News Briefs: Recession, PERS Hit City Budget | Vilsack vs. WELC | Save the Metolius | Food Stamp Benefits Up | Postal Union Supports Single-Payer | Activist Alert | Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule | War Dead |
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
I Ink Therefore I Am
Eugene welcomes Oregon’s first tattoo convention
Recession, PERS Hit City Budget
The city of Eugene is expecting a recession hit of up to $9 million, mostly in increased pension costs, according to a staff memo to the City Council.
The city may have to pay up to $6 million to make up for investment losses for the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS), according to a staff memo last month to the City Council. PERS accounts lost 27 to 43 percent of their value in the stock market collapse.
Unlike 401(k)’s where retirees take the hit, PERS requires taxpayers to make up for the stock decline for many of its government retirement accounts. The PERS system limits the maximum increase in employer payments to 6 percent a year and would delay the increase until July 2011, according to the finance department memo.
Of course if the stock market recovers this year, the increase could be erased. If it goes down more, it could get worse. If the recession continues, the $9 million yearly hit could go on for years. The city now pays about 11 percent of payroll in PERS costs, a 6 percent increase would boost that figure to a 17 percent bite.
Eugene’s not alone in grappling with a big jump in PERS costs. The Oregonian reported that the state fund’s high risk portfolio is down nearly a third and faces an $18 billion deficit in covering pensions for the state’s 320,000 public employees.
In addition to PERS, Eugene staff expects that the recession could reduce expected tax collections by about $3 million a year, according to the memo. About $2 million of that could come from roughly halving the rate of assessed value growth in the city due to less construction and more factory closings.
The city expects another hit of up to roughly $1 million from a drop in tax payments because more people and businesses cannot afford to pay their taxes on time.
But home owners hoping their taxes will decrease due to the recession’s impact on home values will be disappointed. Property tax limitation measures passed by voters largely separated a home’s real market value from its assessed value. — Alan Pittman
Vilsack vs. WELC
Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center’s (WELC) recent legal victory that ended a Bush administration policy allowing the application of pesticides to waterways without a permit is facing opposition from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and senators on the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
Charlie Tebbutt of WELC, lead counsel on the case for a coalition of environmental groups, says that Vilsack “misinterprets the ruling by saying it now applies to all farmers and any pesticide runoff.” The ruling, according to Tebbutt in a seven-page letter to the EPA and the Department of Justice, applies to pesticides sprayed on waterways, not pesticide runoff from farmlands or forests and into waterways.
Vilsack argues in a March 6 letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that pesticides applied in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) were not exempt from the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act “will compromise American farmers’ and USDA agencies’ abilities to respond efficiently and efficiently to emergency threats.”
Vilsack argues that the permit process would be too long and requires “farmers to navigate a permitting system that is ill-suited to the demands of agricultural production.” Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Tom Harkin of the Senate Agriculture Committee sent a letter to the EPA as well, backing up Vilsack’s claims.
According to Vilsack’s letter, these emergency threats include pest infestations on both farmland and National Forests. These infestations, he argues, could lead to crop loss and increase the risk and severity of wildfires.
Tebbutt and WELC in their own letter point out that the confusion, “whether genuine or feigned, we cannot say,” over whether the ruling applies to all pesticides that wind up in waterways is unwarranted. The ruling, they write, does not affect pesticides sprayed on farmland that make their way into waterways, and the “USDA’s purported concerns about effects on USDA agencies are also exaggerated.” Tebbutt says the permit process is not “as time consuming and onerous as they might think.” He says, “the government has been looking at this issue for a lot of years.”
The agriculture industry has until Thursday, April 9, to file paperwork to ask for a re-hearing on the case. Tebbutt says, of the opposition, “Basically they’re saying, ‘You screwed up; do it again,’” to the Republican-dominated 6th Circuit Court, which ruled unanimously in favor of requiring a permit before spraying pesticides on waterways. Tebbutt says because it was a unanimous decision, the chance of the court deciding on a re-hearing “are not very high.” The EPA has decided not to seek a re-hearing, but is seeking a two-year stay of the mandate, according to Tebbutt who says, ‘we will, of course, be opposing that. — Camilla Mortensen
Save the Metolius
House Bill 3100, also known as the Metolius Protection Act of 2009, is on the agenda of the Land Use Committee of the Oregon House of Representatives at a public hearing that began April 7 and is expected to continue at 3 pm Thursday, April 9, at Hearing Room E at the State Capitol building in Salem.
