Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wayne Scott: It's MY 4th of July, Beyotches!--DEQ Update!

Interesting Rogue of the Week entry for WWeek yesterday:
In the 2003 Legislature, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 667-A, a seemingly innocuous bill dealing with nonagricultural operations on land zoned for exclusive farm use.

The bill included an amendment from Scott that lets his aerial fireworks company, which puts on Fourth of July shows at venues such as the Blues Festival on the Willamette and Oaks Park, operate regularly on farmland instead of needing to get temporary-use permits each year from local authorities. Typical fireworks operations on farmland that require permits include storing fireworks as well as testing, shipping or directly selling them.

But the bill applied only to aerial fireworks companies in continuous operation on land zoned for exclusive farm use since Dec. 31, 1986. And Western was the only business that met that standard, according to at least two legislators who voted for SB667-A, Sen. Gary George (R-McMinnville) and Rep. Gary Hansen (D-Portland).

Nick Smith, a spokesman for the House Majority Leader office, says the bill was written to ensure that Western would be able to continue operating in Scott's Clackamas County district but adds, "Rep. Scott has never used his public office to promote his business or potentially disadvantage his competitors."
Let me translate Mr. Smith: "Yes, he did write the amendment to help his company, but he's never done anything to promote his business or disadvantage his competitors--like, say, writing an amendment that helps only his company, thus disadvantaging his competitors."

As far as the (non self-serving) idea behind the amendment goes, I think it's fine. If you have a business where you store fireworks, and the best place to store fireworks is on open farmland, it's not convenient to have to keep applying for permits to use the land every year. Perhaps if the use of the land for storage is temporary--ie, that given the nature of the fireworks business there are no fireworks on the land year round--the best way to express the law would be to favor those companies who maintain a relatively permanent presence on the location in which they store the fireworks.

But Scott isn't addressing the difference between temporary use and permanent use. His amendment picks a timeline for relief from the law that is worse than arbitrary--it's designed specifically to allow him relief, but none of his competition. Here's the law as it ended up being amended. Scan through the other list of uses that are allowable on "marginal lands." The vast majority of exemptions have no conditions on them at all. Of those that do, it's fairly easy to see what they're designed to do: comport with changes effective on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year; establish substantial business need (by setting a threshhold for business sales relevant to the exemption); or to indicate local need (such as making sure that a greyhound kennel is likely to service a greyhound track somewhere nearby).

The difference in Scott's amendment is that the bar is set so that only he can meet it. While setting (for instance) a threshhold of $20,000 in recent annual farm income will mean some potential users won't qualify for the exemption, the threshhold is theoretically obtainable by anyone. And if the exemption is only for permanent landholders engaged in a consistently operational business, it's possible for fly by night companies to establish their bonafides on the land and qualify as well. But it is literally impossible to go back and occupy the land 20 years ago.

What Scott is doing here is what I'd call reverse grandfathering. When a new rule is set, it's often customary to "grandfather" in those people or businesses who had already existed and behaved under the old rules. It wouldn't make sense to tell a 19 year old who'd been drinking booze under rules letting him drink at 18 that'd he'd have to stop and wait two more years because the age was moved to 21, or to hold back students enrolled under one set of graduation requirements because those requirements have changed. Grandfathering implementation of a new rule is eminently defensible. With his bill, however, Scott has taken businesses who MIGHT have been eligible to qualify for an exemption, and forever removed that possibility.

So next week, as you watch a Western Fireworks display somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, enjoy the colors and noises--but don't be blinded by the craven attempt to make sure WF displays are the only ones you see.

Update, 4pm--
Mike Caudle, running against Scott in HD 39, saw the WWeek article as well--and is making a campaign issue of it. Smart move.

Update, 11pm--
It looks like WWeek has misdirected its coverage of this story some, and thus our own reporting. I confirmed with Western Fireworks that Wayne Scott was indeed the President (and that Shelley Visser, a complaining commenter in the WWeek online version of the story, is an owner). That part checked out.

In information from RINO WATCH and my own subsequent research, the Willy seems to have misstated the company given the special break--it's not Western Fireworks Inc., but Western Display Fireworks LLC who got the exemption. Wayne Scott is not in fact the president of that company. There is no documentation to accompany RINO'S other allegations of fact, but they claim that there's no financial connection between the two companies. It's unclear what, if any, financial interest Scott has in WDF in addition to his status with WF. WF websites do link to WDF and refer to it as "our sister company," so there is filial association at minimum. And clearly, while Scott's amendment does a major favor to his sister, and crushes suitors for his sister's business in the bargain, Willy Week may need to bump this one down from graft to intense cronyism.

A final, somewhat tangential notation: while Google-trolling, I came across a DEQ violators report from August 2002, about a year before WDF got its special break. Guess who's on it for "Illegal treatment and disposal of reactive hazardous waste (display fireworks)?" Way to punish the wrongdoers--give them a monopoly!