Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oregon's Budget Gap Just Got A Little Wider

A collective "D'oh!" just echoed through Salem. The Office of Economic Analysis just issued a mea culpa on its already gloomy revenue forecast from earlier this week. Apparently the numbers crunchers overstated--to the tune of $14 million--the amount of cigarette tax revenue coming into state coffers. So that $563 million shortfall that's causing so much heartburn around the capitol just jumped to $577 million.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Who Audits The Auditors?

Even watchdogs need a check-up now and then. But who audits the auditors? Fans of British novelist Terry Pratchett may assume that sort of thing is done by these guys. As it turns out, the job of making sure the Secretary of State's Audits Division is doing its work correctly falls to the National State Auditors Association. The overview occurs every three years, and this month the organization's latest evaluation on Oregon was released. The one-page report contains very little by way of actual evaluation but basically states that the Oregon Secretary of State's Audits Division conforms to accepted government auditing standards.

Corporate Kicker Now Predicted

On a day when Governor Ted Kulongoski announced $560 million in across-the-board budget cuts, it may seem odd to be talking about the kicker. After all, the kicker tax rebate is only supposed to make an appearance when times are good (or specifically, when times are better-than-expected). Yet state economists said today that despite the state being more than a half-billion dollars in the hole, current projections shows that Oregon corporations are in line for a kicker check next year.

How could this happen? Well, unlike personal income taxes, the pool of corporate taxpayers in Oregon is relatively small. So it doesn't take much to push actual corporate tax collections above the official "end-of-session" estimate. And if those collections rise more than 2% above that estimate, the corporate kicker kicks. At this point, the corporate kicker would be relatively small--about $20 million. Oregon senior economist Josh Harwood says he hesitates to read too much into the projection, since more than a year remains in the biennium. He says it's so close to the threshold right now that even a single large company could push things back into "non-kicker" territory with lower-than-expected profits.

It should be noted that at this point, no personal kicker is anticipated by state economists. In fact, it's thanks in large part to lower-than-expected personal income tax revenue that the state is now facing that half-billion dollar shortfall. It would take a quick and relatively miraculous turnaround for a personal kicker to materialize during this budget cycle.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Read My Blog! Free Trial Offer!

Now that I have your attention...

The Oregon Senate Consumer Protection Committee is holding a hearing tomorrow on so-called "free trial" offers. If you've spent any amount of time on the internet, you've probably seen pop-up and banner ads for these things. In many cases, after you sign up for the free offer you have to cancel within a preset time period or else you get hit with a hefty charge on your next credit card statement.

That's what happened to Katharine Danner of Ashland. The unemployed non-profit administrator tells me she signed up for a "free sample" of a teeth-whitening remedy "during a moment of weakness". When the sample arrived, she took one look at it and declined to use it. When she got her next credit card statement, she found that the "free sample" cost her $311. When she tracked down the source of the charges, the company told her she had been signed up for a monthly membership club. When Danner insisted she didn't want to be a member and that she wanted to send back the stuff un-opened, the telephone agent gave her an address in, of all places, Cyprus. What's more, her credit card company said that while they sympathized with her plight, the membership club was legit since all the details had been disclosed in advance in the fine print. Danner tells me the whole experience set her back, and not just financially. Take a listen:

The Oregon Department of Justice doesn't have hard data on the number of complaints about free trial offers that quickly turn costly. But spokesman Tony Green says the agency has been hearing "more" reports of it recently. Green says DOJ isn't pushing for a specific bill right now, but Angela Martin of the consumer advocacy group Our Oregon says she'd like lawmakers to consider a ban on so-called "third party transfer" of billing information. That's what happens for some of these offers. You enter your credit card number to buy something online--flowers, for instance--and a banner pops up saying you can get $10 off your purchase by "clicking here" for a no obligation offer from an outside company. But the fine print--if you read it, which some people apparently don't--reveals that unless you cancel within 14 days you'll be signed up for something that is decidedly not free. Martin's group feels that the second company needs to get your billing information directly from you, which would presumably make you think twice before accepting the too-good-to-be-true offer.

Hawaii Votes By Mail

In a special election, voters in Hawaii's 1st Congressional District over the weekend elected Republican Charles Djou. The election was notable for being that state's first ever Congressional election conducted entirely with vote-by-mail. The Honolulu Advertiser took the time to compare Hawaii's experiment with Oregon's more established vote-by-mail system. Among the differences? 

"Unlike in Oregon, the Office of Elections has not provided the campaigns with the names of voters who have cast ballots. So, over the past few weeks, the campaigns have wasted time and resources reaching out to many people who had already voted."

