Merkley’s perjury charge: much ado about nothing

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Jeff Merkley, Oregon’s junior senator and potential aspirant for the Democratic presidential nomination, got the media publicity he wanted when he asked the FBI on Friday to open a perjury investigation into Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

In a press release posted on his website, Merkley said he asked for the investigation “…after new documents show that Nielsen lied in sworn testimony to Congress about the administration’s family separation policy.”

To add to the allure of his charge, Merkley said he obtained the incriminating document from a whistleblower,

Following up on his press release, Merkley tweeted:

“I’m formally requesting that the @FBI investigate whether @SecNielsen committed perjury during her testimony under oath before @HouseJudiciary. The memo I released yesterday flat-out contradicts her statement that there was no child separation policy.”

But there’s one problem. The document, which Merkley said proved his case, proves no such thing.

The document, available here, is, in fact, quite clearly a draft of options, with multiple comments and suggested edits. Titled “Policy Options to Respond to Border Surge of Illegal Immigration,” it lays out options for dealing with 16 issues, including: Increase prosecution of family unit parents; Separate family units; Adjudication of cases in immigration court; and Interpretation of special immigrant juvenile visas.

As Roll Call, a newspaper and website that reports news of legislative and political maneuverings on Capitol Hill, has reported, the memo shows that “…officials from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security were exploring (emphasis added) family separation polices as a deterrent for illegal immigrants…”

In the same vein, the New York Times reported the document “…showed that Ms. Nielsen’s staff considered a range of options for dealing with the influx of families seeking asylum, including a policy that would ‘separate family units.’ “

A spokeswoman for the Homeland Security department also has denied Merkley’s charges. “What this predecisional, predeliberative memo — as well as previously leaked predecisional, predeliberative documents — shows is that the secretary was provided a menu of options to prevent the humanitarian crisis we predicted at that time and which has manifested itself today,” the spokeswoman, Katie Waldman, said to the New York Times in an email.

So Merkley ginned up a controversy out of thin air. But what the hell, he got a lot of media coverage. Isn’t that what it’s really all about?

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Gov. Kate Brown’s 2019 inaugural address (annotated to reflect reality)

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Gov. Kate  Brown delivering inaugural address, Jan. 14, 2019

Good afternoon everyone. (At least I can say that with a straight face.)

Thank you all so much for being here. (And, boy, am I glad to be here, instead of at home because I lost to that rich dude, Knute)

Senate President Peter Courtney, Speaker Tina Kotek, thank you. (Yea, we got a supermajority this time, so we can raise taxes like crazy. People don’t call me “Governor Gimmee” for nothing.)

To our Tribal Chairs and leaders, welcome. (Keep those campaign contributions coming and I’ll do what I can to help you. But, by the way, I see Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, operator of the Spirit Mountain Casino, donated only $55,000 to the Kate Brown Committee. You can do better. You folks are rolling in dough.)

To newly elected legislators, congratulations and welcome. (Sorry, but this doesn’t include you, Rep. Cheri Helt R-Bend, or any of your weenie Republican colleagues)

It’s an incredible honor to serve Oregon for four more years. (And, whew, now I don’t have to look for a job)

Today is a little bittersweet for me, as this ceremony marks my final four years as governor of (Oregon (That’s 1460 days, you sad sack Republicans). But, aside from how this feels for me (Am I looking humble enough?), this is an important moment for our state.

In many ways, Oregon is progressing (See how I snuck in “progressive”?) on ground that many of our neighbors wish they could tread. (Except, of course, for our gigantic unfunded PERS liabilities, our embarrassing high school graduation rate, homeless people camping and using drugs all over the place, an affordable housing crisis, unbearable traffic congestion in the Portland Metro Area, a broken state foster care system, and so on.)

Our unemployment rate is the lowest on record.

We have one of the fastest job growth rates in the country.

And in November, Oregonians defeated ballot measures that would have moved us backwards. Together, we used our vote to affirm Oregon values.

In many ways we stand alone. (What does that tell you?)

For years we have struggled to overcome the impacts of recession on our state revenue, to build up adequate funding for our education system, and stabilize access to health care.

For many families, the cost of housing, health care, child care, and higher education are all outpacing wage growth. (So forget about any cost-saving efforts or consideration of efficiencies. instead, we’re going to tax everybody and their brother to within an inch of their life, because that’s what we Democrats do, folks.)

And all of this is against the backdrop of a federal government that has never been in more disarray. (Like my dig at Trump?)

