Oregon Economic Rally may be Short-Livedby Staff
Corvallis Gazette-Times, March 1, 2005
Oregonians have been hit with a classic one-two combination of economic news.
Tuesday, at long last, Oregon labor officials released the news that the state has regained 65,400 jobs — a gain of 1,400 jobs over the low point of the recession that has gripped Oregon for three years during which it often led the nation in unemployment.
In January, it looked like the good times were better than ever employment-wise, when payroll employment reached 1.62 million. In November 2000, 1.619 million out of Oregon's 3.4 million Oregonians were employed. The biggest gains were in construction and financial services.
Art Ayre, the state's chief labor economist, said more encouraging employment figures were on the horizon. To the surprise of no one, education and health services were below expectations, but trade, transportation and utilities were above.
Count on all of that to change if the Bush administration is successful in forcing the Bonneville Power Administration to sell electricity at market rates, driving power rates up substantially.
The feds built a system of eight dams along the Columbia River in the mid-20th century. They were intended to spur growth by providing the Northwest with cheap power. The deal was, we'd repay the cost of those dams through the Bonneville Power Administration, and we have made those payments on time and steadily every since.
Now the U.S. Department of Energy, in the form of spokesman Joe Davis, is saying that the president's plan is "a minimalist approach to bringing the BPA and other power marketing agencies around the country into the 21st century with respect to operating their businesses." That's politico-speak for "We're going to try and gouge you for money."
Davis contends that any rate increase would be capped at only 20 percent. (You may recall this is the same administration that estimated the cost of the war in Iraq as "$1.3 billion ... tops.")
Oh, is that all?
Not according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council analysis of the Bush proposal. Its number crunching analyists concluded that prices would jump by 65 percent and cost Northwest ratepayers $1.3 billion, or about $24 a month more for residential electricity bills. Customers of investor-owned utilities would see an average of $10 a month increase, the council report found. (The text of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's report can be found at www.nwcouncil.org.)
Naturally, the congressional delegations of Oregon and Washington have reacted like feuding families united by a flood. They've dropped partisan differences to unite in opposition to a shared danger. Although Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New New Mexico, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, has termed this proposal is "a nonstarter," Northwest residents can't afford to be complacent about it. Regardless of political persuasion, we all stand to lose if any version of this proposal is adopted, stanching the Northwest's economic recovery before anyone really notices it.
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