|For old times' sake|
The bojack bumper sticker -- only $1.50!
To order, click here.
But not frickin' funny.
Here are the issues that the city attorney has identified. And there may be more.
It's the perfect ending to the dubious Portland City Council career of Erik "Opie" Sten: a hare-brained stunt that will cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands in legal fees and ultimately be declared illegal. Maybe after he's gone (only five weeks to go), the rest of the commissioners will come to their senses and stop the insanity. One can only hope.
UPDATE, 2:46 p.m.: More details here.
Remember the deal whereby OHSU was going to pay its fare share of the operational costs of the OHSU aerial tram [rim shot]? Well, the deal's been revised. In secret, of course.
Hey, Mayor Potter! Do you still work here? What's the deal, dude?
With that combination of intelligence and honesty, is it any wonder we're in the mess we're in?
It's all actually quite simple.
Forget for a moment the fact that the City of Portland appears to be on shaky ground financially. Even if it were in good shape money-wise, how can the city be building streetcars, redoing the downtown transit mall, handing hundreds of millions to the SoWhat boys, buying up the Main Post Office to hand over to a developer, and talking about building a new no-cars bridge over the Willamette, when the entire city we have is literally falling apart at the seams?
I guess if you ask a simple question enough times and politicians don't answer, the question isn't valid any more.
The cost of taxpayer handouts for the campaigns of the politicians running for two Portland City Council seats in the May primary now stands at $841,254. The current tale of the tape is here. And that is not counting a couple of additional items that could raise the total public payout for this spring's municipal campaigns well over $1 million.
Additional Item 1 is mayoral candidate Sho Dozono. If he doesn't somehow pull himself out (or get kicked out) of the "voter-owed election" pool, or otherwise self-destruct, will likely get close to another $200,000.
Additional Item 2 is the extra bill that the taxpayers will get handed if the "unclean" candidates in various races raise more money than the "clean" ones are initially awarded. Unless the city has changed these rules on the fly (which seems to be an almost daily occurrence), if "dirty money" folks raise more than the "clean money" allotment, the taxpayers get to match the excess for each "clean money" candidate in that race. So far we know of at least two candidates who are going to rake in big dough from the usual suspects: Sam the Tram for mayor and Nick the Fish for council. If they decide they need to blow past the "voter-owed" limits, we all get to pay more for their opponents' junk mail and robo-phone calls.
At least one City Council race is virtually certain to head for a runoff, and so there's some more hundred thousands out of the taxpayers' pockets this summer. But hey, it'll be worth it, because now the people with money in Portland will no longer control City Hall.
Here's an interesting summer job opportunity.
So reports our correspondent in this dispatch:
Burnside Bridgehead is now on semi-permanent hold as the PDC [Portland Development Commission] commissioners unanimously decided NOT to renew the Memorandum of Understanding with Opus NW to construct the project.This project was cursed from the moment the old PDC administration decided it was going to force down the public's throat a concept, and then a contractor, that it didn't want. Now that we're back at Square 1, let's hope something more responsive to the real needs and desires of the neighboring residents and businesses will emerge.
I confess it came as a bit of a shock to all of us who showed up today for the proceedings. No one from Opus bothered to attend. It was all a done deal last night, apparently. The PDC staff story is that "after careful consideration of the market trends and the economic downturns the project is just not viable at this time and the PDC staff recommend not renewing the MOU," etc., etc. We can all draw our own conclusions as to the real reason why.
The demolition of the Cascade Plaza and the other buildings will proceed and the site will be prepared to be "shovel ready" for a prospective tenant sometime in the future, but at least two years away. In the meantime, the PDC wants to plant some grass and wants to use the site as a temporary park; it was suggested a dog walk area, which may help to keep the undesirables away and prevent tent camping. (Yes, that was actually suggested!)
You can catch it all on some cable channel or other if you dare.
Several folks I spoke with saw the blog and liked the name suggestions, as did I. Thanks for spreading the word.
And if someone could please put the kibosh on the folly of the "couplet"...
Flipping down the dial last night, I caught the last few minutes of the latest edition of Bill McDonald's cable access show on Multnomah Cable. I think it's still called "Born to Slack." You lefty writers and thinkers out there really ought to track that one down. It is a monster.
Sure, it rambles. Some thoughts don't get completed before the next brainstorm charges in. But man, there's a wealth of great thought and expression there. It puts most of us in the blogosphere to shame.
The Seinfeld session of the Oregon Legislature, just concluded, was pretty underwhelming overall, but the wimpy thing it came up with in the name of mortgage reform was particularly disappointing.
Now, I'm not a big fan of bailing people out who got in over their heads with their housing finances -- I think Americans need to spend a lot more time reading and understanding legal documents before they sign them -- but what gets me the most is the explanation of why the move toward serious mortgage reform has failed in Salem. It reminds me a lot of the farce that took place when State Sen. Ginny Burdick & Crew undertook to outlaw holding a cell phone while driving, but wound up banning that practice only among teenagers (or some such nonsense). From Ryan Gragg Frank in today's O:
Mortgage brokers -- with an assist from the industry's United Financial Lobby -- mounted withering opposition. Some argued the new rules would drive them out of business and could bring back 1950s-era redlining for minority borrowers. Why not wait, they said, for the Federal Reserve to make official new rules that apply to all lenders?It's almost as though the function of the Legislature were to play scorekeeper to see which faction screamed the loudest or spent the most money staking their claim. Whatever happened to the days when the people we elected to represent us would study the facts, make up their own minds what was the right thing to do, and then do it? Now they act like they're just watching wild animals gore each other on the Discovery Channel and announcing the winners.
The Legislature's three-week session provided little time for consumer groups to counter industry arguments. Tepid support even from Democrats and strong Republican opposition led House Speaker Jeff Merkley to water down the bill to win votes. But in the process, he lost the consumer support base and the political momentum fell flat.
"The real strong advocacy wasn't there," said Senate President Peter Courtney, a Salem Democrat who controlled the bill's fate in the session's final hours. The Senate vote, Courtney said, "wasn't close."
That's a 2-0 record for the mortgage industry in two years. But they, along with consumer groups and legislators, pledged work on more potential reforms for next year's session.
What's even crazier is that there is pretty much no money to be made serving in the Oregon Legislature (except for a few who figure out ways to steal it indirectly). Why, then, should the members pay any attention at all to what the greasy lobbyists are saying? The lawmakers ought to throw them all out of the building, check in with their constituents, and do what they were sent to Salem to do. It's really not asking too much.
Don't look now, but the Blazers, who started the season with 5 wins and 12 losses before their miraculous 17-1 surge, have gone 7-15 since then. They're basically out of playoff contention and playing like a team that's tired. Given that they're the youngest or second-youngest team in the league, they should not be tired. And with no rookies, by now they should understand what it feels like to be in the NBA in late February. They should be peaking, not peaked.
Granted, Roy is exahusted and hurt, but Blake, Jack, and Webster were disasters last night against the Lakers; Sergio hardly plays any more, so don't expect him to get into the flow; and when you've got LaFrentz on the floor playing out his money, you know the season is lost. Portland's a jump-shooting team that shot 10 percent in three-point attempts -- embarrassing, unless you're one of their homer announcers.
The Blazers' problems are numerous, but their offense is especially lacking. One wonders whether coach Nate McMillan, who got himself ejected last night for arguing with coprocephalic referee Steve Javie, is ever going to be able to coach a serious winner. Even if Greg Oden had been around, would the outcome have been any different? The official Blazer faithful line is that of course it would, but you've got to wonder.
As much as fans get attached to players, everyone on the team except Roy and Aldridge seems eminently expendable at this point. Package a couple or three of them up along with this year's lottery pick, and the Portland squad may get the experienced player who can take it into next year's playoffs.
Or play the hand you're holding now, add another rookie, and wait -- maybe a lo-o-o-o-o-ong time.
And who's going to pay to fix it? Nobody knows.
However bad the Blazers' record ends up this year, at least we're not enduring this.
Oh I, oh I'd
Better learn how to face it
Oh I, oh I
Don't think Wheeler can replace her
She's gone -- Oh I -- What went wrong?
Get up in the mornin' and hiss at the Mean Girls
The woman had a cockroach running 'round her sink
She took a lot of grief, and she deserved it
Now she'll try to reach
The homeless in Stinson Beach
Oh I, oh I'd
Better learn how to face it
Oh I, oh I
Don't think Wheeler can replace her
She's gone -- Oh I -- What went wrong?
Still lots of foolishness down on Hawthorne
Let the carbon and the offsets choke my thoughts away
Bernie's booty calls dissolve the memories
But mess with Schrunk
And soon your career is junk
Oh I, oh I'd
Better learn how to face it
Oh I, oh I
Don't think Wheeler can replace her
She's gone -- Oh I -- What went wrong?
I see the Amanda Fritz-Charles Lewis brouhaha made the tail end of Phil Stanford's column today. If you're interested in reading our comment threads on that subject from last week, the lengthier one is here; the first one is here.
Alas, there is no new evidence to report on who actually sent in the IRS complaint on Lewis (and copied the Merc). Guess it will remain a mystery.
Hey, do you think if readers of this blog chipped in a grand or so to pay for it, Amanda would take a polygraph test?
It looks like they'll be burning the grass fields in Idaho again this fall, after the practice was halted out of environmental concerns. The environmentalists and the grass farmers over that way have cut a deal that they say should provide protection for vulnerable people from the serious health problems caused by grass smoke. Under the brokered agreement, the clean air standards will be even stricter than those imposed by federal law.
You wonder how the terms of the new pact stack up against the current state of the law regarding field burning here in Idaho's Portugal. Hey! Maybe the Oregon Legislature could... nah, never mind.
Carmela Soprano explains it all to you.
My dear friend Steve Griffith has made it official -- he's running for the Legislature. You will not find a kinder, sweeter, brighter, more progressive person anywhere. The only catch -- he's not of the Democratic persuasion. But then again, I think I saw a Merkley sticker on his car.
I remember back when Steve made his first run for the Portland School Board. A group of his dedicated friends scoured the city asking complete strangers to let them put signs on their lawns. Many did, and he won by the very narrowest of margins. So began two terms of excellent service to the city's public schools.
Don't get me started on Steve stories. I could go all night extolling the man's virtues. If he wants to do this, the voters of his district owe it to themselves to make it happen.
(BTW, I think the O story's got it wrong. I believe Steve's address is in Portland -- close to the L.O. border, but not actually in Oswegoland.)
Uh oh. Grampy dinged up the Prius this morning.
