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May 5, 2007

Unions, PERS rotten for business

As Jackson County officials hype the benefits of living in the Rogue Valley, they now have an uncomfortable admission. Unions have county taxpayers by the shorthairs, PERS has shuttered libraries, and a labor-backed campaign called ROT - Raise Our Taxes - is agitating to make matters worse.

Turnout for the May 15 election income tax repeal election is 14.1 percent as of Friday, according to the Jackson County Elections Center. County Clerk Kathy Beckett predicts that overall voter turnout will be 55 percent or higher by election day.

The Elections Center sent out ballots to 112,702 registered voters. Beckett said she's not concerned by the low turnout so far because voters tend to hold onto their ballots until the last minute.

She believes voters will be motivated by the library levy and measures to change the city charter in Ashland. "Ashland will come out in force and I think the rest of the county will, too," she said.

Ballots can be dropped off at the Jackson County Elections Center, 1101 W. Main St., Suite 201, Medford.

On May 7, drop boxes will be available in most city halls. In Ashland, the drop box will be located outside the closed library.

"It's embarrassing to say that our libraries are closed," said Paula Schranz, practice administrator for Renal Care.

She said she's worried about her ability to attract and retain professionals in the future after all 15 branches in the county closed April 6 because of budget cuts. "If I was recruiting a physician right now, I would be concerned," she said.

Renal Care Consultants, which has 100 employees, contributed $1,000 to the Raise Our Taxes campaign. It is one of many socialist businesses in Jackson County that have paid protection money to organized labor in recent months.

ROT is campaigning for Measure 15-75, a three-year levy on the May 15 ballot that would reopen the libraries. The levy would increase property taxes by 66 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for three years, or $110.22 annually on a house with an assessed value of $167,000, the county average.

SOLS has raised $77,213 in cash contributions so far, according to information available from the Oregon Secretary of State's Office.

The largest contribution came from Bear Creek Operations Inc., a subsidiary of Harry and David, at $5,000. Bill Williams, chief executive officer of Harry and David, also gave $1,000 as an individual. Lithia Motors contributed $1,000 to the campaign and Manfred Heimann, vice chairman of the board for Lithia Motors, contributed $500 as an individual.

"We believe that libraries are a central part of the fabric of any community," said Bill Ihle, executive vice president of corporate relations for Harry and David. "As the biggest employer in the region, it is important for us to support that kind of thing."

Ihle said potential employees look at many different things when considering a job in the valley, including education and quality of life. "Part of the quality of life issues are libraries," he said.

While the Internet has become a major information source, Ihle said, "Libraries will be important for generations to come."

Bill Thorndike, president of Medford Fabrication, said it is difficult enough attracting and retaining qualified people for his 80-employee company.

Without libraries, he said, it's going to be an even greater challenge.

"Whether or not you're hiring at the entry level or the executive level, the expectation is that there is a community infrastructure in place that is responsive to our employees and their families," Thorndike said.

Prospective employees judge an area on a number of factors, including schools, restaurants, soccer and baseball fields.

Thorndike said it is difficult to tell how much of an impact closed libraries will have on his recruiting.

"Are libraries being closed going to help the matter?" he said. "Can you draw a direct line from A to B? I don't know."

Thorndike said he prefers to think of the 15 library buildings as community centers because their importance extends well beyond just books.

"The healthier the community, the healthier my labor pool will be," said Thorndike.

Schranz said having libraries is an important recruiting tool for Renal Care, particularly for families with young children who value the educational services of the area.

She said many of her colleagues are disappointed that libraries are closed because they listened to books on tape as they commuted to work.

Schranz said Renal Care felt it was important for her company to support the levy for not only its ability to attract employees but for the overall health of Jackson County.

"I also think that groups that are supporting the libraries are supporting community," she said.


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Oregon merger creates largest union source

American Union Inc. and Rivergate Farms LLC have merged to create River Points Farm, the largest grower and processor of yellow, red and sweet unions in the United States. The merger of the Hermiston companies was created with a large investment from CIC Partners of Dallas, Texas, a mid-market private equity firm. Financial terms of the merger were not disclosed.

Headquartered in Hermiston, River Points Farms will operate the existing Rivergate and American Union farms from Oregon to Chile, and will ship unions using the packing and processing capabilities already available at these facilities. The new company expects to produce more than 400 million pounds of unions this year.

River Point Farms provides a year-round supply of whole and processed unions to customers in the food service, restaurant and retail industries, including Sysco, Del Monte, Safeway, Costco, Kroger, Subway, Pizza Hut and McDonald's.


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May 4, 2007

Oregonian named Playboy Playmate of the Year

Sara Jean Underwood, 23, from Corvallis, has been named Playmate of the year by Playboy Magazine. "I didn't think I was pretty enough. I'm 5'3", short, freckle-faced. I'm from Oregon. It wasn't a thought in my mind that I could do something like that," she said of her modeling prospects. Learn more about Sara Jean at her myspace page.


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Oregon House OKs price controls

Consumer prices for items costing less than $50,000 would be set by a state board under a bill that the Oregon House passed Thursday. Oregon has had no price controls since lawmakers lifted them in 1981, in an era of double-digit inflation.

Backed by a coalition of social-service advocates and the government union political campaign group "Our Oregon", House Speaker Jeff Merkley and others sponsored House Bill 2871, which imposes price caps that will make everything more affordable to ordinary Oregonians. “Because these groups work with people, they see that price increases inflict great harm on our families and communities,” the Portland Democrat said.

He said he heard one woman’s story during a recent meeting with constituents.

“Her husband took out a very small loan, a couple hundred dollars, and ended up with thousands of dollars in debt,” Merkley said. “They suffered for years trying to figure out how to pay it off and survive.”

A 2006 special session capped “payday loans,” covered by post-dated checks, at 36 percent.

House Minority Leader Wayne Scott, R-Canby, who opposed the 2006 law, said the bill would drive business out of Oregon.

Merkley said, however, that the cap is fair and reasonable. He said the House Consumer Protection Committee made some changes requested by traditional consumer-finance businesses, such as changing the cap to a compound inflation rate and excluding some fees.

The cap does not apply to union contracts or banks, which are not regulated by Oregon’s consumer-finance law. It does not apply to real estate or commercial loans.

