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April 14, 2007

State to keep overpayments

Oregon lawmakers want to end mailing "kicker" tax rebate checks to Oregonians and revert to the past system, requiring taxpayers to count the forced overpayments as a credit when filing their state income tax returns.

The proposal, outlined in House Bill 3049, has been heard by the House Revenue Committee. The panel chairman, Rep. Phil Barnhart, AFL-CIO-Eugene, is both a lobbyist, a legislator and a psychiatrist. He said he expects to bring the bill back for more discussion.

"It would save us a million dollars or more not to send a check and ask people to do it on their tax return," Barnhart said. Under the proposal, the kicker would reduce the amount of taxes people owe for the prior year, or be added to their refund checks sent by the Department of Revenue.

The kicker checks now arrive in the mail during Christmas shopping season, and have become quite popular. But Barnhart said Oregonians also like to have efficient government, and noted there's lots of things that $1 million could buy, including payoffs to government unions. "I'm not trying to be a Grinch," he said. "It's just that the state needs the money more than the individuals."

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Property rights 'ignored'

House Republicans said Friday that they oppose many suggestions in a new land-use proposal to repeal Oregon's twice-approved property rights law - a plan that was initially advertised as a bipartisan fix.

"It has become apparent to us that our input and suggestions have been and will continue to be ignored, and that no bipartisan Measure 37 compromise will be forthcoming this session," said Reps. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls and Patti Smith, R-Corbett, in a joint statement, issued Friday.

Garrard and Smith were part of a five-member work group that included Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, and Sens. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene and Kurt Schrader, D-Canby who met over the past several weeks in an attempt to create a framework to undo the property rights law.

Measure 37, passed by voters in 2004, requires governments to pay owners for property value lost from land-use restrictions passed after the property was purchased. If governments don't pay, they must waive the restriction and allow development.

The Republicans' remarks came a day after the Joint Committee on Land-Use Unfairness held its first public meeting in weeks, to discuss their proposal for an "express lane" for claimants who want to build one to three houses.

When push comes to shove, Democrats have enough votes in the Senate to pass a fix to Measure 37. But they would need bipartisan support in the more narrowly divided House, where some rural Democrats could side with Republicans.

Tim Nesbitt, the ex-AFL-CIO president and Gov. Kulongoski's right-hand man, led the five-member work group. He said an agreement still could be reached, despite Garrard and Smith's remarks. "The fact is we have a methodology," said Nesbitt. "We recognize their strong feelings, but we still see an opportunity."


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April 13, 2007

Blue Oregon welcomes Rove, Scalia

I know there's nothing to this Friday the 13th stuff, but what in the world was the Washington County Republican Party thinking when it scheduled an appearance this evening in Tigard for White House adviser Karl Rove? For the past week, liberal blogs have been waxing caustic over the spinmeister's impending visit. The aptly named Blue Oregon has even been running caption contests. Stay cool, everybody. He's just here to raise a little money from the faithful. Just like 'Nino' Scalia at the Univ. of Portland yesterday. - Phil Stanford


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SEIU 503 spreads wings

Oregon's largest state-workers union is making headway organizing small-business owners as it unionizes adult foster-care providers who offer around-the-clock nursing care in their homes for up to five frail seniors or disabled people.

Service Employees International Union Local 503 is trying to recruit the state's 2,600 adult foster-care providers to join the union. SEIU also is promoting Senate Bill 858 to legalize unionization of the providers.

SEIU's campaign comes after successful drives to unionize home-care providers and home day-care center operators. Like adult foster care providers, those people operate as independent contractors or business people but rely on state funding.

SEIU hopes to use its lobbying clout and staff resources to give providers more influence in policies set by state officials.

The proposal sparked strong opposition from several adult foster-home providers, many of whom complained about having to pay union dues of $150 or more each month. Grover Simmons, a lobbyist for some adult foster care providers, also questioned the legality of allowing unionization.

Petronella Donovan, one of many Romanians who have entered into the adult foster-care field in Oregon, said many of her peers misunderstand the union cards that SEIU asked them to sign.


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April 12, 2007

Big spenders wrap tour

More than 300 people showed up for the third field hearing by the Oregon Legislature's budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee, all hoping to persuade the panel to allocate more money to programs that run the gamut from domestic violence prevention to winemaking.