The Portland Development Commission remains wedded to Opus Northwest as the developer for the Burnside Bridgehead project -- the controversial development on the east side of the Burnside Bridge. This week they'll talk about extending the commitment to Opus yet again, for another year, despite the fact that after three years and several previous contract extensions, the whole plan for the site has gone nowhere. They would have stimulated the local economy more if they had simply installed a cemetery.
There's little or nothing left of the original project that competing developers and outraged neighbors once fought so bitterly over. Why not scrap the whole thing and start over? No, instead they'll wish and hope and scheme and dream some more, and supposedly negotiate with prospective tenants in secret. More smoke-filled room stuff. (Picture some buzzed Home Depot execs nodding out on a leather couch, the PDC guys in kneepads moaning "please, please...," and the Opus guys drawling "That site shore is purty.")
Along with the latest round of foolishness is coming a "rebranding." Maybe if they start calling the project by a new name, eventually the Google searches will stop exposing the long-term futility of the whole thing.
But the folks at the PDC seem to have neglected an important feature of public process here in Portland -- the valuable citizen input that constitutes the riches of our city. They can't "rebrand" the Burnside Bridgehead without hearing from us, now, can they? Of course not!
And so, in our continuing spirit of public service, we hereby solicit your views on a new name "brand" for the Burnside Bridgehead project. Couplet Meadows? The Charrette Minaret? Void Center? The Hurl District? Readers, do your civic duty in the comments.
While we've been focusing on the upcoming Portland City Council elections -- and the grotesque sideshow of who's cheating whom with their "clean money" -- a couple of other local elections are drawing near with nary a peep out of the blogosphere.
Over at Metro (the folks who are about to hand you the Convention Center Hotel), as usual nobody gives much of a darn, and the Network Formerly Known as Goldschmidt will still have their hands in everyone's wallet, extracting cash for the Hoffman Construction set. So far, three incumbents are running unopposed, and a fourth has a single political unknown as an opponent. Given that within a few years these folks may be taking over all the bridges and Tri-Met, you'd think there'd be more interest in these positions, but no. Joe Taxpayer remains fast asleep, just the way the Old Boys want it, and there are smiles all around over the shrimp cocktails at the Arlington Club.
Nearby, three Multnomah County Commission seats are up for grabs, as the last two of the Mean Girls head off to Pilates, and Uncle Fester gets to spends more time with the Golf Channel. Unlike the snoozefest at Metro, there are quite a few folks popping up to vie for these offices. Maybe they want a good seat on the tour boat when the Sellwood Bridge comes down.
In District 1, which was Maria Rojo de Steffey's seat, the candidates so far are Deborah Kafoury, Wes Soderback (right), and Mark Newey. I am so relieved. After several years of aching and longing, Portlanders will once again have someone named Kafoury to vote for. It's God's way.
In District 3, formerly represented by Lisa Naito (whose dedication persisted even after she wound up living somewhere else), we have Rob Milesnick, Judy Shiprack, Mike Delman, Roy Burkett, and Bruce Barclay. What? No Ron McCarty? At least at first glance, you've got to go with Shiprack -- there's a name that fits right in with the current state of county government.
And in District 4, Lonnie Country, the candidates are Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso, Diane McKeel, and Ken Quinby. But hey, the deadline for filing for county offices is March 11 -- roughly three business weeks away -- and we're thinking someone else could be jumping into that one. If Bernie's not too busy with you-know-who, he may very well want to take a shot at it.
Alas, the job itself is to try to lure real biotech employment to the sterile canyons of the SoWhat District while the bankruptcy buzzards circle above. It's another Portland Development Commission position that it looks like they're having trouble filling. But hey, it pays nice dough. What happened to the guy who was in that post just a short while ago?
The cloud of foul-smelling emissions surrounding the new Portland transportation tax (coming soon to your water bill) gets thicker and stinkier by the day. Now it seems that although the City Council still plans to put the new tax up for a public vote in November, they'll be delaying taking formal action to do so until after the mayoral election in May.
Remember when the "fee" was so urgent that it had to be passed without a public vote? That James Monroe would have wanted it that way? Remember when the council had a change of heart and said it was going to play like grownups? Refer the tax to the voters now, and face the music for the next eight months? Well, all that's on hold because Sam the Tram's running for mayor, and he wants you to forget that he's in charge of this fiasco.
Or who knows? Maybe one day soon we'll open our water bills and find the tax on there, as he's figured out a way to slip it onto the books without anyone noticing. Or maybe he'll just wait 'til Grampy's gone and ram the whole thing through on the second of January, with no vote at all.
If you think the vote manipulations are infantile, wait until he's mayor and this sort of thing becomes a weekly occurrence. Never before has this once-great city been jerked around so badly. Vera Katz will look like Mary Poppins in comparison.
Now that he's running for President again, Ralph Nader will get Secret Service protection. And he is going to need it.
Bad news! You dropped them into that case that you were stealing the gun out of.
All day long, the beauty and charm of the mountain. Upon arriving home, the smell of winter-blooming daphne in the drive, and the taste of a well crafted ale brewed just up the street. Life is good.
Earl the Pearl tells it like it is.
And it began in Portland.
Since Feb. 6, the city of Portland has seen the interest rate on its $150 million in auction bond debt increase from 3.6 percent to 4.47 percent. Market unpredictability could force it even higher.The stuff that has hit the fan is also blowing down from Pill Hill:
Unwilling to put up with that kind of volatility, the city has opted to convert the $150 million in auction rate bonds to fixed-rate securities. But stability comes at a price.
Eric Johansen, Portland's debt manager, predicted the city will have to pay 5 percent to 5.5 percent, meaning that the annual payment on that portion of the debt will jump from about $5.25 million to as much as $7.87 million.
Another $150 million of the city's debt will be repriced next week.
OHSU has $234 million in auction rate bonds. Three different times in the past seven days, its bond auctions failed.The whole, important story is here. As usual, the boys and girls at the O save the bad news for a Saturday, when readership is at its absolute lowest. Maybe next Saturday they'll get around to asking about how our governments' investments in the bond market are doing.
In normal times, the interest rate on the OHSU debt hovered between 3.25 percent and 4.5 percent. But after the auction failures, the interest rate jumped to 12 percent on one $45 million issue and 10 percent on another $45 million issue.
But the current bond crisis is nothing if not unpredictable. The interest on a third $45 million issue actually decreased to 3.25 percent.
As a result, OHSU's interest cost jumped $60,000 a week, said Ken Brown, OHSU comptroller.
OHSU will know more about its financial exposure Thursday, when an additional $94 million of its debt reprices.
So says the O this evening.
Here's (yawn) another guy with a blog.
Portland's Big Idea Man will be retiring from the spotlight soon. But it looks like he's going to go out in a real blaze of... well, a real blaze.
I see that we're back to "No one owns the sidewalk." Unless you're the Hilton Hotel, of course.
The last time this was in our faces, I started a little foray into the arcane world of sidewalk newsracks. Because when it comes to owning the local sidewalks, no one seems to beat the local mainstream media. The press of other interesting topics caused us to short-circuit our examination of those issues, but between the weather and the new Portland city ordinance, perhaps it's time to get back on them.
Challenge Hillary’s assertions—more or less blindly accepted by the media—that she is experienced, battle-tested, and ready to lead. Her campaign’s chaos and incompetence has shown her to be anything but, her judgment has been deeply flawed in a variety of ways, her inability to manage her finances, her messages, or her surrogates suggest she is not in charge and her legislative track record is pretty flimsy. In fact, she has no real history of fighting hard for anything besides her and her husband’s political survival. What major fight or issue has she successfully spearheaded in the Senate, and when has she shown real political courage in bucking popular causes or in championing unpopular ones? How many of her famous "solutions" has she really been able to push through?The whole thing is here.
Here's a funny blog that an alert reader pointed me to yesterday. A small sample:
A good place to find white people on a Saturday is at a Bike Shop. Bike shops are almost entirely staffed and patronized by white people!Please head over there and read some of it before coming back here to call me a racist. Thank you.
But not all white people love bicycles in the same way, there is much diversity....
The Prius might be the most perfect white product ever. It’s expensive, gives the idea that you are helping the environment, and requires no commitment/changes other than money....
Recycling is fantastic! You can still buy all the stuff you like (bottled water, beer, wine, organic iced tea, and cans of all varieties) and then when you’re done you just put it in a DIFFERENT bin than where you would throw your other garbage. And boom! Environment saved! Everyone feels great, it’s so easy!...
Once breakup proceedings have been initiated, a white person is immediately thrust into the center of attention in their circle of friends. During this time, they are permitted to talk at great lengths about themselves, listen to The Smiths, and get free dinners from friends who think "they shouldn’t be alone right now."
It is imperative that you do not attempt to kick them out of their misery by saying things like "get over it," "there are other people out there," or "I don’t want to read your poem." Implying that there things in the world more important to you than their breakup is considered one of the rudest actions possible....
We note in passing that the City of Portland's unfunded police and fire pension and disability liability is back above $2 billion. We had projected it at that level a while ago, but ratcheted back our estimate after the last official announcement of the current liability. Even using a conservative estimate of a growth rate for this debt, it crept back over the $2 billion mark yesterday. And so now it's onward to $3 billion, and beyond.
Maybe somebody should be asking some questions down our way, too.
There's no doubt about it -- stagflation is back. This is the lethal combination of a stagnant economy and high inflation. We saw it in the Ford and Carter years, and the only thing that eventually cured it was high interest rates -- and I mean super-high. In 1981, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate home mortgage was 15.5 percent. That sounds bad at first, but the prime rate was 21 percent.
In some ways, I pity the fool who next occupies the White House. He or she will be trying to give the country a hand boost out of a hole a mile deep. And with all the talk by Obama and Hillary about expensive new programs like universal health care, mortgage foreclosure bailouts, random stimulus checks for everybody, and bond default mop-ups, it's hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It looks like it could be a long one.
Reality begins to set in in Seattle.
I just noticed -- guess who recently re-entered the blogosphere, at least for a week or so. Let's hope he makes it a regular thing again.
The Rose City never ceases to amaze. It seems you can't fix the Sellwood Bridge if the town councils in either Troutdale (pop. 14,000) or Maywood Park (pop. 800) won't give their approval to the way you want to pay for it. Is that not the height of absurdity -- especially when you consider that twice as many cars pass over that rickety span every day as the populations of both those hamlets combined?
If the county's efforts fail, and it appears they very well may, we could be heading toward the establishment of a regional transportation authority. Cue the Network Formerly Known as Goldschmidt to cash in on that one -- the best of both Tri-Met and Metro.