Now is the time to put our state on a better path forward.

The first step is to ensure that our democracy is strong. And fight every effort to undermine it.

Voting is our country’s greatest collective responsibility, and we must vigorously safeguard the sanctity of our elections. While our elections institutions are amongst the best in the nation, we have more work to do to ensure that every single voice is heard.

I will work for campaign finance reform, fight for paid postage on our ballots, and expand our automatic voter registration system. (Yeah, I know, I’ve promised campaign finance reform  before and nothing has changed. Ignore the fact that Democrats have held the governorship since 1992 and the House and Senate since 2013, so I suppose we could have successfully tackled this issue before now if we were really serious about it)

I’d welcome your help. (Particularly your hard-earned money)

While other states are rolling back voting rights, Oregon is leading the way.

Vote by mail and Oregon’s motor voter have made it so that we have one of the highest voter participation rates in the country.

But when it comes to campaign finance, we are still the wild wild west. This needs to end. (Please ignore the fact that, as Forbes has pointed out, I’ve embraced the highly unethical practice of soliciting campaign cash from state contractors and that OpentheBooks.com found 557 state vendors gave $2.6 million in political donations to me– as secretary of state and governor – since 2012, while reaping $4.4 billion in state payments.)

No one should be able to buy a megaphone so loud that it drowns out all the other voices. (Are ya listening, Phil? By the way, please pay no attention to the large contributions I received in 2018 from labor unions (SEIU PACS- $500,000; Oregon Education Association PAC – $200,000; AFSCME – $100,000; American Federation of Teachers – $100,000; United Food & Commercial Workers, AFL/CIO – $100,000), Michael Bloomberg’s gun control non-profit –  $500,000, the pro-choice political action committee Emily’s List – $750,000), and the Democratic Governor’s Association – $1,025,000)

Next, we are facing an affordability crisis in health care and housing that needs to be addressed immediately.

Health care is a fundamental right. (Isn’t everything?)

Because of the work we’ve done to expand the Oregon Health Plan, today 94 percent of adults have access. (Please ignore the fact that Oregon’s Medicaid spending has experienced explosive budget-busting growth, posing extreme fiscal challenges. You see, Obamacare called for states to expand Medicaid to low income adults and provided federal funds to cover 100 percent of the costs of the newly eligible people from 2014 through 2016. The federal matching rate was then set to decrease over the next four years to 90 percent in 2020. Oregon’s legislature even went so far as to extend Medicaid to children brought to the United States illegally. Coverage began at the start of this year)

And because of the work we did to pass Cover All Kids, every single one of our children has access. (Including, by the way, an estimated 14,000 children of undocumented residents. The cost of extending health care to these children during an 18 month-period that started on Jan. 1, 2018 was projected to total $36.1 million, according to the state Department of Administrative Services. Sure, all this could be medical malpractice at the expense of all you U.S. citizens, but that’s not my problem. Besides, it let me appeal to my liberal base).

Let’s work together to make sure every Oregonian has the health care they need. (No expense is too much, right?)

We can’t keep doing the same thing expecting a different result, which is why I’m going to ask you to try something new.

If you approve a $20 million bonding package early this session, we can speed up construction of 200 units of permanent housing for the chronically homeless.

We also need to help Oregonians who have homes but are struggling with the high cost of rent. When problems arise, they need technical assistance to stay in their homes and not end up on the streets. We can help landlords and tenants navigate this tight housing market.

Speaker Kotek and Senator Burdick have innovative proposals that will give renters some peace of mind. (Ok, you and I know their rent control idea will be counterproductive, but lots of leftists want this and they don’t know economics. I read somewhere that “next to bombing, rent control is the most effective technique so far known for destroying cities.” Please don’t challenge me with quotes like that. And don’t bring up that researchers, using new data tracking individuals’ migration in San Francisco, found that rent control “increased renters’ probabilities of staying at their addresses by nearly 20%.” That meant apartment turnover went down. People with changing circumstances who would normally seek out other housing stayed where they were. That reduced the availability of their apartments to prospective new tenants. The researchers also found that landlords subject to rent control reduced rental housing supply by 15%, actually causing city-wide rent increases.)

Oregon families are counting on us. (Or at least current renters. People looking for new rental properties, maybe not so much)

\During my entire time as Governor, I have focused on spending every taxpayer dollar wisely. (Oops. Is my nose growing longer? I hope you’ve forgotten about such things as: the waste and incompetence at the Oregon Health Authority; how the Oregon Office of Emergency Management misspent $3 million in federal grants, triggering an audit and leaving the agency in the red;  that Oregon’s government waste hotline has been a waste of money; that for the past 13 years, Oregon government ignored its own requirement that large state agencies should have internal auditors keeping track of spending and rooting out waste and inefficiency.)

