Tuesday, July 2, 2013

As Pilot Butte crumbles, so does government funding

If you can't patch it, paint it
It's fitting that Pilot Butte, in the center of Bend, attracts tourists from all over the country and the world to take in one of the greatest views of the Cascade Range in the Northwest.

On the drive up, though, they can't dodge potholes in the roadway because they can't take their eyes off of the edge of the asphalt since it's breaking away like a crumb cake.

As I neared the 400-mile mark this last spring in hiking up and down the 2-mile trail, I'd heard from volunteers that the state was going to fix the road this summer.

Well, I'm now past the 500-mile mark and the only changes have been the addition of reflective road markers and a freshly-painted edge line.

The white line makes the road narrower than before, in some spots almost two feet skinnier. The crumbling roadway didn't deter the line painters, though. They just painted right over the gaps in the pavement.

These "improvements" were designed to make the drive safer, but they make it more difficult for two vehicles to pass each other on the road, one going up and the other going down, at the same spot. It's now more dangerous.

In this small way, Pilot Butte shows what happens when taxes collected for the public good are instead given back to companies or never collected in the first place. No wonder there was no huge outcry when the payroll tax jumped in January.

Oregon has joined 16 other states in allowing large corporations to keep the payroll taxes they deduct from your check.

Yes, that's right. Many Oregonians are paying the companies they work for, including BendBroadband, the cable monopoly in Central Oregon.

Also, since these workers see the payroll tax deductions on their checks, they assume they're paying the state government for the services it provides.

No wonder they get angry when they see that there isn't enough money in the state to fix things like the road up Pilot Butte.

Or, that the state's two largest universities have to reject deserving in-state students for the far more lucrative tuition paid by out-of-state students. Nearly half of the University or Oregon's student body is from out of state. At OSU, it's 25 percent. In California, less than 3 percent of the state's universities' student bodies are from out of state.

Or, that Bend must raise water prices at triple the rate of inflation each year for 20 years to pay for infrastructure needs caused by developers.

The list goes on and on.

In Bend, city officials were deeply torn about whether to raise the motel room tax from 9 percent to 11 percent. In the end, they decided to raise it incrementally.

As if that mattered.

Seventy percent of the money raised by the room tax goes back to the lodging industry so that it can promote itself. Meanwhile, the city that the local lodging industry is trying to promote has huge potholes all over town that are left unfilled because of a lack of funding from sources such as the room tax.

It's a sign of how shady the lodging industry is when it needs the government to collect these de facto promotion dues.

Meanwhile, Nike, Apple and Facebook, three of the wealthiest corporations on the planet, got sweetheart tax deals from the state of Oregon for the promise of "adding jobs."

Well, as award-winning journalist David Cay Johnston notes in his latest work, "The Fine Print: How Big Companies use 'Plain English' to Rob you Blind," these giveaways never produce a net number of jobs, but rather deplete government coffers that could have benefited the public in a number of ways.

Ever wonder why we give away all these tax breaks to corporations and yet the unemployment rate, and, more importantly, the under-employment rate, stays at record highs.

Well, corporations get to keep the money that's supposed to go for the public good. Check out the Good Jobs First website for tracking subsidies to corporations.

In Salem on Tuesday, Republicans affirmed their allegiance to Grover Norquist rather than to the people of Oregon. With additional cuts to the public employee retirement system (PERS) on the line, estimated to save about $5 billion, Republicans, led by Bend's Tim Knopp (rhymes with dope) voted to forego these cuts to PERS that they were begging for, because then they would have to vote for a companion bill to modestly increase taxes on high earners, and Norquist's oath forbids such action.

Back in Bend, the view from atop Pilot Butte is as breathtaking as ever. Better see it before operations at this state park are taken over by a corporation that will charge you a fee for a vista you already own.

As Mitt(Wit) Romney said, "Corporations are people, my friend."

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