I hope nobody dies on the bridge while we continue to screw around with this, year after year. Go by streetcar!
What is the point of this? It's early to be beating down McCain to ensure a Democratic victory in November. Maybe the Times is trying to help Hillary. "Don't worry. He's so weak, even she can beat him."
The pessimist in me just knows that the Democratic Party is going to screw this up royally.
Aaaaoooooooo! We strolled through the 'hood and went out to dinner this evening. On the way home, we saw our shadows -- on the moon!
Last night we posted about the anonymous complaint that's reportedly been filed with the IRS, alleging that Portland City Council candidate Charles Lewis is misusing the nonprofit organization he founded to further his campaign. His opponent, Amanda Fritz, whose campaign treasurer made similar complaints to city elections officers last November, denies in comments on this blog that she or anyone connected to her or to her campaign sent the IRS the complaint.
Here's the complaint and at least part of the cover letter, as supplied to us by Lewis today. He says he got it from the kids at the Merc, who recently received a copy, presumably from whoever wrote it:
If this didn't come from the Fritz camp, where did it come from?
If you're a Portland policeman, why, you grab your gun and head right over.
Now the citizens' review commission is asking the Police Bureau to "reconsider" and investigate some more. Is this system bass ackward or what?
This blog continues to be screamingly funny and dead-on accurate at the same time:
We can't fault the Clinton [condo project] for replacing affordable housing, at least. It replaces a spectacular Victorian house instead, which thankfully I guess they moved somewhere so we can still look at it, theoretically. There's so many of those around anyhow so who cares. However the Clinton sits across the street from a "Weston Special" filled with affordable 2-bedroom type people, and with that kind of money invested, the condo-ites can't be expected to stand for it forever.Get it while it's hot.
Future generations speak out.
The miracle that was the early-season Portland Trail Blazers is over, to be sure. They've now lost five games in a row, including a home defeat at the hands of the motley Sacramento Kings last night. The Blazers scored only 14 points in the third quarter, and gave up 35 in the fourth. That'll do it. The refs "let 'em play," with relatively few fouls called -- the game was over in 2 hours, 11 minutes.
You live by the jump shot, you die by the jump shot. And one of Portland's unlikely strengths, a shootist named James Jones, is in the midst of a prolonged absence due to a knee injury.
They'll probably need to win 20 out of their last 29 games to make it into the playoffs, with a wicked schedule ahead. It gets tougher with every loss to keep thinking about the post-season, but hey, the team's not giving up yet, and neither can the fans.
Is it just me, or is this being taken waaaayyy too casually?
The Seinfeld session of the Oregon Legislature crawls on. They've really got that crime problem on the MAX trains licked:
SB 1074, which moves to the full Senate, requires TriMet to perform annual evaluations of criminal activity along MAX light rail lines and park-and-ride lots, and report to the Legislature.That should help a lot. Merkley and Macpherson, you're running for higher office based on this?
Oh, my. Here I was trying to choose between Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis for Portland City Council, when along comes an ugly story about Fritz's organization playing elections law cop on Lewis's campaign. A member of the Fritz camp has been complaining unofficially to the city elections folks about a breakdancing event that Lewis held in the fall, and now reportedly someone's complaining to the IRS about the same thing. Something about the nonprofit group that Lewis founded allegedly being improperly involved in his City Council campaign.
I thought we had more important issues before us than this sort of stuff. One of Fritz's big claims to fame is how she has mastered all of the city's arcane "voter-owed election" rules, but hassling other candidates about their compliance with the rules is not helping her candidacy in my eyes. She has every right to play cop, I suppose, but you have to wonder whether that's the energy we need next to Mayor Sam.
Apparently it doesn't apply to the internet.
And they even did it without a streetcar.
The highlight: Repeatedly running into Ralph Nader at the hand sanitizing station.
I've been studying the upcoming Portland City Council race that pits a slew of newbies against each other to take over the seat currently being warmed by Sam the Tram. I see real value in the candidacies of Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis. And above all, I think it would be a disaster if Chris "Streetcar" Smith was elected.
In figuring out for whom to vote, I can't help but do a little strategizing. Given the crowd of candidates with equal war chests of public tax dollars thanks to "voter-owed elections," it's almost a sure thing that there's going to be a runoff. And if Smith made it to that stage, I'd want to be darn sure that his opponent in the head-to-head general election would beat him.
But as between Lewis and Fritz, who would stand the better chance of doing that? Despite Fritz's loss to Big Pipe Saltzman last time around, she does have name familiarity now, and lots of neighborhood association types know her. That may be what it would take to beat Smith, who seems to have nothing better to do but go to wonky meetings and shill for the condo-streetcar cabal. On the other hand, Lewis would provide a real breath of fresh air, and he knows how to work a crowd. He'd leave Smith panting, trying to keep up with him.
What do you think?
(Hey, do all the candidates in that race now have to count this poll as an "in-kind contribution" to their campaigns?)
UPDATE, 8:37 p.m.: Here's something else that I must consider.
Here was a nice story in the Trib over the weekend, with a nice photo to go with it. But when you take a closer look at the larger version of that image in the print edition of the paper, you get a little cause for concern. Check out the message on the whiteboard:
Please, please tell me that one of the second graders, and not the teacher or some other grownup, wrote that.
There's no contest. It's this guy.
The next time they lose your luggage, it might not be in Atlanta -- it might be in Minneapolis.
Here's one in Beaverton who's allegedly been up to no good.
Is it fake?
In the contest between the Network Formerly Known as Goldschmidt (Dozono) against Homer Williams (Adams) to see who gets to put their hands in my pocket for the next four years, I think I'll be sitting it out. Thank goodness it will be over in three months.
Rough start for their Napa store.
Amazing coincidence, isn't it? We're just now getting around to convening a kangaroo court in Guantanamo to try some prisoners for complicity in the 9/11 murders. Just in time for the Presidential election campaign.
The main guy has been locked up and waterboarded in our Cuban prison camp for five years. Gee, why try him now? If not to game the election, is it simply to get the rest of the world to hate us more?
Wow, Coach, you need help.
Do you ever get the feeling that the government is lying to us? Take the inflation figures they're putting out -- 4.1 percent last year, 2.5 percent the year before. Are they kidding? Having just paid some monthly winter energy bills, I'm walking around in shock. Natural gas, electricity, and especially gasoline -- they're killing us! Even if every other price that we pay was staying stable (and of course, the $4.19 loaf of bread belies that), energy alone would jack up the inflation rate higher than 7 percent over the last two years.
I'm sure it's the same with the unemployment numbers, and who knows what all else. And I'm not stupid enough to think that a new face in the White House is going to change things in this regard. The only thing I'm not entirely clear about is how long it will take before the average Joe and Jane figure out how badly they're being lied to.
If I had an infinite amount of time, I'd start my own consumer price index -- a real one.
Had some wild dreams last night amidst a long winter's nap. In one of them, I was walking into some sort of large-room event with Hillary. She kept smiliing, and I kept smiling. Although I don't ever want to vote for her, just being that close to celebrity must have been what made me keep beaming.
She gave me a small round sticker that said "HRC" on it, and told me it would enable me to enjoy good seating in her section. I gave it back to her -- stuck it on her lapel, actually, right below an identical sticker that she was wearing. I told her that I wanted to remain neutral because of the blog.
Then she introduced me to a member of her entourage. I turned around and gave a nice handshake to Lady Bird Johnson.
Why wait 'til there's a new Interstate Bridge to the 'Couv to start collecting tolls for it? The State of Washington is talking about starting now.
And don't try to talk to him about global warming. Too funny.
As noted here yesterday, the City of Portland says it's going to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds over the next few months. Good thing it wasn't trying to do it this week. Given the crisis with the bond insurance companies, on which the city routinely relies, much of the muni bond market has ground to a halt:
Already, issuers are facing sharply higher costs because of the fallout from the credit crunch. So-called "auction-rate securities," long-term bonds sold at auction frequently to set interest rates, are reeling from the crisis. At the Thursday hearing, Gov. Spitzer said a failed auction for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey means that agency is now paying 20% on bonds, where it used to pay 4%.As the Times puts it this morning:
In the past week, hundreds of routine Wall Street auctions failed to attract enough buyers for debt securities issued by states, hospitals, cultural institutions, student loan authorities and port authorities, among them the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.It sure looks like the boys at City Hall are whistling past the graveyard these days. A lot of the debt that Portland already has out there has oddball payment schedules and fat balloon payments that are going to need to be refinanced, come hell or high water. If the muni bond market doesn't get bailed out, things could get awfully pricey.
Ever had a tongue sandwich? I have -- in various delicatessens in New York. But it was never anything like this.
Here in Portland, City Hall has an all-night potty. But up north, they do things up in a much bigger way.
Throw some more debt on the ever-growing pile of City of Portland IOU's outstanding. Yesterday a new bond issue showed up on the list of borrowings that the city has planned for the next few months. It's $150 million of "Limited Tax Pension Obligation Revenue Refunding Bonds," said to be up for sale sometime this spring. That's on top of $25 million of new "Downtown Waterfront Urban Renewal and Redevelopment Bonds" scheduled to be sold in April, and a so-far undetermined(!) amount of "Sewer System Revenue and Refunding Bonds," also scheduled to go off in April. (There was also some talk of an additional bond issue for emergency facilities last fall, but that one appears to be on the back burner, at least for now.)
What with some more draws on the city's shadowy but huge urban renewal line of credit with the Bank of America -- I believe there's still something like $68 million of additional new debt that can come out of that contract at any time -- maybe we'll hit a half billion of IOUs signed this year. Now, some of it will be refinancing of old debt -- that's the "refunding" part. But still, a half-billion in the hole is a real achievement, even for stars of profligate spending like Portland. Where do we want all the new streetcars? Party on! We can always sell off the parks if we get strapped.
Of all the stuff I got, these were the best. Especially since they're recyclable:
Now they want your doctor to help them get rid of you.
It's quitting time at the office, and as usual I'm more than ready to start booking toward home. And so it's time to turn off the laptop computer that's sitting in its wonderful docking station on my desk. A great invention. Since it's running on Windows XP, of course, to turn off the computer you click on "Start."
Well, gosh, the wonder that is Microsoft must have been working in the background, because rather than ask me if I want to "shut down," now it's offering "Install updates and shut down." Hmmmm. Is that installing one update for 10 seconds? Ten updates for an hour? No clue is offered. And what is the nature of these updates? Are they crucial, or can they wait? Again, not a hint. And why didn't they get installed over the two straight hours that the computer sat idle earlier in the evening? Life is mysterious.