I am focused on several important items this session. And I put them in my budget.

First, adding internal auditors (I know, it’s about time, after 13 years), who will ensure that every state agency is delivering the level of service that Oregonians expect while saving every penny they can along the way.

Second, eliminating backlogs and decreasing wait times in critical areas, like child-care licensing and food safety inspections.

Third, modernizing the way we deliver services and purchase goods. We can save taxpayer dollars if we streamline the way state government does business. Especially by implementing a new centralized procurement system.

While we tackle today’s pressing fiscal challenges (I know, I’m not really tackling PERS, but what the hell), we also must address the challenges of our future.

Today, we stand at a turning point, with an opportunity to put Oregon on a better path forward.

I look forward to signing our clean energy jobs bill this session. (And I’m really looking forward to the $700 million a year the program is going to generate. Oh boy, oh boy!)

Higher education also needs to be more affordable and more accessible to Oregon families. The good news is, our current strong economy gives us the best chance in a generation to address persistent, structural challenges in our education system. The time is now. If we wait, we’ll only fall further behind when the economy eventually falters. (So let’s pass big tax increases now, when the economy is good, that Oregonians will have to pay when the economy sours in 2020)

At one time, every Oregonian was proud of our education system. It was a promise that if you chose to put down roots in Oregon, your children would receive a world-class education and have the opportunity to achieve their dreams. But over the past couple of decades we have failed to deliver on that promise. (Sure, I know we Democrats have been in charge for most of that time, but I don’t want to remind you of that)

How our state provides for the needs of our children is a marker of who we are as a community. After years of underinvestment, it’s going to take more than just additional funding to bring our schools back to a level we can be proud of.  (I have to admit, though, that I’m not sure when that proud period was. The four-year cohort graduation rate was 66.4% in 2010, 66% in 2000, 71.65% in 1990, the year Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 5)  

We have failed our students of color and we have left rural Oregon behind. Now is the time to close that opportunity gap. (Ah ha, I’ve discovered rural oregon, which voted across the board for Knute Buehler)

Our education system is in desperate need of repair, reform, and reinvestment. It’s like an old house that hasn’t been maintained. The longer we wait, the more it will cost to fix it.

I will work with you, the business community, teachers, and parents to fund K-12 schools at a level that ensures our districts aren’t forced to make cuts. (But mostly I will work with the education unions and Nike. You see, in late November 2018, they got together to launch a coalition to push an expansive tax package through the legislature without any commitment to address problems with PERS. A lot of Oregonians who voted for me and other Democrats in November 2018 probably didn’t realize they were voting to raise their taxes big time. Too bad. A tsunami of taxes is about to wash over the state and wreak havoc with Oregonians’ budgets. if you’ve seen your pay go up because of Trump’s tax overhaul (which, by the way, Democrats in Congress want to roll back) or a pay raise, get ready to see your gains disappear down a tax rat hole. You gotta love it.)

My budget also includes resources to stabilize PERS rates for schools. This is in addition to the dedicated investments we began last year.

The unfunded liability in PERS is not going away. We must accelerate our work to stabilize PERS rates so that new dollars go directly into the classroom. (Sounds good, huh? But don’t expect any real progress on addressing PERS’ unfunded liability.)

We agree that we need to attract, train, and retain the best teachers in the country.

And we agree that we have to keep tuition affordable and open the doors to higher education. (Did I forget to mention that the share of state money in our state university budgets has been declining for years?)

My expectation is that these investments we’re making in education will improve outcomes for all of our kids. (If they don’t, I’ll be long gone and at least the education unions will be happy. That’s what’s really important after all the money they’ve contributed to my campaigns.)

Urban and rural, Democrat and Republican. We do what we’ve done time and again: put politics aside and serve the people of Oregon. (So long as the solutions are from the progressive grab bag.)

Today we have a choice. Are we willing to do the work to make the dream of a better Oregon come true?

We are.

The time is now. Our future is in front of us. (Isn’t that a terrific meaningless cliché? Or maybe I should have said “the future is now” or “the future is coming”) We have to turn the corner and make it a reality. Together we can build a better Oregon.

Thank you.