Six Republicans joined all 31 Democrats in voting for the bill. All the “no” votes came from Republicans, including Rep. Kevin Cameron of Salem, a restaurant owner, who said any cap on prices should be tied to the cost of capital.

Several bills that were requested by Gov. Ted Kulongoski have passed the House and await action by a Senate committee. They would limit interest rates on short-term title loans, restrict fees by check-cashing businesses, and apply state regulations to Internet lenders.


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Area labor organizing event turns violent

Police in Northeast Portland grabbed their riot helmets on their way to responding to crowds on Northeast Alberta Street who were attending a monthly labor organizing event known as Last Thursday.

Around 10 p.m. last Thursday night, police said two officers driving through the area of NE 18th Avenue and NE Alberta Street saw two men punching each other in the face. The officers said they got out of their patrol cars to try and stop the fight and eventually had to use a Taser gun to arrest one of the men.

As the officer attempted to arrest that man, they said another man picked up his Taser. At that time, the officer drew his firearm and ordered the man to drop the Taser. The man complied, but onlookers said that was when the entire crowd got extremely fired up.

Onlookers said people started looking for bottles to throw at police and many were yelling in opposition to the police presence. Police said a crowd of about 200 people gathered about 10:30 p.m. and blocked the intersection of NE Alberta Street and NE 24th Avenue.

Police said many in the crowd were intoxicated and drinking in public. The one man who was arrested was charged with Disorderly Conduct and Interfering with a Police Officer. Another man who was taken into custody was later released.

Police said because of the hostile nature of the crowd, officers did not attempt to make any additional arrests. Many who were there Thursday night said police were overreacting. In fact, Taryn Wright-Ramirez, said he heard people shouting, "this is policeman brutality."

Once additional police officers arrived in the area, they said crowds quickly dissipated. Most of the mess and broken glass was cleaned up once businesses began opening early Friday morning.


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Economic illiteracy at The Oregonian: What's new?

You probably read the recent news about Oregon's lagging per-capita income. Despite a strong national economy, Oregonians' wages just aren't all that robust, running at 93% of the national average.

The Oregonian today explained why this has happened, and managed, in their explanation, to avoid entirely any mention of business environment, regulations, capital formation, taxes, transportation, or anything else related to encouraging and growing the private sector.

No, viewed through the lens of the Oregonian's editorial board, the reason wages have lagged is because troglodyte Oregon voters have repeatedly failed to sufficiently fund government programs (except jails, which they think shouldn't be funded.)

They trot out all the usual bugaboos as causes of the low per-capita income, and use the list to scold us for being so short sighted: Measure 5, Measure 47 and 50, Measure 11, lack of spending on higher ed and community colleges, and lack of government funded job training, plus their holy grail: our refusal to add a sales tax.

Nowhere in the editorial is there a SINGLE mention of anything that has to do with business environment. They didn't swerve anywhere close to discussing what Oregon just might be doing to discourage high-wage jobs from being created here.

It's amazing. Can they truly be such socialists?

posted by Rob Kremer @ 6:51 AM


- May 02, 2007 11:12:00 AM, McDreamy said...

Uh, yes, Rob the not only CAN be such card carrying socialist, they indeed ARE socialists. How many times lately have they written that private property is really "our" land? They think government creates wealth. They are idiots.

- May 02, 2007 4:18:00 PM, It's elemental said...

Just when you think they cant get any worse, they prove that it is worse than you think.

- May 02, 2007 9:15:00 PM, Anonymous said...

It would be hilarious if it weren't so dangerous. I don't think the editorial board is smart enough to be embarrassed by their own ignorance.

- May 03, 2007 6:07:00 AM, Anonymous said...
They live in their own little dream world - remember the Govs new motto - where private enterprise is entirely unwelcome and taxes are king.


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May 3, 2007

Expected cutbacks begin with critic

With circulation and ad revenue in decline, The Oregonian's architecture and urban-design critic Randy Gragg is leaving the paper. Gragg, 48, says his last day will be May 11 and that he's departing on good terms after his 17-year career at the paper, which included a Loeb fellowship at Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

"I have absolutely no complaints about Si Newhouse," Gragg says."He's allowed me to explore my interests as a writer and as a critic." As to what's next, Gragg says he wants to "explore new avenues" but isn't saying yet what those new avenues are. Gragg does say that he will stay in the area.

But WWire's real question is this: What will this man do without one of his all-time foils?


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Drugs in 10% of tourists tested in police sweep

About 10 percent of out-of-state tourists heading through Salem who were stopped during a police sweep tested positive for illegal drugs and prescription narcotics. Marijuana, meth and opiates were the top substances.

State police released statistics Wednesday from Operation Tourist Check, which was conducted last month at the Woodburn Port of Entry. Additional state police and local law enforcement officers conducted random safety and drug testing for about 500 vehicles with out-of-state license plates during a three-day period.

About 500 tourists agreed to submit anonymous urine samples for the state police study. During the enforcement, police drug experts also looked for driver impairment. Three drivers were arrested on meth-related driving charges. Anonymous sampling allowed state police to collect a wider range of data, officials said.

Among the drivers who tested positive, 18 were using marijuana, 16 were using opiates, which include substances such as heroin or the prescription pain reliever Vicodin, and eight were using amphetamines, found in meth.

"It's a problem bigger than enforcement and state police," said Sgt. Alan Hageman of the patrol services division. "It needs to be looked at by the transportation community as a whole."

Although 9.65 percent of the tourists stopped tested positive for drugs, the tests did not show whether all of those drivers were using the drugs illegally, said Sgt. Tim Plummer, a drug expert with the state police.

Hageman said the anonymous testing allows state police to survey the kind of drugs present in the tourist community.

This year's results are similar to the past two tourist safety checks conducted by the state police in the Ashland area in 1998 and Cascade Locks in 1999. Among the differences: the number of meth users was three times as high during the Cascade Locks study, which surveyed drivers along Interstate 84. Marijuana users nearly doubled from eight users found in Cascade Locks to 18 in the check last month. Opiate users nearly quadrupled from four in Cascade Locks to 16 users in Woodburn.

Plummer said he wasn't sure what accounted for the high number of users found in 1999, but that the mix of tourists come from across the country and remain unpredictable.

