CFM Federal Affairs

Glimmer of Hope Surfaces on I-5 Bridge Project Restart

A glimmer of hope has appeared that Washington and Oregon may take the first steps to resume work on replacing I-5 Columbia River Bridge by restarting bi-state project office.

A glimmer of hope has appeared that Washington and Oregon may take the first steps to resume work on replacing I-5 Columbia River Bridge by restarting bi-state project office.

Someday, the I-5 Columbia River Bridge will be replaced. And Washington State hopes that someday is sooner rather than later.

The Washington Legislature generated some fresh enthusiasm when it included $450 million in a proposed transportation investment package to cover the state’s projected share of the cost to replace the bridge. Plus, Washington Governor Jay Inslee included $17.5 million to re-open a project office in his proposed 2019-2020 transportation budget.

The Southwest Washington legislative delegation has tried to stoke the appropriations fires and managed to make the bridge replacement that state’s number one priority in the propose transportation investment package that passed out of the Washington Senate Transportation Committee. However, with a portion of funding for such a packaged tied to creating a carbon fee in Washington, building the necessary support to pass it this year looks more like embers than sparks.

Washington looks poised to retain at least $8.5 million for a project office. While less than early-session expectations, opening a project office would begin laying the groundwork for replacing the bridge. Washington’s Department of Transportation, along with its Oregon counterpart, local cities and community partners, would start re-evaluating permits and design, develop a fresh budget and re-engage with stakeholders on both sides of the river.

Light rail, the bogeyman that helped sink a bi-state deal several years ago, remains a lightning rod. In his budget proposal, Inslee included a light rail provision, even though regional advocates encouraged calling for “mass transit“ to allow for further evaluation. Any mention of light rail has disappeared.

Meanwhile, Oregon, the putative partner in a bridge replacement deal, has been more or less quiet. There have been back-channel conversations between Olympia and Salem, but no real commitments. Majority Democrats in Salem are consumed with a cap-and-trade proposal and quest to raise $2 billion in new revenue for public education. A major transportation funding package is not anywhere near the adult table.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek remains the most ardent advocate for replacing the bridge, which is part of her North Portland legislative district. She probably has support in the office of Oregon Governor Kate Brown and a good chunk of lawmakers. But without a strong, definitive move by Washington officials there is little reason to start beating the drums in Salem. That definitive move appears to be on the horizon.

 

Climate Kids Lawsuit Could Overshadow Legislative Action

A group of 21 young plaintiffs, 11 of them from Oregon, are challenging the federal government to take responsibility for a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” Their lawsuit has so far withstood five attempts to bock or dismiss it. They are inching closer to an actual trial that could prove a turning point on public acceptance of climate change and the urgent need for a credible response. [Photo Credit: Robin Loznak/ZUMA]

A group of 21 young plaintiffs, 11 of them from Oregon, are challenging the federal government to take responsibility for a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” Their lawsuit has so far withstood five attempts to bock or dismiss it. They are inching closer to an actual trial that could prove a turning point on public acceptance of climate change and the urgent need for a credible response. [Photo Credit: Robin Loznak/ZUMA]

The efforts by Oregon Governor Kate and a Democratically controlled legislature to pass a measure to limit greenhouse gas emissions may be overshadowed by a more sweeping climate lawsuit initiated in 2016 largely on behalf of young Oregonians. 

The so-called Climate Kids have filed a lawsuit claiming a constitutional right “to life, liberty and property” under a government-backed “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” The lawsuit bears the name of Kelsey Juliana, who is a now a 22-year-old University of Oregon student. Juliana was interviewed on 60 Minutes over the weekend and declared, "My generation and all the generations to come have everything to lose if we don't act on climate change right now."

The longshot lawsuit, initially considered fanciful, has survived five attempts to block it in US District Court in Oregon, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Despite efforts by the fossil fuel industry and the Trump administration, the lawsuit continues to move toward an actual trial. 

“Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” US District of Oregon Judge Ann Aiken

“Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” US District of Oregon Judge Ann Aiken

The Climate Kids and their Oregon-based attorneys insist they have compiled what they believe is overwhelming evidence. A press release from Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust, accuses the “federal government of creating a national energy system that causes climate change, is depriving them of their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property and [failing] to protect essential public trust resources. We look forward to presenting the scientific evidence of the harms and dangers these children face as a result of the actions their government has taken to cause the climate crisis.”

Julia Olson, executive director of Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust, is co-counsel on the Climate Kids lawsuit arguing younger Americans have a constitutional right to a climate system that can sustain human life.

Julia Olson, executive director of Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust, is co-counsel on the Climate Kids lawsuit arguing younger Americans have a constitutional right to a climate system that can sustain human life.

Olson told 60 Minutes the evidence is staggering. The Supreme Court, in its unsigned decision to let the lawsuit proceed, called its breadth “striking.”

