Category: SW Editorial

Time for Salem to ‘Bag it Better’

Portland does it. Eugene does it. Even the city of Brownsville, Texas — part of Senator Ted Cruz’s district and considered one of the poorest municipalities in the country, does it. So when is Salem going to ban the bag? Last year, in the fight against the blight of plastic bags, McMinnville became the sixth Oregon city to ban stores from stuffing products in disposable plastic bags. The ‘Bag It Better’ campaign was spearheaded by Zero Waste McMinnville, and after a short time, it won unanimous support from the McMinnville city council. According to a recent article in the New York Times, even Rwanda is more environmentally responsible than Salem when it comes to the ubiquitous plastic bag. Rwanda’s ban, adopted in 2008, is one of the strictest in the world. They don’t even allow food items in the grocery to be wrapped, except for frozen meat and fish. Stores violating the ban face heavy fines and can even be shut down, and bag smugglers at the border can receive up to six months in jail. The ban in Rwanda is not uncommon. The Times reports that 15 countries in Africa have some sort of ban. They are among 40 nations around the world, including China, France, India and Italy. In 2015, Hawaii became the first U.S. state to ban plastic bags. California passed a ban in 2014, but...

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A SOBERING CENTER IN SALEM?

What is a sobering center?  Is one needed in Salem/Marion County?  Who would pay to build and operate it?  Where do first responders now take people needing sobering? Currently our police officers, sheriff deputies, firefighters and paramedics have only two options for delivering individuals under the influence.  Jail or the Emergency Room.  Neither is a best practices option.  In Oregon, police are mandated to transport any at-risk publicly intoxicated person to “an appropriate treatment facility.” (ORS 430.399)  Police can take a person to jail if he or she has committed a crime or is violent or extremely belligerent. Most frequently the choice is to deliver to the Emergency Room, often at Salem Hospital.  The ER is not designed to be a sobering center.   The costs to Salem Health are significant.  Costs mount for space, resources, staff time, stress, and often unpaid bills.   Chronic alcoholics often have no insurance or income to pay the $500 to $1000 bill for a visit.  In other major Oregon cities there is a third option – a sobering center specifically designed and staffed to receive intoxicated individuals.  The sobering centers in Medford, Eugene, and Seattle are reportedly modeled after Portland’s Hooper Center, which was opened in 1973 by Multnomah County.  The Hooper Center is part of non-profit Central City Concern.  In addition to a short-term sobering center, The Hooper Center operates a...

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A YES VOTE ON THE LIBRARY BOND MEASURE IS NOT TOO MUCH TO ASK

For all of its 105 year history, the Salem Public Library has been a cheap date for the residents of Salem. It’s been a low cost, discount, bargain basement public library. It’s been that way from the beginning. The library started with a “book social” hosted by the Salem Woman’s Club in 1904 at which about 50 books were donated. When the club approached the City fathers to let them put their collection in the City Council chambers, Mayor Frank Waters agreed, “provided it should not cost the Council anything.” In 1909, when Andrew Carnegie was giving away libraries to cities that would provide a site and an operating budget, it was the Women’s Club that bought the site at the corner of Winter and State streets. But when the City refused to appropriate sufficient funds to operate the library the deal fell through. A year later the Club tried again, and this time got the City to appropriate $3,000 in operating funds to secure the free Carnegie library that opened in 1912. The free Carnegie library (which still stands today) housed the Salem Public Library for six decades and was seriously outgrown and undersized when the library was finally able to relocate to the present library in 1972. That library was paid for with a 1968 bond measure that also built City Hall and the downtown fire station....

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TAX CUTS HURT THE ECONOMY

A protracted congressional consideration of tax reform looms menacingly in our near future.  This is a prudent time, before the predictable partisan bombast begins, to take an analytical nonpartisan look at exactly what a tax cut means and what it accomplishes.  Especially, we need to anticipate the familiar clarion call for the most misleading “axiom” you’re about to hear: a tax cut to stimulate the economy. From a strict benefit/cost perspective, who is helped and who is hurt?  Technically, a tax cut is merely a transfer of spending power from public hands to private hands. Thus, it means that the expenditure of those dollars will be controlled by private “former” tax payers, and not by those who control the public budget.  Private spending replaces public spending. An important proviso must be mentioned.  The analysis assumes that public spending will be reduced by the amount of the tax cut, or in other words it is deficit neutral.  Of course, we all realize that this is rarely the case in practice, which is ironic in that those who usually argue for tax cuts and less public spending also tend to abhor the government deficit.  However, cutting taxes and simultaneously reducing spending by more than the amount of the tax cut is both a skill our political system is yet to master and potentially devastating economically.  Whether possible or desirable or not,...

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Health Insurance for All

As the Republican-controlled federal government attempted to destroy the Affordable Care Act (ACA) this summer, Oregon’s government moved in the opposite direction.  Instead of stripping hundreds of thousands of Oregonians of their health insurance, bipartisan legislation raised $600 million in revenues needed to trigger $5 billion in federal funds to shore up Medicaid and ensure that one million people continue to receive health coverage.  In addition, the state’s expanded coverage for reproductive services, including abortion, places it in the forefront of providing high-quality care for its citizens.  These actions, along with ACA subsidies for hundreds of thousands of privately insured Oregonians, represent important steps toward providing universal access to health care in our state. But they are not enough.  Five percent of Oregonians still fail to qualify for coverage even under the ACA and, as even the ACA’s supporters concede, the system is riddled with problems.   Premiums continue to rise rapidly in some places, some rural areas lack a choice of providers, and many people remain underinsured.  In addition, out of pocket costs for many plans remain high, many small businesses have difficulty covering their employees, and costs for drugs and medical services continue to increase well beyond the inflation rate. Many of these problems could be fixed if Republicans in Congress were willing to work with Democrats to address them, but even if they improved the ACA...

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