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Criticism of KGW report on Measure 66/67

by Rod Gramer, Executive News Director

Posted on March 2, 2011 at 8:18 PM

We have received many emails and telephone calls critical of a story we did this week about Oregonians moving to Washington State because of the passage of Measures 66 and 67. I would like to address the concerns raised by those people.

Ever since the debate started on Measures 66 and 67 and after their passage one year ago KGW NewsChannel 8 has tried to stay above the fray and provide balanced and fair coverage of this issue, which has divided certain segments of our state. I am proud to say that we have achieved that goal for more than a year - until this week.

The story we did this week did not live up to our high standards of balanced, fair and in-depth journalism. The story did not dig deep enough, it relied on anecdotal information from Washington realtors and, most serious of all, it did not contain the views of those who support Measures 66 and 67 and refute the assertion that companies and people are moving out of state because of the higher personal and corporate taxes.

For those shortcomings I apologize and take responsibility.

Our story caused a fire storm among people who support Measures 66 and 67. They point out, and rightly so, that we only talked to opponents of Measures 66/67. They point out that we relied on data about how many Oregonians turned in their drivers’ licenses in Washington and then drew the conclusion that it somehow showed that Oregonians were fleeing the state to avoid higher taxes.

I have taken a day to respond to this criticism because I wanted to personally do a deeper dive into this issue and make sure I had good information. I did not want to create a new problem while trying to correct the first one.

I talked to two Clark County realtors we relied on for the story and they confirmed that some of their clients have moved or are interested in moving to Washington because of Oregon’s taxes. But they said that has gone on for years and there are many other reasons people move to Washington, including lower property prices and schools. I personally talked to one Oregon woman who is moving to Clark County soon because she found her dream home and at a good price. She even wants to “squash” the rumor that people move from Oregon to Washington because of taxes.

I talked to two economic development specialists from S.W. Washington who said they cannot identify a single company that has moved to Washington because of Measures 66 and 67. But both said that they have talked to businesses that have expressed an interest in doing so. Kelly Sills, economic development manager for Clark County, says he believes some of this interest is serious.

Jeanie Ashe, director of business recruitment for the Columbia River Economic Development Council, said some companies “kicked the tires” after Measures 66/67 passed. But she said their interest in moving across the river never materialized and has cooled off since last year.

Ashe said she does know of high-income Oregonians who have moved to Washington because it has no income or capital gains taxes. But that migration occurred before the passage of Measures 66 and 67.

Ashe said some business owners move to Washington from Oregon and other states when they are preparing to sell or pass on their businesses to the next generation because Washington lacks the capital gains tax. She said she knows of one former Oregonian who owns a “landmark” business in Oregon who did just that and moved across the river. But that person’s business remained in Oregon.

We started working on this story because of a piece we saw in the Columbian newspaper that said an unusually high number of Oregonians turned in their driver’s licenses to Washington last year. Some critics of Measures 66 and 67 seized on that fact in our story to support their view that Oregonians were moving across the river because of those measures. Of course, the supporters of Measures 66 and 67 refute that. They say part of the increase was caused by Washington State troopers cracking down on Oregonians who did not change car registration after they moved to Washington. Unfortunately, they did not get a chance to say that in our story.

The fact is that more Oregonians did turn in drivers’ licenses in Washington State and in Clark County during 2010 than any time in the last 12 years. More than 23,500 Oregonians turned in their licenses last year in Washington State – 7,769 in Clark County. The next highest year was 2006 when 20,272 Oregonians turned in licenses in Washington – 7,167 in Clark County.

It is fair to ask the question: How many Washingtonians turned in drivers’ licenses in Oregon in 2010? Unfortunately, the Oregon DMV did not have that information when I checked. The latest data is for 2009 when 9,440 Washingtonians moved to Oregon. That was the second smallest migration from Washington to Oregon in the past 11 years.

Those are the facts about the number of drivers’ licenses being turned in. But what these figures don’t show – and can’t tell us unless we do a scientific sampling of these people or interview each and every one – is why they moved across the Columbia River. No one can tell you for sure why all these people are moving across the river in either direction.

The debate over Measures 66/67 is a very complex one. Both sides of the issue can and will make strong and passionate arguments to support their point of view. Our job as journalists is to dig as deep as we can into the facts and try to provide fair and balanced stories on this very complex issue. Unfortunately, we did not do that in the story we ran this week.

We have made changes and added material to our on-line story that provides a deeper look into this issue, including the interviews that I have conducted over the past 24 hours. We will continue to update the story as we get more information.

We have learned from our mistake and I can promise you that we will live up to our high standards as we continue reporting on Measures 66/67 and other important issues that face the people of Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Rod Gramer is Executive News Director of KGW NewsChannel 8.