Juliana is one of 21 youth plaintiffs who range in age from 11 to 22 years old. The ages of the plaintiffs are welded to the core of the constitutional argument. One pleading on behalf of the youths said, “As the government continues to neglect the consequences of climate change, they say, their future selves – and their future children – will suffer.” Eleven of the plaintiffs live in Oregon. Other plaintiffs hail from Colorado, Florida, New York, Hawaii, Arizona, Alaska, Washington, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

An extensive list of supporters has accreted as challenges to the lawsuit have proceeded. They included well known environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, interfaith organizations and legal scholars. The League of Women Voters submitted an amicus brief that asserted it is a proper role for courts to act as a check and balance on political branches to address “irreversible impacts” that affect younger generations of Americans and generations to follow. 

Two of the underlying legal arguments that have emerged in Juliana v. United States involve “atmospheric trust litigation” based on a public trust doctrine, which has been applied to protect shorelines and other valuable natural resources.

Ultimately, the goal of the Climate Kids lawsuit are environmental policies that would accelerate efforts to reduce damaging greenhouse gas emissions and eventually abandon a carbon-based economy. Opponents variously argue that is an unattainable objective in any near-term time frame. Political opponents claim the lawsuit, if successful, would subordinate climate policy set by the President and Congress to a court ruling.

Assuming the lawsuit actually makes it to trial, the evidence presented could mark a turning point in broader public acceptance of the reality of climate change and the need for urgent action. The trial is likely to be linked with the Green New Deal that has been introduced in Congress and to propel more state environmental activism, especially in states like Oregon where the trial would be held and covered extensively.

 

Democrats Address Climate Change with Carbon Caps, Modernized Infrastructure

Democrats in the Oregon legislature and Congress will be pushing legislation to cap carbon emissions, including from transportation, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Oregon lawmakers will consider a cap and trade proposal, while Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio presses for a $500 billion federal investment in modernized infrastructure.

Democrats in the Oregon legislature and Congress will be pushing legislation to cap carbon emissions, including from transportation, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Oregon lawmakers will consider a cap and trade proposal, while Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio presses for a $500 billion federal investment in modernized infrastructure.

The Oregon cap and trade legislation was unveiled last week.  Oregon Public Broadcasting  provided a glimpse into its details.

The Oregon cap and trade legislation was unveiled last week. Oregon Public Broadcasting provided a glimpse into its details.

(Updated February 1, 2019)

While the big event in the 2019 Oregon legislative session is sure to be a $2 billion revenue package for schools and an industry-supported Medicaid package, the first major legislative thrust by Democrats will be a cap and trade bill designed to put a lid on carbon emissions. A key Oregonian in Congress is also pushing for a major response to climate change.

The bill is expected to surface by the end of the week. Its chief architect, Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, says the measure will be very similar to a previously introduced bill, but with more clarity on issues such as oversight, mitigation for vulnerable industries and how quickly the emission cap will decline. Republicans are grumbling they haven’t seen evolving drafts since late last year.

Not surprisingly, Dembrow predicts a “noisy few weeks” when the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction, which he co-chairs, considers the controversial measure, called the Clean Energy Jobs Bill.

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Environmental groups expect a cap and trade bill will pass this session. Governor Brown and Democratic legislators vigorously campaigned in support of climate change legislation. Brown's budget framework, released late last year, detailed the creation of a Carbon Policy Office, with a $1.4 million budget, that has been charged with exploring how Oregon can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions while still growing the state’s economy.

State Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio will be on point with legislation to address climate change. Dembrow co-chairs the committee to take up a cap and trade system that seeks to limit carbon emissions, including from transportation fuels. DeFazio is floating a measure to invest $500 billion to modernize the nation’s transportation system and reduce carbon emissions, while increasing resiliency in highways, tunnels and bridges.

State Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio will be on point with legislation to address climate change. Dembrow co-chairs the committee to take up a cap and trade system that seeks to limit carbon emissions, including from transportation fuels. DeFazio is floating a measure to invest $500 billion to modernize the nation’s transportation system and reduce carbon emissions, while increasing resiliency in highways, tunnels and bridges.

The basic idea is to set a fixed limit on greenhouse gas emissions and issue allowances that can be traded in an open market, which currently includes seven states and four Canadian provinces. The greenhouse gas emission limit would ratchet down over time.

The Environmental Defense Fund anticipates Oregon’s cap and trade bill will parallel a similar structure in California that extends to transportation fuels as well as regulated electricity and natural gas utilities.

As Oregon lawmakers hack away on climate change legislation, Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is preparing to push for a $500 billion investment to address crumbling US infrastructure, support “green” infrastructure that is more resilient to climate change and develop cleaner fuels. Among other funding, DeFazio proposes issuing 30-year bonds paid for by indexing the federal gas tax to inflation, which he says could generate between $17 to $20 billion per year to invest.

He wants the House to pass a version of his legislation in the next six months and it appears House Democratic leaders support his push.

