It states “The Parties, other than the U.S., agree mutually to timely promote, support, strive and use best efforts to obtain funding and authorization necessary to implement the KBRA and this Agreement. The Parties also agree that they will not oppose authorization and implementation of the KBRA or the KHSA including any legislation required to authorize or implement those agreements”. The three interwoven agreements require the destruction of the Klamath River Hydroelectric Dams without dissent.

The Tribal letter asserts that the Agreement requires the permanent protection of the in-stream flows that were granted to the Tribes by the Oregon Department of Water Resources (OWRD), in its March 2013 Final Order of Determination (FOD) of the Klamath River Adjudication. The OWRD reallocated virtually all surface irrigation water located within former Tribal reservation boundaries to in-stream flows in it FOD, by granting the Tribal claims to virtually all of the surface water tributary to Upper Klamath Lake.

Like the KBRA, the Agreement requires the permanent diversion of 30,000 acre feet of irrigation water to in-stream flow. It further requires that net amount of water to be delivered to Upper Klamath Lake. The water is to be derived primarily from “willing sellers” who agree to permanently give up their consumptive use of irrigation water.

Some of the in-stream flow may be temporarily supplied by water leasing if the necessary changes can be made in state law. The transfers to in-stream flow will require the permanent dewatering of as much as 30 square miles of currently irrigated productive pasture and farm land.

The Agreement requires the creation of an extensive agenda to restore aquatic ecosystems in more than 220 stream miles. Farmers and ranchers who own at least 80 percent of the land adjacent to streams tributary to Upper Klamath Lake, located within former Tribal reservation boundaries, must agree to participate.

The settlement will require the landowners to effectively share the management of corridors of their private riparian lands from 50 to 130 feet wide, on both sides of the rivers. The corridors appear to be similar to conservation easements, where the title to the land is restricted, and the required management practices are enforceable by a third party. In this Agreement, the third party is ultimately controlled by the Tribes.

The Agreement provides for Tribal and public access, including opportunities to harvest fish, at four new riverside locations. The sites are yet to be determined but will be located on the Wood, Williamson, Sycan and Sprague Rivers. The access points will be purchased by the taxpayers of Oregon, and developed for the use of the Tribes and the public by the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Agreement “includes support for the KBRA-based acquisition of 90,000 acres of the former reservation land commonly known as the Mazama Forest”. It further requires the U. S. government to give the Tribes $45 million for economic development. The agreement explicitly provides that “the Tribe will have the option to utilize these funds for additional land purchases….” It dedicates certain funding for the specific purpose of training between 10 and 20 new Tribal land-managers.

In total, when combined with other provisions of the KBRA, the Tribes would receive more than $147 million in direct funding. The money is mainly dedicated for the purchase of land, ecosystem habitat enhancement, water quality improvement and economic development for the Tribes.

The Tribal letter asserts that “if the Agreement is approved, legislation is successful and all of the contingencies of the Agreement are satisfied, the parties will withdraw their exceptions and a final decree will be issued affirming the Klamath Tribes time-immemorial water right at the level in the FOD.”  In short, the Tribes will forever acquire the water rights to virtually all of the water tributary to Upper Klamath Lake, and the right to protect an Upper Klamath Lake level arguably not sustainable without the Link River Dam, through a non-judicial administrative process. Further, the Agreement provides that the Tribes’ may request the Oregon Water Resources Department to reverse the Department’s denial of certain Tribal claims for water outside of the boundaries of the former reservation in the Adjudication.

The final provision of the Agreement restores the “conditional use” of much of the surface and groundwater that many of the farmers and ranchers have been using for generations. Their ability to use that water to grow food and fiber will be conditioned on how well the landowners continue to meet the other provisions of the Agreement.

A Joint Management Entity made up of the Tribes, landowners, state and federal representatives is given the responsibility to determine how well those provisions are being met by the landowners. The provisions of the Agreement in effect provide the Tribes with veto power regarding that management oversight.

Most of the landowners believe that their representatives obtained the best “business deal” possible given the untenable negotiating conditions that were created by the Oregon Water Resource Department. However, others are rightfully concerned that the Agreement infringes on their First Amendment right to free speech because the document prohibits signatories from speaking or writing in opposition to any of the agreements. Others believe the Agreement infringes on their Fifth Amendment rights to own and enjoy the benefits of private property, including their irrigation water rights.

Many of the farmers and ranchers spent a great deal of time and money on research, court filings and attorneys to represent their interests in the Klamath River Adjudication. Most understood that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had determined that the Tribes are entitled to an in-stream water right sufficient to support their Treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather. The Court determined that the priority date of the water rights was “time immemorial” because those Treaty rights were retained when the Tribes sold their former reservation to the U.S. government.

