Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Tale of Two Port Districts

The Port of Bremerton avoided having to win voter approval of a tax increase by doing the minimum required by law to notify the public, but the Port of Vancouver must obtain voter approval of an identical new property tax levy.

According to a piece on the opinion page of the Port Orchard Independent:

Then, at their Jan. 10, 2006, meeting, Huntington and the other two commissioners voted to direct the staff to publish a legal notice stating their intention to levy higher taxes.

The legal notice of intent to levy a tax increase in 2007 through 2012, starting at a rate of 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, was published in the Kitsap Sun on Jan. 12, 2006.

That legal notice supplied the starting point for a period of time within which taxpayers residing in the district could have forced the port commissioners to put the new property tax on the ballot for the voters to decide whether it would be levied.

If, within 90 days after publication of the legal notice, a petition had been submitted to the county auditor containing a sufficient number of signatures, then the port commissioners could not have levied the higher property tax without approval by a majority of voters.

Is it any wonder, then, that the commissioners chose not to issue any press releases or otherwise alert the public about their plans?

Apparently no one who was inclined to act on it read the legal notice of intent, so no petition drive was mounted -- and the taxpayers learned of the 150 percent tax increase when their 2007 tax bills arrived in February.

Down in Vancouver, Washington, it's a different story. The Port of Vancouver issued a press release announcing their intent to levy the higher tax. As reported by the Clark County Auditor's office, a successful petition drive required the port commission to obtain voter approval of the tax increase (or forget about it):

On Monday, May 7, 2007, the sponsors of a petition to require a public vote on the Port of Vancouver Industrial Development District levy, approved by the Port District Commission on February 5, 2007, submitted their petition of 635 pages containing 11,484 signatures to the Clark County Auditor’s Office. An additional 38 petition pages containing 418 signatures were submitted after Monday, May 7 but prior to the May 10, 5 PM deadline for submitting petition signatures. This resulted in a total of 673 petition pages containing 11,502 signatures being submitted.

To be considered sufficient, the petition is required to have a number of valid signatures equal to or greater than eight percent (8%) of the total number of ballots cast by Vancouver Port District registered voters in the last gubernatorial election, which occurred on November 2, 2004. At that election, 114,072 ballots were cast in the Vancouver Port District. Eight percent or at least 9,126 registered voters in the Port District would need to sign the petition in order for it to be sufficient and require a public vote on the levy measure at the August 21, 2007 primary election.

On Monday, May 14, 2007 the Clark County Auditor’s Office halted the canvassing and verification of the petition signatures. A total of 11,321 petition signatures had been canvassed at that time. A total of 9,659 of the signatures canvassed were verified as being the valid signatures of voters currently residing in the Vancouver Port District. As a result of exceeding the 9,126 number of required signatures, the petition was certified as sufficient. The certification of sufficiency of this petition will now be submitted to the Vancouver Port District Commission for their action of calling for a special election for the voters of the district to approve or reject the Industrial Development District levy.

In the primary election held this August, voters in the Vancouver port district will decide whether to approve a higher tax; while those in the Bremerton port district will decide whether the only commissioner up for re-election (Mary Ann Huntington) ought to be returned to office after the end of this term.

That's quite a difference.

And it's apparently all due to the fact that no one who thought the new tax was newsworthy had been watching the Port of Bremerton commissioners closely enough.

I wonder who knew what the Port of Bremerton commissioners intended to do back when it was still possible to stop them. (If the Kitsap Sun news staff paid any attention to legal notices published by government entities in their own newspaper, they would have known. Did they?)

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sunspots: Budget matters are too hard for the Sun

Perhaps the day will come when the Kitsap Sun can report (or editorialize) on government budget issues without making significant errors, but this wasn't the day.

The Kitsap Regional Library board of trustees is mulling over its options after voters rejected a large property tax increase to bring revenues into line with spending.

In today's edition, the Sun reported on the latest discussions -- with this as the lead paragraph:

With a looming budget shortfall of $2.1 million hanging over their heads, members of the Kitsap Regional Library board of trustees have already put in place some cost-saving measures they hope will get them through the remainder of 2007.

The "looming budget shortfall" would occur in 2008, if a property tax "lid lift" is not approved by voters later this year. As the agenda for the KRL trustees' study session on June 7 illustrates, this year is not the problem (except for the fact KRL is consuming its reserve funds to cover the deficit after increasing spending by about 30 percent since 2005).

