Midday Scan: Tuesday's top stories around the region

In the news: Corrections abstains from more projected budget cuts; an Alaska town takes environmental controversy into its own hands; city council badmouths the mounted police; social security, explained; and why ATM users should watch their backs. 

Crosscut archive image.

Seattle's mounted police unit faces criticism from the city council for sapping funding.

In the news: Corrections abstains from more projected budget cuts; an Alaska town takes environmental controversy into its own hands; city council badmouths the mounted police; social security, explained; and why ATM users should watch their backs. 

These are the times that try bureaucrats' souls. As Brad Shannon of the Olympian observes, first state legislators cut programs to the bone, then to the marrow, and now to, well, whatever sinewy ligament lies below that (does anything lie below that)? For a variety of departments, an additional revenue-forecast-prompted ten-percent cut is impractical without a fundamental shift in institutional policies.

"Cuts of any size might be impossible at some agencies, such as the Department of Corrections," Shannon writes. "Secretary Bernie Warner said that to make cuts, he would need to trim prison sentences by up to 120 days for all inmates except sex offenders and people imprisoned for violent crimes. Warner also would need to end state supervision for all convicts – including killers and rapists – after their prison terms." Corrections can always play the "we'll need to furlough all of our serial killers" card, while other agencies, such as the Department of Social and Health Services, have fewer oh-my-God options. Ultimately the onus falls on state lawmakers to approve agency reductions while also authorizing policy changes that reflect the new values. The question is: Who wants to sponsor the "Widows and Orphans Defunding Act of 2012?"

One of this generation's signal conservation battles centers on Alaska's proposed Pebble mine: "One of the most controversial development projects in Alaska history," writes Sean Cockerham of the Anchorage Daily News. Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell has already weighed in, concerned that a massive gold and copper mine could imperil the Bristol Bay fishery. However, in a Tim Eyman-esque spirit of local control, the affected Alaskans — all 1,000 of them — will vote whether to put the kibosh on the project by revising borough law. It's an animated battle that involves an anti-mine businessman from Anchorage (he owns a nearby house), the Russian Orthodox Church (also against), the Governor's office, an Alaska Native corporation, and mining executives (who are bankrolling the opposition).

As Cockerham notes, "The project is so controversial because it straddles streams that feed rich runs of red salmon, king salmon, and rainbow trout. Pebble advocates say mining and fishing can co-exist in the Bristol Bay area and that the project would bring needed jobs. Opponents contend the mine could destroy the lucrative salmon runs the area has relied on for generations." A must read for students of the weird, kinetic intersection of Alaska personalities and politics.

KUOW's Deborah Wang reports on the controversy surrounding Seattle's mounted police and its lesson (or case-study warning) on civic action. In brief, last year the city council voted to nix the mounted police because of budget constraints. Then the Seattle Police Foundation mobilized, raised a half-million dollars, and ensured the unit's survival for three more years. (This is usually when CityClub or the Chamber steps up and presents a citizen-action award).

In Seattle, however, no good private-fundraising deed goes unpunished. The Seattle City Council determined that it didn't want the mounted police and that action reflected both a policy and a budgetary decision. Wang notes, "City Councilmember Jean Godden, for one, wasn't exactly happy to see the horses still on the streets. She points out the council had voted to eliminate the mounted police for a reason: It wasn't high on the police department's own priorities list. She says even with private funds, all of the salary costs of the officers are still paid for by the city." The essential question: Why didn't anyone tell the Seattle Police Foundation after it launched a very-public "Save our Horses" campaign?  

Cliffs Notes on the problems of Social Security? You'll find it here, in Charlie Pope's excellent compendium in today's Oregonian. Pope highlights the demographic challenges that most Americans understand:"With baby boomers retiring in huge numbers, demand on the fund will begin to outstrip the ability of current workers to fully finance guaranteed benefits. That's important, because the compact with workers is that the taxes they pay in while working will be returned to them — and more — in retirement." So, Social Security demands restructuring or additional revenue.

For Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan, the solution revolves around providing workers more choice in how their payroll taxes are invested. For Democrats, such as Oregon's Rep. Perer DeFazio, the answer is a modified-cap approach that requires people earning $250,000 a year or more to pay taxes on their full salaries. Note to all present and future Congressional candidates: You better learn this stuff.  

With all the hand-wringing over the sorry state of American education, we can take solace in this: Crooks are becoming a whole lot smarter. As Mike Carter of the Seattle Times writes, the latest scam involves "skimming" from area ATMs (a scheme that even defrauded U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan). First you start with a hidden ATM "skimming" machine and a pinhole camera. Then, Carter reports, "The thieves synchronize the data from the skimmer with the video to match PINs to the bank-card data. They then forge new cards and use the PINs to access and drain customers' accounts." Yikes. For creative tinkerers, it's too bad that they're the bad guys.      

Link summary 

The Olympian, "New cuts impossible, agency heads warn"

Anchorage Daily News, "Spending Ramps up as Pebble mine election nears"

KUOW, "Seattle's Mounted Police May Still Face Budget Ax"

Oregonian, "Social Security: Ideas for changing America's retirement system"

Seattle Times, "Scammers 'skimming' millions from area's ATMs" 


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson