Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown was sworn in as Oregon’s 38th Governor Wednesday, Feb.18. We don’t have the superfluous (as Florida, Massachusetts and Nebraska recently found out) position of Lieutenant Governor in Oregon. She is the nation’s 37th female governor and the sixth woman currently serving as a state’s chief executive…and, the sole openly bisexual one.
Mucking out the Orgean Stables
Oregon Governor Kate Brown (with her horse Tazo) has her work cut out for her
In her short Inaugural speech, while noting noted the bizarre circumstances of her rise to the top, she stated: “I have also sought to promote transparency and trust in government, working to build confidence that our public dollars are spent wisely. As your Governor, this will not change.”
Alrighty. Where to start?
To honor that pledge of Transparency, Brown must immediately create an independent audit of the massive spending of those public dollars over the past term of resigned Governor John Kitzhaber and his predecessor, Ted Kulongoski, to determine just how (un)wisely those dollars were spent and where accountability lies- billions were ladled out; someone(s) got rich…
Points on the audit data line:
1) Health Care. The state Attorney General says that over $420 million was spent on Oregon’s disastrous health care exchange Cover Oregon. It never worked and was finally dumped in favor of the federal healthcare.gov exchange. The state is suing Oracle, the software contractor, and Oracle has sued the state for $23 million more. What checks were cut and to whom were they made out to?
2) Renewable Energy. Since the state adopted the shady 25 x 25 Renewable Energy Portfolio (that is at the heart of the influence-peddling scandalthat brought down her predecessor Kitzhaber), at least $550 million in tax credits were given to wind farms and other “Clean” energy projects designed to meet the terms of the 25 x 25 portfolio. (The Shepherds Flat wind farm alone in eastern Oregon got $30 million in Tax Credits and in 2010; the Oregon Department of energy arranged a $1.3 billion loan to the facility.) What companies got the Tax Credits, which ones got state-backed loans; who owns said companies; how many permanent jobs were created? (I talked with a wind tower engineer who told me “I’ll have to find a new job, if the tax credits run out.”)
3) Biomass: Back to the Future?
Tens of millions in Tax Credits have also been given to new Biomass plants – burning wood for electrons. Burning wood for energy is the oldest form of energy production on the planet. Well before fossil fuels, entire forests and civilizations went down from overusing this “resource,” when human population was well under one billion planet-wide.
Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-OR, though he lives in New York City!), touted the benefits of biomass in hearings on his bill for eastern Oregon forests, which directs the U.S. Forest Service to encourage the use of forest thinnings for biomass energy.
“It’s going to be good for the forest,” Wyden said, “it’s going to be good for the economy.”
In addition to the immeasurable impacts on forest ecosystems, Biomass is also the dirtiest form of energy – 1.5 times more dirtier than burning coal. It is also anything but low carbon. Brown’s audit must detail: just who got Tax Credits; how much; how many jobs; impacts on forest ecosystems and just what energy was/is derived.
It also must dissect the strange collaboration between Kulongoski and Seneca Timber, err, Seneca Sustainable Energy – the Biomass Plant that is Eugene’s top carbon polluter. A thorough examination of Tax Credits given Seneca and the sale of 1500 acres of the Elliott State Forest to Seneca is called for;
4) The Nowhere Bridge. On Kitzhaber’s watch, Oregon spent over $175 million on a proposal to build a $10 billion bridge across the Columbia River. The Columbia River Crossing proposal was dropped after land was purchased, buildings removed; Washington state balked at paying their share and after it was shown that the $10b price tag could never be recouped with tolls, etc. When Washington bailed, Kitzhaber defiantly decided that Oregon could go it alone, spending millions more before the plan was moth-balled. In this case, we know exactly what the citizenry got for its money. We need to know who got enriched. Long-time Democrat political hack Patricia McCaig is under federal Department of Justice scrutiny- all her records on it have been subpoenaed – over her role in it. A swift decoupling from McCaig is on Brown’s plate – whether she does it or not will be telling;
5) NIKE. Kitzhaber called the Legislature into Special session after NIKE said it could no longer invest in Oregon due to tax issues. The Legislature handed NIKE a 30-year tax break that some say will end up from $500 million to $2 billion. NIKE and Kitzhaber even got the tax break retroactively applied to investments NIKE had already made!
In addition, state-sanctioned low-tax “enterprise zones” have seen a score of high-tech firms take advantage with little benefit to the citizenry. One firm got a $755,000 property tax break in one year while creating just one job! The sole other item on the Special Session agenda was to cut the State Employee’s Pension Fund by $2 billion! While the retirees will have less income as a result, Kitzhaber will enjoy a high government pension whether he is convicted of wire/phone fraud and/or conspiracy for his role in the influence peddling or not;
6) Big Health. NIKE Chairman Phil Knight made a $500 million challenge to find matching funds for Oregon Health Sciences University’s – you guessed it, Knight Cancer Institute. The supposedly philanthropic challenge garnered support for $200 million in state funds from Kitzhaber and State Senate President-for-Life Peter Courtney. It doesn’t bode well that Brown’s chief of staff Brian Shipley was OHSU’s lobbyist.
7) The State Land Board forest giveaways. Brown has been a rubberstamp for Kitzhaber’s raids on state forests in her position as one of three members of the Land Board. She retains her vote as governor. In addition to the aforementioned sell-off, Kitzhaber has pushed doubling the logging on sate forests in the name of jobs…rather than confront Big Timber’s preferential tax status and rampant exports of raw logs and chips from their own private forests – forests that were swindled from the public weal at the turn of the 20th Century. Brown would be well advised to read the jailhouse confessional book by one of the conspirators who stole forestland – Looter of the Public Domain – before she continues this Big Timber scam. Big Timber, while once the economic engine of the state, now provides less than 3% of Oregon jobs. Far more jobs are in the state’s recreation industry based on the forest remaining upright. Again, Cui Bono must be answered. And again, it does not bode well that her lobbyist chief of staff also was on board with Forest Capital Partners, a huge timberlands holding company for two years before his OHSU gig.
It’s a daunting task, but if Brown is to make good on her promise of transparency and restored trust in government, she must take it on. But, you gotta love a horsewoman who lets her horse get dirty and happy…and one with experience cleaning out the crap.
MICHAEL DONNELLY lives in Salem, OR. He is a former timber mill worker, a former 80-employee recreation business manager/co-owner and a long-time forest protection activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org