Month: March 2017

Selling Bonds to Buy the Elliott State Forest Would Be a Breach of Fiduciary Trust

By John A. Charles, Jr.

State Treasurer Tobias Read has announced that he is now prepared to support a plan being developed by Gov. Kate Brown to sell bonds that would “buy out” the Elliott State Forest from the Common School Trust Land portfolio and keep it in public ownership.

Unfortunately, this would saddle taxpayers with debt service on the bonds, thereby reducing or even eliminating the financial benefits of adding the bond proceeds to the corpus of the Common School Fund. This would be a breach of fiduciary trust on the part of the State Land Board.

Members of the public may not understand that bond sales don’t create “free” money; the face amount must be repaid over some designated period of time, with interest.

For example, if the legislature authorizes the sale of $100 million in general obligation bonds, total principal and interest will likely exceed $150 million over several decades.  All Oregon taxpayers will be legally obligated to pay off that debt.

Another option might be the sale of bonds backed by future earnings on the Oregon Lottery. But lottery revenues are essentially the same as General Fund revenues. Paying debt service on lottery-backed bonds will inevitably take money from public schools.

The Governor’s proposal to have the public buy a forest it already owns is akin to someone losing money in an IRA, then transferring funds into the account from a 401(k) to make up for the loss. If both accounts are owned by the same individual, there is no net gain; the loss is just disguised.

As the state’s elected Treasurer, Tobias Read should know better. The only way to decouple the Elliott State Forest from the Common School Fund is to sell it to private parties with no taxpayer financing involved.

Such an offer is sitting in front of the Board today. The Board should accept the offer of $220.8 million from the Lone Rock Timber consortium, place the net proceeds into the Common School Fund, and let the money begin immediately working for public school students.


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

 

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How Portland’s Inclusionary Zoning Policy Makes Development Less Affordable

By Lydia White

The City of Portland’s inclusionary zoning* requirements have turned a once-gushing housing development market into sludge. This was predicted by nearly everyone outside the central planning bureaucratic bubble.

In a rush to beat a February 1st deadline, developers submitted permits for 7,000 units in less than two months. Since then, that number has dropped by 1033%. Combined with other onerous mandates, inclusionary zoning has pushed developers to build in Portland’s surrounding suburbs. Developers aren’t doing so out of greed; they cannot feasibly finance projects within city limits.

Incentives provided by the city aren’t enough to supplement the costs of inclusionary zoning units. Portland-based Urban Development + Partners estimates that an “affordable rate” building costs over $300,000 more than its value, which is the primary number banks and investors use to determine a project’s viability. Eric Cress, a principal with Urban Development + Partners, says, “You can’t finance that [inclusionary zoning projects]. The financing world does not accept anything that costs more than its value.”

The unfortunate, yet not unforeseen, consequence of inclusionary zoning is that some low-income households benefit, while the policy serves as an informal gentrification program suffered by other residents. If Portland’s city planners want to help people afford housing, they should repeal inclusionary zoning requirements and let developers increase housing supply in a free and open housing market.

*Portland’s inclusionary zoning policy requires developers with 20 units or more to make 20% of units “affordable” at 80% of median family income, or 10% “affordable” at 60% median family income.


Lydia White is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Let’s Build Some Highways

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Oregon stopped building new highways in 1983 when I-205 was completed. Top planning officials began espousing a philosophy of spending money on rail transit rather than roads. The government also used the power of zoning to crowd more people into urban centers, in the belief that high density would lead to less reliance on cars.

The new strategy failed.

The Portland regional transit agency, TriMet, was given more than $3.6 billion to build a light rail system; yet between 1997 and 2016, TriMet’s market share of all commute trips in Portland fell from 12% to 10%. As a result, traffic congestion has become a major barrier to regional mobility.

Now a bipartisan group of legislators, led by Republican Rich Vial of Wilsonville and Democrat Brian Clem of Salem, has introduced a bill that would jump-start the highway-building process. HB 3231 would authorize cities and counties to jointly form special districts for the purpose of building and operating limited-access public highways.

If built, such highways would likely be financed through loans, with debt service paid off by tolls.

So far HB 3231 has not received a public hearing. It should. Motorists deserve all the highways they are willing to pay for. Let’s give them a chance to vote with their dollars for a better road system.


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

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It’s Finally Time to Sell the Elliott State Forest

By John A. Charles, Jr.

At the February 14 meeting of the State Land Board, the Board voted 2-1 to enter into negotiations with a private consortium to sell 82,450 acres of the Elliott State Forest. Gov. Kate Brown, who was on the losing end of the vote, has ordered the Department of State Lands to come back in April with an alternative plan that would allow for continued public ownership.

Not only is the Governor being petulant, but the alternative she favors has been studied repeatedly since 1995. That was the year that the Board released its first “Draft Asset Management Plan.” The Elliott was then valued at $850 million, but annual revenues were dropping due to rising management costs.