The act stems from a recent vote by the Oregon Land Conservation and Develop-ment Commission that designated the Metolius River area as an Area of Critical State Concern. The LCDC called it “a unique area with outstanding values that are important to all Oregonians,” “Those values are threatened by current and future plans for large-scale development in and around the basin.”
Two destination resorts are proposed for the Metolius Basin. The largest, on property atop Green Ridge owned by the Ponderosa Land & Cattle Company, would be more than five times the size of Black Butte Ranch and be the largest resort in Oregon, according to the nonprofit Friends of the Metolius, based in The Sisters area.
Community members are encouraged to weigh in with opinions on the bill during the hearing. Each speaker will be given two minutes to address the committee, and each speaker should submit 25 copies of any written material at the time of testimony.
Any questions or comments about the bill, the hearing or the procedure surrounding speaking at the hearing can be directed to the Office of the Land Use Committee at (503) 986-1734. The website www.metoliusfriends.org includes links for emailing comments to public officials involved in the decision-making. — Topher Vollmer
Food Stamp Benefits Up
Benefits went up for food stamp households statewide in Oregon beginning April 1; however, due to prohibitive mailing costs, the state did not send out written notices to client households.
Most households will see an average increase of $20-$24 per person each month, with the extra benefits continuing some time into the future, according to Nancy J. Weed, MSW, the state’s food stamp outreach coordinator with the Oregon Hunger Task Force.
Postal Union Supports Single-Payer
Oregon members of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) have joined a nationwide call for making single-payer health insurance a legislative priority for 2009.
The union’s website (www.apwu.org) says, “The cost associated with 47 million uninsured Americans ripples throughout the economy, and health care has become the most significant point of contention in virtually every labor contract negotiation in recent history.”
The union favors a single-payer system in which all health care revenues would go into a single public fund that would pay for all medical services. “Systems like this have been adopted by all other industrialized nations,” says the union. One proposal supported by the union is Rep. John Conyers’ HR 676, legislation that would provide Medicare-like benefits to all citizens. See www.hr676.org for more info.
APWU is the world’s largest postal union, representing more than 330,000 U.S. Postal Service employees and retirees and nearly 2,000 private-sector mail workers.
• “The Secret Life of Rivers” is the topic of a free Science Pub talk by Kim Carson and Jeremy Monroe from 7 to 9 pm Thursday, April 9, at Cozmic Pizza, 8th and Charnelton. Carson is regional education coordinator for the Healthy Waters Institute at The Freshwater Trust; Monroe is director of Freshwaters Illustrated and writer, director, and producer of the film River Webs. See www.omsi.edu/sciencepub for more information on Eugene, Corvallis and Portland Science Pub events.
• Wednesday, April 15, is a day of protest for activists concerned about the 51 percent of federal income taxes that go to fund past and current military spending. “Military taxes,” says activist Peg Morton, “ruin our economy while the wars themselves kill people and destroy the Earth.” Members of CALC, Eugene PeaceWorks and WAND will be gathering from 1 to 4 pm Wednesday at the Eugene downtown post office at 5th and Willamette to conduct a “Penny Poll.” Passersby can vote with pennies put in jars to indicate their preferences on how tax money should be spent. From 4 to 4:30 pm will be a “War Tax Walk” from the post office to the old Federal Building at 7th and Pearl. From 4:30 to 5:30 pm will be an expanded vigil and rally.
Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule
• ODOT: District 5 (Lane) will begin spraying herbicides April 13 on state highway shoulders, ramps and rest stops with an assortment of 17 herbicides and four surfactants. Call Don Angermayer at 744-8080 and/or call (888) 996-8080.