And who did the paper turn to for more analysis? None other than OSU/OPB political science wonk Bill Lunch, who in true public radio fashion, compares vote-by-mail to a Beethoven symphony:

"Candidates, and the organizations working with them, could no longer focus as an orchestra might on a crescendo — sort of Beethoven's Eighth, where you get to the point at which all the drums are beating — that's the way it used to work," Lunch said.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kitzhaber "Concerned" About Democratic Party's Anti-Dudley Website

John Kitzhaber says he's concerned about a website launched by the Democratic Party of Oregon that blasts Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Dudley. The site was announced via an e-mailed press release to reporters just as Kitzhaber was delivering a victory speech to supporters at the Melody Ballroom in Portland--a speech in which he reminded the audience that he has not been talking "about defeating a Republican candidate in November."

I asked Kitzhaber about the "Dudley Dolittle" website after a Democratic Party unity event today in Portland :

When asked if he'd request the Democratic Party of Oregon to take down the website, he at first said, point blank, "I will." A few minutes later, when pressed on the issue, Kitzhaber said he'd need to look at the website more carefully to determine whether it reflected his campaign's message. Party spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki said this afternoon that there are no plans to withdraw the website, and that as of now, the Kitzhaber campaign hasn't requested its removal.

Kitzhaber isn't alone in receiving online support from an outside political organization. The Republican Governors Association is circulating a video that draws parallels between John Kitzhaber and, among other things, a 1979 AMC Pacer.  Kitzhaber first held elected office in 1979 as a member of the Oregon House of Representatives, although the video mistakenly says that Kitzhaber was "first elected" in 1979. That's when his term started, but he was actually elected in 1978. The video ends with the message "Chris Dudley 2010."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Subtle Message To Voters?

So, what kind of message do you suppose the Marion County Elections department was trying to send with this sign? I mean, it certainly would have made an interesting--albeit unusual--slogan for Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen Alley.

Clearly this sign was meant to persuade motorists at this drive-through ballot drop site in downtown Salem to avoid, well, blocking the alley. But with turnout expected to be less than 40%, planning for such gridlock-inducing traffic conditions may have been a tad optimistic.

Still haven't voted? You have until 8 p.m. and you can find your nearest ballot drop-off location here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Nattering Nabobs Of Nashville

Here's an interesting tale out of Nashville of a clash between state lawmakers and a journalist. Last week, during a floor session of the Tennessee House of Representatives, House Speaker Kent Williams collapsed on the dais. As aides rushed to his side, an Associated Press reporter tried to photograph the events from his spot in the press box. Some lawmakers objected, and one later introduced a measure to have the reporter, Erik Schelzig, effectively ban himself from the House floor. Now, the House Speaker--fully recovered and back in action--tells the Tennessee Report that he doesn't think Schelzig deserves to be punished.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Poll Shows Big Leads For Kitzhaber, Dudley

A new poll shows big leads in the Oregon gubernatorial primary for Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley. The OPB/Fox 12/Portland Tribune poll was conducted this past Saturday, Sunday and Monday by Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall of 300 likely voters from each party. For Democrats, Kitzhaber was the choice over Bradbury by a 49% to 19% margin, with 30% undecided. (UPDATE: Note that when you factor in the preferences of undecided voters who are "leaning" toward a particular candidate, the numbers change slightly but not significantly.)

On the Republican side, things are a little tighter. Chris Dudley outpolled Allen Alley by 31% to 19%. John Lim got 7% and Bill Sizemore 5%.Among Republican respondents, 33% said they didn't know who they'd vote for.

I'll update this post in the morning with links to coverage of the poll.

Here are some links:
OPB: Poll Points To Kitzhaber, Dudley Race Next Fall
Portland Tribune: It looks like ex-Blazer vs. ex-governor for the fall
Fox 12: Kitzhaber, Dudley Hold Leads Ahead Of Primary

Poll Shows Close Race Between Wheeler, Metsger

The race between Ted Wheeler and Rick Metsger for the Democratic nomination for Treasurer could end up being a close one. A new OPB/Fox 12/Portland Tribune poll by Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall shows a large pool of undecided voters. The poll of 300 likely-to-vote Democrats was conducted this past Saturday, Sunday and Monday. It shows that Wheeler has a 25% to 21% edge over Metsger. That's within the poll's margin of error. Furthermore, 54% of respondents said they didn't know who they'd vote for.

While Wheeler is technically the incumbent in the race, he was appointed to the office just two months ago following the death of Ben Westlund. And while Wheeler has certainly garnered his share of headlines since taking office, the poll shows that many Democrats probably haven't given the race much thought. The winner of the Wheeler/Metsger match-up will face Republican Chris Telfer in the general election.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sometimes You Just Can't Catch A Break

Numerous times during this primary season, I've heard people refer to Bill Bradbury as Bill Bradley. Bill Bradbury, of course, is the former Oregon Secretary of State now seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. Bill Bradley is a former NBA basketball player who served three terms as a Democratic U-S Senator from New Jersey. He also mounted a bid for president in 2000.

