Month: February 2016

Policy Picnic – March 30, 2016

Catch the Aloha Spirit! Join us for a “Policy Luau” led by Tim Lussier, State Director at Western Liberty Network


Topic: “PURSUING HAPPINESS: Best Practices of Citizen-Led Public Policy in Oregon and Hawaii”

Description:  

Special guest Tim Lussier will be at Cascade Policy Institute on Wednesday, March 30, for a very special edition of Cascade’s Policy Picnic series.

Tim Lussier will share his experiences serving as Executive Director of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. He’ll share insights into community initiatives and best practices of limited-accountable-local organizations in Hawaii and other western states. He’ll talk about current public policy issues in the very diverse state of Hawaii and what Oregonians can learn from good citizen-led efforts in other states.

A public relations, digital, and community leader, Tim has served on many local, state, and national campaigns. In 2013 Lussier helped reboot Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and served successfully as its turn-around Executive Director. He holds a Master of Arts in Communication from Hawai‘i Pacific University, where he served as Student Body President. While he lived in Hawaii for many years, Tim hails from West Linn and is proud to be a son of Oregon.

Admission to this event is free; but reservations are absolutely required, due to space limitations. You are welcome to bring your own lunch. Light treats will be served.

Reserve your free tickets here.

Cascade’s Policy Picnic series is generously sponsored by Dumas Law Group, LLC.

 
Sponsored by:
Dumas Law Group
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Failed Promises: Why the Legislature Should Reject TriMet’s Request for New Spending Authority

TriMet is currently seeking new spending authority in SB 1510 to help finance regional “multi-modal” transportation projects. Legislators should deny this request based on previous experience with TriMet commitments.

To refresh the memory: during the 2003 session, TriMet sought approval to increase the payroll tax rate by one-tenth of a percent. According to TriMet’s then-General Manager,

“TriMet’s proposed payroll tax increase will be used exclusively to provide new or enhanced transit service. This will include assisting in the operation of Washington County Commuter Rail, Clackamas County light rail, Lake Oswego Streetcar, a substantial increase in Frequent Service routes, and enhanced local connections to these lines.”[1]

The rate increase was approved, and was phased in over a 10-year period.

During the 2009 legislative session, TriMet sought an additional rate increase. The legislature again approved the request. The TriMet board approved the first of 10 planned rate increases last September, and the new rate of 0.7337% went into effect on January 1, 2016.

Let’s look at the results. After a decade of tax increases, it’s clear that there is no correlation between increased TriMet revenue and actual levels of service: 

TriMet Financial Resource Trends for Operations, 2004-2015

 (000s)

CLICK HERE TO VIEW TABLE IN PDF 

2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2015 % change
Passenger fares $55,665 $68,464 $80,818 $93,729 $102,240 $114,618 $116,734 +110%
Tax revenue $155,705 $192,450 $215,133 $208,933 $248,384 $275,357 $292,077 +88%
Total operations $290,513 $342,274 $404,481 $433,609 $488,360 $522,155 $493,572 +70%

 

In fact, there is negative correlation – as TriMet’s revenue went up over the course of a decade, actual service went down: 

Annual Fixed Route Service and Ridership Trends for TriMet

2004-2015

CLICK HERE TO VIEW TABLE IN PDF 

2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2015 % change
 
Hours of service 1,698,492 1,653,180 1,712,724 1,682,180 1,561,242 1,608,090 1,676,826 -1.3%
Miles of service 27,548,927 26,830,124 26,448,873 25,781,480 23,625,960 23,763,420 24,248,910 -12%
Originating rides 71,284,800 74,947,200 77,582,400 77,769,119 80,042,810 75,779,560 77,260,430 +8.4%

 Note: The term “originating rides” excludes transfers.

Source: TriMet, http://www.trimet.org/pdfs/publications/trimetridership.pdf 

There is a slight correlation between revenue and transit use, as total originating rides went up 8% while operating revenue went up 70%. However, ridership peaked in 2012 and has dropped by 3.5% since then.

