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More repercussions

Ethics panel on the chopping blockif voters reject a tax increase Jan. 28 Where have we heard this before? A state agency is in trouble because of Oregon's budget shortfall, and if voters don't approve a proposed tax increase next month, the agency will have to stop doing its most visible work.

This week's featured victim of the incredible shrinking Oregon budget: the state ethics commission.

The commission's executive director says the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission will be essentially kaput if voters reject the tax increase proposal on Jan. 28. It will no longer do the work that makes it most familiar to Oregonians ' investigating ethics complaints against public officials.

That's a bad deal for Oregonians, and to understand why we need look back no more than a few months, to the case of Stan Bunn.

Bunn, Oregon's superintendent of public instruction, was found to have committed some 1,400 ethics violations involving travel expenses and use of state cars and phones. In May, voters rejected his bid to keep the job.

If most of the commission's work is less dramatic, it's no less necessary a part of its role as the public's protector. The ethics commission handles about 150 complaints against public officials a year, in addition to registering lobbyists and educating officials about public meetings laws.

It's a job for which there is obvious need, and every Oregonian should be troubled if the state can no longer afford to have it done.

To hear it from the commission's executive director, Patrick Hearn, that's the case. He says if the tax measure fails he will have to lay off the commission's two investigators, leaving only himself and an assistant to run the agency for the volunteer ethics commission.

The cut would amount to 14 percent, or about &

36;100,000 of the commission's two-year &

36;700,000 budget.

No one should be asked to make the kind of choices Hearn and others running Oregon's government have had to make this year. But at the same time, Oregonians have to ask why 10 or 12 or 15 percent budget cuts often mean a state agency offering less than half the services it has in the past.

The timing of the cuts, at the end of the two-year budget cycle, undoubtedly makes them more difficult to accommodate.

But it's hard to believe that the best choice for the ethics commission is to halt entirely the part of its work that affects Oregonians most directly.

Hearn and the commission ought to go back to the drawing board and find a way to cut the budget that doesn't sacrifice investigators, a critical link in keeping Oregon officials ethical.

Grocery bags inserted in Monday's Mail Tribune offer a big dose of hope to families in need in Jackson County.

The bags are intended to be filled with non-perishable food and distributed to needy families. Or they serve as a reminder to write a check to help out those who otherwise would go without.

The food drive ' ACCESS Inc.'s 19th annual, month-long grocery drive, Food for Hope ' has produced the equivalent of 1.7 million pounds of food since 1984 in supplies and cash donations.

Oregon may have the highest hunger rate in the nation, according to Census data. Last year more than 24,000 Jackson County households received emergency food donations, and about 2,000 local households received supplies every month from 16 area food pantries.

If you're contemplating heading out for your annual Christmas shopping spree, why not stop right now and put aside &

36;10 or &

36;20 of your stash and give it to a program that has demonstrated its value over and over again.

You can drop off food supplies at any fire station in Jackson County, Sherm's Thunderbird on Jacksonville Highway, Food 4 Less on Biddle Road or ACCESS Inc., 3630 Aviation Way. Checks can be made out to ACCESS and mailed to ACCESS, P.O. Box 4666, Medford, OR 97501.