Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The Oregonian, April 14, on why Nike's presence would have a significant impact in Portland:
It doesn't make much difference to the Oregon economy whether Nike expands in Washington County or in Portland. But it could make a big difference to Portland, boosting the city's tattered reputation as a place to do business, injecting energy into the South Waterfront and generating tax revenues to help fund city services.
So if you are dismayed by the idea that a progressive city would bow before a powerful corporation, take a deep breath. And remember that the incentives reportedly being dangled in front of Nike come from already existing economic development programs that many cities use.
Because of nondisclosure agreements, no one is sharing details of what Portland is willing to offer Nike if it expands on property owned by the Zidell family near other development on the South Waterfront. But The Oregonian's Brad Schmidt reported Thursday that the city has considered offering financial incentives of about $80 million for parking garages, parks and new streets. The incentives would be made possible because the property under consideration is part of the North Macadam urban renewal area.
Multnomah County could further sweeten the pot, Schmidt reported, by creating a Strategic Investment Program that would offer 15-year tax abatements to Nike. The SIP has been the primary economic development tool used by Washington County to encourage technology companies to locate and expand in the Hillsboro area.
In the current budget climate, the possibility of offering $80 million or more in incentives to the state's largest company — especially after the Legislature crafted a tax certainty bill for Nike — instantly produces cries of "corporate welfare." That knee-jerk response misses the point. City and county leaders are considering these incentives not because they benefit Nike (though they do), but because they believe the investment also would pay off for the city. It's a good bet.
Since the Zidell property is part of an urban renewal area, the deal offered to Nike presumably would include tax increment financing. This economic development tool, used by the Portland Development Commission since the 1970s, freezes assessed property values for a designated period. The city then borrows money to pay for improvements such as roads and parks, counting on increased tax revenues — especially after the freeze ends — to pay off the loan.
Of course, the deal comes with risk if the development fails to stimulate enough jobs or increases in property values. And even Nike isn't guaranteed to have continued success. But at a company where "winning takes care of everything," growth usually happens. This is one of the world's leading brands, the dominant company in its industry — not a speculative green-energy startup.
Oregon's troubled school-funding system creates another concern. Urban renewal districts, by redirecting property taxes, also can affect revenues available for school districts. As the city and county work through details of any offer they might make to Nike, they must do it in a way that protects funding for schools and public services.
If the city were considering offering Nike $80 million to expand in Portland, we might join those who are outraged. But that's not what the city apparently is doing. It's considering an investment in the future — one that would pay for infrastructure that benefits not only Nike but also other commercial and residential tenants in the South Waterfront area.
Nike might decide to expand near its Washington County world headquarters regardless of what Portland offers. Each site has advantages and disadvantages. But don't blame Portland for wooing the company. City officials wouldn't be doing their jobs if they didn't assemble an offer that makes sense for both Portland and Nike.
The Register-Guard, April 16, on why Oregon should review the idea of producing canola crops:
Oregon is a world leader in seed production, a high-value agricultural specialty that generates $50 million to $60 million a year. The state would be foolish to jeopardize this industry for the benefit of a single new low-value crop whose primary market depends on government subsidies. At a minimum, a full scientific review of the new crop's potential effects on Oregon's agricultural diversity is needed.
The new crop is canola — new to Oregon, that is. Canola, also known as rapeseed, has long been grown in the upper Great Plains region. Its seed contains an edible oil that in recent years has become a biofuel feed stock. The emerging, and still subsidized, market for biofuels makes canola potentially attractive to Willamette Valley grass and grain farmers seeking to break pest and disease cycles by planting it as a rotational crop.
One problem with canola is that it's a prolific pollinator, and also a member of the genus brassica — the same genus that contains cabbage, mustard, broccoli and a dozen other crops cultivated by Willamette Valley seed farmers. In the seed business, purity is everything — and a seed crop contaminated by canola pollen would be degraded in value.
A second problem is that most canola — 85 percent of the crop in Canada, for example — is genetically modified for resistance to herbicides. Seed crops contaminated by pollen from genetically modified canola could not be sold as organic, and many export markets would be closed altogether. Oregon's large and diverse organic seed industry regards canola as a fatal threat.
A third problem is that canola is a robust plant. Its value as an oil crop hints at its ability to produce an abundance of seed, some of which remains after harvest. The seed can be transported by birds or farm equipment, resulting in the plant's spread.
For all these reasons, the state Department of Agriculture banned canola from the Willamette Valley until this year, when it issued a rule allowing the crop to be cultivated outside an exclusion zone. Seed farmers say the new rule leaves their crops vulnerable to contamination, and invites the spread of what would amount to an invasive species.
House Bill 2742 would extend the former ban for three years. During that period Oregon State University would conduct an intensive study of the risks of canola cross-pollination and spread.
HB 2742 is a basic precaution. If canola's critics are right, allowing the crop in Oregon would be a costly and irreversible mistake. If the crop can be grown in Oregon safely, a thorough assessment of the risks and rewards would create confidence that does not exist today.
The Statesman Journal, April 13, on offering driver's licenses to Oregon residents in the country without proper documentation:
Oregon should make short-term driver licenses available for the state's undocumented residents.
This is not about bestowing rights on people who came into this country illegally but about protecting anyone who is on Oregon roads.
"We want everyone who drives in Oregon to be licensed and insured," said Gilbert Carrasco, a law professor at Willamette University and a member of the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
It's estimated that thousands of people are driving illegally in Oregon because they don't qualify for the regular, eight-year driver license with its required proof of citizenship. And if they don't have vehicle insurance, or if they don't understand U.S. rules of the road, they increase the risks for the rest of us.
The Senate Committee on Business and Transportation conducted a public hearing earlier this month on Senate Bill 833, and a work session was held last week.
The bill would allow residents to obtain a short-term (four-year) driver license if they can prove their identity and have lived in Oregon for at least a year. The license could not be used for driving commercial vehicles, obtaining a concealed handgun license purchasing firearms or going through airport security.
The Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division would design the short-term license, which would be clearly identified as such.
Critics see this as flouting U.S. immigration law. Not so. Immigration enforcement is a federal issue. Driver licenses traditionally have been a state issue, although Congress got involved with the Real ID Act of 2005.
Gov. John Kitzhaber endured a lot of flak for asking business, law enforcement, immigration-rights and other organizations to collaboratively develop a driver license proposal. But their 22 months of work has yielded a common-sense approach.
It's true that many Oregon residents who would seek the short-term licenses are in the U.S. illegally, having overstayed student or other visas, or having entered the country unlawfully. But guess what, folks? They're here, and it's smarter to have them driving properly than to ignore reality.
Carrasco notes that when states began issuing driver licenses in the early 20th century, the goal was to ensure that all drivers were licensed, and eventually insured, regardless of legal status.
Even if the current Congress rewrites our national immigration practices, several years may pass before the changes are implemented. In the meantime, no one realistically expects the undocumented immigrants to disappear or to stop driving to work, school, church and other places.
The short-term driver license would require the DMV's usual driving tests. That is important, because driving practices in the U.S. are far different from those in some other cultures. An undocumented-immigrant driver who becomes informed on Oregon traffic regulations is a safer driver.
In addition, there are a good many Oregonians who qualify as citizens or other legal resident but have been unable to obtain driver licenses since the Real ID Act took effect. They have lost their papers, they have been unable to get a birth certificate or, because they were born in a different era, no official records of their birth exist.
SB 833 is good for Oregon. It doesn't affect immigration status. It addresses safer driving.