TriMet claims that the 2003 promise of “enhanced service” was met because many new rail lines were built. But to the 66% of TriMet riders who travel by bus and saw their service drop by 12%, shiny new rail lines were of little consolation.

TriMet now wants to expand its reach through SB 1510 so as to spend new funds for “multi-modal” projects. We suggest a simple response: unless and until TriMet transit service returns to at least 2004 levels, no additional spending authority should be granted.

[1] Fred Hansen, testimony before the Senate Revenue Committee on SB 549, March 11, 2003, p. 3.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. 

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TriMet’s 7-Year-Old WES Line: Still a Project in Search of a Purpose

February marks the seven-year anniversary of the Westside Express Service (WES), the 14.7-mile commuter rail line that runs from Wilsonville to Beaverton. While the train’s owner, TriMet, has emphasized the steady growth in ridership over time, the truth is that WES has been a failure. Daily boardings are still far below the opening-year forecast, and taxpayers subsidize each rider by nearly $35 per round trip.

Although WES was 15 years in the making, it was always a project in search of a purpose. At various times the train was promoted as: (1) a congestion relief tool for HWY 217; (2) a catalyst for so-called “Transit-Oriented Development;” or (3) a way of providing “another option” for travelers. None of these arguments holds up to scrutiny.

During legislative hearings in Salem, representatives from Washington County claimed that WES would take 5,000 motor vehicles per day off of nearby highways. But WES is not even capable of doing that because it only runs 8 times (each direction) in the morning, and 8 more times in the afternoon. And unlike traditional commuter trains pulling eight or nine passenger cars, WES travels only in one-car or two-car configurations.

During its best hours of performance, the total number of passengers traveling on WES is less than 0.5% the number of motorists traveling on HWY 217/I-5 at those same hours. WES crosses more than 18 east-west arterials four times each hour. On busy commuter routes, such as HW 10 or Scholls Ferry Road, each train crossing delays dozens of vehicles for 40 seconds or more.

Since the train itself typically only carries 50-70 passengers per run, this means that WES actually has made Washington County congestion worse than it was before the train opened.

WES also will not be a catalyst for “transit-oriented development,” because the train stations are a nuisance, not an amenity. The noise associated with train arrivals was always underestimated and has proven to be a significant problem for nearby businesses and residents.

As for the hope that WES would provide “another transit option,” there were already two TriMet bus lines providing over 4,000 boardings per day in parallel routes prior to the opening of WES. Commuter rail simply replaced inexpensive bus service with a massively subsidized train.

Several key statistics summarize the problems with the train:

  • WES was originally projected to cost $65 million and open in 2000. It actually cost $161.2 million and opened in 2009.
  • TriMet projected an average daily ridership of 2,400 weekday boardings in the first year; actual weekday ridership was 1,156. It grew over time to 1,964 in 2014, but dropped to 1,771 last year. Since each rider typically boards twice daily, only about 900 people actually use WES regularly.
  • The WES operating cost/ride in January 2016 was $15.95, roughly five times the cost of bus service.

Ridership and Cost Trends for WES

2009-2015

(in 2015 $)

 

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 % change
 
Avg. daily boardings 1,156 1,313 1,571 1,700 1,876 1,964 1,771 +53%
Operating cost per ride $27.41 $24.46 $20.43 $18.39 $18.98 $15.85 $18.60 -32%
Cost/train-mile    $54.70 $54.12 $53.30 $53.79 $56.82 $51.12 $55.01 +1%
Cost/train hour $1,180 $1,166 $1,171 $1,180 $1,501 $1,109 $1,203 +2%
Average subsidy/ride $26.18 $23.00 $19.01 $17.64 $17.19 $14.36 $17.10 -35%

 

 


Ridership has certainly improved since 2009, but still remains far below the rosy projections made by TriMet for the opening year of operation. There is little reason to think that ridership will grow significantly, given that the train runs exclusively through four suburban communities with no major job centers within walking distance of train stations.