Hesitantly, I click "OK" -- who wants an out-of-date version of Windows running? -- and up pops a stern warning not to turn off the computer until the updates are complete.
Only then comes the punchline: "Installing update 1 of 9."
Five minutes later, we're on "Installing update 5 of 9," and still the warning, don't you dare stop this in midstream. Another two minutes, and we're still on update 5 of 9. No clue as to how long no. 5 is going to take. Or nos. 6 through 9, either. No progress bar. No time estimate.
I cuss out Bill Gates, put on my coat, turn off the lights, and leave the stupid thing behind. Update this.
So says Earl the Pearl, among others.
Attorney general candidates John Kroger and Greg Macpherson are starting to resemble the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots we used to play with when I was a kid. In human terms, they're playing a game we used to call "Punch for Punch."
Yesterday, Mac got the endorsement of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, showing he can be as green as Kroger, who's been in "Tough on Polluters" mode for months. Today, Kroger announces that he in fact has no fewer than 23 environmental leaders in his camp.
Moments later, Mac sends out a somewhat breathless e-mail alert showing how smart on crime he can be. He points out that he and his buddies in the regularly scheduled "special" session of the Legislature, now under way, are going to try to stop Kevin Mannix's latest lock-'em-up initiative with a more measured one of their own. But to make sure you don't think Mac too much of a wimp, there's this photo to go along with it:
Whatever happens in this election, history will note that Kroger set the campaign agenda. Meth and pollution were his two main topics from Day 1, while Macpherson started with consumer protection and the whole native Oregonian thing. The latter shtick hit the recycling bin pretty quickly.
He was one of four Republican senators who voted for this. (McCain voted no.)
The City of Portland's supposedly sterling credit has never looked shakier to me. As we've documented on this blog in recent months, the city is around $4.6 billion in long-term debt, which is more than its tax base can reasonably support over the long haul -- at least if we're going to have police officers, a fire department, and street lights.
The reaction, quite frankly, has been widespread indifference. No one in the mainstream media seems to care in the least about the city's massive and ever-growing liabilities. And it seems none of our local media wizards read the national financial press, where all the signs of a fiscal disaster for Portland are being laid out.
About the only feedback we've received on our observations about the muncipal debt has been the oft-repeated mantra that the city has a high bond rating. But the events of the last few months have made it clear that (1) bond ratings are highly suspect, and (2) whatever ratings the city's bonds have had so far may very well be about to head south.
Let's start with the reliability of bond ratings. So much of the mortgage-related paper that is now in the toilet, around the country and around the world, enjoyed wonderful, high bond ratings not long ago. So far off-base were the rating agencies' recent opinions of various packages of junky debt that now the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and various other regulators are on their case with serious investigations. And investors in the bond market simply don't trust them any more. Can't say as we blame the investors; they also got burned by bum ratings from the same "experts" in the Enron scandal. A high Moody's or S&P rating doesn't mean anywhere near what it used to, and for good reason.
Even if you're willing to get past that, you need to consider the impact on Portland of the sudden crisis in the bond insurance market. Many of the bonds Portland has sold in recent years have received top ratings only because they were insured by an outfit called MBIA (once known as the Municipal Bond Insurance Association), which guaranteed that the bonds would be fully paid when due. Look at the prospectuses for the city's recent bond offerings -- many are touting MBIA insurance on the front page. Here, and here, and here, and here, for example. Alas, in recent years MBIA and some of its competitors (whom Portland has also bought insurance from) took some ill-advised flyers guaranteeing risky private debt that has now gone bad, and an MBIA insurance policy doesn't mean nearly as much as it used to, again with good reason. Indeed, without a bailout from someone like Warren Buffett, the house of cards known as MBIA could well collapse.
Meanwhile, Portland continues to rack up "interim" debt for urban renewal pork that will have to be refinanced in three to five years. Who knows what kind of credit Portland will have then, or even what its credit is now? (A couple of new bond issues have just recently been listed as scheduled for April, and I suppose we will see then more about what's what. Curiously, however, a previously announced bond measure for emergency facilities has disappeared from the radar screen.) If nobody trusts the rating agencies, and the bond insurers' promises don't mean jack, the interest rate on a lot of that $4.6 billion of long-term debt that city taxpayers are staring at is going to be mighty high.
I keep talking about a municipal money crisis. No one in power is listening. Indeed, the City Council members keep crowing about all the extra money they have lying around. "Where should we put the new streetcars?" It's all fake, folks. When is the city going to wake up? And is it already too late to avert a disaster?
Don't you wish you could get away with cr*p like this where you work?
The Blazers lost their fourth straight tonight -- eighth of their last 11. Their young legs are getting tired, and other teams are figuring them out. Given that the Portland team is in the highly competitive western half of their league, it may even miss the playoffs.
Now, some observers are saying that that would be good thing for Portland -- that missing the post-season would entitle the Blazers to another high pick in the college draft. Although they would indeed get that consolation prize, I disagree about the impact on the team. A playoff berth would be a major coup that would energize the young Portland squad far beyond the jolt that another young star would give them. In light of their phenomenal win streak in December, another year missing the playoffs would be demoralizing.
And so when the All-Star break ends and play resumes next week, it's time for Blazermania to resume like never before. It may take 48 wins or so to make the playoffs, and we have only 28 under our belt with 30 contests to go. To run up a record of 20 wins and 10 losses isn't going to be easy for a young team, and it will be impossible unless the local faithful scream their lungs out the whole way. I'm going to see if I can dig out my Blazer flag for the front porch. No sense keeping it in mothballs any longer.
Here's a new blog that promises to be verrrry interesting, if the author can keep it up.
With all the money that Portland hands out to developer dudes, you would think that the city could afford to help the average Joe and Jane with something like this.
The temperatures are warming, and the birds are coming back already. Why, just yesterday a little one was at my garden gate singing this song:
I heard an interesting thing recently. The City's SAP implementation -- that's their new enterprise-wide financial system to help them be more like a single organization rather than silos -- has been put on hold. The rumor as to why is that it's $40M over budget. If that were true, I wonder if it's related to Sten's stepping down? I don't know if he is in charge of that one, but perhaps you do?Sounds like something in the mayor's portfolio, actually. I do know that the city's chief bureaucrat was saying earlier this winter that everything with SAP (I believe that's the name of a software mega-contractor) and "the Enterprise Business Solution project" was going along swimmingly.
That little bird was just spreading a vicious rumor, I'm sure, with no basis in fact. Because hey, the City of Portland and computers -- what could possibly go wrong?
Take a look at this image, entitled "Hillary's Dream," and give it a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. I'm thinking thumbs-up, but something tells me it could get me into trouble.
Can you imagine how much these things will fetch on eBay?
And lookee who's out front.
Portland politics is a comedy goldmine. Now the nonstory about the infamous Sho Dozono telephone poll just won't die. The guys at Willy Week, who really thought they had something, keep beating the carcass, which is not all that funny.
But what is, is the complaint just filed with state elections officials against Dozono over the poll. The complainant? None other than Bruce Broussard, who in the 2006 election not only had himself disqualified for trying to run for two offices at the same time, but also got so deeply involved in the Emilie Boyles-Vladimir Golovan "clean money" fraud fiasco that a county judge stated that by rights he should be thrown in jail.
Now he's the whistleblower on the election laws, eh? You can't make this stuff up.
How can we get outdone on this issue?
A belated happy Chinese New Year to our readers who celebrate that holiday. It's the Year of the Rat - 4706. And, silly us, here we are, still writing Year of the Pig - 4705 on our checks...
And well she should be. Not content to quit his job on the Portland City Council for some mysterious reason and just leave quietly, Opie's throwing his weight around (such as it is) in Old Town. He's telling the neighbors down that way that they're going to get the new homeless magnet whether they like it or not -- but if they shut up and play nice, they'll get millions in "urban renewal" money for Starbucks and condos.
Council candidate Amanda Fritz finds the whole scene an outrage, and with good reason:
The Council is making the same process mistakes they showcased in the Chávez street renaming fiasco:Ah, the truth. Hurts, doesn't it? And where is Streetcar Smith? Those crickets you hear chirping in his camp are the developers' work being done.
* Not following the process in the Code
* Making deals and promises to some stakeholders
* Not allowing adequate time for transparent, accountable public process in open meetings
Neighbors have been told that if they agree to the siting of the Access Center on Block 25, the neighborhood will receive $200 million in urban renewal money. But that money does not yet exist.
In order to generate the funds being promised, all three of the Portland Development Commission, the Planning Commission, and the City Council must vote to allow the River District Urban Renewal Area to borrow more money, AND change the boundaries of that URA to include parts of Old Town/Chinatown. EVERYONE IN PORTLAND HAS TO RECEIVE WRITTEN NOTICE BEFORE ANY OF THAT HAPPENS. Council members are promising neighbors that all these changes will surely happen, before public hearings and votes have been held.
As I leafed through some of the many Super Bowl aftermath stories, I came across this tale from a nice little town in northern New Jersey, overlooking the Big Apple from a safe distance. And it reminded me that I never filled in the final installment of our mini-series on my recent junket to that part of the world.
For you see, the town in question is Montclair, and that's a place that my sister and I are wont to visit when I'm crashing at her place. We spent a few hours up that way on each of two different days this time around.
Now, you have to understand, in the eyes of some who live around that way, there are two Montclairs: the good Montclair and the bad Montclair. The good section is further west than the bad; the bad is down along the railroad tracks. In the good section are stately homes and a sweet old-fashioned couple of main streets that are being lovingly kept up; in the bad is a fair helping of poverty and trouble. There's something of a racial divide as well. The process of gentrification is under way, however, and the bad section is getting ever smaller as the good section moves its way east.
On the vintage shopping strip up in the good part of town, with a collection of pretty churches tucked in behind them, there are several great spots for a meal, and we caught the daytime version of two of them. One is called Raymond's, and we piled in there for a Sunday brunch. The place was packed, but the help was fantastic, and the food was worth waiting for. It was Jersey diner food at its best, only spruced up with a few yuppie innovations that sent the menu over the top. It all looked so good that I ordered an omelet -- I rarely eat eggs any more -- and noticed that they prominently offered an all-egg-white version. That was something I had never tried before, and wow, it was great. There were also corn pancakes that I passed on, but next time, I'm going for it.
Another day, we had a late lunch at a place called the Stockpot, just up the street. This was a different scene -- old-fashioned as all get-out, and not from the diner. The menu was a collection of homemade stuff like quiches, soups, salads, and sandwiches. We showed up just before closing time -- a little risky in most restaurants -- but we got the royal treatment. Nothing like real food made by real people.