Rent control: another bad idea out of Salem

“Next to bombing, rent control is the most effective technique so far known for destroying cities.”   Assar Lindbeck, Professor of Economics

 

Four Civilians Killed by US Airstrikes in Syria's Deir Ezzor

“We have to keep people in their homes.”

That’s what Felisa Haggis, political director of Service Employees International Union Local 49, told Willamette Week in an argument for rent control.

That’s exactly what will happen, more people will stay in their homes longer, if Oregon’s Legislature approves a proposal by the Democrat leadership that would set an annual rent increase cap of 7 percent plus inflation.

A Working Paper just released by the Stanford Graduate School of Business backs up this statement.

But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Using new data tracking individuals’ migration in San Francisco, researchers found that rent control “increased renters’ probabilities of staying at their addresses by nearly 20%.” That meant apartment turnover went down. People with changing circumstances who would normally seek out other housing stayed where they were. That reduced the availability of their apartments to prospective new tenants.

This was particularly the case with older households and households that had been living in their rent-controlled apartment for a number of years.

Howard Husock, vice president for research and publications at the Manhattan Institute, recently told Pew Trusts  that older people who live in rent-stabilized apartments have no incentive to leave.

“As a result, you’ve got a lot of young people in New York City doubled and tripled up,” Husock said. “And you’ve got affluent old people living in large [rent-stabilized] apartments with empty bedrooms where their kids once lived.”

“Longtime renters who have been living in rent-controlled units benefit greatly from rent control, while newcomers end up paying higher rents because the supply of available units is constricted,” the Working Paper said.

The Stanford researchers also found that landlords subject to rent control reduced rental housing supply by 15%, actually causing city-wide rent increases.

“As a result, you’ve got a lot of young people in New York City doubled and tripled up,” Husock said. “And you’ve got affluent old people living in large [rent-stabilized] apartments with empty bedrooms where their kids once lived.”

The Working Paper explained that landlords facing rent control regulations are more likely to convert units into condos or redevelop buildings to circumvent regulations, such as by demolishing their old housing and building new rental housing exempt from rent control.

This further reduces rental stock and drives up rents. Rent-controlled buildings were almost 10% more likely to convert to a condo or a Tenancy in Common, the researchers found.

Supporters argue rent control is the quickest and easiest way to provide relief to renters in danger of being priced out of their home, but the fact is it just makes the problem worse

In other words, rent control advocates in Salem are actually working against the best interests of a lot of the people they say they want to help.

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Warren is starting off on the wrong foot

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Sen. Warren in the midst of a crowd in Storm Lake, Iowa

Just like President Trump, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is already fact-challenged.

Shortly after formally entering the 2020 presidential race on Dec. 31, Warren tried to highlight her commitment to the working class in an Iowa stump speech that called for a return to better days:

“When I was a kid, a minimum-wage job in America would support a family of three,” she said. “It would pay the mortgage, it would keep the utilities on; it would put food on the table. Today, a minimum-wage job in America will not keep a momma and a baby out of poverty. Think about that difference.”

Not so fast, Senator.

The fact is the good old days weren’t that good for minimum wage workers and their families.

Warren was born in Oklahoma City, OK on June 22, 1949, the fourth child of middle-class parents Pauline and Donald Jones Herring. She lived in Norman, OK until she was 11 years old, so she would have been a child of 10 there in 1959.

The federal minimum wage in 1959 was $1 an hour. A worker earning that amount and working 40 hours a week would have earned $2,080 a year.

Median family income in the United States in 1959 was $5,650, according to the U.S. Census. Mississippi took the honor of being the state with the lowest median family income, $2,884.

Oklahoma’s median income came in at $4,620 and Cleveland County, where Norman, OK is located, had a median family income of $5,067.

In other words, a family with one member employed full time and earning a minimum wage of $2,080 a year would have been hard-pressed to “pay the mortgage,…keep the utilities on; (and) put food on the table.”

In fact, families of three with an annual income of $2,080 and families of four with an annual income of $2973 would have been considered to be living in poverty in 1959, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The reality? A family with one wage earner working full time for a minimum wage in 1959 wasn’t really much better off than a similar family today.

Somebody working full-time at today’s federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour earns just $15,080 a year – below the poverty line for even a family of two and $9,000 below the $23,850 poverty level for a family of four.

So, before she gets too nostalgic for the good old days, and before she makes another stump speech in her presidential campaign, Sen. Warren needs to do some homework.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Oregon taxpayers: Nike is not your friend

Oregon business leaders voted Nike, Inc. Oregon’s Most Admired Company Across all Industries in 2018.