WES is destined to be a one-hit wonder―an expensive monument to the egos of TriMet leaders and Westside politicians. Taxpayers would be better served if we simply canceled WES, repaid grant funds to the federal government, and moved the few WES customers back to buses.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

 

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WES at 7: Still a Financial Train Wreck

February marks the seven-year anniversary of the Westside Express Service (WES), the 15-mile commuter rail line that runs from Wilsonville to Beaverton. While the train’s owner, TriMet, promotes WES as a transit success story, the truth is that commuter rail has been a failure.

WES was originally projected to cost $65 million and open in 2000. It actually cost $161 million and opened in 2009.

TriMet projected an average daily ridership of 2,400 weekday boardings in the first year. Actual daily ridership in 2009 was 1,156, less than half the forecast.

Ridership grew over time and peaked at 1,964 in 2014, but then dropped. For January 2016, daily boardings averaged only 1,735. Since each rider typically boards twice daily, that means fewer than 900 people actually use WES regularly.

The operating cost per ride is $16, most of which is subsidized by taxpayers. This is five times the cost of bus service.

Rail proponents have long dreamed of extending WES to Salem, but taxpayers would be better served if we simply shut the train down. When you’re losing $14 per boarding, you can’t make it up in volume.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Open Wide Your Hand to the Needy; Don’t Coerce Others to Open Wide Theirs

Oregon is on the way to becoming the highest minimum wage state in the nation. From this year’s $9.25 per hour rate (more…)

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Oregon electricity ratepayers about to be ripped off with so-called “clean energy” bill

Oregon’s electricity ratepayers are supposed to be protected from monopolistic electric utilities by the Public Utility Commission. Yet, the most significant piece of energy legislation in decades was hatched in secret last year by those same utilities, without PUC input.

After the backroom deal became an actual legislative bill, the Oregon House of Representatives was happy to go along with the scam by approving HB 4036 in mid-February. None of the three PUC Commissioners testified on the bill.

The PUC did send a lone staff member to address the House Environment Committee, and he raised multiple concerns. He stated definitively that HB 4036 would increase costs to ratepayers and that the green power mandate would put utilities into “uncharted territory” that would risk the reliability of the regional power grid—due to the fact that wind and solar energy facilities fail to produce any output most of the time.

HB 4036 purports to be a big environmental win for the state due to a requirement that utilities cease using coal power by 2030. But Oregon only has one coal-fired power plant, at Boardman, and PGE already plans to shut it down by 2020. So this is a fake benefit. Score one for the utilities.

HB 4036 is also being marketed as a way to move Oregon to 50% reliance on “renewable power” by 2040, but that’s also a gimmick. According to the Oregon Department of Energy, the total of all electricity consumed by Oregon ratepayers from “renewable energy” sources is 6.2% of total consumption. Yet current law requires utilities to get 15%, so we already have a problem.

The gap between the reality of 6.2% and the fantasy of 15% is made up with so-called “Renewable Energy Certificates” (RECs), which don’t provide any actual electricity. RECs are just double-payments made to wind farms and other green energy producers so that the REC purchasers can pretend that they bought the actual electricity (they didn’t).

In financial terms, RECs are to power production what Bernie Madoff was to Wall Street. And just as the SEC put its stamp of approval on Madoff for years while he ran his Ponzi scheme, state and federal regulators have fully endorsed the use of RECs to allow utilities to pretend that they are using actual green electrons.

HB 4036 is specifically designed to make electricity more expensive and less reliable. That’s why there are sections in the bill allowing the PUC to temporarily stop compliance with the law under any of three conditions: if the reliability of the grid is threatened by the randomly-failing wind farms; if electricity rates rise too fast; or if the mandates for green power production (reaching 50% by 2040) can’t be met.

This is immoral. We should be enacting laws designed to make the grid more reliable and at less cost.

Proponents claim that we have to pass this bill; otherwise, even more onerous measures will be placed on the ballot in November.

