Where to invest to get the biggest bang for your buck in hopes for a better Oregon
Continuing the introductions – in the words of each organization highlighted – of the groups striking at the root of evil instead of wearing themselves out hacking at the branches. This is the second installment of three presenting an even dozen worthy groups that deserve a huge new bloom of support in the wake of last month’s electoral miscarriage.
The first four organizations were Fairvote, Tax Fairness Oregon, Oregon Center for Public Policy, and the Rural Organizing Project.
This week: Partnership for Safety and Justice, Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Compassion and Choices, and Planned Parenthood in Oregon, which includes two operating affiliates (Columbia Willamette Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon) as well as the political outreach arm, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon),
What Needs to Change in Oregon’s Criminal Justice System
We are criminal justice activists joined in a concerted effort to increase the effectiveness of Oregon's response to violent interpersonal crime. Our members include victims' survivors, attorneys, religious leaders, teachers and other concerned citizens.
Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette is an affiliate of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). While Planned Parenthood as a national movement began in 1916, PPCW was founded in 1963 as Planned Parenthood Association of Portland. The Ethical Study Society, a branch of the American Humanists, called the first meeting to organize a Planned Parenthood affiliate in November of 1962. A steering committee was formed, and a Board of Directors elected in May of 1963. Jesalee Fosterling was the first President of the Board.
Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon
Where to invest to get the biggest bang for your buck in hopes for a better Oregon
The lab-engineered triumph of the demagogic presidential candidate – buoyed by racist appeals, racist voter suppression laws, unapologetically racist supporters, and a fundamentally racist electoral college scheme that has been (and can no longer be) justified by the founders as a means to prevent election of a demagogue – throws into doubt the future of America. Or even whether it’s worth thinking in terms of a future at all, since there really is no alternative to having one.
No, rather than whether we have a future, the question becomes only how brutal the service and how awful the food will be in our “banquet of consequences” and whether the nation formerly known as America shatters into pieces, lashes out violently against our fate, or simply shuffles out of front and center position on the world stage.
The fact of the lead-brained loser – by millions of votes – being transmogrified by the Electoral College alchemy into the golden “winner” of the White House derby only serves to show that Marx was right when he said that history does indeed repeat itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.
First came the tragic selection of George W. Bush --- later shown to have lost Florida -- by the Supreme Court , the great wounding of America that propelled the even greater tragedies of 9/11 and the foolish swan-dives into the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now comes the farce, the election of a crass Clown Prince of the Great Void where normal people have empathy and ethics, two qualities entirely absent from the nation’s new Sociopathic Narcissist in Chief.
There are myriad causes for our plight, far too many to count or enumerate here. None of which were individually sufficient, and not all of which were necessary to produce this absurd result: a president-elect created from a content-free TV huckster so devoid of presidential qualities that even the genius of Paddy Chayefsky could not foresee that it would come to this. Recall that, unlike our current pending affliction, Chayefsky made Howard Beale, his crazed demagogue in “Network,” a jaded TV news broadcaster driven mad by the ratings chase and the idea that the only thing that mattered was “winning.” The stunning reversal – that America’s last reel can start with the demagogic madman instead of a serious figure – just goes to show that there is nothing in the country that hasn’t been corrupted and degraded by six decades of television dominance.
Lily Tomlin said it best: “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”
But cynicism is armor that only protects against the threat of surprise, such as astonishment at the worship of cupidity and evil by the new administration. And cynicism is such heavy armor that the wearer is eventually overcome by the burden, which ultimately causes the cynic to quit the struggle, letting the racists and know-nothings proceed along their insane path.
So while cynicism is useful in small doses, it is important not to rely on that as the sole antidote to the looming problem. Instead of cynicism, the strongest antidote to the incoming kakistocracy the work of repair and restoration, banding together with others who are working on the deep structural problems that caused the festering orange-hued boil to break the surface.
But it’s not necessarily easy to know where to devote your energy and resources. For, as Thoreau noted, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Thus, this issue of OregonPEN, published a few days before the recently named “Giving Tuesday,” is the first installment of three that will use 12 especially worthy organizations’ own words to introduce OregonPEN readers to those worthy "Best Investment" groups, groups that deserve a huge new bloom of support in the wake of the national electoral miscarriage.