There is no need to make spending cuts to "get them through the remainder of 2007." Their reserves will do that.

The problem is that KRL would arrive at 2008 with an unavoidable need to cut spending back nearly to the levels existing in 2005, unless a lid lift is approved to increase revenues by more than 30 percent.

Any cuts made now in projected spending for 2007 would simply leave a little more in their reserve funds to carry them into 2008.

Having avoided telling its readers what the rejected tax increase would have paid for, the Sun now says:

These cost-cutting measures are only a preview of what's to come for the system if an additional funding source isn't found before the 2008-09 fiscal year.

KRL budgets and financial statements are prepared for each calendar year, since roughly 95 percent of KRL revenue comes from the property tax -- which is levied on a calendar year basis.
There is no "2008-09 fiscal year."

And, unless some wealthy benefactors come along and make large donations, there is no "additional funding source" to be found.

If the property tax isn't increased by more than 30 percent, then KRL cannot continue to spend far more than its annual revenue.

The expansion plans which the Sun apparently knew about, but chose not to report before the election in May, have to be put on hold. Now, the Sun tells its readers:

The measure that was denied last month would have covered such costs for the expansion of three area libraries.

Knowing about projected expansions might have been helpful in explaining why KRL asked for a 70 percent increase in tax revenue, but the Sun didn't say anything about it until now.

These budget issues are apparently just too hard for the Sun to handle.

Reporting the "who, what, when, where, and how much" facts ought to be easy for people who want to report the news, so what's the problem?

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Global Cooling in 2020 and Beyond?

This article in the Canadian National Post contains a succinct statement of the role played by the sun in causing the Earth's warming and cooling periods:

Our finding of a direct correlation between variations in the brightness of the sun and earthly climate indicators (called "proxies") is not unique. Hundreds of other studies, using proxies from tree rings in Russia's Kola Peninsula to water levels of the Nile, show exactly the same thing: The sun appears to drive climate change.

However, there was a problem. Despite this clear and repeated correlation, the measured variations in incoming solar energy were, on their own, not sufficient to cause the climate changes we have observed in our proxies. In addition, even though the sun is brighter now than at any time in the past 8,000 years, the increase in direct solar input is not calculated to be sufficient to cause the past century's modest warming on its own. There had to be an amplifier of some sort for the sun to be a primary driver of climate change.

Indeed, that is precisely what has been discovered. In a series of groundbreaking scientific papers starting in 2002, Veizer, Shaviv, Carslaw, and most recently Svensmark et al., have collectively demonstrated that as the output of the sun varies, and with it, our star's protective solar wind, varying amounts of galactic cosmic rays from deep space are able to enter our solar system and penetrate the Earth's atmosphere. These cosmic rays enhance cloud formation which, overall, has a cooling effect on the planet. When the sun's energy output is greater, not only does the Earth warm slightly due to direct solar heating, but the stronger solar wind generated during these "high sun" periods blocks many of the cosmic rays from entering our atmosphere. Cloud cover decreases and the Earth warms still more.

The opposite occurs when the sun is less bright. More cosmic rays are able to get through to Earth's atmosphere, more clouds form, and the planet cools more than would otherwise be the case due to direct solar effects alone. This is precisely what happened from the middle of the 17th century into the early 18th century, when the solar energy input to our atmosphere, as indicated by the number of sunspots, was at a minimum and the planet was stuck in the Little Ice Age. These new findings suggest that changes in the output of the sun caused the most recent climate change. By comparison, CO2 variations show little correlation with our planet's climate on long, medium and even short time scales.

Would the Goracle call this an inconvenient truth? Of course not. Al Gore would deny the science and continue to bray about his faith-based views on climate change.

While Gore and his acolytes peddle their nonsense, here is the problem which we ought to be considering:

Solar scientists predict that, by 2020, the sun will be starting into its weakest Schwabe solar cycle of the past two centuries, likely leading to unusually cool conditions on Earth. Beginning to plan for adaptation to such a cool period, one which may continue well beyond one 11-year cycle, as did the Little Ice Age, should be a priority for governments.

If it is true that the sun is brighter now than at any time in thousands of years, we may need all the "greenhouse effect" we can get to give us time to adjust to the next cooling period. The earth has been locked in ice ages for most of the time in the past million years. Our current warm period is the exception, not the normal condition of the Earth's climate.