So what’s the problem? Let the ballot measures go forward. I have full confidence that Oregon voters would never be dumb enough to vote to increase their rates by billions of dollars while receiving no environmental benefits.

When HB 4036 is scheduled for hearings in the Senate, legislators should insist that members of the Oregon PUC testify. The PUC is the official ratepayer watchdog; the muzzle needs to be taken off.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in The Oregonian on February 18, 2016.

 

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Freedom in Fiction: A Man for All Seasons

“If you’re going to be a good and faithful judge,” said Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in a 2005 speech, “you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

Justice Scalia, who died February 13, 2016, was a champion of “textualism,” a judicial approach which attempts to interpret law according to the text as it was intended by the legislators who wrote it. Scalia’s “originalist” defenses of the U.S. Constitution during his thirty years on America’s highest court will influence legal scholarship for generations.

One of Justice Scalia’s heroes was Sir Thomas More, England’s chancellor under Henry VIII and a champion of the rule of law as a check on royal power. (Scalia has even been photographed wearing a replica of More’s hat, as seen in the famous Hans Holbein portrait.)

Given Scalia’s own passion for the rule of law, and his admiration for More, wouldn’t it be easy to imagine him delivering some of the best lines in Robert Bolt’s timeless play, A Man for All Seasons—a classic that deserves revisiting as Scalia’s own legacy is discussed since his passing….


“So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!” declares Thomas More’s son-in-law Roper in one famous scene.

“Yes,” More replies. “What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

“I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”

“Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you―where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast―man’s laws, not God’s―and if you cut them down―and you’re just the man to do it―d’you think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

Sir Thomas More is remembered as a great statesman, humanist, and hero of conscience. Bolt’s play shows him to be all three, but particularly focuses on More’s defense of the rule of law against its disintegration and a culture of “political correctness.”

Henry VIII’s decision to make himself head of the Church of England to divorce Catherine of Aragon is famous. Considered less today is how Henry’s actions changed the balance of power in English government and civic life. Having dispensed with his opponents, the king became nearly an absolute monarch, formally limited by the English Constitution and Parliament, but only to the extent that the people’s representatives were willing and able to oppose his wishes. The fewer the checks on the power of the king, the harder it became for any individual to hold a different position from that favored by the monarch.

And all the shiftier became the political sands.

At the core of the drama is the dangerous rise of Early Modern autocratic government and how individuals react to it. More neither desires nor seeks a public conflict with Henry, who is also his personal friend. As Lord Chancellor, he tries scrupulously to follow the law and refuses to take positions he believes are not justifiable according to legal precedent or logic. He will not swear a false oath. In that he differs from most other officeholders, some of whom adopt the king’s domestic and diplomatic agendas for substantial material gain. Others concur publicly with the king because they would rather not rock the boat. As More’s friend the Duke of Norfolk says:

“You’re behaving like a fool. You’re behaving like a crank. You’re not behaving like a gentleman….We’re [the nobility] supposed to be the arrogant ones, the proud, splenetic ones―and we’ve all given in! Why must you stand out?”

More’s response shows how sincerely he values integrity, the expression of one’s personhood, over political expedience:

“I will not give in because I oppose it―I do―not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites but I do―I! Is there no single sinew in the midst of this [grabbing his shoulder] that serves no appetite of Norfolk’s but is just Norfolk? There is! Give that some exercise, my lord!”

A nation’s rule of law depends on certain basic things, such as equal justice, clearly defined statutes, enforcement of contracts, respect for property rights, and the sanctity of the oath. Dispensing with these tips the scales toward factionalism and autocracy, against the rights of individuals and citizens. A Man for All Seasons reminds us how delicate is the fabric of freedom.

(Paul Scofield won Best Actor for his role as Thomas More in the 1966 film version of A Man for All Seasons, which won six Oscars, including Best Picture. Scofield also won the 1962 Tony Award for Best Actor for the original Broadway production. Charleton Heston both directed and starred in a 1988 television movie, also based on Bolt’s play.)