DeFazio told Curbed in an interview there is a $102 billion backlog to repair America’s metropolitan transit systems and that critical transportation routes such as the Holland Tunnel in New York and the I-5 Columbia River Bridge could be wiped out by flooding or earthquakes, causing economic catastrophes.

Curbed observed, “[DeFazio] takes control of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during a pivotal time when technology advances, long-term funding issues and climate change demand a comprehensive, forward-thinking plan.”

In quintessential DeFazio fashion, he said, “I’m going to approach it from a very hard-hearted way: Boy, you’re stupid if you don’t make these investments.”

 

Oregon, Washington May Provide Presidential Hopefuls

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Governor Jay Inslee are seriously weighing Democratic presidential campaigns in 2020. Both are from the progressive lane of the Democratic Party, have earned national recognition for their key issues and have campaigned in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Governor Jay Inslee are seriously weighing Democratic presidential campaigns in 2020. Both are from the progressive lane of the Democratic Party, have earned national recognition for their key issues and have campaigned in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

Oregon’s and Washington’s role in recent presidential elections has been relegated to ATMs. Candidates swoop in, attend high-priced fundraisers and slip out of town, often without even a perfunctory press interview. That may change in 2020.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Governor Jay Inslee have dropped huge hints they are considering entering the 2020 Democratic presidential sweepstakes. Though both would be considered today as political longshots, each has a distinct political issue to push. Merkley is focused on voting rights, Inslee on responding to climate change, as issue he has championed for years, including the book he coauthored, Apollo’s Fire

Merkley has earned national recognition for going to Texas to expose the internment at the border of asylum-seeking Latin American migrants and their children. Inslee gained recognition for leading the Democratic Governors Association as it reclaimed a number of statehouses in the 2018 midterm election. 

Both hail from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which could be a crowded lane in the 2020 Democratic primary with candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Merkley and Inslee have been point persons confronting President Trump on key issues such as immigration, environmental protection and trade policy. Both have hit the campaign hustings, appearing side by side at a campaign event in Johnson City, Iowa and in New Hampshire, both early-voting primary states.

One advantage Inslee has over better-known candidates, and Merkley, is his executive experience (Inslee served in Congress before his election as governor). Now serving his second term, Inslee can point to achievements on voting rights, a higher minimum wage, ensuring net neutrality and major transportation investments.

As Jennifer Rubin, an opinion writer for the Washington Post, sees it: “[Inslee] might consider stressing his entire record as evidence of his ability to successfully govern, which includes climate change policies, and his role in challenging Trump’s immigration policies. Almost as an afterthought, he notes that renewable-energy legislation helped launched a multibillion-dollar wind industry and helped his state lead in GDP growth and wages. That seems to be his greatest selling point – creating a progressive haven while growing the economy, raising wages and saving the planet.”

Another advantage of potential Merkley and Inslee candidacies is that neither are in their 70s, as are Warren, Sanders, Joe Biden – and Donald Trump. Merkley is 62 and Inslee is 67. They also are fresh faces on the national political landscape, which might appeal to newly registered Democratic voters that helped Democrats regain control of the House.

Merkley faces a big decision. If he runs for President, he can’t under Oregon law run simultaneously for re-election to the Senate. He has told reporters he will make a final decision in the early part of this year. Meanwhile, Merkley has staged what amounts to a marathon of townhall meetings in Oregon before the new Congress convened this week. It is unclear whether he has taken steps to recruit a campaign staff or start fundraising in earnest. Political observers suggest it may take anywhere from $40 to $60 million for a Democratic presidential candidate to make it to Super Tuesday primaries in March, 2020.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, like his potential Pacific Northwest presidential aspirant Jeff Merkley, has gone to the US-Mexico border to denounce Trump administration immigration policies and establish their credentials as credible national contenders.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, like his potential Pacific Northwest presidential aspirant Jeff Merkley, has gone to the US-Mexico border to denounce Trump administration immigration policies and establish their credentials as credible national contenders.

Inslee received encouragement to throw his hat in the presidential ring in 2016 as one of the few Democratic governors to survive. He has campaigned around the country for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in 2018, giving him more exposure than usually accrues to a governor from the Pacific Northwest. Inslee is given credit for helping seven Democrats capture statehouses and assisting some Democratic incumbents such as Oregon Governor Kate Brown fend off well-financed GOP challengers.

There are indications Inslee is lining up donors to his political action committee and preparing to form a presidential exploratory committee, which is something Warren did this week as she moved closer to becoming an announced candidate. He also has amassed a list of more than 200,00 climate change supporters nationwide that could serve as a jumping off point for his candidacy.

The presidential primaries will have some other new twists. California and Texas have moved up their primary election dates in a bid to have a greater say about who emerges as party nominees. As big states with sprawling, expensive media markets, they pose special challenges for lesser known candidates without big campaign war chests. 

