Saturday, January 24, 2015

Two out of three ain't good, Kurt!

Democrat-When-Convenient Kurt Schrader shows how broken our political system is ...

Thanks to the single-member district and the intellectually bankrupt Oregon GOP still struggling to repeal the 20th Century, Kurt gets to vote the way Big Oil and Wall Street demand and pretend that it's bipartisanship.

If we had an actual representative democracy that let people elect from a range of options, instead of just voting for one candidate in the zero-sum "winner take all" we get as a result of our "first past the post" plurality election rules, Kurt wouldn't be confident that he could vote against Oregon and get away with it.

Even without fixing the single member district problem we can do much better just by using ranked choice voting (instant runoff), so that Democrats and progressives in the 5th District would be able to vote for someone not captured by the special interests without having their votes go towards helping to elect a disaster like Tootie Smith.

See to learn more about how we could put real choices into our elections.

KMUZ now on the air throughout Salem! 100.7 fm!

Salem's own Willamette Information, News, and Entertainment Service (WINES) launched its new broadcast translator providing coverage throughout Salem for Salem's only community radio station, KMUZ!

Set your radio dials and push button presets for 100.7 fm if you haven't been able to get reception at 88.5.

"Let's live on the planet as if we intend to stay."

Insanity -- streetlight fee on water bills instead of gas tax

If there was ever a perfect time to raise the gas tax to pay for roadway infrastructure, this is it.
Instead, Salem proposes to make residents pay for streetlights on their water bills, even though the vast majority of the streetlights in Salem are for the benefit of automobiles.

Streetlights don't squeeze funding for road repairs: sprawl and foolish attempts to keep up the growth Ponzi scheme are what squeeze funding for road repairs. Shifting the burden of road repairs  -- and streetlights are most definitely part of the road system – onto residents who may not even own or use a car is just more evidence that City Hall has been captured by victims of carhead, the affliction that impairs logical thought and especially decreases or eliminates empathy for persons not merged into a cyborg with their own car.

City of Salem Considers New Streetlight Fee (Photo)
// City of Salem

Keeping Salem's more than 10,550 streetlights operating has squeezed funding for road repairs.

What's the crux of the problem? Streetlights and road repairs in Salem both depend on a shrinking pool of gasoline tax revenues. Money for basic road pavement maintenance has largely evaporated.

"We will, at some point, have to decide on whether we want to fix the sidewalks or streets because we won't be able to do both," said Mark Becktel, the city's parks and transportation services manager.

City staff have proposed a solution: a streetlight fee that would be added to city water and sewer bills. The proposed fee -- amounting to $2.80 per month for a single family household --would create a dedicated funding source for operating the city's streetlights and allow more gasoline taxes to be used for road repairs.

In February, Salem City Council is expected to hold a public hearing on the streetlight fee. The fee was first brought before council in July 2013, but councilors asked staff to come back with more information.

Each year, the cost of electricity and maintenance for streetlights consumes approximately $1.4 million of the city's $8.9 million allocation of gasoline taxes.

Meanwhile, street maintenance has sustained the brunt of recent budget cutting, losing all general fund support in the current fiscal year. The Public Works Streets Fund has had a recurring shortfall of $1 million since the end of fiscal year 2013-14.

Revenue from the streetlight fee would pay for electricity and streetlight maintenance, as well as upgrading city-owned streetlights to light-emitting diode lights, better known as LEDs.

About 68 percent of streetlights in Salem are city-owned; the rest are owned by utilities. Portland General Electric has already completed the conversion of its utility-owned streetlights to LEDs, which are more energy efficient than the traditional high-pressure sodium lights they replaced.

The city has met with neighborhood groups, as well as the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, and explained the rationale behind the proposed streetlight fee.

City officials maintain that using the existing utility billing system is the most cost-effective way to implement a fee for service.

Revenue collected from the fee would be placed in a streetlight fund dedicated solely for the operation and expansion of the streetlight system. Gas tax funds, previously used for streetlights, could be directed to street maintenance.

City officials, however, said another funding source for street maintenance will ultimately need to be found. The streetlight fee will stabilize funding for street maintenance for about three years, giving the city time to devise a solution to the funding crunch.

Without the streetlight fee, the city faces deep program cuts, including reductions of staff and services, by fiscal 2016-17.

The gravity of the city's street maintenance problems may not be obvious to casual observers. Main arterial streets are in good-to-fair condition, but many neighborhood streets haven't had preventative maintenance in 15 or 20 years, Becktel said. No pavement maintenance on residential streets was performed in 2014, other than emergency repairs.

Work crews completed only about 6 lane miles of pavement overlays and skin patches on collector and arterial streets in 2014. That compares to the city's 12-year-average of 11.4 lane miles.

Past attempts in Salem to improve transportation funding by imposing a new fee haven't succeeded.

In 2002, Salem City Council passed a "streetscape utility fee" that would have provided funding for streetlights, sidewalks and street trees.

Salem's business community found the streetscape fee unacceptable and mounted a political campaign to overturn it. An initiative petition sent the proposal to voters and it was repealed in 2003.

Becktel said the current streetlight fee proposal stands a better chance of succeeding than the 2002 proposal because it's narrowly focused on streetlights.

"We're not taking on sidewalks, streetlights and street trees all in one fee," he said. "It's just communicating to people that we can't afford to pay for streetlights out of gas tax anymore."
City staff have also addressed several concerns about the version of the streetlight fee presented to city council in 2013.

For example, city staff have recommended expanding a low-income credit on water and sewer bills to offset the fee's cost. About 500 low-income households in Salem would end up paying a little less on city utility bills.

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"Let's live on the planet as if we intend to stay."

Intuit: profiting off waste and distress

Intuit is a terrible, terrible company -- lobbying to make sure that tax time is as much of a burden as possible, the better to sell millions of software packages. Morally, Intuit is no better than the alarm system company owner who opposes better police services because he doesn't make a profit off preventing crime -- he wants lots of crime so that he sells lots of alarm systems.

This is the perfect example of what the US Supreme Court's worship of corporate people (and loathing for the 99% of sex-having flesh people who don't own a corporate person) has brought us to: we have a company -- one that has been magically granted Free Speech by supposedly conservative, textualist justices -- that would gladly give you cancer if they made money off it.

Changes To TurboTax Lead To Consumer Revolt, Opportunity For Competitors
// The Consumerist

It's important to step back and look at the big picture, too. Intuit has spent millions of dollars lobbying the federal government to make sure that American taxpayers still have to file tax returns, even though for most people the IRS could simply pre-populate the form with the information they have and cut us a refund check or send us a bill. The state of California already does this for state income tax returns, and other countries do it. People would be welcome to do their own math and file a return, but they wouldn't have to.