At the chemical-weapons incinerator, workers from Washington state are more valuable than employees from Oregon.

That may not be the intent of Washington Demilitarization Co.'s decision to give 9 percent raises to employees from Washington, but it is the practical outcome. Since construction on the Umatilla Depot's incinerator began, workers have commuted from north of the border. Those out-of-state employees have complained about Oregon's 9 percent income tax and even tried unsuccessfully to get themselves exempted from it.

Now, Washington Demilitarization Co. has decided to deal with the issue by providing 9 percent raises to workers from Washington, but not to those from Oregon. The pay raises apply only to those who will operate and maintain the incinerator. This latest plan is better than the previous suggestion that Washington residents be excluded from Oregon income taxes. At least this way, Oregon still will receive tax dollars from the depot project, which this part of the state has had to live with for decades.

But the company's decision is unfair to incinerator employees who reside in Oregon. Workers from this state now will make 9 percent less than their counterparts from Washington, which raises the question: Would you move across the border for a 9 percent raise? It's possible that Washington Demilitarization Co.'s new policy actually will encourage people to leave Eastern Oregon so they can qualify for the higher pay scale.

The pay differential also encourages the type of behavior that most companies try to discourage. People will be rewarded for making long commutes, using more gasoline and creating additional air pollution.

The ideal solution is for employees to live closer to where they work - which happens to be in Oregon. Then, they will receive the benefits of Oregon's governmental services and be exempt from Washington's sales tax. Relocation may not be possible for many employees from the Tri-Cities area, but that doesn't mean Oregon residents should be treated as second-class citizens in their own state.

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