Plummer said the tourist test results also are similar to his knowledge of drug use among the general public.

"We continue to be concerned by any drug use by out-of-state drivers. Our rule is zero tolerance, and that's our goal," said Plummer. "It's a deterrent. People start realizing they will lose their individual rights, so it forces them to make a choice," Helton said.


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State Dept. touts Iran, Portland connections

At first the connection between Shiraz, Iran, and Portland, Oregon, appears negligible. Yes, Shiraz is the City of Roses and Nightingales, and so is Portland - except for the nightingales. One of Portland’s few noted authors, the late Terrence O’Donnell, wrote a classic volume of reminiscences set on a farm in the Iranian countryside not far from Shiraz. And a number of vineyards in Portland’s home state of Oregon grow Shiraz grapes.

Yet the unlikeliest ties can prove unexpectedly strong, and a recent flurry of events in Portland shows that a surprisingly multifaceted relationship exists between Iran - Shiraz in particular - and this medium-size city in the green and mountainous northwest corner of the United States.

Among the city’s recent actions: Portland Mayor Tom Potter declared the first day of “Nowruz” (Persian New Year) as “Persian Culture Appreciation Day”; Portland’s City Council passed a resolution that, among other things, declared friendship between the city and the people of Iran; and the city declared its intent to become a sister city with Shiraz. Portland State University, the city’s largest institution of higher education, recently re-established a professorship in Persian language and studies after a break of several decades.

Such a multidimensional list of connections cannot be attributed to one person or even to one group, but much of the impetus behind the relationship comes from a group called the American Iranian Friendship Committee (AIFC). AIFC, an informal gathering of local Iranian Americans, former Peace Corps volunteers and others who have traveled, lived or studied in Iran, was formed in 2006 to strengthen ties between Portland and Iran.

The unofficial leader of the group is Goudarz Eghtedari, a stocky, soft-spoken Iranian-American with a serious manner and a ready smile. The host of a radio talk show devoted to Middle East issues, Eghtedari moved to Portland during the 1990s. In a recent interview with USINFO, he explained that his aim in helping form the AIFC was to strengthen friendship between Iran and Portland.

“The group,” he said, “came from a few of us talking together and thinking, ‘Let’s gather some people who have had this experience [with Iran] and provide a facility for exchange.’”

Within a few months, the group had organized a panel discussion to help Portlanders better understand Iranian culture and society. As part of the two-day event, AIFC also produced a “Jamming for Peace” concert, featuring an Iraqi “oud” player extemporizing with an Iranian musician on a “ney.” Eghtedari smiled as he recalled, “We also invited some Jewish American [musicians], to exemplify harmonious relations between people.”

Making the event fully ecumenical, the concert was held in a downtown Christian church. It drew a diverse crowd of several hundred listeners. “All we are trying to do,” Eghtedari says of the group’s many activities, “is to provide a mechanism to promote friendship.”

Among the other members of AIFC is Gretchen Kafoury, a Peace Corps volunteer in Iran during the 1960s. She recalled her two years in Iran with great fondness and calls her work there “life-changing.” Of the group’s formation, she says it was part of an effort to put a human face on Iran and to emphasize its 5,000-year history. “It’s a rich, wonderful country that should be viewed in a much broader context than [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad,” she said.

For many years an elected official in the Portland area, and at one time a member of the Portland City Council, Kafoury spearheaded AIFC’s efforts to win City Council approval of the resolution expressing friendship with Iran and pledging to undertake a sister city relationship with Shiraz.

Many of the same people who formed the AIFC were also members of a group that worked with Portland State University to re-establish a tenured professor’s position in Farsi within the university’s highly regarded Middle East Studies Center. Speaking of the justification for the position, Eghtedari told USINFO: “It’s obvious to anybody that Iran plays an important role in the region. Being able to have some folks who can speak the language, read the newspapers ... is necessary.”

Eghtedari and Kafoury share with other members of the group a strong belief that Iranian-American friendship has much to offer the people of both countries. Eghtedari estimates that there are 1.5 million to 2 million Iranian-Americans in the United States, of whom about 10,000-15,000 live in the Portland area. “One of the things [Iranians] bring is family values,” he says, adding that like Americans, Iranians are open about adapting to other cultural influences.

Of the United States, Eghtedari said, “It’s a global culture and influences many people beyond its borders.” He added that the United States is a champion of the classic liberal political model of open expression and representative government, a model that continues to exert a powerful interest, even in Iran.

For all the differences between Iran and the United States, it is clear that Eghtedari and Kafoury believe the peoples of both countries have much to learn from each other. When seen in this way, the unlikely connection between Portland and Shiraz does not seem so unlikely after all.

By Steve Holgate, USINFO Special Correspondent

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)


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New majority winning through intimidation

The public employee unions are back in the news and the portraits painted are anything but flattering. In fact, the newspaper accounts reinforce every negative stereotype of union thugs and greedy union bosses that have been written by generations of union critics.

The first story involves Oregon’s largest public employee union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). But SEIU isn’t just a public employees union. It routinely tries to organize custodial workers, hospital workers and nursing home workers. And it is one of the most politically active unions in Oregon, donating huge sums of money to Democrat candidates, providing armies of “volunteers” for Democrat campaigns and flooding the halls of the state capital with lobbyists.

The victims of these unions routinely complain of intimidation. You might remember the large men and women who shadowed initiative signature gatherers yelling at, and taking pictures of, those who would stop to sign the petitions under the guise of the Voters Information Project. These efforts ultimately proved to be unsuccessful and the VIP virtually disappeared during the last election cycle.

The SEIU’s favorite organizing tactic is the use of the so-called “card check” system. The nation’s unions have been steadily losing membership in the private sector. Employees routinely reject organizing activities in secret ballot votes that are authorized under the National Labor Relations Act. The “card check” system is a method of avoiding the secret election and allows the unions to intimidate and trick workers into signing “card checks” and thus force management to recognize the union. When you encounter one of these behemoths alone, unprotected by a crowd, unaided by a secret ballot, it is not surprising that you succumb and sign their cards. The problem with such tactics is that once the employees are free from the intimidation of the unions and are able to freely express themselves, they routinely reject representation by the unions.