The first four organizations that deserve all the support you can offer are Fairvote, Tax Fairness Oregon, Oregon Center for Public Policy, and the Rural Organizing Project.
Our goal is to promote a tax code that is fair, progressive, serves the common good, and is fully enforced.
Another speaker presentation to the Legislature's Joint Interim Committee on Highway Preservation and Modernization. Since Oregon doesn't have it's own Pentagon, the Highway Department is where the big pork grabs occur, as powerful legislators demand highway spending in their districts as their price for cooperation on other state priorities.
One of the most important things a citizen can understand is why, after decades of cheering about "growth," Oregon is in dire financial straits. And the answer is that we have become addicted to funds that are restricted to use for system expansion, and not allowed to be used for system maintenance and repair. So the funds that are easiest to get cannot be used for the most important needs, but instead are only allowed to be used to increase the total burden of highways and roadways in need of maintenance and repair -- even as revenue for upkeep varies wildly with Oregon's volatile tax revenues, which are almost wholly dependent on income tax revenues, and have no consumption component.
As with all Ponzi schemes, the Oregon Department of Transportation faces a rude crackup as the supply of new suckers willing to keep pouring money into new roadway miles is about tapped out. The first speaker for the 22 September meeting of the "Joint Interim Committee on Transportation and Modernization" outlined the fear gripping ODOT about the end of the gravy train:
Mr. Travis Brouwer: [17:11] Madam Chair, members of the committee, I'm Travis Brouwer, the assistant director for ODOT. I have to apologize at the beginning for this nagging cold and cough I've got. It's actually going to be good for you because it will encourage me to say less. Good for me because if you ask any questions I can't answer, I'll just engage in a coughing fit.
[18:02] The first area of transportation funding I'd like to talk about is the federal government's provision of funds to the State of Oregon. Each year, Oregon receives about $600 million in federal formula funds from the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, as well as some additional discretionary grants on top of that.
[18:23] Most of that money from the formula grants comes from the federal gas tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon. It has been 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. That's put into the Highway Trust Fund, and then flows down to the states and local governments. A lot of money though, in addition to gas tax, is now being placed in the Highway Trust Fund from the general fund because that has not been increased in recent years.
[20:01] One of the largest is the Surface Transportation Program, which provides, by federal formula, a block of grants to the large urban areas in Oregon. Salem‑Keizer, Eugene‑Springfield, and the Portland Metro region. Then through an agreement between ODOT cities and counties, provides money to all 36 counties, as well as all the cities that are with a population of 5,000 or more.
[20:22] There's also an enhanced discretionary program that is including our Statewide Transportation Improvement Program or STIP. There's a local bridge program that provides funding for local bridge repairs. We, in recent years, have started sharing more safety money with local governments because a significant portion of the fatalities and serious injuries are on local roads.
[22:39] Let me shift now to the State Highway Fund. There's a pretty important distinction in recent years between how we use our federal funds versus how we use our State Highway Funds. Federal funds have to be used for capital expenditures.
[22:52] We take all those federal funds, we put it into our Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, and they're used for projects.
[23:40] One of the key features of the State Highway Fund is that it is dedicated by the Oregon Constitution, Article 9 Section 3. Any revenue from motor fuels, as well as any revenue from the ownership, operation or use of motor vehicles, is automatically placed into the State Highway Fund, and can only be used for highway projects and uses, which includes bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure that is located within the highway right of way.
[24:11] The State Highway Fund, in Oregon we have a very well‑balanced revenue portfolio. We have three major sources of funds. The first and largest is the motor fuel tax, which is just a little under half, 44 percent in the last fiscal year, about $530 million a year in total. Then we also have DMV fees, which would largely be title, registration, and driver licenses that account for about $336 million or 28 percent.
[24:54] As a result, when those amounts that passenger vehicles are increased, those amounts that the trucking industry pay are adjusted upward to account for the disproportionate wear and tear the large trucks have on the transportation system. Again, a very well‑balanced revenue portfolio with a variety of sources.
[26:14] In terms of how that money is distributed among counties and cities, as I said, 30 percent of the State Highway Fund and particularly 30 percent of any new revenue that is raised typically goes to counties.