Accidentally referring to Bill Bradbury as Bill Bradley is an easy slip of the tongue to make. But it surely adds insult to injury when it comes during a newspaper endorsement of Bradbury's opponent. In its Sunday edition, the Salem Statesman-Journal referred to Bradbury as "Bradley" twice in its editorial page endorsement of John Kitzhaber. (Both slip-ups come near the end of the write-up.) Of course, in the spirit of the old saying about sinless people casting stones, I'll admit to making the Bradbury-Bradley mistake at least once over the past few months. Maybe Bill Bradbury should hire Bill Bradley to make a campaign commercial for him?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dudley's Ad Takes Aim At Kitzhaber

It's pretty clear that Chris Dudley not only expects to win the GOP primary for governor, but that he'll face John Kitzhaber in the general election. How else do you explain his latest ad?  It opens with a thinly veiled shot at Kitzhaber's infamous comment at the end of his second term that he thought Oregon was "ungovernable." Near the end, we're told that Dudley is a "break from the past" -- another clear reference to Kitzhaber. No mention of any of Dudley's eight opponents in the May 18 primary.

This isn't the first indication that Dudley figures he has the Republican nomination sewn up. During a debate on the Oregon Public Broadcasting program "Think Out Loud" earlier this week, Dudley responded to a question about whether he had a specific number in mind when he called for a lower capital gains tax. He said there was "no reason to come out with a specific (number) right now." He said he's in discussions with people "in Salem" and that he'll "come out with a dollar (amount)" at some point in the future.

Even if Dudley released a specific capital gains proposal today, it would come too late for the more than 150,000 Oregonians who have already voted. Then again, Dudley's not the only candidate for governor to imply recently that he's expecting to move on to the general election.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Two More Governor's Race Ads

Think of the children! John Kitzhaber is, after all. At least, that's the message he's trying to convey in his newest ad. Unlike Kitzhaber's first ad, this one mentions the Democrat by name.

Republican Allen Alley, meanwhile, has released a new TV ad that depicts him as the jobs guy. The ad features  snapshots of Alley talking with people in a variety of workplace settings. Alley and his GOP rivals Chris Dudley, John Lim, and Bill Sizemore will debate in front of a live audience tonight for the public radio program Think Out Loud in Portland.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Vote By Mail Gets Its Day In DC

As primary ballots begin to trickle in, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is making the case for vote-by-mail at a hearing tomorrow before the U-S Senate's Committee on Rules and Administration. Also scheduled to testify is U-S Senator Ron Wyden. You can watch a live webcast here, but keep in mind you'll have to get up early. Testimony is scheduled to start at 7 a.m. PDT. 

UPDATE:  The hearing has been archived and can be viewed here.

Tiernan Continues Offensive

Oregon Republican Party Chair Bob Tiernan is continuing his public relations offensive to smooth over the fallout about how a loan to the party from a decorated World War Two veteran was handled. Don Malarkey of Salem loaned $20,000 in 2008 to the Oregon GOP to help the party get through a rough patch. Tiernan has come under fire, accused of dragging his feet to repay Malarkey. The chief criticism came in the form of a letter from Vice Chair Russ Walker. Walker declined to comment on the record when I spoke with him today, except to say that there will be "far more information forthcoming."

Tiernan, however, is stepping up his public relations offensive. In a letter today from Tiernan to members of the Oregon Republican Party Executive and Central Committees, Tiernan writes: "As of this morning, we finalized a new written agreement with Mr. Malarkey for the loan repayment." He writes that the party has re-paid Malarkey half of the loan, plus an additional $3700 in interest. Malarkey, writes Tiernan, has agreed on a July 30th deadline for the remaining $10,000. Tiernan also keeps up his criticism of Walker in today's letter, saying he was either "not paying attention" or "was very confused" during an April meeting when Tiernan says the loan was discussed.

And in what could be a sign of Tiernan's attempts to keep his position as Oregon GOP chair, or simply as an attempt to salve anxiety among the ranks, Tiernan tells me he and other GOP officials have contacted 30 of the state's 36 county Republican chairs in the past 24 hours to detail their version of events.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Those Were The Days

Bob Shiprack served more than a decade in the Oregon House from the early 80's to the mid 90's. The Clackamas County Democrat spoke today at the capitol as part of a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of some landmark workers' comp legislation. The package of bills became known as the "Mahonia Hall reforms" because they were hashed out over a series of meetings in the basement of the governor's mansion. Shiprack is now the executive director of the Oregon Building and Construction Trades Council. But you have to wonder if he misses being a lawmaker: