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Capital Chatter: Oregon still hoping for federal money

Oregon wants reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools Program in Congress' end-of-year legislation.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are among 35 senators who have urged the Senate to re-authorize the Secure Rural Schools Program in Congress' end-of-year legislation. Wyden was a lead champion of the program, and Oregon was a main beneficiary. The program sent federal money to counties in recognition of their declining revenue from federal timber harvests.

The 35 senators sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Since Congress passed Secure Rural Schools in 2000, the letter said, "SRS has been a critical lifeline for over 775 counties in over 40 states across the country by helping fund more than 4,400 schools, road maintenance, law enforcement, and search and rescue operations. However, SRS authorization lapsed last year and rural counties are now back to simply receiving the timber revenue-sharing receipts. These receipts are up to 80 percent less than what forest counties received under SRS.

"Without the certainty of SRS payments, schools, libraries, and jails are closing. Schools that remain open will see a reduction of teachers. Roads go unpaved and become unsafe. Mental and physical health services are scaled back or even ended. Fewer and fewer law enforcement officers are forced to patrol larger and larger areas."

Among those signing the letter were Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a favorite of President Donald Trump, and the apparently departing Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota.

• Helping our southern neighbor: California firefighters helped attack Oregon's devastating wildfires this summer. And for the second time this year, Oregon is returning that help. As of Thursday, about 270 Oregon firefighters and 75 pieces of firefighting apparatus had been dispatched to fires near Ventura and Sylmar, California, according to the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal.

It's a credit to Oregon fire departments, and the training that firefighters get at the Oregon Public Safety Academy and other programs, that units from different agencies — urban and rural — can work together, forming 15 strike teams from Oregon.

• We now love Californians: In the previous century, Oregonians were obsessed with fear that Californians and California ideas would infiltrate our state. Remember the old bumper sticker, "Don't Californicate Oregon"?

Those sentiments have eased, maybe because California's tax revolt successfully penetrated Oregon politics and maybe because so many Californians have moved north in search of a better life for their children or a less-expensive life in retirement. These transplants help fuel the state's economy, especially in Southern Oregon and along the southwest Oregon coast, as state economists Mark McMullen and Josh Lehner recently reported to the Legislature.

Oregon colleges also were financially attractive to California students, especially during the Great Recession. With the recession over and the economic equations having changed, a lack of out-of-state students — especially from California — is hurting some private and public universities in Oregon.

Sales tax proponents have long claimed that the tax would be a way to capture revenue from visiting Californians and other tourists. However, an analysis done by the Legislative Revenue Office during sales-tax fervor years ago found that the amount paid by visitors would only equal the cost of administering the tax, thereby creating no net gain from tourists' sales tax.

Among the sales tax proposals in the early 1980s was a bipartisan one from then-Reps. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Tony Van Vliet, R-Corvallis. Courtney is now Oregon Senate president and espouses the prevailing sentiment that Oregonians are unlikely to approve a general sales tax.

• 'Beer is mostly water': Longtime Northwesterners may remember the old Olympia Beer commercials touting, "It's the water. And a lot more." For generations, the beer was brewed in Tumwater, Washington, from artesian well water.

Now the Central Oregon city of Madras is touting its local water in hopes of recruiting a craft brewery or brewpub to its urban renewal district. A promotional website – brewitmadras.com lists potential incentives from the city and describes the "Opportunity to Be the First Brewery in Madras — the Last Best Place in Oregon without a Brewery (Yet!)."

The city's community development director, Nick Snead, said nearby Opal Springs produces "ultra-pure water," which is filtered naturally through thick layers of volcanic basalt.

"Beer is mostly water, and we have the best water around," he said.

In September, economist Lehner reported that Oregon craft beer sales were slowing as the industry was maturing: "A maturing craft beer market has many implications, including the importance of sound business practices. However a handful of high profile closure announcements are not likely indicative of big industry problems. The pace of brewery closures remains considerably low and is likely to rise in the coming years even if the industry has no significant problems."

• An excellent hire by ODVA: The Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs hired Sheronne Blasi from the Oregon Secretary of State's Audits Division, where she was a performance audits manager.

Blasi, who served in the Navy for 14 years, now is ODVA's assistant director of statewide veterans services. Her military, state audits and community background make her a superb hire.

Along with her financial and managerial experience at the state, Blasi served on the Salem City Council and the Salem Planning Commission, was elected this year to the Salem-Keizer School Board and co-founded a nonprofit that provides birthday parties for children in homeless shelters.

• Another legislator ready to leave: A surprisingly high number of Oregon legislators have resigned this year or have announced they would not seek re-election. Among the latter is Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, who joined the Legislature in September 2003.

In his retirement statement, Whisnant said his legislative record reflects "my commitment to common sense and to taking whatever actions are necessary to improve the quality of life for all Oregonians." That is an accurate statement.

Many legislators employ spouses or other family members as aides, which particularly makes sense for legislators who come from outside the Willamette Valley. Otherwise, they would rarely see their family during legislative sessions. Whisnant's wife, Josie, is his legislative aide. They work as a team to serve House District 53.

Whisnant is retiring in part to spend more time with his son, daughter-in-law and grandchild on the East Coast. That is understandable.

• Wanting to be governor: Whisnant's legislative neighbor, fellow Republican Knute Buehler in House District 54, is running for governor instead of re-election. He has just launched an ad attacking Democratic Gov. Kate Brown for wasteful spending at the Oregon Health Authority and, while she was secretary of state, at Cover Oregon.

A recent fundraising email from his campaign said, "If Gov. Kate Brown gets too far ahead in fundraising, she will bury Knute in false, negative ads to distract from her record of failure and incompetence."

• Last days for Ferrioli and Devlin: State Sens. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, are resigning their legislative seats as of Dec. 31. Gov. Kate Brown appointed them to serve as Oregon's members of the Northwest Power and Planning Council, effective Jan. 16, 2018.

• No thanks for this idea: The U.S. Surgeon General and Oregon Health Authority thought they had a nifty idea: Get families to talk about their health history while enjoying their holiday meal.

"Common diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as rare diseases like hemophilia and cystic fibrosis, tend to run in families, and Thanksgiving is a good time to raise the subject when everyone — including many people you don't see but once a year — is in the room," said an OHA press release.

Family health is an important conversation, but timing is everything. I have all sorts of mental images of awkward conversations running through my head: "Please pass the green bean casserole. Oh, that reminds me, Uncle Fussbudget, tell us about your … ."

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Hughesisms.com/Facebook, YouTube.com/c/DickHughes or @DickHughes on Twitter.

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