Another challenge is the emergence of Beto O’Rourke, who lost his bid to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz while gaining a rabid national following and lengthy small-donor contributor list, and Harris, who represents California in the US Senate and received positive national exposure for her sharp questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The best thing going for Merkley and/or Inslee candidacies is a clear focus, which will be essential in a field of up to 20 candidates and a Democratic debate schedule that begins as early as this summer. Democratic voters – and GOP political strategists – will be watching closely to see who stands out from the pack based on substance and style and who has the best chance to go toe-to-toe with Trump in the general election.

 

Oregon’s Vicarious Congressional Race in Southwest Washington

Democrat Carolyn Long is mounting what many consider a more serious challenge than expected to GOP incumbent Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. The House seat is on the watch list of ones that could flip in the midterm election if the so-called “Blue Wave” materializes.

Democrat Carolyn Long is mounting what many consider a more serious challenge than expected to GOP incumbent Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. The House seat is on the watch list of ones that could flip in the midterm election if the so-called “Blue Wave” materializes.

Oregon’s five congressional races are a snore, but there is a competitive contest in Southwest Washington that Oregonians can enjoy vicariously via Portland TV.

Incumbent GOP Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler faces a stiffer-than-expected challenge from Democrat Carolyn Long. The best evidence Washington’s 3rd Congressional District is in play are the negative TV ads both candidates are running.

Herrera Beutler’s ad claims Long supports a Medicare for All health care proposal, which she says would bankrupt the nation. Long has countered with an ad that calls Herrera Beutler a career politician who has sold out to special interests and voted multiple times to scuttle the Affordable Care Act without offering an alternative.

The spirited race attracted a standing-room-only crowd for a debate in Woodland September 18. They jointly appeared before The Columbian’s editorial board in August for what turned out to be a two-hour debate that touched on health care, tax reform, border security, President Trump and impeachment. Another debate is scheduled October 17 in Goldendale.

Political pundits believe Democrats have a serious chance to flip control in the House in the 2018 midterm election. They identify around 80 congressional seats, mostly held now by Republicans, that could flip. Washington’s 8th Congressional District, which stretches east from Seattle’s suburbs to Ellensburg, is held by GOP Congressman Dave Reichert, has been in Republican hands since 1983 and is on the list. Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, which has been won by both Republicans and Democrats, is on the list, but viewed as likely to stay in GOP control.

Competitive congressional races have been fueled in significant part by women, either as candidates or as mobilizers around issues such as the #MeToo movement. The Herrera Beutler-Long race is one of 33 congressional races nationwide that features a woman running against another woman.

As election day nears, the performance and behavior of Trump is becoming a larger issue, especially in districts where international trade is a critical part of a local economy, as it is in Southwest Washington. Another motivating issue is the fear continued GOP control in the House will lead to cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to reduce a growing federal budget deficit.

Herrera Beutler has not been an outspoken defender of Trump, but generally has supported his agenda and that of the House GOP leadership. Long has followed a typical Democratic campaign script, condemning the GOP-backed tax cut, warning about Medicare budget cuts and expressing support for impeaching Trump.

The candidates’ base of support tracks with the red-blue political divide. Primary results showed Herrera Beutler leading in more rural parts of Southwest Washington and Long leading in Clark County, which includes Vancouver.

Herrera Beutler grew up in Southwest Washington, played varsity basketball at Prairie High School, graduate from the University of Washington and lives in Battle Ground. After serving in the Washington legislature, she was elected to Congress in 2010 at the age of 31 and is the first Hispanic to represent Washington in Congress. She and her husband started their family – they have a daughter and son – while she served in Congress, leading her to champion maternity care issues.

Long grew up in Oregon, attended the University of Oregon and paid for college by working for Safeway, eventually becoming a produce department manager and a journeyman with UFCW Local 555. After earning her graduate degree from Rutgers, Long joined the faculty of Washington State University’s campus in Vancouver in 1995 and has worked there since then. She is married and has a 12-yer-old daughter. Her campaign website features her “award-winning jam recipes.”

 

Oregon Newspapers Join #FreePress Editorial Campaign

Oregon newspapers join the Boston Globe-inspired #Free Press editorial today to rebut attacks about fake news, reaffirm the role of a free press and remind readers of the value of newspaper coverage.

Oregon newspapers join the Boston Globe-inspired #Free Press editorial today to rebut attacks about fake news, reaffirm the role of a free press and remind readers of the value of newspaper coverage.

Oregon newspapers participated in a coordinated campaign to publish editorials today defending a free press and decrying President Trump’s persistent attacks about fake news.

Organized by the Boston Globe, more than 300 publications, ranging from The New York Times to small community newspapers, communicated to their readers in response to what the Globe’s editors call “the dirty war against the free press.”