The weather was unseasonably pleasant for early January -- moderate temperatures and fair skies. After lunch, we decided to take a walk around the little shopping district, which doesn't take too long, and then up the hill onto the bluff to see what kind of view it afforded. There we strolled through a neighborhood of stunning old houses -- mansions, really -- that afforded a view of the marshy flats that lead to the Hudson River, and Manhattan in the distance. In high school 40 years ago, I knew some rich guys from this part of the world, but I never got up and took a good look at their prime turf. Now I see. What a gorgeous place it is, and how lucky they were.
Neither my sister nor I will ever live in that place, but that didn't stop either of us from appreciating it. And for once in our lives, there didn't seem to be anything in our voices that sounded even remotely like jealousy of the people who had these riches. We are all just renting this planet. Sure, there are wonderful fortunes and great opportunities behind those spectacular walls, and no doubt their taste is sweet. But who could beat what we had? A beautiful day, free from work duties; bellies full of good food; good company; open hearts and minds; and good legs to propel us up and down the hill. That ain't bad.
As we got back on lower ground, we passed a grand old house that had been dedicated to some sort of nursing home-type function. A couple of guys on the porch waved at us enthusiastically, as if we were their only link to the outside world. We waved back and gave a friendly Jersey "How ya doon?"
A great day, but the finest moment of the trip was still ahead of us. We shot an e-mail to our cousin Jim, proprietor of the much-loved blog Parkway Rest Stop, and asked if he could tear himself away from his capitalist duties for lunch somewhere over the next couple of days. Not only did he have a lunch slot free, but he also pulled out of his "cruller" the location of an excellent Italian joint in a strip mall in the nearby town of Belleville, where he bought us a fine meal.
Lunch with Jim was a real tonic. Actually, there was no tonic, but there was gin, and Chanti, too. (Heck, Sis was driving, and I had a six-hour flight ahead of me to sleep it off, and so I went for the gusto.) Our time together as a close-knit extended family had ended around 35 years ago, but there was so much that we'll never forget. A long lunch barely scratched the surface, but we packed in a lot of laughs and memories. Not to mention food to die for. (Indeed, a funeral "repast" was in progress in the banquet room of the place. I hope they weren't too offended when we howled with laughter at some of the scenes from our shared family history.)
Anyway, a week or so after I got back to Portland, in the mail comes yet another gift from the House on the Parkway. It's this CD, by an artist we hadn't ever known about before that lunch. In it, amid a score of other show-stoppers, she belts out a couple of numbers that were standards throughout the fourplex that was our home growing up. Songs that Granny Bogdanski used to sing, or at least ask the other people at the party to sing: "Our little canary won't sing any more..." God rest the singer and the Granny, and God bless our sister and our cousin for a truly special end to our latest journey home.
UPDATE, 10:12 p.m.: More on the football angle (and good stuff at that) here.
Another fine state employee goes down, this time for alleged embezzlement in the high six figures. Wow, the feds around here say they have actually caught a public employee stealing public money. That doesn't happen too often -- at least, not the feds-catching part.
The suspect, Brent Crosson, worked as an accountant in the state Education Department, and these documents appear to place him in the state Energy Department in 2003 and 2004. According to the O, he stands accused of using a front company called CGA Wholesale as part of his nefarious scheme. That company even had a website, www.cgawholesale.com, although it's defunct now. The domain registration is listed here. Check out what else CGA Wholesale has been into.
At least, I hope not.
Last week, we complained that it was hard to get the 2007 edition of TurboTax to process our Oregon income tax rebate, known as the "kicker," which we received in December. In direct response to that post, TurboTax VP Bob Meighan wrote up a set of instructions showing how you're supposed to do it. We posted it on our website on Friday night, and now we're pleased to report that it's part of the official TurboTax website.
We'll let you click on either of those links, and be the judge of how "easy" the procedure is, but at least it's now explained somewhere. To us, the remaining flaw is this:
At this point, TurboTax still does not know about your Kicker Refund. Therefore, in response to "Is this information correct?," answer No.Why doesn't TurboTax "know" about the "kicker"? Doesn't TurboTax read the papers? The existence and amount of the rebates have been well known since the fall.
Anyway, the instructions show you how to walk through entering the "kicker" if you are in the "Interview" mode of TurboTax. For us old hands who prefer the "Forms" mode of TurboTax, Meighan also sent along an e-mail message with instructions about how to enter the "kicker" there. As we wrote, when we tried to enter our state tax refund in Form 1099-G on TurboTax, it bumped us over to a "Federal Carryover Worksheet" that had no apparent place to put the "kicker." Meighan sends this screenshot to show us where it's supposed to go:
if you decide to use forms mode, you would enter the state refund + Kicker Refund in one cell on the Federal Carryover Worksheet. The amount that defaults in this cell is the amount reported on the return as originally filed. Therefore, you would have to enter the total amount here. In the example that I sent earlier, you would enter $1020 in place of the $145 that would normally show in the cell below. Similarly to my Alternative in the example, you could also add another line to the worksheet that would include another separate entry for OR with the Kicker Refund amount of $875. Same result. You should not have to do anything with regards to deduction limitations and AMT [alternative minimum tax] complications.And indeed, I didn't. Using Meighan's instructions, TurboTax did in fact do all the dirty work, including the messy complications arising out of the AMT. Good work... if you know how to get the program to do it. And now we do. And so do you.
Last week we half-kiddingly suggested that Portland City Council candidate Charles Lewis should spend some of his "clean money" -- taxpayer-supplied campaign funds -- to fix potholes as a
publicity stunt public awareness event. Lo and behold, we were right on the money, and not just in a comic sense. From Lewis's camp, we got a press release this morning that reads in part:
On Friday, February 8th, 2008, Charles Lewis became the second person certified for Portland’s publicly financed campaigns. When Lewis receives money from the City on Wednesday, his first purchase will be a dump truck full of gravel to fill potholes on a public street in Southeast Portland.Lewis is also going to start a pothole reporting feature on his campaign website, which should make for a fun read. By the time he gets done with this campaign, the wizards of comedy at City Hall may regret they ever pushed "voter-owed elections." Go get 'em, Chuck.
"City Council needs to get back to the basics of running a civilized society," said Lewis. "That means rebuilding our infrastructure, creating new jobs, and making sure everyone can afford to live in Portland."
Lewis and supporters will fix the massive potholes located on SE Main Street between 89th and 88th Avenues. The event is an outcrop of a conversation Lewis struck up with a voter living on the unimproved street. While out speaking to voters in Southeast Portland, Lewis met Glen Miller who lives on the dirt road. The two shared their concerns about the state of Portland’s roads and infrastructure and soon the "Pothole Protest" was on.
They help the downtrodden -- just by being there.
The Democratic Party faithful are suddenly waking up to the fact that their Presidential nomination may well be decided by 800 or so "super-delegates," chosen from the "party leadership," rather than by just good old regular delegates, chosen in primaries and caucuses. Obama will probably have more delegates than Hillary as of Tuesday night, but even if he wins more delegates in the primaries than she does, he may still lose.
Check out who the "super-delegates" are:
The category includes Democratic governors and members of Congress, former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former vice president Al Gore, retired congressional leaders such as Dick Gephardt, and all Democratic National Committee members, some of whom are appointed by party chairman Howard Dean.And gee, guess what, Hillary has a large edge among these folks.
But hey, Obama, ain't that just like being an African-American man? The white woman gets a couple hundred delegates' head start. Don't stop believin'.
... darn it!
Do not insert a Firewire jack into a USB port.
This has been Your Tech Tip of the Day.
Small world. We've been writing again lately about our childhood stomping grounds in the Ironbound, or "Down Neck," section of Newark. Just the other night we got a nice comment from a guy who lived on the next street over from ours. This fellow, who now lives in Venice Beach, California, attended our grammar school a short while after we graduated from there. He even remembered quite a few of the same teachers.
One of the things that I asked him when I e-mailed him back was whether he had been a member of the Ironbound Red Shield Boys' Club, where my brother and I hung out many a year. Indeed, our correspondent had been, and he says he even has his black-and-white membership card lying around.
Ah, those were the days at the "Red Shield," so named because it was operated by the Salvation Army. Frank, the guy who ran the place, was a fixture. There were all sorts of activities, from endless basketball in the gym to a trampoline to board games galore to a big TV (black and white, of course) where we used to catch "Batman" a couple of nights a week. Kids even boxed in a ring in the basement. I remember being in the ring once -- just once. Upstairs in the game room, I can distinctly remember the boy band I was in, "the Breakaways," performing one afternoon at a party, with me on vocals. Every once in a while the grownups would invade the place for a benefit game of donkey basketball, in which the men would play the game riding on donkeys. Good times.
Anyway, that nostalgic wave had barely passed -- it was just a few hours later -- that an alert reader sent us a link to this story. Well, I'll be darned. Good for them.
When the politicians and their followers brag to you about some governmental unit's strong bond ratings, don't forget this.
It's Saturday morning -- the perfect time to bury a news story that you don't really want anyone to read. The O has one just about every other weekend. Today we have one, too. It's here.
The Oregonian's new Randy Gragg, Ryan Frank, is at it again today, cheerleading for the condo weasels on the news pages. Stop the presses -- the Goldschmidt law firm is moving to the Pearl District.
With construction cranes spinning overhead, Ater said, Lovejoy Street looks like Portland's new Main Street. "It can be said that the Pearl is the new downtown," he said.And the old downtown is the new Skid Row. Isn't it wonderful?
The Oregon income tax "kicker" saga is generating new surprises by the hour. Now comes word that even those who didn't get their "kickers" are receiving notices (Form 1099-G's) from the state Department of Revenue showing that they received them! One reader so affected writes:
I also received a 1099-G, even though I was a paper filer who fell victim to TurboTax's error. I made my case to the DOR, and they said "no luck" because I paper-filed. If I had e-filed, they may have cut me a kicker check due to the TurboTax error. I still think it's very unfair to treat electronic and paper filers differently, although I see the DOR's point that I had a chance to review a printed return, whereas e-filers did not.Unlike the case of those who received their "kicker" checks late, in this case the state's issuing a 2007 1099-G form may be right. But it sets up an interesting dynamic for some people. If they itemized their deductions in 2006 and don't itemize them in 2007, they'll have to pay federal tax on their "kicker," even though they never got it. If you don't itemize in 2007, you won't get to deduct your charitable contribution of the "kicker," but if you itemized in 2006, generally speaking your "kicker" has to be reported as income for federal tax purposes.