Advocates for children and schools, the homeless and the mentally ill, judges and jails, and community colleges and universities packed a large lecture hall at the University of Oregon on Wednesday evening not to lecture but to plead their cases for more funding.


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Labor goes native

State Rep. Brian Clem (Working Families Party-Salem) urged Oregon lawmakers today to discriminate against out-of-state businesses. House Bill 3301 - dubbed "preferential purchasing" - is supported by mom-and-pop businesses and by the AFL-CIO and SEIU. It would give Oregon companies priority in all state agency contracts, ensuring that money spent by the state government boosts our local economy.

"I decided to run for office to ensure that Oregon's citizens, workers, farmers and small businesses are considered first in the legislative process, not powerful lobbyists and special interest groups with deep pockets, or big out-of-state contractors," said Clem. "At a time when our state needs to experience a reinvestment in our Oregon-based businesses, our government has no business outsourcing tax dollars and Oregon jobs."

The preferential purchasing bill is one component of Clem’s "Oregon First" agenda, which also includes proposals to ban any state contractor from performing their Oregon taxpayer funded services outside of the United States and one to connect Oregon schools with Oregon farmers, giving local schools the opportunity to buy food from local growers.


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April 11, 2007

Socializing tax rebates

Yesterday there was a Senate hearing to radically change Oregon's voter-approved, constitutional kicker tax refund law. The politicians are seeking to change the formula and 'adjust' who gets the money back, which is where all kinds of trouble is brewing.

One proposal would give kicker tax refund checks to all Oregonians, not just taxpayers who actually paid into it - call it income redistribution on a grand scale.

Another proposal would allow the state to readjust the revenue forecast closer to the deadline. The forecast becomes less of a forecast and more of a re-adjustment. Over-collected tax dollars in many cases would not be returned to taxpayers because the forecast would be reset early enough to capture such changes. Over-collected tax dollars would still come in, but the politicians would get to spend it because they changed the formula.


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Anti-competitive educrats

Three months after a unanimous denial from the Springfield School Board, the design team for the Academy of Teaching and Learning has filed an appeal in hopes that the board will reconsider sponsoring its proposed charter school.

The seven-page appeal responds to concerns the board voiced in January, among them whether the charter school would have an adverse impact on existing district schools by drawing students and the per-pupil state dollars that follow them.

That appeared to be the chief concern among the dozens of opponents - predominantly Springfield teachers - who offered opinions before the board's vote, and it was one some board members shared.

Charter schools grew out of 1999 legislation enabling the creation of taxpayer-funded schools that operate with greater autonomy than regular public schools. They receive part of the state's per-pupil funding - 80 percent for elementary and middle school students and 95 percent for those in high school - with the sponsor keeping the rest for overhead.

The board will hear a presentation from a second, more recent charter applicant, Children's Choice Montessori, on the same night it votes on the ATL appeal.


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April 10, 2007

Pro-union bills sail through House

After years of playing defense in the Oregon Legislature, organized labor is going on the offensive Four bills designed to boost labor organizing won approval from the House Business and Labor Committee on Monday and now head to the House floor:

House Bill 2891 - enables public-sector unions to bypass union recognition elections if they secure signed cards from a majority of the work force authorizing the union to represent them.

House Bill 2892 - prohibits use of state funds to deter or assist labor-organizing drives.

House Bill 2893 - which bars employers in the public and private sectors from holding mandatory employee meetings to discuss union-organizing drives or other political or religious topics.

House Joint Memorial 7 - urges Congress to pass a bill making it easier to organize unions.

The bills will help "balance the playing field" for workers, said Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO president. Collectively, the bills will help recruit more workers to unions, improving workers' wages and helping to "rebuild the middle class," he said.

Some of the bills were opposed by business groups representing farmers, the nursery industry, restaurants, nursing homes and hospitals.

The bills are another sign that 2007 is shaping up as the year of labor in the Oregon Legislature, after unions helped finance Gov. Ted Kulongoski's re-election campaign and Democrats' ascension to majority control in the House.

"They've got majorities in both chambers and they're asserting it," said Bruce Bishop, a lobbyist for the Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems and other clients. "These are priority bills for the AFL-CIO, and the committee responded."


