In Our View: Cheers & Jeers

Putting a price on legislative inaction; better days for Old Town Battle Ground

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Cheers: To Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb for warning in a letter to legislators that continuing inaction carries a local cost. Weeks have turned into months in Olympia, and the time needed by school districts to prepare for next year is rapidly evaporating. If the budget isn't passed within the next few days, staff will have to be called back to work this summer to interpret the budget, and assign teachers and staff, make out building master schedules, and finally assign students to classes.Webb estimates that the extra cost to Vancouver would be about $78,000, about equivalent to a classroom teacher's salary and benefits. Multiply that by the 295 public school districts in the state and the price of inaction becomes even more substantial.

Jeers: To mounting payouts to do-nothing legislators. While nothing substantial happened in the first 30-day special session -- which followed a 105-day regular session -- many legislators kept accepting the per diem payments they are entitled to receive while the Legislature is meeting. These payments, meant to counter the expense of living temporarily in Olympia, are on top of salaries and other benefits. Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, took $1,350 in per diem in just the first two weeks of the sham session. Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, accepted $540, as did Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, between May 13 and June 9. Other local legislators collecting per diem included Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver.

Cheers: To better days for Old Town Battle Ground. The east end of Battle Ground's Main Street strip belies the vitality seen a mile west near its intersection of Highway 503. The buildings in the historic downtown area are smaller and older, and too many are vacant. A few new businesses offer hope for downtown's future. More importantly, the city government and the Battle Ground Chamber of Commerce are working together to tap a state-sponsored urban-renewal program that could provide redevelopment guidance and tax incentives. Perhaps in a few years, Old Town Battle Ground will look more like successfully revitalized downtown Camas and less like the faded Highway 99 strip through Hazel Dell.

Jeers: To a plan by U.S. House members to offer no funds for the Columbia River Crossing. The blatantly partisan bill offers $1.68 billion for 17 New Starts projects already on the federal list. It has long been known that our project, which will qualify for $850 million in funding, could be ready by the time the federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1, assuming responsibility trumps partisanship in Olympia. It's worth noting that our own representative and longtime CRC opponent, Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler, helped draft the bill. Luckily, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, a powerful CRC supporter, is likely to include the project on the Senate's list.

Cheers: To the Elephant Lands, the large, new exhibit for the Oregon Zoo's remarkable collection of Asian elephants. Construction of the 6.25-acre, $53 million habitat recently began around the eastern end of the zoo in Portland. The expansive habitat will give the elephants many more opportunities to be active and offer visitors more ways to see the herd. An elevated walkway through the large new indoor Forest Hall will allow visitors to get a new perspective on the giant creatures.

Jeers: To the Army Corps of Engineers' decision not to do a broad environmental study of the overall regional effects of coal trains. Many more would roll through Vancouver to proposed export terminals; it would be wise to know all of the risks while assessing the benefits to the entire region.