Anyway, back to the 1099-G, yes it lists the amount that my kicker SHOULD HAVE been as a state income tax refund. But I also have a letter from the DOR, which I received back when others were receiving their kicker checks, that states this amount can be considered a charitable contribution to the state school fund and is tax deductible. In that case, aren't they handling this correctly? That is, even though the tax refund never came, isn't it no different than if they cut me a kicker check then I turned right back around and donated the entire amount to charity?
What's the opposite of a loophole -- a black hole?
Here there's an election just a few months away that Portland taxpayers are going to pay something like a million bucks for under the "clean money" campaign finance handout system. And the city auditor and his munchkin committee are still making up the rules on campaign financing as they go along! No room for any monkey business there, eh? It's like Florida, only the weather's not as good.
Ah well, disaster movies are fun to watch.
Over the past couple of months, we've been bemoaning how weak the TurboTax tax return preparation program has been in handling last year's Oregon income tax rebate known as the "kicker." But it appears that Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, isn't the only one who let some people down. Even the Oregon Department of Revenue itself seems unable to get the "kicker" quite right.
The latest problem involves at least some of the reported 440 or so Oregonians who got their "kickers" late, based on their claim that their computerized tax return preparation software (including some others as well as TurboTax) erroneously donated their "kicker" check to the school fund without their knowledge. Many, if not most, taxpayers in this category have received, or are going to receive, their "kicker" checks in 2008. But at least one alert reader of this blog has received a "1099-G" form from the Oregon Department of Revenue that shows that he and his spouse were paid their "kicker" in 2007, which in their case isn't true.
It's more than a minor point. As noted here yesterday, if you itemized your deductions on your 2006 federal income tax return, chances are that you have to report your "kicker" as income on your federal tax return for the year in which you receive it. If you received it in 2007, you have to report it on your 2007 federal return, but if you didn't (or don't) receive it until 2008, it goes on your 2008 federal return, not 2007.
The 1099-G form that the reader received is the one that the state revenue folks are required to send to you and to the IRS (federal) if they issued you a tax refund. The whole point of it is to allow IRS computers and agents to make sure you report your state tax refund on your federal return if you are supposed to. And so if you get a 1099-G with "2007" written on it, the IRS will be looking for it (if they look at all) on your 2007 federal return. But if you didn't get your "kicker" until, say, January 2008, it doesn't belong on your 2007 return. As a "cash method taxpayer" (which almost all individuals are), you don't have income until you receive it.
In the case in question, the stub that the reader has off the "kicker" check itself shows that it was issued on January 23, 2008. And yet a 1099-G for 2007, which shows the "kicker" amount, has reportedly just now shown up in the taxpayer's mailbox. Sounds like a screwup to us.
Whatever you think about the wisdom of the "kicker" as a substantive policy matter, administratively it's a nightmare. The politicians who thought it up should be condemned. There are ways to credit taxes back to people besides issuing refund checks to them. Those other methods are much easier to administer. But they don't have the same political sex appeal, I guess, as checks. And so we shoulder on in the most inefficient way possible, all to pick up a few votes for some clowns running for re-election to the legislature. Such is what passes for governance these days.
And don't think we're through with this kind of foolishness. The feds are about to get into the act. Yesterday Congress passed a "kicker"-type federal tax refund that many people (but not all -- upper middle- and high-income folks are out of luck) will be receiving this spring. Will that federal refund have to be reported as income on your 2008 Oregon tax return? The jury is still out on that one -- it may depend on what happens in the regularly scheduled "special" session of the legislature, currently under way. In theory, though, since you will be deducting at least part of your federal taxes on your 2007 Oregon return, a rebate of federal taxes should be taxable in Oregon on your 2008 return, at least for some people.
One last note: Federal law requires that all 1099-G forms be in the mail by January 31. Like us, several readers of this blog didn't receive their 1099-G's from the State of Oregon until Wednesday of this week, which was February 6. Did the state itself miss the federal deadline? For shame.
UPDATE, 2/11, 1:12 a.m.: It turns out, everyone got a 1099-G showing the "kicker" -- even the folks who willfully donated theirs to charity. Ironically, if you donated, the 1099-G was probably appropriate, but if you didn't and got your check in 2008, it probably wasn't. More discussion here.
I can't wait to see this wacko old coot go back to wherever he came from.
Portland City Council candidate Charles Lewis (the floating bus guy, among other things) has been certified to get his "clean money" -- city taxpayer dollars to spend on his campaign. He's such a media-savvy guy -- maybe he'll spend some of it on fixing some more potholes.
Please, Charles, none of these:
We never saw this coming.
Bernie is even more footloose and fancy-free than ever. (He's giving up the siren in the car, though.)
Fresh from losing $6 billion last month (bad news from the Old Boy Network reported on a Saturday -- typical O), the Oregon public pension folks are saddling up, heading out, and buying up hundreds of millions in tanking real estate and mortgages in the subprime market. The appropriateness of this kind of money play is not beyond question. Cashing in on people's misery -- is that what we want our public money doing? Plus, are things going to turn around, or are these bad assets just going to keep getting worse?
Between this and the $775 million more the Oregon pension folks have reportedly got ready to hand over to the sweethearts at Texas Pacific Group, the Network Formerly Known as Goldschmidt sure seems to be carrying on business as usual.
This is a strange deal. I think Phoenix has jumped the sharq.
Some of the shortcomings of the TurboTax tax preparation program became apparent this winter when many Oregon taxpayers discovered that they had donated their huge Oregon income tax "kicker" refunds to the state school fund, without realizing they had done so. The state Department of Revenue offered folks in that position a return of their "kicker," but only if they had filed electronically. If they printed out their TurboTax return on paper last year and sent it in with the donation box checked, it's tough luck from Salem, even though what appeared on the screen immediately before the taxpayers hit the print button did not match what came out of their printer. We're big TurboTax fans at our house, but that's a big Strike 1.
Fortunately, we didn't commit that blunder, and we got our "kicker" check just fine. (Spent it fine, too.) But now it's time to do our 2007 tax returns using TurboTax, and, well, the software's not handling the "kicker" very well. At all.
There's been quite a bit of Googling going on the last few weeks by Oregonians wondering if they have to count the "kicker," which they received in December 2007, as income on their 2007 tax returns. The answer to that question has been published in several places, but before getting to our latest TurboTax story, let's see if we can take our own crack at the tax law itself.
First of all, the "kicker" is a refund of 2006 Oregon state income taxes. As a state income tax refund, it is not taxable on one's Oregon tax returns, period. Oregon income taxes don't do you any good on your Oregon income tax return when you pay them, and so when you get them refunded, you don't have to declare the refund as taxable on your Oregon return.
As for your federal return, however, it ain't necessarily so. The taxability of the refund depends in part on whether you itemized your deductions or took the standard deduction on your 2006 federal return (filed about a year ago). If you took the standard deduction -- that is, you didn't itemize deductions -- you can ignore the "kicker" entirely. But if you itemized on your 2006 return (last year), you generally have to report the "kicker" as taxable income on your 2007 federal return (which people are filling out now), because you deducted your Oregon income tax on your federal return last year.
It's the same as any garden-variety Oregon income tax refund that one might get, even in a non-"kicker" year. Itemizers generally get a federal tax break when they deduct what they paid to the state, and so they have to report income to the feds when they get the state money back. (Folks in sales tax states have a different analysis, but in Oregon -- even in tax-happy Portland -- we needn't worry about that. Yet, anyway.)
There are some exceptions to the rule just stated. Even if you itemized, you don't have to report the "kicker" refund (or any other refund) as income if it didn't give you any tax benefit on a prior tax return. And if, like us and lots of other middle- and upper-class folks, you're subject to the federal alternative minimum tax (AMT), it may turn out that the state income tax deduction you technically took last year on your 2006 federal return didn't save you any tax, because it's not deductible for AMT purposes. Alternatively, some upper-middle- and high-income folks may be able to keep part of the "kicker" off this year's return, even if they weren't subject to the AMT last year, on the ground that the deduction they took for their state income tax on their 2006 federal return was scaled back by the nasty little "phase-down" that cuts back on your federal itemized deductions because you made "too much" money. ("Too much" was defined in 2006 at roughly $150,000 for a married couple.)
If you're in either of these exception areas, the calculations you'll need to go through to figure out how much of your "kicker" is taxable are daunting. But hey, that's why you pay 40 bucks for TurboTax, right? It does all the wicked number-crunching for you, doesn't it?
In this case, don't get your hopes up. We've been trying to get TurboTax 2007 (out of a box, updated constantly on line) to cope with the "kicker," and we've been having a hard time. For one thing, the program doesn't even know that the "kicker" exists. If you also used TurboTax for your 2006 returns, TurboTax 2007 has your Oregon income tax for that year already scoped out to the penny, but unfortunately that's as of last spring, before the "kicker" was announced. As far as we can tell, the program doesn't really have a place to deal with the "surprise" refund -- it's sure you weren't entitled to an Oregon refund, or at least none further than the one you got last spring. And so when you start to tell it about the "kicker," it can't deal with it. We've had to resort to right-clicking several boxes and telling TurboTax to override itself and accept the numbers we're entering rather than the ones it's filling in automatically. That's never a good feeling.
What's worse, if you paid AMT in 2006, TurboTax is offering you no help with the calculations -- nada. You need to go back and figure out on your own your 2006 regular federal tax and AMT without the deduction for the amount you eventually got "kicked back" from Oregon. If that recomputed tax is higher than what those two taxes together actually turned out to be, then the deduction actually saved you some federal tax, and you have put at least part of the "kicker" down as federal income. The way we dealt with it (and we think it's right) was to re-open last year's TurboTax program (which we were smart enough not to uninstall), recompute our 2006 regular tax and AMT without the deduction, and compare it to the 2006 actual federal taxes. In our case, the total tax was the exact same amount with and without the deduction, and so we won't be putting the "kicker" down as income in 2007 after all, even though we itemized last year. (Importantly, we did not save the revised 2006 returns we just created on TurboTax, because they were for hypothetical calculation purposes only, and we didn't want to erase our electronic files of our actual 2006 returns. Saving would have done that.)
When the tax system gets so screwed up that a smart program like TurboTax can't cope with it, we should all feel a little embarrassed. But we're also sensing some real weaknesses in that particular tax prep software as it tries to deal with the quirks of the many different states in which it is sold. We're up to at least Strike 2.
Oh, and one final point on this one. If you do have to report your "kicker" as income on your 2007 federal return, and you file the long form in Oregon, don't forget to subtract the "kicker" out, as indicated, on your 2007 Oregon return. It's line 15 of Form 40.
UPDATE, 2/8, 11:07 p.m.: TurboTax has sent us this pdf file, which instructs users on how to enter the Oregon "kicker" onto the program for purposes of their 2007 federal tax returns. It works if you use TurboTax in the "Interview" mode. If, like us, you use TurboTax in the "Forms" mode, this won't do you much good. They've also sent us an explanation of how you can make it work in the "Forms" mode, and when we get a chance, we'll try it and report back.
UPDATE, 2/11, 3:00 p.m.: It turns out that TurboTax will do all the dirty AMT and "phase-down" calculations for you, but you have to know what to tell the program, and how. A full explanation is available here.
It looks as though under the leadership of the mayor, Portland residents will actually get a chance to vote for or against the proposed city transportation tax that's about to get pushed onto everyone's water bill. Thank you, Mr. Potter.
Meanwhile, Fireman Randy continues to preach that since there might be lobbying money involved in the election campaign, the public shouldn't get to vote on the issue at all.
On a side note, I'm amazed that the mainstream media keeps playing along with Sam the Tram and calling this a "fee." How is it a "fee," when it isn't based on street usage? It's a tax.
The other game that's being played is the stated estimate of how much residents will pay. To wit:
As it stands now, Adams' plan would raise roughly $464 million over 15 years for street safety and maintenance projects by adding fees into water and sewer bills. The average homeowner would pay $4.54 per month while businesses would pay fees based on their size and the estimated number of auto trips they generate.Let's face it, when businesses pay taxes, they pass them on to consumers. And so all $464 million will be paid by us local human beings.
The population of Portland is around 572,000. $464 million works out to $811.19 per resident over 15 years. That's $54 per year, per person. If there are four people in your household, that would come to $216 per year for the family, or $18 a month. Crude math, of course, but anybody who takes the bait and buys "$4.54" as a meaningful number is as bad with money as the City Council is.
It looks like old John McCain has the Republican Presidential nomination sewn up. Amazing, given that he was running out of dough and hope not too long ago.
Hillary vs. Obama is still close, but "close" means that given all her machinery, including the whole "super delegate" scam, Hill will be the nominee.
And in November, we'll have four more years of a Republican White House. Can't wait.
Real life has been getting in the way of recreational reading and blogging the last several days, but in the wee smalls this morning we finally got a look through this month's edition of The Hollywood Star News, our best source for Northeast Portland neighborhood goings-on. As usual, we came away with a few extra points on the systolic. Among the stories:
-- Some clowns on Northeast 10th are planning to take a standard 50-by-100 lot and stick four 3½-story housing units on it. It's so hideously out-of-place and misguided an idea that I'm embarrassed to live in a city where we're even talking about it. Unfortunately, the horrified neighbors will probably have to fight the city as well as the hopeless owners tooth and nail. (In the same story, there was also a rehash of this atrocity currently planned for Northeast 15th.)
-- The Burnside Bridgehead development is still going nowhere, but there are apparently some rumblings about the builders trying to sneak a big-box store back into the plans. They're calling it "high-profile retail," but a Home Depot by any other name would still blow. As we've noted here before, the favored developers on this project have had more than a fair chance to make their proposal fly, and they haven't. It's time for the Portland Development Commission to declare it dead and start all over. Come on, Rosenbaum and Kadri -- stop playing footsie with these guys and get real.
-- The streetcar weasels are quietly deciding where those condo-selling toys are and aren't going to go (if Portland can get them all built before it declares municipal bankruptcy). Recently nixed off the list of potential future routes were, among other streets, Northeast 21st, 24th, 27th, and 33rd near where we live. Given that all the hapless property owners anywhere near the streetcar get whacked by having to pay beaucoup extra taxes for the privilege, we are darned glad to be left out of that particular Sam the Tram wet dream.
-- Meanwhile, in a full-page real estate ad, we see that somebody is asking $282,500 for a 1,067-square-foot condo at 44th and Halsey. That's $264.76 a square foot for an apartment with "classic 30's charm," near the freeway offramp with the beggars. Sometimes I think we're all bozos on this bus.
There are lots of lighter features in the Star, as usual, but you won't find hard-core neighborhood coverage like theirs anywhere else. If you live in inner Northeast or North Portland, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of this free rag and dig in. It ain't on the intertubes -- ya gotta do the dead tree thing -- but it's worth it.
The Blazers got beat at the last second, literally, by Allen Iverson the other night. It was eerily similar to their undoing at the hands of this fellow, who's now playing, as they say, out of his mind. For Portland, making the playoffs ain't gonna be easy. And it will hurt badly if the team doesn't get there.
Somebody, please, buy the Clackamas County bureaucrats a Costco card and show them the aisle where the cordless phones are? Thanks.
The mayor says he wants to do the right thing by Portland voters when it comes to the proposed transportation tax that would be assessed on people's water bills: a public vote, and without the hassle of a petition drive. As we said here the other day, it's the only sane way to handle this issue.
He's also doing his colleagues a service on this one. Two of them need to stop making themselves look really bad.
... how to cry, cry, cry...
How long before the Portland City Council serves up something like this?
It's a big day for our nation. My friend Steve Stark sets us up for figuring out what the heck is going on tonight. Of all the states voting in the Presidential primaries today, Missouri and California seem like the biggest prizes. Go, O.
Now that the Super Bowl is over, it's time to start thinking about college hoops. But man, what a way to start.
Lelo and her partner are finally recognized by the Powers That Be. Good for them.
When they broke up the Mean Girls of Multnomah County, some of us thought that the juvenile activity in our local government would be drastically curtailed. Maybe we were wrong. The current flap between the Portland City Council and the gas station operators is now straight outta middle school student government, if not preschool on a bad day.
In case you haven't been following this, the council (Commissioner Sam the Tram presiding) is getting ready to lay a new transportation tax onto everyone's water bill, of all places. The gas station guys are up in arms, and threatening a petition drive to put the matter on the citywide ballot, which is their right. The deck is stacked against them -- they have to come up with many, many valid signatures in an incredibly short time -- but even that's not enough for the City Council. In a fairly transparent attempt to keep the tax off the ballot, Sam the Tram has threatened to break the tax into three separate ordinances, which would make it that much harder to get the petitions signed because apparently it would take three times as many signatures.
That's puerile enough, but it gets worse. The gas station folks first indicated that they wouldn't force the tax onto the ballot if they got some concessions from the Trammeister. But right after he threw them those bones and a single ordinance was passed, they turned around and pointed out some weasel words in their promise that let them wiggle out of it. That's two bad episodes -- the multiple-ordinance scam was the first, and the double-cross the second.
But wait, the food fight's not over. Suddenly Fireman Randy has jumped in, filing some sort of reconsideration request for the tax ordinance and proposing that it be split into three again and re-passed, for no good reason other than to subvert the referendum. Bad Move No. 3, and counting.
I used to think the good fireman was a breath of fresh air on the council, but on some things lately he's become more a breath of nacho cheese Doritos eaten about an hour before. Imposing a new tax via people's already hideously high water bills is a fairly significant move that the public should have a right to weigh in on. Jerking the voters around with game-playing isn't fair, and it reflects poorly on those who engage in it.
Even more appalling is the fact that while our adolescent solons and the lobbyists throw stuff at each other, no one is even acknowledging that the public's right to vote is important. It's not just gas stations and 7-Elevens that are going to get nailed with this new tax. There are all sorts of folks out there whose budget doesn't have an extra $50 a year in it to pay a street maintenance tax while City Hall enjoys its wet dreams of endless streetcar expansions. Plus, the system of differing rates and wacky exemptions they're talking about is going to cost a ton of money to administer; can you imagine how the water billing system is going to perform?
A vote on this is not only a good idea -- it's the only sane way to handle the issue. The public has the right to sign petitions and have their say at the polls, if enough of them want to do so. Indeed, it's a big disappointment that the commissioners aren't men enough to refer it to a vote themselves. If this tax is really necessary, let the case be made for it in an election -- not some phony "open house." Any politician who subverts the electoral process is a rogue -- and the fact that some lobby group is also behaving badly is no excuse whatsoever.
If you had to pick the one person that America really doesn't need to hear from right now, it would have to be this guy. Somebody please get out the Raid.
Things got out of hand in the rec room up top.
One of the things I had great fun doing in high school was appearing in the school plays. In my senior year, I even had the lead role in an autobiographical Carl Reiner comedy, Enter Laughing, in which I got to kiss a girl on stage(!). There was also a scene in which another student and I appeared in our boxer shorts, which got the big laugh both nights.
But a few years behind me was a kid whose performances greatly eclipsed mine. Today's his birthday -- he's 52. Best wishes and congrats to him.
The ski bums always say "Think snow," but on Mount Hood right now you can't think about anything else. I've never seen deeper snow up there, and it's still coming down hard. For Nordic skiing, there's actually too much of the white stuff, unless you're on a groomed trail. Pack the snowshoes instead.
The dog wouldn't sing, the clock didn't work, and the fat lady showed up mighty late, but the Blazers eventually beat the Knicks last night in overtime at the Rose Garden, 94-88. It was a barn-burner.
The Portland team started off the game strong, but fell into a horrible funk for the entire second quarter and well into the second half, snapping out of it late in the game and forcing overtime. Brandon Roy, who scored little but dished out good assists in the first half, reappeared in the second half and wound up with the first triple-double of his young career. Overall, he didn't look as good as the box score might suggest. Something seems to be weighing down on him -- maybe it's the sudden glory.
The Blazers revealed that they are a weak team inside. They were badly out-rebounded by the Knicks, and New York backup center Dave Lee pretty much had a double-double by halftime. (Eddy Curry was out with the flu.) Teams who pound the ball inside will likely be having a field day with the Blazers the rest of the season, and the Blazers will win games only if their jump shots connect.
Speaking of jump shots, Blazer guard Steve Blake hit quite a few, leading the team for most of the evening. But in the end, it was backup point guard Jarrett Jack who decided that he was going to drive to the hoop over smaller, tired Knick defenders, and he who pushed Portland over the top. Travis Outlaw once again hit a crucial off-balance jumper as time ran low in regulation -- good for him. On the downside, James Jones had a rough night, and neither Martell Webster nor Joel Przybilla contributed much besides a couple of blocked shots each.
One of the more interesting matchups was Blazer power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and ex-Blazer power forward Zach Randolph. The two went at it head to head most of the game, and Zach was the winner on the floor, but not by a large margin.