The Land Board was told by a consultant that “selling the Elliott State Forest would be the most effective way to maximize Common School Fund revenues.” The Board is required by the Oregon Constitution to make money on the Elliott because it is an endowment asset for public schools.

Sadly, that recommendation was rejected. Instead, state officials spent the next 20 years engaged in fruitless negotiations with federal regulators regarding compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Every time the Board thought an agreement to cut more timber had been reached, it turned out to be a false summit.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups used the Elliott as a legal piñata. They successfully sued the Land Board so many times that the forest stopped generating any revenue by 2013 and actually became a financial liability for Oregon schools.

The costs of this wait-and-see approach were not trivial. According to a report published by the Board in 2014, the Elliott had cost the Common School Fund $1.4 billion in lost earnings since 1995.

Things actually worsened after the report was published. In 2015 the Land Board decided to finally sell the Elliott; but instead of taking competitive bids, the Board established a fixed price. The Board also downzoned the land by imposing multiple limitations on future timber harvesting.

The result was that the Board received a single offer in 2016, for the state-mandated price of $220.8 million. The net result of 22 consecutive years of public ownership was a loss to the Common School Fund of at least $1.62 billion.

Governor Kate Brown now wants to renege on the sale entirely (despite voting for it in 2015) and use state bonding capacity to “buy out” a portion of the Elliott. This is probably the worst idea yet. The public already owns the forest; why would we want to go into debt buying ourselves out?

While the $220.8 million offer now on the table is a far cry from the $850 million we could have received in 1996, it’s better than hanging on to a dead asset. Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and State Treasurer Tobias Read voted to sell the forest, and that was the appropriate decision. Adding $220 million in new revenue to the Common School Fund endowment will generate many billions of dollars for schools over the next century.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article originally appeared in the Portland Tribune on March 16, 2017.

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Now Is the Time: Oregon’s Educational Opportunity Act, The Power of Choice

By Steve Buckstein

Oregon now has the chance to become an early adopter of a universal Education Savings Account program. An ESA program allows Kindergarten through 12th grade students to use part of the state funds allocated to their local school districts for other educational expenses and services of their choice, such as private or home schools, tutors, and online courses. Funds not used by the student in a given year can be rolled over, all the way to college.

Senate Bill 437 as Introduced would allow 100 percent of the average annual state funding (currently $8,781) for disabled and low-income students, and 90 percent for all other students, to fund ESAs for any students wishing to use them. This likely would result in a $200 million fiscal impact on the state and local school districts combined. A small price to pay for educational freedom, but not likely to happen in a legislative session facing a budget shortfall.

So, the bill has been amended to virtually eliminate any negative fiscal impact. It lowers ESA accounts to $6,000 for disabled and low-income students and $4,500 for all other students. These accounts represent real money…for real educational opportunities…for every student—with no fiscal impact on the state budget.

Please share your interest in Senate Bill 437, the Educational Opportunity Act, with your state legislators. And get involved at the Educational Opportunity Act Facebook page and at SchoolChoiceforOregon.com.


Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Testimony Before the House Committee on Health Care in Support of HB 2128

To: Chairman Greenlick and members of the House Committee on Health Care

From: Steve Buckstein, Senior Policy Analyst and Founder, Cascade Policy Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy research organization based in Portland

HB 2128 is a common-sense response to Oregon’s overreach when it became the first state to require a prescription for drugs containing pseudoephedrine in 2006. Only Mississippi has followed our lead.

While our prescription-only law was meant to reduce the incidence of meth labs in the state, federal government data show that by the time our law went into effect, we had already seen an 89 percent drop in the previous two years. Why? Because Oregon adopted its earlier behind-the-counter law for pseudoephedrine drugs in 2004.

As federal data in Figure 1 of Cascade Policy Institute’s 2012 study show, Oregon reported 467 meth lab incidents in 2004, and just 50 by 2006. By 2010 we reported 12 meth lab incidents. So, the overwhelming drop came before our prescription-only law even went into effect. As shown in Figure 1, our two neighboring states of Washington and California showed similar declines over the same period; and they only put these drugs behind the counter, as all states were required to do by federal law starting in 2006.

While I don’t have access to the meth lab incident data from more current years, we do know that according to recent reports from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, 99.8 percent of meth seized in the United States in 2015 was produced in Mexico.

Let’s be clear: Neither putting pseudoephedrine drugs behind the counter nor making them prescription-only did anything to reduce meth use and abuse.

Requiring prescriptions simply inconveniences Oregonians who want to treat minor cold or seasonal allergy symptoms, something consumers in 48 other states don’t have to bother with.

Oregonians have to make an appointment, take time off work to visit their doctor, ask for a prescription, and then go to the pharmacy to buy a product they previously could purchase by just asking their pharmacist.

