Friday, October 30, 2009

The Task Force Reject Pile

When researching for my primer on Legislative Task Forces, I discovered that lawmakers propose far more task forces than they approve.  The exact number is hard to nail down without doing some serious bill-by-bill research, since sometimes task forces are included as part of a larger overall bill.  So I can't definitely say how many task forces have been proposed over the past two legislative sessions.  What I can say is that I found quite a few interesting ones that were proposed ... and ignored.  Read a partial list of task forces that ended up on the reject pile after the jump.

Legislature Back At Full Strength

With today's swearing in of Lew Frederick, the Oregon Legislature is once again back at full strength. Frederick, a Democrat, was appointed by Multnomah County Commissioners to complete the term of Chip Shields, who was appointed to a seat in the Oregon Senate earlier this month. (Shields replaced Margaret Carter, who resigned to take a job with the Oregon Department of Human Services.)

Frederick is a former television reporter who later worked 13 years as a spokesman for the Portland Public School District. He becomes the only African-American currently in the Oregon House. He's the third new member of the Oregon House since the Legislature adjourned its 2009 session in June.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How Do You Really Feel, Arnold?

Here's an interesting tale out of California: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is suspected of sending a hidden message to state lawmakers. The first letter of each line of a recent veto letter spells out a rather unfriendly greeting. The San Francisco Chronicle has the details and a copy of the letter.

It made me wonder if Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski--who isn't known for using salty language--sent any hidden messages in his eight veto letters this year. A quick scan found that if Kulongoski was using the same coding method as Governor Schwarzenegger is accused of using, he isn't making himself very clear. A typical message was “Itca I ufse tiaoa.” Have a look for yourself and see if you can find any subtleties I may have overlooked.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Autumn At The Capitol

With a gust of rain-drenched wind, autumn cemented its blustery grip on Salem today.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Special Interest Group That Eats Brains

It's not unusual to see rallies on the front steps of the capitol.  Advocates for nearly every cause imaginable make regular visits, trying to catch the attention of lawmakers, passersby and the media.  But I can't remember anyone speaking out on behalf of the special interest group that promises to rally here tomorrow:  Zombies.

A Salem group has taken out an ad in the paper demanding "Equal Rights For The Undead."  They'll gather on the steps of the capitol and march through downtown Salem.  According to the group's Facebook page, at least 55 people plan to attend.  None of them are lawmakers. Yet.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kulongoski Talks Fish, Economy With NPR

Two days before leaving on a week-long trade mission to Europe, Governor Ted Kulongoski is featured in a lengthy profile on NPR's All Things Considered.  Kulongoski and Melissa Block head out on the South Santiam River for a conversation about everything from "green jobs" to the governor's fishing abilities.  The governor even manages to catch (and release) a Chinook salmon.

Next up on Kulongoski's plate is a much bigger catch:  The Governor is heading to Holland, Denmark and Germany to try to drum up business for Oregon.  Kulongoski will meet with representatives from high-tech and renewable energy companies.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Today Is First Furlough Day

Call it "Furlough Friday", if you wish.  Today is the first of ten un-paid days off that workers at most states agencies will take during the current two year budget cycle.  Most state agencies are closed today.  Some, including the capitol building, are open.  To see who's open and who's closed, as well as a list of future furlough days, click here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

For Sale: You Don't Want To Know

The state of Oregon operates an online surplus store through the auction site E-Bay.  It's a great place to shop if you need used office furniture and other odds and ends.  You can even score deals on used police cruisers. But every once in a while something a little, well, different shows up.  Cadaver tank, anyone?

No one from the Department of Administrative Services returned my phone call asking for the story behind this particular item.  The auction listing's description of the tank is short and to the point:  "Condition: Used".  Happy bidding!

The Difference Between Colorado and Oregon

Ten states, including Oregon, tie their minimum wage to inflation.  In Oregon, that's thanks to a 2002 voter-approved initiative.  In practical terms, it's meant an increase in the state's minimum wage on January 1st of each year.  But with prices falling slightly on the Consumer Price Index, officials decided recently that Oregon's minimum wage would stay at $8.40 in 2010, the first year without an increase since the initiative passed.

That brings us to this week's news from Colorado.  That state also ties its minimum wage to inflation.  But unlike Oregon, the state won't rule out a drop in the minimum wage when consumer prices drop.  Officials there announced that Colorado's minimum wage would likely decrease by 4 cents to $7.24 an hour,  in 2010.  But since that's lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, it's effectively a three-penny drop.  Of course, employers who pay minimum wage are not obligated to decrease their workers' salary, unlike when an increase takes effect.

Friday, October 9, 2009

So, Just How ARRA We Doing?

Fans of government data, take note:  This Monday, the state of Oregon will release a slew of information about how money is being spent from the federal stimulus, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA.  The report will sort stimulus money by more than 50 different categories, including type of project and number of jobs created or retained.  You'll also be able to see how your congressional district stacks up against the rest.  Governor Kulongoski's office says the state has received about $1 billion of an expected total of $3.9 billion over the next three years.

This report covers the first seven months of ARRA.  Future reports are due every three months.  It's worth noting that the report only details the stimulus money directly distributed to state governments.  It does not include money spent by federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, on projects in Oregon.  That information will be released by the federal government later this month.  To read Oregon's report, click here.  The information is scheduled to be released sometime Monday morning.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Game On!

It's official:  Oregonians will vote on a pair of tax increase next January.  The Secretary of State's office announced today that backers of an effort to overturn those taxes have submitted enough valid signatures to qualify the measures for the ballot.  The announcement wasn't a surprise.  Last month, the group turned in more than twice as many signatures as needed.  While it's likely that not all of those signatures were valid, the group gave themselves a comfortable cushion.  They needed roughly 55,000 names, and they submitted more than 125,000 per measure.  The Secretary of State's office says approximately 80% of the signatures for each measure were valid.  It sets up what's bound to be a hard-fought campaign that will culminate in a January 26 election.

Electrical Workers Give To Kitzhaber

Will unions pick a side in the 2010 Oregon governor's race?  Of course.  Will they pick a side during the primary season?  To be determined.  Unions sometimes sit on the sidelines during a primary, choosing to save their time and money for the general election cycle when top candidates may offer more contrasting ideologies. 

With that in mind, it's interesting to note that the Portland based chapter of the electricians' union IBEW has forked over $10,000 to John Kitzhaber.  As far as I can tell, it's the first union donation to either Kitzhaber or Democratic rival Bill Bradbury since the two announced their candidacies last month.  Ten grand is a lot of money, but Kitzhaber has received similar amounts from other, non-union PACS, as well as some individuals.  Whether the IBEW donation is the first in a long line of union contributions remains to be seen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We're On Furlough: No Comments, Please

People who feel strongly about the way the Oregon Lottery compensates its video lottery retailers will have some extra time to weigh in.  That's because--even though the Lottery's website does not reflect it--the final day to submit a comment has been extended from Friday, October 16 until Monday, October 19.  The reason?  October 16 is the first of 10 furlough days scheduled during the current two-year budget cycle.  It's a cost-cutting measure that affects every state agency.  And in this case, it has a side effect of giving you more time to craft your comment about a decision on the part of the Lottery Commission that's unlikely to please all sides. 

It also means that if you decide to claim your high-value winnings at Lottery headquarters on the 16th, you'll be out of luck.  The same is true if you have business at the DMV or most other state agencies on the 16th.  Prisons and courts, however, will remain open.  Staff members there will take furlough days on a rolling basis.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Morse Mulls Gubernatorial Bid

You can add Albany Senator Frank Morse to the list of people considering a run for governor.  The Democrat-Herald of Albany reports that Morse, who is nearing the end of his second term in the Oregon Senate, is mulling his political options.  Morse is one of the Legislature's more moderate Republicans, which might make getting past a crowded GOP primary field a challenge.  If he enters the race, he'll likely face fellow Senator Jason Atkinson, businessman Allen Alley, and former state lawmaker John Lim. 

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Bonus" Is A Loaded Word

After my story on pay levels at the Oregon Treasurer's office, I got a call from James Sinks.  He's the spokesman for Treasurer Ben Westlund.  Sinks objected to the use of the word "bonus" to describe the performance-based portion of the paychecks received by the state's investment fund managers.  The way Sinks describes it, those managers are only guaranteed 70% of their salary.  They have to earn the remaining 30% through on-the-job performance:  merit-pay, if you will.  Thus, Sinks figures, the final 30% is not a bonus, but rather the portion of their salary they earn through a combination of hard work and--presumably--a bit of luck.

It strikes me as a bit of a to-ma-to/to-mah-to argument.  Obviously the Treasurer's office would like to avoid the appearance of handing out fat bonuses to employees during a time when the state faces a severe economic crunch.  And in truth, the amount of money we're talking about is paltry compared to the mega-bucks that Wall Street-types take home.  But the Legislative Fiscal Office and the spending bill authorizing the compensation plan each refer to the extra pay as "compensation bonuses".  

Hunt Praises Interim Experiment

House Speaker Dave Hunt says the Legislature's experiment of scheduling interim committees to meet in 3-day blocks is a success, so far.  Normally interim committees meet sporadically during the time when the Legislature is not in session.  This time, lawmakers tried grouping the committees to meet during the same 3-day period.  The first grouping was this week.  Since most lawmakers serve on multiple committees, the idea is that the Legislature would save money by reducing travel costs for members who live far from Salem, by reducing the number of times they have to make the trek to the capitol.

But Hunt says the experiment has paid unexpected dividends.  He says attendance is way up.  Lawmakers from rural areas feel back in the loop in ways they might not if they simply showed up for a three hour meeting and headed home.

On the other hand, scheduling so many meetings at once means it's harder for capitol-watchers to follow the action.  The nice thing about the interim committee schedule was that you could catch up on a lot of issues that might not otherwise grab your attention during a hectic regular session.  But scheduling two or three committees at a time for three days in a row meant it was hard for the press and other capitol observers to do more than give a passing glance to some issues.  Those of us at the capitol will get another chance during the next block of interim committees:  November 17-19.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Obama Texting Edict Has Little Impact In Oregon

Federal employees who drive in Oregon could hardly be blamed if they shrug off President Obama's executive order banning them from texting while driving.  That's because it comes just three months before the state bans all drivers from sending text messages while behind the wheel.  In fact, Oregon's law goes even further than the federal order:  Starting in January, talking on your cell phone without a hands-free device while behind the wheel will be against the law in Oregon.