[27:57] This is created by the legislation in 2005 and since then has provided $427 million in Lottery Backed Bonds. That fund is not highway infrastructure. Transit, rail, marine infrastructure, aviation, as well as bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, was added back in 2013. That is focused on integrating the modes, and improving the efficient flow of goods and people.
[28:40] For example, highways, bicycle and pedestrian are relatively easy to fund out of federal and state funds. There are more limited opportunities for rail ports and aviation. Particularly, we find transit operations and rail operations are where there's oftentimes a big hole in the funding that is available from these various sources.
[29:27] You're entitled to a refund on that gas tax you paid, but very few people fill out that paperwork. That money then flows into that Transportation Operations Fund, largely used for passenger rail, as well as for senior and disabled transit. Identification cards, again, that goes to senior and disabled transit. A small amount of cigarette tax, about $6.6 million [inaudible] , goes into senior and disabled transportation. There's also a little bit of general fund money.
Street utility fees are often used as an add‑on to utility bills the city send out to increase transportation funding. Some cities use a portion of the property tax for transportation. Multnomah County has a vehicle registration fee that's paying for a portion of the Sellwood Bridge.
[30:50] This is our famous mountain chart, which shows you the construction programs that ODOT has, including the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, as well as the OTIA, the Jobs and Transportation Act, the Recovery Act, and the ConnectOregon program.
[31:35] The first off is simply that a lot of these one‑time programs are coming to an end. We've completed the OTIA program. The Jobs and Transportation Act program is now largely behind us. We have a number of programs still out there. There's also a lot of uncertainty around federal funding in the long‑term, and I'll walk you through that as well.
[31:48] Our debt service obligations that have been issued as a result of many of the funding packages in recent years continue out for the next couple decades, so that will limit the funding we have in free cash for new projects. We also see that construction cost increases have really eroded the purchasing power of our revenue streams due to inflation.
[33:02] Since a number of our leading transportation officials have said it, including Congressman DeFazio, to a significant extent, there were budget gimmicks used to transfer the money in the Highway Trust Fund. In 2021, that cash runs out, and all of a sudden we're faced with a major hole of about a third.
[34:58] Another major factor is that the transportation fees and taxes are not, in any way, adjusted for inflation. With most taxes, as property taxes rise, as property values go up, income taxes increase, total collections increase as incomes go up, sales taxes with prices, etc., gas taxes, vehicle registration fees are set at a flat level, so over time they're eaten away by inflation.
[36:09] Everybody knows that household good prices go up. You can buy a lot less of bread, or coffee, or milk for the same amount of money in 2014 than you could in 1993, the last time the federal gas tax was raised. It's the same thing for our construction commodities, except worse.
[36:50] What that means is that for every mile of road we could build for a given amount in 1993, we can build half as much today, which is obviously a significant challenge for us. In the last couple of years, we've also had one whammy in terms of the inflation. Now we have the double whammy of fuel efficiency increasing.
[37:14] For years, fuel efficiency stayed about the same, but then in 2009, the federal government imposed new corporate average fuel economy standards that are increasing the fuel efficiency of the fleet significantly. In the last few years, since 2008, fuel efficiency of the entire Oregon fleet increased by about seven and a half percent. Last year alone, it was one and a half percent.
[38:35] Our economists calculated that in 1971, the average Oregonian, per capita, paid $52.70 into the state highway fund in 1971 dollars. In 2016, the average Oregonian, on a per capita basis, will pay $42.80. That's essentially close to a 20 percent tax cut in terms of what your bill to the state highway fund is over that period of time.
[39:17] What we have in Oregon though, is the lowest driver and motor vehicle fees of any state in the nation. When you buy a motor vehicle in Oregon, you pay for a title for $77, and registration is $43 a year, so 120 bucks for your first year of ownership.
The Age of Orwell has arrived, where promises to fight lobbyists and corruption are immediately revealed as plans to remove all controls on lobbyists and corruption implemented after the last crackup.
The new administration's oft-touted plans to "drain the swamp" signal only that ordinary Americans' basements and crawlspaces are soon to be filled with oceans of toxic financial sludge.
The Swamp on Steroids:
Real Americans in Washington and California sharply rebuke the radical Supreme Court corporatists who "conservatively" highjacked a case, laughed at "stare decisis," and went far beyond the case at hand to overturn a century-old ban on corporate spending in political campaigns -- The two states join Montana, and Colorado as states where voters have demanded reversal of Citizens United; Similar calls passed by Legislatures in 12 states, including Oregon and Illinois.