This happens so frequently with SEIU that it was recently forced to sign an agreement withdrawing its claim to representation with Portland based Siltronics and to agree to refrain from using the “card check” method for organizing in Washington and Oregon for a period of six months. In this instance, it was either stipulate to the agreement or run the risk of having all of its tactics aired in a public hearing before the National Labor Relations Board.

The irony of all of this is that now that the Democrats have regained control of the Congress, they have introduced legislation to eliminate the secret elections and impose the use of the abusive “card check” system as the only means of organizing. Now you understand the payoff for the unions’ singular devotion to the Democrats.

But that isn’t the only payoff for the public employee unions. Oregon’s Supreme Court recently invalidated a decision by the Portland Public Schools to “out source” its janitorial services at substantial savings. The court, relying on their interpretation of a law from the 1930’s, overturned that decision and forced the Portland Public Schools to provide those janitorial services through public employees only. This is the legal equivalent to a “sole source” contract. It means no matter how abusive the work rules imposed by the public employee unions, no matter how expensive the cost of its wages and exorbitant benefits, the Portland Public Schools are forced to pay without the ability to contract elsewhere. You might remember that the Portland Public Schools are the ones that were required to cut school days because they lacked sufficient funds, cut education programs because the lacked funds, fire teachers because they lacked funds. And here are the public employee unions doing their very best to spray gasoline and a raging fire. (By the way, you might remember that this is the same Oregon Supreme Court that tossed out the reforms of the state’s gold plated PERS system and announced that the state legislature was not allowed to reform the abusive provision of the PERS system.

Now here comes the final irony in all of this. The decision to out source the janitorial services came during Ron Saxton’s tenure as chairman of the Portland Public Schools Board. It was a wise and prudent decision that he promised to bring to state government if elected governor. In marked contrast, Gov. Kulongoski’s administration has been routinely signing “sole source” agreements with the SEIU and other public employee unions that prohibit cost saving through out-sourcing alternatives. Now you understand the further payoff for the public employee unions’ singular devotion to the Democrats.


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May 2, 2007

PERS spiral forces retrenchment, union sacrifice

Faculty members at Lane Community College have voted to give up their raises next year to save the jobs of 15 instructors as the college faces another round of deep budget cuts due to mandatory PERS increases for retirees.

The sacrifice by the faculty union will save $640,000, which is not nearly enough to cover next year's projected deficit but is enough to prevent faculty layoffs and avoid losing the students those faculty will teach. That means the college also saves the tuition and state support that the students bring with them.

"It's very significant," LCC President Mary Spilde said. "They have really stepped up, and I don't think this was easy for them to do. It really is a wonderful gesture on their part." Jim Salt, president of the LCC Education Association union, said the vote, which ended Monday, was about two-thirds in favor of the contract concession.

The result is that layoff notices, known as retrenchment letters, that were ready to be sent have been canceled and the college can continue its effort to boost revenue by increasing enrollment. "The retrenchment letters are now shredded and the programs are saved and the student needs will be met and the tuition and state reimbursement will continue to flow," Salt said. "And we'll have some time to address the core problem."

The core problem, college officials say, is PERS - the state's gold-plated, government workers' retirement system, considered the most generous in the nation - which increased sharply during the recession and has outpaced inflation since.

If the Legislature adopts the budget proposed by the co-chairmen of the Ways and Means Committee, LCC will have to cut more than $7 million from its 2007-08 budget; if the budget proposed by the governor is adopted, the cut would drop to $4.7 million.

Community colleges are lobbying for an even larger allocation that would shave LCC's deficit to $3 million.

The co-chairmen's budget allocates $458 million for community colleges for the 2007-09 biennium, the governor's allocates $483 million, and the colleges are asking for $529 million.

LCC's budget committee will hold its first regular meeting today at 5:30 p.m. Spilde will deliver the budget message, and the committee will begin the work of considering ways to get expenses in line with expected revenue.

Spilde also said she would begin meeting with representatives of the classified union today to explore the possibility of similar help. In addition to 15 faculty layoffs, the budget she initially planned to present today called for 22 classified layoffs.

The deal with the faculty union centers on the cost of living raises called for in next year's contract but also includes the possibility of unpaid leave and changes to the benefit package to create the needed savings.

If necessary, the union also agreed to give up a portion of the annual step increase granted for years of service.

Salt said that while members wanted to protect their fellow faculty from layoffs, that wasn't the prime motivation for agreeing to help.

"I think the faculty saw it as a combination of factors," he said. "It was the lesser of evils. People have committed their lives to this institution, and they don't want to see it dismantled."

Even with the concession, the college has a serious deficit to resolve. It can save about $2.5 million by not filling positions it has been holding vacant, but that still leaves a shortfall of $2.2 million under the governor's budget and $5.5 million under the co-chairmen's budget.

Spilde and Salt said worker concessions won't save community colleges and called on the Legislature to come up with enough money to fund PERS adequately.

"It should not let the Legislature off the hook," Spilde said. "It should not come out of the hide of our employees."


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County Commission goes rogue against M37

The Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday decided to knowingly violate state law and postpone decisions on Measure 37 claims while awaiting the Legislature's expected repeal of the twice-approved property rights restoration law.

Tom Brian, chairman of the commissioners and a former legislator with deep ties to the Labor government, said state lawmakers are likely to move through two bills by mid-May. "I'm pretty confident that the Legislature will take action," Brian said Tuesday, before public hearings opened on the Measure 37 claims. All were continued to May 22.

The commissioners' decision leaves up in the air the unauthorized massive steel billboard pilings planted at U.S. 26 and Southwest Murray Boulevard. Workers at the Harvey Marine property along Southeast Tualatin Valley Highway in Aloha were ready to erect similar structures before the county issued a stop-work order at that location last week.

Owners of both sites won't have Measure 37 waivers until at least May 22. And they don't have building permits, either.

Voters approved Measure 37 in November 2004 to give landowners a waiver of regulations or compensation if planning rules passed since they bought their land hurt their investment. No money was set aside for compensation, so counties and the state have waived regulations in most cases.

The 7,500 claims filed in Oregon under the measure tend to cluster near high-growth areas, and most propose housing. Washington County has received more than 870 claims.

Despite Tuesday's commission decision, Washington County land-use employees will continue to process all claims seeking 10 or fewer housing lots. Larger claims go to public hearings before commissioners.