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

 

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Extending Oregon’s Public School Open Enrollment Law Empowers Parents

This week the Oregon State Senate passed an extension of Oregon’s open enrollment law, Senate Bill 1566. The bill extends for three more years the sunset provision of a 2011 law which allows students to attend public schools in different districts from their home residences, as long as the receiving district is accepting transfers. The bill is expected to pass the House before the end of the session.

Oregon’s open enrollment law is a victory for parents, because it gives them more power to choose among Oregon public schools without requiring transfer permission from their local school district—permission that was often denied. Other winners include rural district schools which have worked hard to attract incoming transfer students by focusing on strong academics.

Instead of more bureaucracy, Oregon needs effective accountability in K-12 education by empowering every parent to hold his or her child’s school accountable and to ensure that their children are getting the education they deserve. Oregon legislators should be commended for supporting the Oregon open enrollment law, a relatively easy way to promote accountability and continuous improvement within the public school system. When parents can choose the schools that are best for their children, students have better chances to learn and succeed; and school districts have both the incentives and the opportunities to shine. And that can only be a plus for education in Oregon.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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What Can Be Learned from Portland's Smart Growth Experience?

The annual “New Partners for Smart Growth” conference opens in Portland on Thursday, February 11. “Smart Growth” refers to an amorphous planning theory favoring (or requiring) high urban densities, mixed-use development, and non-auto travel.

Given Portland’s status as the Mecca for this philosophy, it’s likely that the conference will be a love fest of planners, activists, and consultants celebrating the “Portland story.” Unfortunately, the reality of Smart Growth is a lot less glamorous than the PowerPoint slides.

For example, Portland has been a leader in light rail construction for over 30 years, but it hasn’t changed how people travel. According to the Portland City Auditor, in 1997 – when Portland had only one light rail line terminating in Gresham – 12% of Portland commuters took transit.

In 2015, transit use was still only 12% of commuter travel, despite (or because of) a multi-billion rail construction campaign that added a streetcar loop, a new commuter rail line, and five new light rail lines. During that era bus service was reduced by 14%, and buses still account for two-thirds of daily riders.

On the land-use front, planners have succeeded in their goal of densifying the region; but there was collateral damage. Due to density regulations, buildable land is now scarce, driving up the cost of housing. This is incentivizing many property owners to tear down nice homes and replace them with out-of-scale apartment buildings – many with no off-street parking. Some Portland Progressives who supported this planning agenda now wonder why their formerly pleasant neighborhoods are flooded with automobiles.

In the suburbs, most new projects simply have no backyards. It’s hard to remember now, but in 1995, the average lot size for a new home in Washington County was 15,000 square feet. This provided plenty of room for kids.

Those days are over. In the new “South Hillsboro” development, which will be built out over the next decade, most dwellings will be attached units on tiny lots. The larger parcels – averaging only 7,000 square feet – are being marketed as lots for “executive housing.”

Nice backyards that were once common are now only available to the rich, due to the artificial scarcity of land that Smart Growth calls for.

The Portland conference will feature trips to “transit-oriented developments” (TODs) like Orenco Station in Hillsboro. Orenco features a housing project with passive solar design along with urban-scale density near light rail, but both elements required large public subsidies. It would be difficult to replicate those projects elsewhere.

Perhaps the most disappointing fact about regional planning in Portland is that very little effort is being made to learn from the experience. Since 2008, at least four audit reports by the Metro Auditor have criticized agency planners for this failure.

In the 2010 report, the Auditor found that “Metro’s processes to plan transportation projects in the region were linear when they should have been circular. After a plan was adopted, the update process began anew with little or no reflection about the effectiveness of the previous plan or the results of the performance measures they contained.”

It’s clear that this was not an accident; it was by design. As the Auditor noted, “systems to collect data and measure progress towards these outcomes were not in place.”

No measurement means no accountability. That’s not a smart way to plan a region.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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