In a landslide, Washington State voters strongly backed a measure that, practically, does nothing but is symbolically powerful anyway. And since politics is the rational manipulation of irrational symbols, a loud and clear shout from an entire state about something is not a trivial outcome.
Especially when the issue is the takeover of American democracy by immortal corporations, a fantastic power-grab engineered and rammed through the US Supreme Court under Justice John Roberts, whose famously and entirely self-proclaimed "judicial modesty" was instantly revealed by the Citizens United ruling as the most outrageous and false facade since Tammy Faye Bakker's makeup.
Washington votes overwhelmingly voted to instruct their elected officials to reverse that notorious and odious ruling and to return to the prior arrangement, which held that corporations could not deploy their resources to purchase the election of public officials. The whole thrust of the Roberts Court has been to insulate corporate power from any pesky meddling by citizens, who, being mortal and having been foolish enough to not be born wealthy, cannot compete with the corporate barons in terms of getting influence in the halls of power across America, especially in the Auction on the Potomac known as Congress.
Indeed, the most damaging outcome of the "ED" -- electoral dysfunction -- that will place Trump in the White House is the near-certainty that he will pick more corporatist tools like Roberts to fill vacancies on the Court, and it means that -- just as the Civil War happened because the political solution to slavery was blocked by the Supreme Court -- America is now much more likely to see violence because the peaceful means of working out the problem of corporate domination and the attending political corruption will be blocked for the foreseeable future.
Here is the ballot summary Washington voters saw:
The Law as it Presently Exists
The actual text approved by the Washington voters:
Sec. 1. INTENT
Californians passed Proposition 59 along the same lines; here is the ballot summary and the Yes argument from the voter guide:
OFFICIAL TITLE AND SUMMARY PREPARED BY THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Joins Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California and Montana
One of the most encouraging results was to see the movement for compassionate choices at the end of life work inward from the coast zones, as now two High Plains states, Montana and Colorado, have joined the Pacific "blue" bloc (Washington, Oregon, and California) and Vermont (the Atlantic Oregon) in permitting physicians offer terminally ill patients the option of a fatal dose of drugs as an alternative to continued medical treatment or suffering.
Coloradans voted yes with a vengeance, with 13 out of every 20 Coloradans voting in favor.
Coloradans Overwhelmingly Vote in Favor of End-of-Life Options -- 65% Support
Modeled closely on Oregon's Measure 16, the Colorado bill is likely to have the same smooth implementation that Oregon has experienced. The ballot title summary makes clear how much the proponents looked to Oregon's experience.
Proposition 106 creates the "Colorado End-of-Life Options Act," which allows individuals with a terminal illness to request from their physician and self-administer medical aid-in-dying medication (medication). To be eligible to request medication, the individual must:
Maine does the same statewide, by equally strong majority
Let it be again that "As Maine goes, so goes the nation!"
Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV) -- Better, Faster, Cheaper than the way we vote now
One of the least prominent but most important things that happened on November 8 is that two very distant and very different places -- a small county in Oregon and Maine, a state that has suffered greatly from the inherent and unavoidable defects in our archaic, 18th Century "first-past-the-post" (vote for one only) way of voting -- chose to make improvements in the very fabric of democracy by adopting a better way of voting that will lead to better campaigns and, with luck, better, less polarized elections, without the fear of "spoilers" and concerns about multiple candidates "stealing" votes from other candidates.
Maine still has a ways to go to implement the change for statewide offices (because they lack the language of Oregon's constitution, which expressly permits ranked choice voting), but after repeated bouts of electing Governors with only minority support, Mainers -- who haven't had a Governor elected with majority support in 50 years -- are eager to get on with the necessary next steps.
This citizen-initiated legislation would establish a new method of voting and counting votes in elections for the offices of United States Senator, Representative to Congress, Governor, State Senator and State Representative, and in primary elections to determine the nominees for those offices.
In Oregon's Benton County, the Yes campaign, Better Ballot Benton, issued this press release in the wake of the strong win (54% Yes, 46% No):
Thank you! Ranked Choice Voting Passes in a Landslide
Maine Voters Adopt Ranked Choice Voting