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Bonzi's bad chemistry

Bonzi Wells' trying first season with the Houston Rockets took a strange turn on Monday night when the veteran guard didn't join his team for their game against the Seattle SuperSonics.

Wells left a voice message for Rockets' athletic trainer Keith Jones saying he felt he was disrupting the chemistry of the team, and coach Jeff Van Gundy was unable to get in touch with Wells. Wells was not with the team during their walkthrough on Monday morning and wasn't in the arena before the game, Van Gundy said.

"He's not here tonight. I don't know where he's at. I haven't talked to him," Van Gundy said. "I want to make sure he's safe first." On the message, Wells told Jones he was fine and intended on staying in his room. That was before the Rockets' walkthrough and Jones had not spoken with him since.

Wells botched his free agency last summer when he turned down a long-term, $38.5 million offer from the Kings. Every NBA opening soon filled, and Wells had to settle for a comparatively tiny deal in Houston, where he has flopped.

Wells' career has been dotted with suspensions, and he clashed with two of his previous coaches - Maurice Cheeks in Portland and Mike Fratello in Memphis. Van Gundy had problems with Wells' attitude earlier in the season, but said it had improved.


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April 9, 2007

Oregon lags N.Y. on CO2

The countercultural haven of Woodstock has a new goal - zero net carbon dioxide emissions within a decade, an ambitious attempt to erase the town's 'carbon footprint.'

The goal might sound as unlikely as stuffing smoke back into a smokestack. Even sympathetic experts call it challenging. It likely would require many of the town's roughly 6,200 people to install solar panels and geothermal hookups. But it's tough to find a resident who doesn't support the project.

Woodstock is best known for the 1969 rock concert that borrowed its name and was held some 50 miles away in Bethel. But the old artists' colony is plugging firmly into the zeitgeist of 2007, a time when hybrid cars are hot and Al Gore's climate-change documentary, 'An Inconvenient Truth,' won two Oscars.

Last month, the Woodstock town board approved a nonbinding resolution that called for 'implementing policies resulting in no net emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases' by 2017. 'Net' means residents can keep their cars as long as they produce enough clean power to offset their emissions.

The resolution lists ways to reach the zero carbon goal, including green building, bike paths, tree planting and biodiesel municipal fleets.


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More anti-business legislation

Noncompete agreements between an employer and an employee would be void if the employee was laid off, under bills being considered by lawmakers this session in Salem.

Such agreements are common in employment contracts, and are used in a variety of industries, including health care, the high-tech sector, sales and shipping. But labor advocates say such clauses are unfair to those who have been laid off against their will.

A lobbyists for the American Electronics Association, a trade organization that represents the high-tech industry, said he's concerned if the bill becomes law that employers will start firing more employees for cause in order to maintain their noncompete agreements. In the high-tech industry, he said, noncompetes are used sparingly and mostly to keep employees who learn important knowledge about a company from leaving and sharing that knowledge in their new place of work.

But state Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner said federal legislation protects trade secrets and that would not be changed by this legislation.


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April 8, 2007

Taxpayers subsidize teachers unions

Promising to improve Oregon's public schools, the newly elected president of the Oregon Education Association has just pledged to "weigh in on the issues of the day - ending the war in Iraq, cleaning up the environment, implementing a single-payer universal health care system, protecting people's personal and civil rights, and having a progressive tax system." If you're wondering what these issues have to do with education, you're not alone.

Across America, there are more than 3 million public school teachers, most of whom are organized though the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. As the nation's two largest labor unions, they wield enormous political influence and aren't afraid to use it.


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Legislature misunderstands rights

Not only is the Oregon Legislature trying to take Measure 37 from us with House Bills 505 and 833; they are now working on taking water rights away from us, too, with House Bills 2564 and 2566.

If you want to have your rights as a U.S. citizen challenged repeatedly, Oregon is the place to be! Our legislators want to control everything and challenge the results of measures that the voting public has made clear. Don't stand for it.

It's all about people control. They want to take our freedoms away and refer to them as privileges that require a collection of fees.

I do not think that the people pushing to pass these outrageous House bills understand what "rights" mean. Look it up! It's in the U.S. Constitution, right next to freedoms.

letter by Edward Headrick, Falls City


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