• Near Low Pass: Western Helicopter, (503) 538-9469, will aerially spray 170 acres near Vik and Hall roads for Plum Creek Timber (541-336-3819) starting April 14th ((#50206 and 50201).
• Union Pacific is spraying along its tracks within the Eugene city limits this week, April 6-8, weather permitting. Payload and Landmark herbicides will be used, and possibly Glyphosate.
• Chemically sensitive? If ODOT herbicide or Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Foray 48B insecticide spraying will disparately harm you because of a disability, contact Forestland Dwellers.
Compiled by Jan Wroncy, Forestland Dwellers: 342-8332, forestlanddwellers.org
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003(last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,266 U.S. troops killed* (4,261)
• 31,153 U.S. troops injured* (31,135)
• 177 U.S. military suicides* (176)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 99,754 to 1.2 million civilians killed*** (99,724)
• $611.2 billion cost of war ($609.2 billion)
• $173.8 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($173.2 million)
* through April 6, 2009; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** sources: icasualties.org, defenselink.mil
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.1 million (Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)
• A persistent rumor keeps putting John Kitzhaber back into electoral politics to seek a third term in the governor’s office to give him another go at mending health care in Oregon. Wishful thinking, perhaps, because most Democrats would like a clear leader in a crazy crowded primary. Bill Bradbury and Steve Novick already are serious candidates. Ben Westlund, Kate Brown, Betsy Johnson and Brad Avakian are on the list. Pete DeFazio hasn’t said “no.” What about one of the rising young Turks — Jefferson Smith, for instance? And as one wry wag put it, could be that every Democrat in the Oregon Senate is considering this contest. Why not? The governorship of Oregon is a pretty good job.
• What’s happening out at the shut-down Hynix plant these days? Hynix corporate execs ignore our questions about whether toxic chemicals are still stored at the Eugene plant, but we got a call last week from Robert Hill, a former longtime Hyundai/Hynix employee; he’s heard through his former co-workers that the chemical tanks and lines have been drained and cleaned. He’s irritated by references in EW and elsewhere about Hynix pollution and toxics. Hill tells us the Hynix plant was “pretty darn clean for a plant that size” and “they did a remarkable job compared to other plants” in dealing with hazardous materials. “It was a state-of-the-art facility doing things the right way,” he says.
Hill worked at the plant for 11 years and says he was lead mechanical technician, overseeing “a team of very responsible guys” maintaining and keeping a close eye on safety and pollution control equipment. He says all chemical products, even cans of WD-40, were carefully inventoried and tracked. He has several horror stories about his experiences at semiconductor plants in other states before he moved to Eugene.
We’re pleased to hear a view of how responsibly the Hynix factory was run, but we’re still left knowing that the plant, when it was operating, emitted tons of hydrogen fluoride and other hazardous pollutants every year, negatively affecting our region’s air and water quality. Was it all worth it? Hill thinks so. We have our doubts, both in terms of the economy and the environment.
The lingering resentment against Hynix is partly due to the backroom deals which allowed the factory to be built in the mid-1990s, with minimal public input on destroying wetlands, the health effects of pollution, excessive tax breaks or the impacts of the factory’s massive power and water usage. So far we’re seeing a more open public process with Seneca’s proposal to build a biomass-fired generator.
• The Lane Bus Project’s Brewhaha at Cozmic Pizza packed the room with Eugeneans young and old April 7 for an evening of beer, pizza and environmental debate. The “Clash of the Climate Titans” was really more of a titan sparring match moderated by WELC’s Dan Galpern, with Congressman Peter DeFazio and former Oregon secretary of state Bill Bradbury agreeing on the issue of climate change, but disagreeing on how to deal with it. Bradbury in a button-down shirt and tie was in the pro-cap and trade corner, and DeFazio, all mavericky in jeans and fleece, drinking a beer, denounced cap and trade as putting Wall Street in control of climate change. The debate ended with questions from the audience, including an inquiry as to which of the climate titans planned to run for governor. Bradbury announced that he was “seriously considering” a run for governor in 2010. For more on the Brewhaha, go to blogs.eugeneweekly.com