The Oregonian editorial urged “Rising above the toxic rhetoric.” The Portland Tribune wrote, “We aren’t fake news; we are the people.” The Register Guard titled its editorial, “Trump shouldn’t expect media to be his friends.” The Bend Bulletin carried a commentary from the Chicago Tribune that said, “[Trump’s] attacks on journalists exemplify his tendency to bully and humiliate.”

“To be sure, the hostile verbal attacks and the insipid ‘fake news’ name-calling coming out of Washington, DC have reached unprecedented lows,” wrote Laura Gunderson of The Oregonian. “Yet attempts to silence the press with bullying and lies is by no means unprecedented. These attacks come from all political levels, all political stripes.”

The Portland Tribune editorial, adapted from comments by the New York Press Association, said, “We’ve been complacent. We thought everybody knew how important a free press was to our world and our communities and that all this talk about us being the enemy of the people would be dismissed for the silliness that it is.”

“But the reckless attacks have continued, instigated and encouraged by our president. The time has come for us to stand up to the bullying. The role journalism plays in our free society is too crucial to allow this degradation to continue.”

The Tribune editorial spelled out local news beats its reporters and photojournalists cover, adding:

“At the Tribune, we pride ourselves on prioritizing news that citizens, and voters, need to know in a healthy democracy – vital public policies rather than ‘gotchas’ and juicy gossip that would boost our readership and web hits. We dissect and explain crucial issues that affect your neighborhood and your world, such as homelessness, gentrification and climate change. 

“We are always by your side. We shop the same stores, worship at the same places and hike the same trails. We struggle with daycare and worry about paying for retirement.”

“Reporters and editors have a keen appreciation for the power of words and would feel a cold wind if a President described any group of Americans as ‘enemies of the people.’ Editorialized the Register Guard. “A President who feels free to describe the media in that way can easily add other enemies to the list. It is a responsibility of a free press to call upon President Trump to stop employing such destructive language. He should not expect the media to be his friends and should recognize instead that their true loyalty is to good government and the values of the republic.”

The Bend Bulletin’s repurposed editorial concludes, “We aren’t enemies of the American people. But many of us have fielded enough angry threats – in the streets, on our phones and at our computers – to chafe when a President calls us that. That’s why we’re adding our voices to those of other journalists nationwide.”

The Boston Globe said, “We are not the enemy of the people. We are a free and independent press; it is one of most sacred principles enshrined in the Constitution.”

 

Vancouver Acts to Relaunch Effort to Replace I-5 Bridge

Untimely bridge lifts delay and irritate motorists and freight haulers crossing the Columbia River on I-5. The City of Vancouver has stepped forward with a resolution seeking to restart a conversation to replace the bridge.

Untimely bridge lifts delay and irritate motorists and freight haulers crossing the Columbia River on I-5. The City of Vancouver has stepped forward with a resolution seeking to restart a conversation to replace the bridge.

Traffic and backups on I-5 haven’t abated and untimely Columbia River bridge lifts continue to slow and frustrate commuters, shippers and motorists just trying to get through. An effort to resume discussions of a new bridge is beginning to take shape.

The Vancouver City Council voted unanimously this week in support of replacing the I-5 Columbia River bridge. The Council resolution also asked Governor Jay Inslee to “provide adequate funding” for the Washington Department of Transportation to relaunch the process that came to a sudden stop in 2015 after Washington lawmakers refused to commit their share of costs and Oregon officials pulled the plug.

Other Southwest Washington municipalities may follow suit, with the goal of creating momentum that brings – or drags – Oregon policymakers back to the table.

That may be more complicated as Oregon transportation officials are finishing up recommendations to toll some or all of I-5 and I-205. The purpose of the tolling is to reduce congestion. Revenue raised from tolls would go to Oregon roadway investments, not a new I-5 Columbia River bridge.

Washington Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler has threatened to block Oregon Interstate highway tolls because of what she views as their disproportionate impact on her constituents.

If bridge talks do restart, the extension of light rail to Vancouver may remain a sticking point. Attitudes north of the river may have changed, but a transit component may be a precondition for Oregon officials to re-engage.

The Vancouver resolution addresses this challenge by seeking a bridge replacement that includes “high capacity transit with a dedicated guideway.” This language would allow for either light rail or bus rapid transit on a new bridge, and presumably would provide some breathing room for future debate on both options. Bus rapid transit has been embraced as a more affordable alternative in some areas in Clark County outside of Vancouver.

The timing of renewed discussion also presents challenges. Oregon lawmakers passed a major transportation and transit measure in the 2017 legislative session. It contained no provisions relating to a replacement I-5 Columbia River bridge,  but did create a panel to review mega projects in the state moving forward. Based on past experience, another major transportation funding proposal would be difficult unless party leaders put their full weight behind a new bridge project. Veteran legislative leaders such as Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek may see this as an opening on a legacy project.

One of the failings of the Columbia River Crossing effort was its single focus on a new bridge and related highway improvements. In reality, Portland-area and Southwest Washington residents and businesses have broader transportation interests in common as population growth and business expansion continues on both sides of the river.

Vancouver officials have signaled a willingness to pursue some kind of bi-state partnership to identify common ground, regional transportation objectives and a strategy to find a bridge solution.

Collaboration has occurred at the ODOT-WSDOT level and there have been coalitions in both states supporting a new bridge, but elected officials haven’t driven the strategy or policy decisions.

 

Few Seem Neutral on Polarized Net Neutrality Repeal

The nerdy issue of net neutrality has stirred up a national hornet’s nest as the Federal Communications Commission repeals an Obama-era rule that critics say guaranteed a free and open internet, but supporters claim would hold back internet innovation with government regulation. The issue has turned into yet another partisan fistfight.

The nerdy issue of net neutrality has stirred up a national hornet’s nest as the Federal Communications Commission repeals an Obama-era rule that critics say guaranteed a free and open internet, but supporters claim would hold back internet innovation with government regulation. The issue has turned into yet another partisan fistfight.

Mere minutes after the Federal Communications Commission on a split 3-2 vote ended net neutrality last week, Washington state’s attorney general filed suit to neutralize the FCC’s action on procedural grounds. Washington Governor Jay Inslee has an even more ambitious plan.

Inslee has come up with five options to force internet service providers in Washington to live up to net neutrality standards. Perhaps the most aggressive option is to empower Washington public utility districts to offer internet service and compete with big-league telecommunications companies.

Washington lawmakers – from both political parties – aren’t far behind. Bills have been introduced for the 2018 session that would forbid internet providers from throttling speeds or charging to prioritize traffic – two of the main concerns expressed by net neutrality supporters.

The FCC anticipated state-level resistance and added a preemption clause. That will be challenged, too. The main legal challenge will center on the FCC’s process, which included a public record featuring as many as 2 million bot-driven comments.

David Olson , who until 2012 oversaw cable and broadband development in Portland, played a notable role in what emerged as the concept of net neutrality.

David Olson, who until 2012 oversaw cable and broadband development in Portland, played a notable role in what emerged as the concept of net neutrality.

Oregon has joined with a number of other states in the legal challenge to FCC’s action and, given the state’s history on internet openness, may look at legislative options in 2018, too.

A sign of our digital times, the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality has stirred up greater national angst than the GOP-backed $1.5 trillion tax legislation or the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. However, net neutrality is no less politically polarizing. The FCC hearing room was cleared before the vote because of unruly protests.

Democratic opponents say repeal of net neutrality will signal the “end of the internet as we know it.” Republican supporters say the internet grew without a net neutrality rule, which was only adopted in 2015, and will continue to flourish after the rule is overturned. FCC Chairman Ajit Pat issued a video where he appears to mock critics. Comcast, one of the expected beneficiaries of net neutrality repeal, went to Twitter to say it wouldn’t violate net neutrality principles.

One of the leading defenders of net neutrality is Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. One of the best expositors of net neutrality repeal is Oregon GOP Congressman Greg Walden. Wyden says repeal is the equivalent of “trickle-down telecommunications.” Walden predicts innovation will continue to propel the internet and ensure competition.

Critics predict repeal of net neutrality will lead to paid prioritization of the internet and the resulting creation of a slow lane for those unwilling or unable to pay the freight for the fast lane. One critic has offered suggestions for how to measure potential speed throttling and access restrictions –  https://imgur.com/gallery/zfxwB

Critics predict repeal of net neutrality will lead to paid prioritization of the internet and the resulting creation of a slow lane for those unwilling or unable to pay the freight for the fast lane. One critic has offered suggestions for how to measure potential speed throttling and access restrictions – https://imgur.com/gallery/zfxwB

Democrats warn small businesses, educators, telemedicine and rural communities may find themselves on internet “slow lanes.” FCC Commissioner Mike O’Reilly, a Republican, says fears expressed by critics are “guilt by imagination.” 

All this for a nerdy issue that a few years ago nobody ever had heard about, but which underscores how important the internet has become to virtually every aspect of business, education, medicine, research, communications and social interaction.

We certainly haven’t heard the last of net neutrality. Court challenges, a push to reverse the policy in Congress, state legislative action and debate on the political trail in the 2018 elections all loom.

 

Oregon Health Plan Goes from Secure to Shaky

 Congressional inaction to continue funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program is just the latest financial challenge facing Oregon policymakers and putting Oregon’s health plans on shakier ground.

 Congressional inaction to continue funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program is just the latest financial challenge facing Oregon policymakers and putting Oregon’s health plans on shakier ground.

When the 2017 Oregon legislature adjourned in early July, the state’s health care exchanges and Medicaid program seemed secure for at least another biennium. A lot has changed since then, and the stakes continue to grow.

