If one of Gov. Kate Brown's goals for the next few months is to reach out to rural Oregon, she's picking an odd way to start.
As you might recall, after a controversial cap-and-trade proposal failed to win enough votes in the state Senate, Brown vowed to examine what executive steps she could take to press her carbon-reduction agenda — steps that wouldn't require any legislative approval.
But she also said that she would direct her staff to go back to rural communities and industries over the next few months to find possible points of compromise on a cap-and-trade program.
That makes sense, seeing how the state's rural communities helped galvanize the opposition to House Bill 2020, the cap-and-trade proposal that was sidetracked when Republican senators walked out of Salem — but which was finally killed when Democrats couldn't muster the votes it needed. Those Democrats who were cool to the bill expressed concerns about how the bill would impact rural Oregon — points that were emphasized during the final weeks of the session with protests in Salem.
It could be that Brown's intended outreach to rural Oregon to talk about cap-and-trade compromise is meant in part to help heal the wounds opened during the debate over the measure. Perhaps it's also meant as a way for the governor to extend an olive branch to a part of the state that frankly doesn't feel as if it can trust her that much. After all, in the 2018 election against Republican Knute Buehler, Brown failed to carry a single county east of the Cascades. She won in just seven of Oregon's counties — but romped to a huge win in the state's most populous county, Multnomah.
In that light, we were interested this week to read about the bills and other legislative measures that Brown is considering vetoing. (Oregon's Constitution requires the governor to provide at least five days' notice before vetoing a bill; she needs to make final decisions by Friday, Aug. 9.)
Top of the governor's list was House Bill 2437, which would increase the amount of material that can removed from an agricultural ditch without a permit by 60 times what is now allowed, going from 50 cubic yards to 3,000. It also would increase the amount of dredged material that can be dumped in a wetland without a permit.
The bill was supported by the Oregon Farm Bureau. Mary Anne Cooper of the bureau said the bill is intended to give a regulatory break to farmers who now must acquire a permit to clear an agricultural ditch when the property in question is classified by the state as wetlands. The bill passed both chambers by two-thirds margins, which means the Legislature in theory could override the veto. But Brown said she thinks the bill goes too far.
We don't see any evidence that Brown's proposed vetoes were meant to extract revenge from Republican legislators. But we note in another proposed Brown veto a tendency we've seen before from the administration, to study an issue even in cases where action is clearly required. Brown is considering using a line-item veto to strike a $4 million appropriation to the city of Newport to plan for replacing two dams on Big Creek — dams city officials fear could fail during an earthquake, with potentially catastrophic results. Brown said her preference would be to study all of Oregon's dams and then prioritize them according to risk.
That's fine, as a general rule. But in this case, there seems little doubt that the Newport dams would be near the top of any list of dams requiring repair. And the city was hoping to use the $4 million in state money to leverage additional federal dollars. There seems little risk in funding the Newport project.
As far as Brown's outreach to rural Oregon goes, that work remains to be done. But it's hard to see how these potential vetoes would get those conversations off on the right foot. (mm)