In January, commissioners asked the Legislature for more time to process a crush of Measure 37 claims submitted just before the law's requirements became tougher. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 4, the county received 303 claims, all requiring county action within 180 days.

During Tuesday's discussions, Commissioner Andy Duyck said he opposed putting off decisions on claims while waiting to see what happens in the Legislature. Board members asked the state for more time to process claims because staffers were getting overloaded, not to stall decisions, Duyck said.

But Commissioner Dick Schouten, a firm opponent of Measure 37, said he supported postponing decisions as long as possible to get the law "straightened out."

Clarification could come soon.

Last week, Democratic legislators decided to ask Oregon voters to approve changes to the property rights law. House Bill 3540 would refer a major rewrite of Measure 37 to voters this fall.

In addition, House Bill 3546 would give governments a one-year extension to process claims from last fall's rush. That would not go to voters and would take effect right away.

The full Legislature still must approve both bills. But Democrats, who are in the majority in both the House and Senate, say they have the support they need to win approval by mid-May.


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AFSCME to begin solving PDC problems

Employees at Portland's urban renewal agency voted 63-50 to form a union under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75. The Portland Development Commission, a semi-independent city agency, is one of the few city bureaus that doesn't have civil protections or a unionized work force. Its employees serve at-will and can be fired any time without cause.

But that is about change.

Sandra Elliott, election coordinator at the state Employment Relations Board, said either employees or managers have 10 days to object to the vote. Otherwise, the results will be certified on May 14, and the two sides can start bargaining. Initial contract negotiatons ordinarily bear a high strike risk due to union overpromising.

Some PDC employees have complained of a culture of fear from the lack of job security. The agency has had an employee turnover rate that's twice that of the rest of the city.

Ken Allen, Council 75's executive director, said the union wanted a cooperative relationship with PDC managers. "We are going to help solve problems there."

In an e-mail to his staff today, PDC executive director Bruce Warner wrote: "We are prepared to meet with union representatives to begin the process of establishing a good and productive working relationship."


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May 1, 2007

PERS buying into Texas Pacific Group

Two years ago, a huge out-of-state buyout corporation failed in a politically heavy-handed attempt to buy Portland General Electric on behalf of one of its biggest investors, Oregon PERS. Now, the private equity operation is selling a piece of itself, and according to The Wall Street Journal, PERS is first in line among potential buyers.

Instead of engineering an initial public offering of stock, TPG, the powerful buyout firm managed by turnaround specialists David Bonderman and Jim Coulter, is in very early discussions with some of its large pension-fund investors to acquire a stake under 20%, according to people familiar with the matter.

TPG, formerly Texas Pacific Group, has been at the heart of some of the biggest buyout deals of the current boom, including TXU Corp., the large Texas utility, Burger King Holdings Inc. and Neiman Marcus Group. It is unclear how much TPG could net from selling the stake but it would likely be billions of dollars.

The company manages $30 billion to $40 billion in investment assets.

Typically, private-equity firms raise large sums from pension funds and put the money into individual funds that invest in companies or units. This would be different, because it would make the pension funds partial owners of TPG itself. This could be a prelude to an IPO as the firm and its investors could sell a stake to the public later.

TPG's contemplated move comes as investors await Blackstone Group's planned IPO, scheduled for mid-June. Ever since Blackstone announced its plans, a host of its rivals have been considering creative ways to raise cash. Apollo Management LP, for example, is expected to follow soon.

The sale of a stake in TPG would give Messrs. Bonderman and Coulter hard cash as well as a firm valuation that could underpin a future offer.

That is what Fortress Investment Group did when it sold a stake to a unit of Nomura Securities of Japan before its listing on the New York Stock Exchange this year. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. did the same in the 1980s and 1990s -- selling stakes in itself to Japan's Sumitomo Bank and Hawaii's Kamehameha Schools trust, before going public in 1999.

TPG signed a confidentiality agreement with Oregon and is in talks with other of its largest investors. Some of its large investors include the California Public Employees' Retirement System, or Calpers, and California State Teachers' Retirement System, or CalSTRS - both California retirement funds - and Washington State Investment Board, people familiar with the matter said.

A move now would allow TPG to lock in money long term from investors, potentially at the expense of its competitors.

"Public pension funds have huge amounts of money but not unlimited amounts of money," says Mario Giannini, head of Hamilton Lane, which invests in private equity on behalf of pension funds and endowments. It is indirectly one of the largest investors in TPG funds, but isn't involved in this deal. "There is a limited amount of money in the market" as private-equity firms target ever larger funds, he said, speaking generally.

In addition to selling a stake in the management company, TPG is considering a second move that could also open the fund to more public investors. TPG is considering packaging some of its existing fund investments in a new public company that could be bought and sold by stock-market investors.

In a slightly different move last year, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. raised $5 billion for a publicly listed fund in Amsterdam, which essentially gives public investors a chance to invest in KKR deals alongside large institutional investors.
[Jim Coulter]

The KKR company, KKR Private Equity Investors, hasn't traded well because it hasn't been fully invested, meaning it has had lots of cash earning low returns. By contrast, the possible TPG structure would bundle existing investments made by TPG and its limited partners investors in a new public company. Its existing investors would in exchange receive a slice of the stock in the newly listed company.

It is hard to structure deals like this because the value of underlying companies is often hard to discern. But proponents see the appeal: Listing it allows its limited partners to cash out when they choose to, rather than having their money locked up.

Conditions are about as good as it gets for private equity. Stock markets are hitting records, which give private-equity investors a chance to raise new money and to cash out of their holdings. And debt markets are awash in cash, making it easy for buyout kings to raise money for deals financed by low-interest loans.

At a conference in New York 10 days ago, Henry Kravis, founding partner of KKR described current conditions as the industry's "golden age." And last week, David Rubenstein, co-founder of Carlyle Group, was telling audiences at the Milken Global Institute "it can't get better."

Such talk has given rise to speculation that these new capital-raising initiatives mark a peak for private equity. In any case, the quest to free themselves from repeated rounds of fund raising would likely continue regardless of the cycle.

