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Local editorials

Be careful what you wish for

Statewide bargaining sounds good, but what about a statewide strike?

Here's a recipe for trouble: statewide collective bargaining.

Those three words are at the crux of a proposal sitting before Oregon's House Education Committee this month, part of a 35-bill package that could bring radical change to how Oregon's public education system runs. Some of the legislation makes sense. Other bills deserve an immediate heave-ho.

Into that category we put House Bill 3163, which would wrest control of union bargaining from local districts, making the state's Department of Administrative Services the manager of teachers and other school district union employees.

At a glance it looks like a move that could streamline bargaining, simplifying the process every district goes through whenever it's time to negotiate employee wages, hours and other conditions of employment. And if Oregon's education system is statewide, doesn't it also make sense that all of the state's teachers have one contract, guaranteeing them comparable benefits?

In theory, maybe. But in practice HB 3163 would come with the potential for huge trouble. What would happen, for example, if employees were to balk at the statewide contract? A statewide strike with huge potential to cripple the system.

That's not all. When local districts do the bargaining, as they do today, union leaders often understand and relate to the problems the districts face.

— Medford's union president-elect, for example, recently acknowledged the district had little choice but to cut insurance benefits and salaries. Everyone has done a good job to tighten the belt in a crisis situation, she said.

Would school district employees look at it that way if their boss was state government? Unlikely.

Oregon has as good a situation with unions now as it's likely to find. Giving the delicate task of negotiating to state government isn't a way to make anything easier.

Be careful what you wish for, the adage goes. It's a concept the Education Committee ought to keep firmly in mind.

Calling all cheaters

Tired of looking over your shoulder because you use off-shore foreign accounts to hide taxable income? Or maybe you simply haven't filed tax returns, or you intentionally underpaid taxes by filing incorrect returns.

If so, the Oregon Legislature may have a deal for you.

In a 23-3 vote Wednesday, the Senate approved and sent to the House a bill spelling out a temporary amnesty program for tax cheats. The House should quickly approve the measure.

The program would give people the chance to escape paying penalties if they file corrected returns and pay back taxes plus interest.

An estimated 10 percent of state income taxes goes unpaid annually. The Senate Revenue Committee chairman said the measure would bring in an estimated &

36;21 million for the 2005-07 budget.

To give tax evaders a reason to come forward, the bill has a carrot and stick provision: Tax cheats who did not seek amnesty and were caught would face increased penalties.

Now that's the kind of tax incentive we can all live with.