Others Say - May 17, 2013

Unwise cuts in the U.S. wildfire budget

The best time to fight a wildfire is before it starts. Reducing fuels reduces fires. There’s less threat to the public, firefighters, trees, wildlife and property. So why is the U.S. government planning to spend less on reducing fuels for wildfire? The 2014 budget reduces funding for what’s called the Hazardous Fuels Reduction program to $95.9 million. That’s a cut of $88.9 million from the pre-sequester level in 2012.

The Interior Department even tried to put some positive spin on the cut, as U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., pointed out at a subcommittee hearing Wednesday:

“The 2014 program presents an opportunity to re-evaluate and recalibrate the focus of HFR (hazardous fuels reduction) to align and support the direction in the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy.”

The Interior Department can do all the re-evaluating and recalibrating it wants. It is not going to make up for cutting the budget for fuels reduction nearly in half. Sally Jewell, the new secretary of the Interior, responded to Merkley. “We had to make some hard choices,” she said.

Let’s look at some of the hard choices. First of all, the Interior Department’s budget for 2014 is $11.9 billion. That’s an increase of some $486 million over 2012. So that means — even with more money — the department is slashing hazardous fuels reduction to pay for something else.

One of the hard choices the department made is to spend more on sage grouse protection. The department is increasing it by $15 million to prevent the sage grouse from becoming an endangered species. Perhaps the department should add sprinkler systems near sage grouse nests so they don’t broil in wildfires.

The department is also increasing by $2.8 million a program called the Youth in the Great Outdoors Initiative. That’s pretty much what it sounds like. It gets kids out in the woods. If the woods aren’t on fire, one of the lessons could be about how re-evaluating and recalibrating makes up for a 48 percent cut in funding for fuels reduction.

The Interior Department is also one of the federal agencies that takes in more money than it spends. It’s expected to get $14 billion in receipts in 2014 or about $2 billion more than it will spend. Rather than shift that “profit,” why not keep fuels reduction at least at 2012 levels?

If there is another wildfire in Oregon the size of Rhode Island, as there was last year, give thanks to the hard choice to spend less on preventing fires and more on fighting them.

— The (Bend) Bulletin


Oregon should make the right to vote much easier

Every time Oregon holds an election, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh gets a vote.

Probably, he gets thousands of votes — or at least keeps other people from casting them.

In 1986, following the Rajneeshees’ comical but vicious attempt to take over Wasco County by busing in homeless people to vote, Oregon voters enacted a registration cutoff 20 days before an election. The bhagwan is long gone, but in every election, thousands of Oregon voters who get interested in a contest too late are kept out of the election process.

Now, Secretary of State Kate Brown has a proposal based on what Oregon has learned over two decades’ experience with the mail ballot: Getting to vote should be easy, not hard.

Brown has introduced House Bill 2198, which would allow the state to automatically register any Oregonian when a state agency already has their name, age, address and digital signature. Right now, that means Driver and Motor Vehicle Services, but it could extend to other agencies. Following this system in other places achieves registration of more than 90 percent of eligible voters.

Just using DMV records, Brown estimates that another 500,000 Oregonians would get the power to decide, at the end of October or the beginning of November, that a candidate has finally inspired or annoyed them enough to make them decide to vote.

It’s a right they should have.

With its mail ballot and its participatory tradition, Oregon is among the top states in the nation in voter turnout. The others among the top 10 states all allow registration on Election Day. Combining the mail ballot with registration access, Oregon could give its citizens the fullest access to the vote and possibly achieve the fullest turnout.

Just as there has been no measurable voter fraud with the mail ballot, there would be none with its extension. The state would still have the vital information and signatures of all voters, and all registration and voting would have a paper trail. (With what it knows, the state could avoid registering noncitizens.) It would be, in Brown’s phrase, “a seamless and secure system,” just as we have now.

Throughout the years of mail voting, we have heard complaints about making democratic participation too easy, that people should have to extend themselves to vote, to go to their local school gymnasium or to fill registration paperwork 20 days in advance. But the point of democracy is to bring voters to participate, not to put stumbling blocks in front of them.

Oregonians should have a right to a voice in the running of the state until the polls close on Election Day. They shouldn’t have to clear some additional hurdle to get there.

And it’s really time that the bhagwan loses his say in our elections.

— The Oregonian


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