TPG has tried to stay out of the limelight. Last year, when it raised its most recent fund, it found that it had commitments of more than $15 billion, making its fund as large as that of Blackstone. While Blackstone upped the ante, raising almost $20 billion, TPG happily surrendered the title of the world's largest fund.


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Labor gov't in rollback of 2003 PERS reforms

Double-dippers and other public employees who leave government jobs and return later to public service won't forfeit their state pension seniority, under a bill that passed its first legislative hurdle Monday. House Bill 2623 would eliminate the "break-in-service" provision of the 2003 reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System.

More than 3,000 PERS members have run afoul of the break-in-service rule. When they return to PERS-covered jobs after an absence of six months or more, they get placed in the PERS benefits plan for employees hired after September 2003. That plan offers scaled-down retirement benefits and a higher retirement age.

Since the 2003 reform passed, several people have raised objections, including a Salem teacher on an extended medical leave, laid-off Portland school custodians and others. The rule also penalizes pregnant women who take extended leaves to be home with their newborns.

Government agencies have fought efforts by public-employee unions to overturn the provision.

But the political tide turned last year, when the PERS actuary concluded that the break-in-service rule might wind up costing taxpayers more rather than less.

"It doesn't offer any real savings," said Mary Botkin, a lobbyist for Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The break-in-service rule has been an administrative headache for PERS, Botkin said, and is unfair to workers who want to take extended time off for education or other work experiences that grant them more skills.

The House Business and Labor Committee voted unanimously Monday to approve HB 2623, but with a caveat. The bill must pass muster with the joint budget committee before it gets to the House floor.

Steve Delaney, the PERS deputy director, said the costs of eliminating the break-in-service rule are unclear. The bill could cost government an estimated $1.2 million every budget cycle, or save as much as $4.8 million, Delaney said.

Getting rid of the provision also would save PERS money in administrative costs, he said.

A 2006 study by PERS actuary Bill Hallmark determined that PERS won't have to put much new money into many veteran workers' pension accounts if they retire under the Money Match option. Their accounts will grow from investment earnings but not new contributions from employers.

However, if veteran workers under PERS' Tier 1 benefits plan leave government jobs and return under the new plan created in 2003, they might get a bigger pension, Hallmark concluded. Their Tier 1 accounts continue to grow via investments, and they get new government-paid benefits for each additional year worked.

On the flip side, some Tier 1 workers retire around age 50, after they log 30 years in PERS, but those in the new plan can't retire until age 58 or later.

Oregon school districts still oppose dumping the break-in-service provision, said Jim Green, lobbyist for the Oregon School Boards Association.

"It was one of the key pieces of the 2003 reforms, and we believe it ought to stay in place," Green said.

But other employers, such as the city of Portland, have endorsed getting rid of the provision.


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Oregon's future ex-NFIB lobbyist

J.L. Wilson, one of Salem's highest-profile lobbyists, isn't who he appears to be. For this legislative session, Wilson has taken on clients in addition to - and in conflict with - his employer since 1999, the powerful National Federation of Independent Business Oregon.

As state director of NFIB/Oregon, Wilson advocates for the state association's nearly 13,000 small businesses. And this session, he's been a key lobbyist against Senate Bill 838, a hotly contested renewable energy bill.

But WW has learned that Wilson's filings with the Government Standards and Practices Commission show him registered to lobby for more than 30 other organizations. Among them: the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and Oregon PERS Retirees Inc. whose interests diverge from the right-leaning NFIB.

"There's a real disconnect here," says Janice Thompson, of the labor-backed watchdog Oregon Food in Politics Research Action Project.

And Wilson's boss, California-based Daniel Markels, didn't know about Wilson's expanded client list. Markels initially told WW that "J.L. is an employee of NFIB and he has no other clients other than his employer." But when read a list of Wilson's non-NFIB clients, Markels said in disbelief, "You're telling me he's a registered lobbyist for [retired] public employees?"

It's easy to see why Wilson would make an attractive frontman to groups trying to defeat SB 838: NFIB represents a formidable constituency.

Wilson acknowledges that he had taken on outside work without NFIB's knowledge or permission.

"To be honest, this was not something I really wanted to draw attention to," says the 32-year-old Wilson, a staffer in the 1990s for former Republican House speakers Lynn Lundquist and Lynn Snodgrass. "It was not something that I was interested in NFIB national knowing about."

Wilson says lobbyist Mark Nelson - who represents Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities, the primary opponent of the renewable - energy bill, among dozens of other clients—hired him in March. Among Nelson's clients are ICNU and the Oregon Restaurant Association, which also opposes the renewables bill.

Wilson acknowledges that being registered for clients who aren't disclosed in the Capitol Club lobbyist directory could be confusing to legislators who might think NFIB members in their districts also oppose SB 838. He says the directory doesn't list his non-NFIB clients because Nelson hired him after the directory's deadline. While perhaps true, that explanation is incomplete.

First, of course, Wilson's boss says he cannot work for others. Second, Wilson previously did undisclosed contract work for Nelson's company, Public Affairs Counsel during a 2004 ballot measure campaign.

While identifying himself as NFIB's director, Wilson worked for Nelson's company to defend the state-owned workers' comp insurer, SAIF Corp., against a ballot measure. Wilson's role in that 2004 campaign emerged in a subsequent secretary of state's investigation, which has never previously been publicly reported.

Rep. Sal Esquivel (R-Medford) says NFIB carries a lot of weight with lawmakers in Oregon, a "state of small businesses." Esquivel, whom Wilson lobbied on SB838, says he had no idea Wilson represents dozens of other clients. "This is unbelievable," Esquivel says. "I'm very disappointed."


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April 30, 2007

State newspaper lags on sustainability

The Oregonian is continuing to lose circulation, according to the Newspaper Association of America. But not fast enough, according to environmentalists. Other papers are making faster transitions from newsprint to online, leaving Oregon's only statewide daily with higher-than-average liabilities from unsustainable corporate environmental practices.

The information is based on the latest Fas-Fax data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations released Monday and from the Newspaper Audience database. In a six-month period ending March 31, The Oregonian's weekday circulation dropped from 323,017 to 319,625 and Sunday circulation dropped from 384,729 to 375,913. By comparison, weekday circulation in Sept. 30, 2005, was 337,707 and Sunday circulation was 405,295.