However, the Ninth Circuit Court determined that the Tribes are entitled to no more, or no less water than they were currently using for a moderate standard of living at the time of the Court decision. Further, the Court stated that the amount of water the Tribes are entitled to cannot be interpreted to be the amount they were using at the time of the 1864 Treaty. The Court had no intention of returning the land to a wilderness servitude.

 The Oregon Water Resources Department appeared to ignore the latter part of the Court ruling in their March 2013 Final Order of Determination. In spite of the extensive arguments of the irrigators, and in spite of the Court’s specific instructions, the OWRD gave virtually all of the surface water tributary to Upper Klamath Lake, as well as an unsustainable lake level to the Tribes. It denied the Tribal claims on the Klamath River because that was not part of the former Tribal Reservation.

Last fall, the OWRD made public their intent to regulate, or shut down, as many as 100 Upper Basin irrigation wells. The Department alleges to have determined, through a regional groundwater model, the use of the wells for irrigation may interfere with their newly determined Tribal in-stream water rights.

Oregon laws and rules require OWRD to prove any well that is constructed more than a quarter of a mile from a surface water body is actually causing substantial and timely interference before it can be regulated or shut down. OWRD has alleged that their modelled data proves that individual wells constructed within a mile of a “gaining reach” of a river interfere with the Tribal water rights, even though they admit to not being able to measure the amount of that alleged interference. Nevertheless, they insist that the burden of proof is now on the well owner to verify that it does not interfere. This shifting of the “burden of proof” appears to be contrary to Oregon water law.

During a teleconference last fall, OWRD stated their intent to regulate or shut down many of these irrigation wells. They said that they would be forced to shut down the wells by priority date in response to the next Tribal “call” to protect their newly adjudicated in-stream water rights.

In my opinion, the groundwater models that OWRD has developed are imperfect, incomplete and possibly fraudulent. However, the Department’s determination to use the threat of regulation of the wells to encourage compliance with the Agreement was genuine.

The Oregon Supreme Court has determined that an Oregon water right is a property right. It has been made abundantly clear to the irrigators, at numerous meetings this year, that the best way to avoid losing their private property right to use their irrigation wells was to sign-on to the Agreement.

Governor Kitzhaber and his Oregon Water Resources Department are signatories to and strong supporters of the KBRA and KHSA. Upper Basin irrigators have generally not supported those agreements in the past. From my perspective, both the Adjudication and the OWRD groundwater models are now being effectively used to “enlist” their support.

The Agreement will not be complete until all of the funding, in-stream transfers, riparian corridors, state and federal legislation and other provisions of the settlement are in place. The settlement remains a work in progress.

Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.

Best Regards,

Doug

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Oregon Dist. 28 Senator Doug Whitsett newsletter – R-Klamath County

OR Senator Doug Whitsett

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families is the federal and state welfare program that is designed to help our poorest families. Ninety six percent of the U.S families that receive welfare payments from TANF earn no income at all.

The cost of the program is divided, about two thirds coming from the federal taxpayers and one third from state taxpayers. The federal government provides an annual $167 million block-grant to fund their part of the Oregon program. Oregon’s required annual matching contribution is $92 million from the general Fund. Total annual funding for Oregon TANF is more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

President Clinton worked with a Republican Congress to create the TANF program in 1996. The welfare to work program was designed to provide temporary assistance during the time required to teach families to become accountable for their own welfare and financial security.

The program has two interrelated objectives.

It sends monthly cash payments to families who live in poverty to help pay their subsistence costs. In Oregon, these are monthly payments of up to $500, or about $6,000 per year for each family in need.

The federal program also compels the state to require TANF recipients to actively attempt to find work. In the alternative, they must participate in other work related activities that help them to become more self-sufficient.

States that do not comply with the self-sufficiency requirement are subject to losing their federal funding. Moreover, they also may be required to refund past amounts paid by the federal government.

The growth in Oregon’s welfare program has led the nation by a wide margin for the past six years. The Department of Human Services now provides welfare benefits to a higher percentage of Oregon’s poor families than 41 other states.

In fact, Oregon is rapidly becoming a population dependent on government payments. One in forty Oregonians now receive TANF cash payments. Twenty three percent of Oregonians depend on food stamps to feed their families. In fact, about one third of all Oregonians receive some form of public assistance, such as TANF, food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, utility subsidies, free cell phone service and Women, Infant, and Children food assistance.

Until recently, extended federal unemployment benefits substantially increased that unsustainable figure. Even more Oregonians receive additional support from community groups, food pantries, homeless shelters and a plethora of poverty aid programs offered by our faith based community.

Unfortunately, the Department of Human Services failed to even come close to meeting their federal requirement to compel TANF beneficiaries to look for work, or to participate in other activities to advance their self-sufficiencies. The Department’s failure to meet federal work participation requirements, and the potential for non-compliance penalties, resulted in an extensive audit by the Oregon Secretary of State.

The report by the audit division was comprehensive, precise and bluntly critical of the Department’s performance.

The audit found little to no progress in moving many TANF clients toward self-sufficiency. That Oregon trend for no progress has become significantly worse since the end of the Great Recession in June of 2009. In fact, the audit found that two thirds of the client records examined by auditors recorded no activity at all in June of 2013.

The primary purpose of the 1996 welfare reform is to help welfare recipients to transition from dependence to self-sufficiency by getting a job to support themselves. For that reason, TANF limits its cash benefits to 60 months, with certain exceptions.

The audit found that Oregon ranked dead last in the nation for TANF clients participating in work, or work related activities. The state ranked 39th in job entry and 36th in job retention the last year that comparative data is available.

Federal law requires that at least 50 percent of welfare recipients must meet their work requirements in order to avoid penalties. The Department has employed some creative accounting to avoid those potential federal penalties.

According to the audit, the state is now using TANF funds to pay a $10 “Job Participation Incentive” to about 16,000 working adults who receive food stamps. The “Incentive” recipients are not required to have ever been on TANF. The Department believes that the $10 monthly payment using TANF money “technically” meets the federal work requirement. However, the federal work participation rate, for TANF clients who receive the standard monthly allowance, remains at only about 8 percent!

The federal rules also require even higher work participation rates for two-parent families. Rather than expecting these folks to actually look for a job, as required by federal rule, the Department has shifted the benefits for these families entirely to be funded by the state. This was also done to avoid potential federal penalties.

Oregon taxpayers should know that the funding shift is costing them $36 million per year from the state general fund. They should also know that the federal government may not accept the Department’s creative accounting. Federal rejection of that DHS accounting could cost Oregon taxpayers tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in federal penalties and reimbursement.

Oregon is not making headway in moving welfare recipients to sustainable work. The Department of Human Resources now estimates that about 50 percent more families will receive TANF payments in 2017 than before the Great Recession started in 2007. They predict this will happen unless the State can do more to move TANF families toward self-sufficiency.

So what is the agency doing to reduce the number of Oregonians who are dependent upon TANF cash payments?

The audit found that the Department had failed to create active work plans for two thirds of work-eligible adults receiving TANF payments. For most of the other third, the work plans consisted of goals described by only single words such as “job”, “work” or “employment”. The reality is that most case workers are not even making the effort to encourage welfare people to become self-sufficient.

According to the auditors, very few consequences occur when Oregon TANF recipients refuse to participate in work activities. DHS evaluates the TANF client for barriers that might hinder their participation such as drug or alcohol addiction, anxiety, lack of job skills or medical issues. They determine if reducing cash payments might adversely affect children in the family. They are then subjected to a multistage disqualification process that can last several months before benefits are reduced or curtailed.

The TANF client can avoid losing their benefits by cooperating in work activities for a minimum of two weeks. Those clients who do lose their benefits are automatically deemed eligible to reapply after only two months. The auditors found that they are not required to demonstrate any level of work activity cooperation before reapplying for TANF cash payments.

Oregon is one of only three states that allow families to continue to receive TANF payments designated for children after the benefit time-limit is reached. A single parent with two children would see their monthly cash payment only reduced from about $500 to $350.

The audit also determined that the Department has made little effort to coordinate with other state agencies to help develop work participation. Coordinated Care Organizations reported there is no formal coordination with the TANF program even though virtually all TANF clients are eligible for Medicaid and should be receiving care through CCO’s. The Agency does not formally work with Community Colleges to pursue GED’s or vocational skills for their clients. They do not have a formal arrangement with the Bureau of Labor and Industries apprenticeship programs. They even have no formal referral or coordination with their own division of Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Services.

 In its letter responding to the audit, the Department of Human Services blamed just about everyone and everything but their own performance. DHS represents just one more state agency that is in dire need of appropriate executive management.

Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.

Best Regards,

Doug

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Newsletter from Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett

CA & OR, OR Senator Doug Whitsett

The saga of Maryjane dispensaries was performed on the legislative stage throughout the 2014 session. The tale would actually be comedy if the subjects were not so serious and if some of the characters were not such bad actors.

The 2013 legislature amended ORS 475 to authorize the Oregon Health Authority to register medical marijuana dispensaries throughout Oregon. The law also prohibited county and city governments from regulating medical marijuana.

I voted against that law for a number of reasons.

 In my opinion, registered medical marijuana dispensaries represent the final step in the progression before authorizing the legal retailing of marijuana products. The current law allowed virtually unregulated infusion of marijuana and its extracts into a variety of food products such as candy, cookies, cake, brownies and other sweet bakery items.

 Marijuana, in any form, continues to be classified as an illegal drug under federal law. I believe the Legislature has no legal right to force cities and counties to issue business licenses to entities that manufacture and sell illegal drugs in their jurisdictions.

Political leaders in a great number of Oregon cities and counties were also aghast at this new law. They knew that there were more than 250 applications to establish medical marijuana dispensaries in just the first two months of eligibility. It was clearly understood that the approximately 60 thousand Oregon medical marijuana card holder could not support even that many retail locations. The local leaders considered the registration of medical marijuana dispensaries little less than outright authorization for the retail sale of marijuana and marijuana infused food products in their communities. 

For that reason, many city and county political leaders asked for a bill that would provide Oregon cities and counties authority for local regulation of these marijuana shops. In response to that request, Senator Bill Hansell pre-session filed SB 1531.

The bill authorized cities and counties to adopt ordinances to regulate or prohibit registration of medical marijuana dispensaries in their jurisdictions. It prohibited medical marijuana dispensaries from being located at marijuana grow sites. The bill also allowed for local jurisdictions to regulate the storage and dispensing of marijuana products in a registered dispensary.

SB 1531 was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it was functionally eviscerated.

As amended by Committee-chair Floyd Prozanski, the bill still allowed a county to impose restrictions on marijuana facilities. However, it provided that any restrictions must impose “reasonable” limitations on the hours that a medical marijuana facility may operate, “reasonable” limitations on the hours of operation, “reasonable” zoning restrictions, and “reasonable” conditions on the dispensing of medical marijuana. The word “reasonable” was not defined in the bill and, to my knowledge, is not defined in Oregon statutes.

Further, the committee chair refused to adopt amendments to regulate the infusion of marijuana or marijuana extracts into food products that are inherently attractive to small children. Not only is marijuana known to be especially addictive to children and teenagers but in unregulated concentrations it can be poisonous.

SB 1531 passed through the Senate unanimously for two reasons. The bill was a little better than no local control. More important, the adults on the House Judiciary Committee had promised they would amend the bill to restore its original intent.

Under the leadership of Chair Jeff Barker, the House committee did further amend SB 1531 to allow the cities and counties to adopt ordinances that either prohibit or regulate medical marijuana facilities. The Committee added the prohibition of the sale of marijuana infused products unless the product’s packaging is not attractive to minors and complies with child safety packaging as established by agency rule. The amendment further prohibited locating a medical marijuana dispensary at a marijuana grow site. 

The Committee knew that the amended bill had strong bipartisan support and would easily pass if allowed a vote on the House floor. They unanimously voted the amended bill to the House floor with a “do pass” recommendation.

Unfortunately, House Speaker Tina Kotek and her Democrat leadership did not support the amended version of SB 1531, even though they should have known it would easily pass if allowed a vote. They employed procedural manipulations for three floor sessions in order to prevent that vote by the full House of Representatives. They delayed until they were able to gain the majority of Representatives present that was required to refer SB 1531 back to the House Rules Committee.

Once the House Rules Committee had possession of SB 1531, Kotek and her colleagues further amended the bill. The ability of local governments to prohibit or regulate medical marijuana dispensaries was limited to allowing a city or county to adopt ordinances enacting a moratorium on operations of registered marijuana facilities. The moratorium must be enacted no later than May 1, 2014 and can only be in affect until May 1, 2015.

SB 1531 subsequently passed out of the House with 51 yes votes. It was then returned to the Senate for a vote to concur with the House amendments. Apparently, the Senate Democrat Caucus must have pressured Senate Judiciary Chair Floyd Prosanski to agree to the House amendments that recreated much of what he had stripped out of the original bill. The Eugene Senator did recommend adopting the House amendments and the Senate concurred on a 28-2 vote.

Governor Kitzhaber signed the bill into Oregon law on March 19, 2014. The emergency clause made it take effect on that date.

In my opinion, reducing the ability of local jurisdictions to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries to the year-long moratorium was a political punt. Certain influential Democrats opposed an outright prohibition. They also did not want to vote against the prohibition in an election year. The wording of the new law makes it virtually certain that the issue will be revisited by the next Legislature starting three months after the fall election.

The next act of Oregon’s medical marijuana political drama will be played in the spring of 2015.

 Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.

Best Regards,

Doug

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