The funding package to sustain the Oregon Health Plan faces a likely referral vote in January. Congress allowed federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) to lapse as it debated, but failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration continues to threaten actions to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

No matter how you spin the situation, Oregon could feel a financial pinch as early as mid-November when its funding runs out for health insurance for thousands of children in the state. The legislature won’t convene until February, so a potential gap in coverage could lead to a reduction in benefits and new enrollments.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is working with Senate Finance Chair Orrin Hatch on a bipartisan funding plan for CHIP, but House GOP leaders want to tie continued funding to spending cuts for Medicare, community clinics and grace periods for Affordable Care Act payments.

Oregon policymakers could have an even bigger problem on their hands if voters reject the $320 million funding package that includes a health insurance tax and a new hospital tax. While the majority of the $320 million will shore up the state’s Medicaid program, it also would fund a reinsurance pool that limits individual insurers’ financial exposure for high-cost patients.

The Oregon Reinsurance Program calmed Oregon’s market and paved the way for 6 percent lower insurance premiums. The shaky status of the reinsurance program could affect Oregon’s pending application for a waiver from the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid to administer its programs flexibly. If Oregon’s funding package is rejected, the waiver request could be in jeopardy – along with lower insurance premiums.

According to the Portland Business Journal, Alaska requested a similar waiver, which was approved. However, waiver applications by other states have been rejected or withdrawn. The Washington Post reported Trump intervened to block a waiver request from Iowa, which was seeking ways to increase competition and bring down premiums. Oklahoma withdrew its application after CMS inaction. Minnesota was granted a waiver, but CMS reportedly cut a low-income enrollee program.

The longer-term view isn’t any better. The US House has approved a budget resolution that will be used as the vehicle to move a major federal tax cut and that calls for massive cuts over the next decade to Medicare and Medicaid.

State, Federal Health Care Debates Remain in Flux

Oregon legislative leaders Tina Kotek and Peter Courtney want voters to know the fiscal risks of rejecting a tax package to sustain funding for the Oregon Health Plan, as federal lawmakers begin hearings on ways to stabilize coverage and premiums for the individual health insurance market under the Affordable Care Act.

Oregon legislative leaders Tina Kotek and Peter Courtney want voters to know the fiscal risks of rejecting a tax package to sustain funding for the Oregon Health Plan, as federal lawmakers begin hearings on ways to stabilize coverage and premiums for the individual health insurance market under the Affordable Care Act.

On the same day Oregon lawmakers prepared for a January vote on funding to maintain the Oregon Health Plan, a US Senate committee held the first hearing on how to stabilize the individual insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act. Both reflect the unsettled and unsettling condition of key parts of America’s health care system.

Legislators worked Tuesday on a ballot title for a referral sought by GOP Rep. Julie Parrish that could result in voter rejection of a tax package to sustain current spending levels for the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program.  If the tax package is voted down, state officials could face a budget hole of between $300-$500 million to plug during the short 2018 legislative session that starts next February.

An opinion from Legislative Counsel added more potential confusion to the issue that voters could be asked to decide in a January special election. The opinion says the way the referral is written would only eliminate the additional 0.7 percent assessment on hospitals from October 6, 2017 until January 1, 2018. The referral wouldn’t have any effect on the previously approved hospital assessment.

The draft ballot title clearly attempts to raise the specter of the impact of rejecting the tax package on low-income families, children and insurance premiums.

PROVIDES FUNDS CURRENTLY BUDGETED TO PAY FOR HEALTH CARE FOR LOW-INCOME INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES AND TO STABILIZE HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS, USING TEMPORARY ASSESSMENTS ON INSURANCE COMPANIES, SOME HOSPITALS, AND OTHER PROVIDERS OF HEALTH CARE COVERAGE.

On Capitol Hill, GOP Senator Lamar Alexander kicked off the first hearing of any kind this year on the Affordable Care Act by declaring, "To get a result, Democrats will have to agree to something – more flexibility for states – that some are reluctant to support. And Republicans will have to agree to something – additional funding through the Affordable Care Act – that some are reluctant to support." Alexander said his priority is on lowering health insurance premiums.

On the day of the hearing, Washington Senator Patty Murray said in an op-ed in The Washington Post that Democrats are willing to work on a bipartisan approach to stabilizing insurance markets. In the op-ed, Murray raised the issue of creating a “public option” to ensure competition to hold down premiums in the individual health insurance market. Capitol Hill observers said that is an unlikely outcome in what already is viewed as a chancy legislative venture in the wake of the Senate’s failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare. Conservative groups have already launched a digital ad campaign slamming Alexander’s effort.

A more likely provision may be some kind of reinsurance program to broaden the base to pay for high-cost individuals, which tend to spike overall premium rates.

Alexander expressed hope his committee can produce compromise legislation by the end of September, which is a critical deadline for insurance companies that have to submit plans and prices for individual health insurance markets around the country. Skeptics doubt whether Alexander’s target date is realistic, especially in light of other looming congressional debates to raise the debt limit, approve a disaster relief funding package and approve some kind of FY 2018 appropriation.

For now, the Trump administration is continuing, with reluctance, to make subsidy payments to medical providers as called for by the Affordable Care Act. Insurers have warned that cutting off those subsidies, which essentially compensate for high-cost care for a few individuals, could lead to as much as a 20 percent increase in premiums, effectively forcing some people to drop their policies.

There also isn’t any clear indication how much or perhaps in what form Congress will authorize for Medicaid reimbursement to states in FY 2018. The Obamacare repeal and replacement bill that narrowly cleared the House earlier this year would have slashed $800 billion from federal Medicaid reimbursements over the next 10 years.

As Trade Talks Loom, Blood Pressures May Zoom

Negotiations to reshape the North American Free Trade Agreement will begin in about a month. Priorities in negotiations for the Trump administration drew mixed reviews on Capitol Hill, including from a GOP leader who said changes in NAFTA can’t harm existing US business activity that depends on trade with Canada and Mexico.

Negotiations to reshape the North American Free Trade Agreement will begin in about a month. Priorities in negotiations for the Trump administration drew mixed reviews on Capitol Hill, including from a GOP leader who said changes in NAFTA can’t harm existing US business activity that depends on trade with Canada and Mexico.

Oregon exports and US industrial production are increasing, according to state economists, which could raise the stakes and blood pressure for Oregon businesses and workers as the Trump administration begins negotiations on NAFTA with Canada and Mexico in about a month.

Trump administration officials outlined their priorities for NAFTA negotiations, which drew mixed and nervous reviews on Capitol Hill and among trade groups. Trump objectives include improving market access for US manufacturing, agriculture and services, adding a “digital economy chapter” and adding labor and environmental obligations.

Administrative negotiators will seek to eliminate “unfair subsidies and market-distorting practices by state-owned enterprises” and improve intellectual property, says US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Texas Republican Kevin Brady, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said Trump’s objectives are “ambitious” in seeking “strong, enforceable rules that go beyond any agreement ever negotiated.” Brady also said an updated NAFTA agreement can’t remove trade benefits currently enjoyed by US businesses.

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, made an underwhelming comment that he hopes Trump’s negotiating objectives will be “further developed” as negotiations proceed.

Democrats were less subdued. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on Senate Finance, called the Trump priorities “hopelessly vague” in explaining how they will “benefit the United States on key topics ranging from intellectual property rights and investment, to currency manipulation and government procurement.”

Wyden also jabbed Trump’s team for including what he called “watered down versions of [Trans-Pacific Partnership] TPP proposals” that candidate Trump belittled in his presidential campaign and withdrew from when he became President.

“Before sitting down with Canada and Mexico,” Wyden said, “I expect the Administration to update this summary, shine some daylight on its negotiations and set the bar high for American workers, businesses and farmers, as it promised it would."

Michigan Democratic Congressman Sander Levin said Mexico’s low wages and a lack of workers’ rights have cost many US jobs, but he said Trump’s priorities don’t evince “that a new NAFTA will be different than the old [NAFTA].”

A number of economists said trying to negotiate a better deal based on a goal of reducing trade deficits is “misguided” and could backfire.

The complexity of trade considerations that go into negotiations was illustrated by South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg, who has transformed abandoned factories into a business park for technology companies in his Indiana city. In an interview today with CBS News, Buttigieg said unionized American autoworkers in his city are assembling German Mercedes Benz vehicles to sell to consumers in China.

In the May economic forecast, Oregon economists said changes to international trade agreements, not to mention a trade war, would have a larger impact on Oregon, which has an economy that depends on exports, than on many other states. Even though job growth in Oregon has cooled off, the state economy continues to expand and is already the third longest upswing since World War II.

Did Clinton Kick Off Her Oregon Campaign?

Hillary Clinton kicked off this year's World Affairs Council of Oregon international speaker series Tuesday, but did she effectively kick off her 2016 presidential campaign in Oregon? Most of the 3,000 attendees at her speech thought or hoped so.

More than two years away from the next presidential election, polls show Clinton is the leading Democratic candidate and the odds-on favorite to succeed Barack Obama in the White House. She was in a similar frontrunner position in 2008 until her campaign ran into an Iowa caucus headwind.

While Clinton had an impressive political resume in her previous presidential run, she has enhanced it even more after a four-year stint at U.S. secretary of state. Not only is she on a first-name basis with many political and civic leaders in her country, she has a personal relationship with most of the world's leaders. She has experience and that other often overlooked quality of being a known quantity.

In her Portland speech, Clinton advanced what could become her central theme in a presidential campaign — the economic benefits of erasing gender inequality. She said in addition to being unfair and wrong, gender inequality is stupid economics. If women were allowed to flex their full productivity, there would be a significant gain in the nation's overall gross domestic product. In a political climate punctuated by "us versus them" arguments, her win-win strategy of gender equity has both a rational and emotional appeal.