The circulation drop from March 31, 2005, to March 31, 2007, totals 18,082 for weekdays and 29,382 on Sunday.

The circulation drop was slower than for most of the nation's top 25 daily and Sunday newspapers, which have come under increasing criticism for paper-stream wastes and large carbon footprints. The Oregonian's transition to on-line has been incompetent, by comparison with its peers, even though Oregon is considered the most sustainability-conscious state in the nation.

For the six-month period ending March 31, the Newspaper Association of America's Fas-Fax analysis of circulation data reveals the average daily circulation for all 745 newspapers reporting for comparable periods was 44,961,066, a decrease of 2.1 percent over the same period a year ago. On Sunday, the average circulation for the 601 newspapers reporting for comparable periods was 48,102,437, a decrease of 3.1 percent over the same period a year ago.

The Newspaper Association of America , a nonprofit organization representing the $59 billion newspaper industry and more than 2,000 newspapers in the United States and Canada, is headquartered in Tysons Corner, Va.


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Progressives in Salem go soft on crime

With Democrats now in charge of the Legislature, lawmakers are trying to rewrite a voter-approved 1994 get-tough-on-crime law in a way that would allow the early release of juvenile offenders charged with murder, kidnapping and other serious crimes.

The proposal is drawing flak from crime victim advocates and Oregon's district attorneys, who say voters meant it when they adopted Measure 11 in 1994. But some progressive legislators and advocacy groups say they think the public is ready for a second look at whether the law is cost-effective and the best way to rehabilitate young offenders.

Measure 11 requires judges to sentence people convicted of serious crimes, including young offenders, to fixed prison terms with no possibility of parole or probation.

The House and Senate judiciary committees recently conducted public hearings on measures to revise sentencing procedures for 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds who commit the most serious crimes, such as murder, assault, robbery or kidnapping.

The House measure would give those youths a chance to go before a judge for a "second look" after they have served half of their sentences. Judges could grant youths release to serve the remainder of their sentences under post-prison supervision if it can be proved that they have made significant progress while incarcerated.

"I think the public, if you asked them, would be OK with giving juveniles a 'second look,'" said Rep. Chip Shields, D-Portland. "Most people realize that 15- to 17-year-olds should be dealt with differently than 25-year-old hardened criminals."

Under the Senate measure, youths would receive pretrial hearings in adult court in which judges would determine whether trying the case in juvenile court or adult court would be best suited to protect public safety while promoting rehabilitation.

Among those who testified in favor of the bills was Sheila Montgomery, whose son Zack was convicted of aiding and abetting an armed robbery of a convenience store when he was 15 and was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years.


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Police union flexes political muscle

Police union leaders are pushing legislation to change the makeup of Oregon's Board on Public Safety Standards and Training, saying the 24-member panel is top-heavy with chiefs and sheriffs and doesn't have enough of their peers on it.

Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association, serves on the public safety board. He complained at a board meeting last week that the board's process for yanking an officer's certification was not thorough. He also argued that its "moral fitness" standard for law enforcement is so broad that the board could "decertify anybody for anything."

Malheur County Sheriff Andrew Bentz, a board member, blasted the unions' legislation, saying the proposed changes in the board's makeup would turn it into a labor versus management body, instead of a board that represents a wide array of constituencies. "It's just a misguided bill," Bentz said. If there are concerns, they should be handled by the board, not lawmakers, Bentz argued.

John Minnis, a retired Portland sergeant who serves as director of the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, and Polk County Sheriff Bob Wolfe, the state board's co-chairman, said the public safety board is akin to a licensing agency for law enforcement officers.

"The actions of this board go beyond collective bargaining agreements, and go to the totality of conduct," Minnis said, "which may never be part of an arbitrator's decision."

King said his concerns were not based on any one case. So far this year, the board has revoked the certification of two Portland police officers, each for violating the state's "moral fitness standard" for law enforcement. Last week, the board revoked the certification of former Portland Officer Ryan Graichen, who resigned last August after supervisors learned that while assigned to Madison High School he had filmed female students in his own "Girls Gone Wild" video.

In January, the board pulled the certification of Kai Ho, a 26-year Portland police veteran who resigned after a police inquiry found he had bought and used illegal drugs.

The panel earlier this year had considered revoking a third Portland officer's certification but voted against doing so. King had defended Dennis Bell, a 30-year Portland police veteran who resigned after a criminal investigation showed he slapped a man in the face while the man was handcuffed. King called it an isolated incident and the slap "wasn't substantial, and it did not leave a mark."

Dave Burright, former Linn County sheriff who now heads the Oregon State Sheriffs Association, said he struggled with the Bell case, calling the conduct inappropriate. "You don't strike somebody in custody who is cuffed up," Burright said. "You just don't do it."

But in the end, Burright said he was convinced it was an isolated incident.

Under state administrative rules, a law enforcement officer's lack of moral fitness would include conduct that would "cause a reasonable person to have substantial doubts about the individual's honesty, fairness, respect for the rights of others, or for the laws of the state and/or the nation."

The rule includes as examples: illegal conduct involving moral turpitude; dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; intentional or attempted deception or fraud in an application, exam or other document for obtaining certification; or conduct that would adversely reflect on an officer's ability to perform the job, such as intoxication while on duty, untruthfulness or off-the-job activity that would result in the public's loss of confidence.

Kelly Bach, a board member who represents the Oregon State Firefighters Council, said he's dismayed that the board can revoke an officer's certification without holding a hearing and listening to the officer's side of the story. "We don't have the opportunity to ask questions of a member who may have their career taken away from them," Bach said. He said the unions had to go to the Legislature for a fix because the state certification panel wasn't listening.

Burright, who serves on the board's police policy committee, said the process is fair.

Investigators with the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training provide detailed documentation about the officer's misconduct, including the internal inquiry from the officer's agency, with written material from the officer or his representative, that a board subcommittee reviews and discusses in depth. The committee makes a recommendation to the full board, which takes a vote after reviewing the full record. If the board votes to decertify an officer, the officer can appeal the decision to an administrative law judge with a full hearing.

"There are many opportunities for review and due process," Burright said. "I also think it's extremely important that this profession monitor and license people who uphold the standards our citizens want to see in our law enforcement. As the saying goes, integrity is not negotiable in our profession."

Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer, a board member who would no longer have a seat at the table under the union's proposed bill, suggested the board set up a work group to find some consensus. Sizer said she's noticed very few cases where a dispute arises between labor or management on revoking an officer's certification. But Sizer said she did agree with the local police union that she doesn't think a manager should use the decertification process as a way to "circumvent" an arbitrator's ruling on an officer's discharge.

Former Portland Police Chief Derrick Foxworth fired Portland police Officer Edgar Mitchell three years ago for driving drunk off-duty and smashing head-on into another car at 3 a.m. New Year's Day. Though the union argued the officer had a clean record and was seeking treatment, Foxworth concluded that "the public deserves more."

A year later, a state arbitrator forced Foxworth to reinstate Mitchell after ruling the penalty too harsh.

Regardless, the state's public safety board that sets standards for law enforcement officers considered ending the man's career by pulling his police certification for violating "moral fitness" expectations - a power public safety unions argue is unfair.

"These two separate tracks allow an employer to have what amounts to a second bite of the apple," says King, the union president. "They in fact have undermined the collective bargaining rights of our members."

In the off-duty drunken-driving case, union leaders balked when the state board was about to review his police certification and persuaded then-chief Foxworth to step in and ask the board to adhere to the arbitrator's decision. Mitchell remains on the job.


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April 29, 2007

Progressive spending, taxes vex Minnesotans

What do you call the largest political rally for tax relief in Minnesota history? A non-story, at least according to the Twin Cities media.

Then again, Minnesota taxpayers probably weren't too surprised. The lead anchor for the CBS television affiliate here as well as the Star Tribune of Minneapolis played up a competing "global warming day of action" rally on the mall, while playing down the much larger tax protest just a few hundred feet north on the Capitol steps.

Indeed, on Saturday, April 14, an estimated 7,000 Minnesotans lined up in St. Paul to protest against run-away government spending and a push to feed it with yet with more tax hikes on the "rich." Former State Senator and now Congresswoman Michelle Bachman told me it was one of the largest rallies - if not the largest - she had ever seen at the Capitol.

Not bad. But rather than report that tax protestors far outnumbered a much better financed (MoveOn.org was sending email reminders) Sierra Club event by at least 2-1, local news outlets merely noted the combined totals for both. The local CBS affiliate also posted an Internet story on the global warming get-together using video footage of our anti-tax rally. Under protest, the piece was pulled.

The purpose in organizing the tax-cut rally - which delivered over 18,000 petitions gathered on radio station KTLK's Web site - was to give voice to the thousands of Minnesotans opposed to the plans of the left-wing majority in the state house (the Democrat Farm-Labor Party won an 86-48 seat edge in November and widened its majority in the state Senate). Plans that include a dizzying array of new taxes totaling $4 billion. This, in a state of five million people with a biennial state budget of $31.5 billion.

And this, too, in a state whose general fund is running a $2.2 billion surplus - even after an automatic, built-in increase of $1 billion.

Nevertheless, Democrats have introduced bills raising all income tax rates, including one for the highest top rate in the nation at 9.7%. In the name of transportation, i.e., mass transit, they've proposed increasing the gas tax 50%, to 30 cents per gallon at the pump, as well as raising the state sales tax by a half-cent. Add to that levies on everything from beer to mortgages to paint. House Republican leaders say the hikes will cost Minnesota families well over $1,000 per year.

Minnesotans are hardly under-taxed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state tax burden in the home state of Walter Mondale and Al Franken already ranks sixth-highest per capita in the nation. The state has decoupled its estate tax from federal relief; it still taxes capital gains as ordinary income. Though it's hard to shed tears for the subsidy-seeking big business community here, a corporate tax rate of 9.8% is one reason for the anemic job growth of late.

Minnesotans are a hard-working lot and that's providing some cover for the tax-and-spend crowd. Household income is relatively high, so the liberal intelligentsia argue with a straight face that the tax burden as a percentage of income isn't going up so fast. But if the state already has a surplus why raise taxes?

Well, it's simple. Here in the Land of 10,000 taxes it's called "ability to pay." State Rep. John Lesch, a liberal Democrat from St. Paul, once explained it clearly in a recent email to a constituent. "Once the wealthy simply pay their fair share, then we can have a discussion of whether government has greater or lesser needs," he wrote.

Minnesotans wouldn't pay for their annual fishing licenses this way -- that is, based upon income. But Democrats are even proposing tying property taxes to household income or - here we go again - "ability to pay." The American Dream is all about getting ahead by driving down household expenses as a percentage of income. Why shouldn't taxes fall too?

And yet, Minnesota's income tax code is so "progressive" that the top 20% pay 71% of the total tax collected while the bottom quintile of earners actually get a check from state government. The ├╝ber-rich - you know, those in the top 10% making a whopping $105,450 or more - shoulder a remarkable 55.4% of the true income tax burden, as a recent tax incidence study by the state Department of Revenue made clear. They also pay more than 27% of the sales, business and property tax.

The tax-cut coalition wants to resist the Democratic money grab and buttress a few wobbly Republicans as well. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who admirably refused to raise taxes during the state's budget crunch after 9/11, has since buckled on a tobacco tax (he calls it a health-care fee) and a California-style renewable energy mandate. His current budget proposal spends the $2.2 billion dollar surplus and then some, increasing the general fund by 9.3%. He's promising to veto any new tax measures, but is being pressured by liberals in his own party such as State Rep. Ron Erhardt of Edina.

Tax policy in Minnesota, not unlike Washington, D.C., has broken down into two fundamental camps. One thinks government has a proper role in raising revenue for those genuine public goods in as neutral or - as the framers put it - "uniform" manner as possible. The other camp, currently running the state legislature, views the tax code as a way of redistributing wealth. And even in a time of surplus is looking for new ways to soak the so-called rich.

At some point, even in Minnesota, raising taxes based on a fanciful notion of "ability to pay" will force a taxpayer revolt. In some quarters it may not qualify as news, but when thousands of Minnesotans take time out of their lives to show up at the state Capitol, it's probably a sign that something more is going on than a debate over whether humans are warming the globe.

Jason Lewis, who leads Minnesota's Tax Cut Coalition, is a talk show host on FM NewsTalk 100.3 KTLK in the Twin Cities.

(Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2007)

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