A 2014 study found that this prescription requirement increased consumer prices for these drugs by 35 percent.

Making pseudoephedrine Rx-only is also likely to result in some patients relying on less effective treatments or avoiding treatment altogether due to additional cost and hassle. This could result in more lost work time for individuals and lost productivity for employers.

It’s time to recognize that we solved most of the meth lab problem by placing these drugs behind the counter in 2004. We didn’t need to overreach with our prescription-only law in 2006.

It’s time to repeal the prescription-only restriction and let honest consumers buy the cold and allergy medicines they prefer, just like people in 48 other states.

Thank you.

Click here for Figure 1 of Cascade Policy Institute’s 2012 study

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Testimony Before the House Committee on Revenue in Opposition to Tobacco and Inhalant Nicotine Tax Bills

To: Chair Barnhart and members of the House Committee on Revenue

From: Steve Buckstein, Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization

Re: Tobacco taxes and inhalant nicotine taxes proposed in
HB 2037, HB 2056, HB 2062, HB 2084, HB 2119, HB 2662, and HB 3178

Why the state should not depend on increased sin taxes

  • Oregon’s addiction to tobacco/nicotine revenues will only grow if we become more dependent on them to fund new or existing programs.
  • Taxes on alcohol and tobacco are frequently justified as a means of discouraging “unhealthy” behavior. But this objective quickly gives way to a different one: raising revenue. This creates a “moral hazard” problem: sin taxes cannot simultaneously both discourage consumption and raise more revenue. For one to succeed, the other must fail.
  • As cigarette smoking continues to decline, tobacco taxes will continue to shrink, punching one more hole in future state budgets.

The regressivity of Sin Taxes

Paying for any state programs by taxing smokers may make some program recipients better off, but it will also make smokers and their families worse off.  As you may know:

  • Cigarette smoking adults are more likely to be uninsured than non-smoking adults.
  • Cigarette smokers are in poorer physical condition than non-smokers.
  • Cigarette smokers generally have lower incomes and less formal education than non-smokers.
  • Cigarette smokers are more likely to be unemployed or unemployable than non-smokers.

Policy option:

Currently, less than eight percent of Oregon tobacco taxes are used for the Tobacco Use Reduction Program. Funding other state programs through cigarette, tobacco and/or nicotine taxes is very regressive, targeting less educated, lower income and sicker Oregonians. If anything, these taxes should be reduced, not increased.

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The Road to Success Travels Through 3rd Grade Reading

By Kathryn Hickok

Denisha Merriweather failed third grade twice. Today, she is finishing her master’s degree, thanks to Florida’s tax-credit-funded scholarship program. Last week Denisha was President Trump’s guest at his Address to Congress, where he called educational choice “the civil rights issue of our time.”

The key to Denisha’s success was her godmother’s ability to remove Denisha from a school that was failing her, and to send her to the school that provided her with the support she needed.

Denisha says:

“Now that I’m in graduate school, I can look up statistics that suggest I’ve beaten the odds….[S]tudents who don’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times as likely to drop out of high school as those who do….

“That was me.”

According to the National Association of Education Progress, only 34% of Oregon fourth-graders tested “proficient” in reading in 2015. Oregon students should have the power of choice to find their own path to success, just like Denisha. The Oregon Legislature can help them do this with Senate Bill 437. SB 437 would give parents who want to opt out of a public school a portion of the per-student state funding for their child, to spend on education in other ways. No one disputes the need for improvements to public schools. But children who need help today should be able to get help now.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Oregon Taxpayers, Not Riders, Pay Most Costs of Public Transit Operations

By John A. Charles, Jr.

In a recent interview with the Portland Business Journal, Chris Rall of Transportation for America argues for increased state support of public transit service. He says that Oregon only covers three percent of the operating costs of transit, while other (unnamed) states pay for 24 percent.

I don’t know the source of Mr. Rall’s claim, but the audited financial statements for the largest transportation districts in Oregon show a very different picture.

In FY 2016 TriMet had total operations revenue of $542,200,000 but only $118,069,000 came from passenger fares. That means TriMet riders received a 78% subsidy from other sources.

At Lane Transit District in Eugene, passenger fares in 2015 were only $7.2 million, while total operating revenue was $60.9 million. Non-riders paid for 88% of operations.

For Cherriots Salem-Keizer transit, public support totaled 94% of all operating revenue in 2015.

Undoubtedly the largest subsidy goes to the Portland-Eugene passenger rail line operated by ODOT. For every one-way ticket sold in 2015, the public paid $120.

Before state legislators approve any more subsidies to transit, they should require that transit operators recover at least 50% of costs from customers. If riders are only willing to pay 10 percent, why should taxpayers have to pick up the rest of the tab?


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

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