Given Nike’s history of gaming Oregon’s tax system, it’s hard to understand why.

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Nike has been skilled at staying ahead of the taxman in  Oregon.

Nike’s early tax avoidance efforts focused on aggressively lobbying Oregon’s Legislature to adopt a single sales factor system for taxing corporate income.

In 1965, Oregon adopted provisions that provided a method for dividing corporate taxable income among states according to each state’s share of a corporation’s property, payroll and sales.

Each of those factors was given equal weight until 1991 when the state shifted to 50% weighted sales and 25% for payroll and property. In 2003 the sales factor increased to 80%. In 2005, under pressure from Nike and some other large multistate employers,the state moved entirely to single sales factor, meaning 100% for sales and 0% for payroll or property.

The shift meant that Nike, with large portions of its property and payroll in Oregon, but a small share of its U.S. sales, was in a position to shave a hefty amount from its corporate income tax bill.

The Oregon Department of Revenue estimated that the shift 10 single sales factor would reduce total tax revenue by $77.6 million in the 2005-07 biennium alone.

Nike was thrilled, but as time went on it wanted more. In particular, it wanted to cement the single-sales factor system in place for the long-term.

In 2013, behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Nike resulted in a deal under which the state promised not to change Nike’s single sales factor tax treatment for 30 years if the company agreed to expand in Oregon. That meant Nike would be exempt if the state decided to include measures such as payroll or property value in its corporate income tax calculations.

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Nike was thrilled again, but some tax policy experts criticized the deal. “… enacting legislation that for practical purposes is directed to, at most, a handful of companies is not ideal tax policy, as this policy provides benefits to certain taxpayers that are not available to the vast majority of other companies,” a Grant Thornton LLP paper said.

Nike’s next move came in 2018, when public employee unions wanted to get a ballot measure passed that would require Oregon companies to reveal to the public the state taxes they pay.

Nike wasn’t thrilled with that prospect, so it cut a deal with public employee unions and Gov. Kate Brown to kill the measure. In return, Brown and the unions got assurances that Nike would oppose  Initiative Petition 31, a measure that would make it harder for the legislature to raise taxes, and Initiative Petition 37 that would ban taxes on food in OregonAt that point, supporters of both initiatives had already turned in enough signatures to get the proposals on the ballot as Measures 103 and 104.

The deal, secured by an alliance of strange bedfellows, protected Nike from the threat of having to disclose how much it pays in taxes and, in turn, how much tax revenue the state gave up by agreeing to the single sales factor tax.

Coming out a winner again, Nike protected its narrow self-interest at the expense of full corporate transparency and Oregon taxpayers at large.

As Gov. Brown and the unions had hoped, the anti-tax initiatives went down to defeat in the Nov. 2018 election. Not only that, but the Democrats, with help from campaign contributions by Nike, won a supermajority in the state House and Senate. That will give them the ability to craft statewide bond measures and to raise taxes without Republican support.

And that’s exactly what the Democrats plan to do, raise taxes…a lot.

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In late November 2018, Nike, public employee unions and a group of long-term care providers launched a coalition to push an expansive tax package through the Legislature without any commitment to address problems with the the state’s Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).

A lot of Oregonians who voted for Democrats in November 2018 probably didn’t realize they were voting to raise their taxes big time, but a tsunami of taxes is about to wash over the state and wreak havoc with Oregonians’ budgets.

If you’ve seen your pay go up because of Trump’s tax overhaul (which, by the way, Democrats in Congress want to roll back) or a pay raise, get ready to see your gains disappear down a tax rat hole.

Gov. Brown has proposed a $23.6 billion General Fund and Lottery Funds budget for 2019-2021.  The proposal includes $1.9 billion more for education and more money for the Oregon Health Plan, combating climate change, battling homelessness and modernizing Oregon’s computer systems.

But even with Brown’s proposed budget increase the state could be short $623 million, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office and Department of Administrative Services. That could mean pressure for even more taxes.

When 1 in 3 Americans can’t name their state’s governor, 4 of 5 can’t say who their state legislator is and consistent statewide media coverage of the goings–on in Salem is limited,  Oregon’s Democrats probably figure they can raise taxes as they please without much blowback from the public.

And Nike probably figures it can rely on its carefully curated social responsibility reputation to protect itself and avoid being singled out by Oregonians as an instigator and enabler of higher taxes on everybody but itself.

After all, what’s good for Nike is good for Oregon, right?