The Knicks played better ball for a majority of the contest, but they lived up to their reputation of being out of control, unable to hold together as the evening wore on. They lost the second half 43-32. Except for former Blazer Randolph, who clearly wanted this win to vindicate his entire season, the Knicks are now a ragtag collection of misfits. They seemed quite disorganized, and most of the guys on the bench seemed as though they weren't taking things too seriously. Star point guard Stephon Marbury has essentially quit the team or been fired -- he wasn't around -- but they can get good scoring from Randolph and a guy named Jamal Crawford. Crawford took some shots down the stretch that could have won the game, but none of them fell. In the early going, the Knicks got great production from a comparatively tiny guy named Nate Robinson, who showed more moves than Ex-Lax, and a lot of heart. They're better than their record shows, but until they clean out the empty suits in management, they'll continue to be a sad, sad story.
Although Knicks coach Isiah Thomas is largely incompetent, he does have a good resource on the bench in former Spurs star Malik Rose. Rose played 14 quality minutes on the night, and was active all evening feeding pointers and information to the younger Knicks during timeouts. Like the rest of the team, he looked truly downtrodden when Jack sank two free throws with something like 11 seconds to go in overtime to ice the game.
The big raspberries of the event go to the Blazer management, which is showing some disturbing signs of dysfunction. They spent the whole evening hammering home time and again the facts that Roy has been named to the NBA All-Star team, and that Aldridge will play on the second-year team in the rookie-sophomore game on All-Star weekend.
As might be expected, on entering the arena, fans were offered a large card congratulating Roy on his achievement. More power to everyone involved. But that wasn't enough hype. At a timeout about halfway through the first quarter, they stopped everything and had some Blazer management guy get out at center court and do basically a little awards ceremony for Roy and Aldridge. It set off a bad vibe. It took too long, and shortly thereafter, the Blazers pretty much stopped playing for 15 to 20 minutes. The Knicks built a big lead over that time.
Part of the problem with the game stoppage was that it seemed almost as much about the Blazer management patting itself on the back as it was about celebrating the players. It's like the programs they keep handing you with Greg Oden's picture on the cover. Fellows, Greg Oden ain't playing, and he ain't proved squat in the NBA. Flashing his picture around as if he's the only story on your team just demoralizes the players you have, many of whom are busting their tails and getting little if any recognition. It's the same with the All-Star hype. Enough already. We all love Brandon and LaMarcus, and we know what they've achieved. Now shut up and let them and the rest of the Blazers try to win the dang game the people paid to see.
To add to the embarrassment, shortly after the game stoppage for the hype, the 24-second clocks quit operating. For the second quarter and part of the third, there was no visible 24-second clock at all -- instead the arena announcer, Mark Mason, had to announce "15... 10... 5... 4... 3... 2..." It was pathetic. Fruitless repair work prevented the Blazers from properly warming up toward the end of halftime. They eventually got replacement clocks set up on the floor in two of the corners of the court, but they were hard to see. The Knicks were called for 24-second violations a couple of times, and you had to wonder whether the clock screwups were causing them. With Mr. Technology, Paul Allen, sitting in his front row owner's seat, it was the height of irony.
The Podunkville atmosphere was enhanced by the singing of the national anthem, by a woman who held a chihuahua in her arm as she sang. Apparently, the dog was supposed to join in on the high notes at the end, but it refused to do so.
Anyway, the Blazers survived, but they didn't look all that good. The Knicks lost, and we almost feel sorry for the players.
Off the court, we were thrilled to get in a couple of words with Knick legend Walt "Clyde" Frazier, now a Knick television analyst, who was bedecked in a multi-thousand-dollar New York suit, monogrammed shirt cuffs, and several NBA Championship rings. He was kind and gracious with everyone who approached him, including us. He signed many an autograph and posed for many a cell phone photo.
Between the clock stoppages, the overtime period, and a 7:30 start to accommodate ESPN, it was pretty close to 11 by the time the contest wrapped up. Darn near 2 in the morning for Frazier's audience on the East Coast.
And now, what you've all been waiting for, our blurry photos from fine seats. Here we go. First, our stock shot of the visiting coach during a timeout:
Here's Mailk Rose, the senior statesman who is making the best of a bad situation in New York:
In New Jersey, it's the law.
Tonight should be fun.
Please, please read this. And think carefully about what you're doing.
Looks like the Portland Development Commission's tax abatement programs are not well run. All kinds of monkey business is going on.
Did you know that over the last month or so, the City of Portland has borrowed another $11.7 million for use in four of its urban renewal areas?
We can understand if you didn't. The money was advanced by a bank, and city officers signed the I.O.U.s, without public notice. There was no City Council discussion of these transactions, nothing in the papers or on the tube, and no mention of them whatsoever on the city's website. It was all done quietly by bureaucrats, with only maybe a dozen city insiders even aware it was going on. For a city that wins awards for its supposed financial transparency, it is a bit surprising.
The bonds were sold without public participation or public bidding. Bank of America bought the whole $11.7 million, adding to $97.9 million of other money that it has lent to the city for urban renewal since 2002 -- again, all in highly private, negotiated deals, without a public offering of the bonds. All $109.6 million of B of A debt is still outstanding. The interest rate floats with the B of A prime rate -- as of Wednesday, the city was paying interest at an annual rate of 3.29 percent -- and that comes to around $3.6 million of interest a year. Unlike much of the city's debt, the interest on these bonds is not exempt from federal taxes, and so the bank charges a higher rate of interest than it would have charged if the interest were fully tax-exempt.
And there's plenty more where that came from. The city is planning to borrow as much as another $167.4 million on these terms over the next three years. All of that debt will have to be paid off, or much more likely refinanced, by the end of 2010. The "full faith and credit" of the city is behind the bonds, which means that the city's taxpayers have already agreed to pay the $109.6 million, come hell or high water. It's a revolving line of credit, meaning that the city can pay off some of the debt and come back and re-borrow it; so long as the balance never gets above $175 million at any given time, the city can borrow up to $277 million total.
These and other interesting but little-known facts were uncovered when we recently undertook to examine the city's practice of using "short-term" lines of credit to finance its urban renewal projects. Back in September, the City Council noticed that the existing lines of credit that the city had available for urban renewal pork were going to run out as of December 30, and so the council authorized extensions and expansions of the lines over several more years. Back then, the balance stood at the $97.9 million, but the council, at the urging of the Portland Development Commission, authorized the new line to run as high as the $277 million. We kept watching the city's website for information about the new line of credit transaction, even openly asking about it on this blog, but not a word appeared. As it turned out, the city quietly closed the deal in mid-December, and we got the details when we asked for them directly over the last couple of weeks.
A couple of features of the city's maneuvers are especially curious. First, although this debt is classified as "short-term," some of it is anything but. Some of it has been hanging around for five years or more:
The city debt manager, Eric Johansen, gave us this explanation for the practice of borrowing based on "short-term" obligations:
The lines of credit will be repaid from the proceeds of long-term urban renewal and redevelopment bonds to be issued by the City over the next several years. It is the City's normal practice in urban renewal areas to pay for project costs from line of credit borrowings for several years and to then refinance those balances into long-term bonds when the balances are sufficient to make long-term financing cost-effective.With the balance at $97.9 million, and $18.7 million of it aged around five years, one would have thought that the "balances were sufficient" for long-term, rather than more "interim," debt, back in 2007. It almost makes one think that the city is deliberately stalling on biting the bullet and issuing permanent bonds. Why the city would do this is anyone's guess. The permanent bonds will likely be subject to greater scrutiny than the short-term "lines of credit" were, and they'll presumably be sold in a public market rather than quietly placed with a bank. Does that have something to do with why the long-term financing is taking so long?
Another troubling aspect is the process by which this kind of debt winds up on the city's books. The City Council, when it authorized these lines of credit, said precious little about how the money would be spent. The council designated which urban renewal areas the money would go to, but as for the specifics of the spending, there was nothing in the council resolution or much by way of discussion. And indeed, there couldn't be -- some of the money wouldn't, and still won't, be borrowed or spent for many months. The specific spending plans for much of those funds were rough budgets at best back when the council took action -- some probably still are today.
But once the council gives its blessing to the line of credit, that's the last the public hears about the debt. No further council action is taken before some City Hall functionary signs an order for more money, which he simply ships to B of A. The next thing one knows, the $97.9 million debt has grown to $175 million, without any further public discussion or debate.
Now, when the City Council authorizes the issuance of bonds, in theory voters have a brief period in which they can object. An ordinance authorizing bonds can be referred to a public vote by petitions gathered within a brief period after the ordinance is passed. Thus, back in September, in theory the electorate had a chance to object to the issuance of the "short-term" bonds. But as was just noted, at that point the plans for the spending of the debt proceeds were extremely sketchy, some of the bonds would not be issued for years, and it would have been hard for the public to judge whether the projects were worth supporting or opposing.
Presumably, the voters will get another chance to object to the permanent, long-term bonds when the city authorizes them over the next few years. But let's face it: When the "interim" bonds mature and have to be repaid, there isn't going to be any cash lying around in the city coffers to pay them off. And so at that point, the only options will be to issue permanent debt or have the city go into default. No one is going to vote to have the latter happen, and so any opportunity to vote on the permanent financing will essentially be meaningless. Any "decision" will be made with a gun to the taxpayers' head.
In sum, the public's right to object to the city's borrowing more money for urban renewal projects is clearly hampered by the "interim" financing maneuvers. When the council passes the first ordinance, it's too soon to tell what you're opposing; when it passes the second ordinance, it's too late, because the money's already been spent.
Another interesting aspect of the December 2007 transactions -- in which the $97.9 million was refinanced and the additional lending commitment made by B of A -- was the process by which a lender was selected. Johansen from the city explains it this way:
In October 2007, the City issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to provide lines of credit for the City's urban renewal areas. The RFP was sent to nine financial institutions and the City received proposals from three firms: Bank of America, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank. The proposals were reviewed by City staff and Bank of America was deemed to have the most cost-effective proposal.The RFP and responses (actually, the third was from KeyBank, not U.S. Bank) make for some wonkishly enlightening reading. At first, the city wanted the banks to agree to lend on a nonrevolving basis up to $277 million -- that is, the city would be allowed to borrow up to $277 million (including the refinanced $97.9 million) before it paid any of it back (except for interest). This would have allowed the balance to go as high as $277 million at any given time. Only B of A was willing to accommodate that request -- Wells Fargo and Key Bank said they could not go that high, and for them, the balance at any given time couldn't be higher than $175 million. At that point, the city gave B of A a chance to re-propose a deal based on the $175 million cap. It did so, and the city gave the deal to B of A.
Since the lines of credit were placed directly with Bank of America and were not part of a public securities offering, there was no official statement or other disclosure document prepared for the transaction.