Category: Commentaries

dont allow skimming of medicaid funds for unions

Don’t Allow the Skimming of Medicaid Funds for Unions

By Aaron Withe and Steve Buckstein

Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars are skimmed off the top of Medicaid payments intended for some of society’s most vulnerable citizens and used for purposes never envisioned by the program’s supporters. Most of us can agree this is wrong.

After all, the whole point of Medicaid is to help low-income individuals—particularly the elderly and disabled—whose lives, dignity and comfort all benefit from the program.

Unfortunately, many politicians don’t see it this way. Oregon is one of nine states that allow labor unions to get a slice of the Medicaid pie by skimming union dues from the Medicaid paychecks of home-based caregivers.

The home-care program allows Medicaid-eligible individuals to avoid institutionalization by receiving daily living assistance in their own homes. In Oregon, Medicaid clients employ approximately 30,000 home-care and personal-support workers (HC/PSWs)—often their own family members—who are compensated through the program for providing basic assistance.

In 2000, however, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) successfully inserted itself into that arrangement.

It funded a ballot measure that allowed HC/PSWs to be unionized on the shaky logic that their Medicaid payments made them “public employees.” As a result, the state deducts an average of $500 per year in SEIU dues from each caregiver’s Medicaid payments and sends it to SEIU before the assistance money ever reaches the caregiver.

In states where this is happening, caregivers and their clients are understandably upset. Because unions have a limited role to play between family members in a home-based setting, many feel the idea of paying for traditional union services just doesn’t make sense.

Some have pursued legal action to prevent the worst of the dues-skimming abuses. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the Harris family’s case and ruled that “partial-public employees” like HC/PSWs could no longer be forced to pay a union against their will.

But it hasn’t been enough. Although the Harris decision technically allows HC/PSWs to make their own choice about whether to pay union dues, Gov. Kate Brown’s complicit administration has continued skimming dues from the Medicaid payments, making it easy for SEIU to keep thousands of caregivers paying dues against their will.

Kyle Osburn, a Portland resident who cares for his disabled son, was one such caregiver. Kyle never signed up for SEIU membership, but the state confiscated dues from his Medicaid checks anyway. Others, like Diana Berman, tried to cancel their union payments after Harris but were told they weren’t allowed to resign until an arbitrary 15-day annual window.

Thousands of caregivers in Oregon remain victimized by the SEIU’s dues-skimming scheme.

And Oregon isn’t alone. At least eight other states deduct dues from Medicaid checks and divert the money into union bank accounts. This practice inevitably goes hand-in-hand with shocking reports of what unions will do to obtain “authorization” for such payments, including forging caregivers’ signatures and pressuring them to sign union cards.

It’s clear federal action is needed to protect the integrity of Medicaid, its beneficiaries and caregivers nationwide.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should immediately adopt administrative rules to ensure that Medicaid dollars are not misdirected toward union dues. Congress could also make it illegal to skim Medicaid funds in this way.

Either move would protect caregivers’ freedom to join a union if they chose to. Preventing state governments from deducting dues from Medicaid checks would make it far easier for caregivers to exercise their rights under Harris, but would in no way prevent caregivers from joining a union and paying dues on their own.

Medicaid dollars should be preserved for improving the lives of disabled, elderly and other Americans in need. They shouldn’t be diverted to special interest groups that often use those dollars for political gain, like propping up the politicians who skim dues for them in the first place.

Federal policymakers should take action now.

Aaron Withe is the Oregon director of the Freedom Foundation, a think and action tank in Salem. Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s Portland-based free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in The Bend Bulletin on December 8, 2017.

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Income

Straightforward policy reforms can reverse Oregon’s lower-than-average incomes and high cost of living

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

Oregon’s economy seems to be chugging along, yet many of us feel like we’re losing steam. Employment and incomes are up since last year, but when we compare Oregon with other states, things don’t look so good here.

Oregon’s median family income is about the same as the national average. But according to the Census Bureau, we are 14 percent below our northern neighbor. Oregon’s per capita personal income—another measure—is more than 8 percent lower than the national average. Oregon is not a rich state.

At the same time, according to one widely used survey, Oregon’s cost of living is about 25 percent higher than the national average and 17 percent higher than in Washington. Oregon’s Consumer Price Index has increased 20 percent since 2007, while prices nationwide only increased 16 percent. Much of this disparity is due to Oregon’s increased cost of housing. In addition, prices for food, gasoline, and health care are also higher here.

It’s expensive to live in our state. When adjusting incomes for the cost of living, Oregon goes from the middle of the pack to the bottom of the bunch. Accounting for purchasing power, Oregon’s median family income is 20 percent lower than the nation and 27 percent lower than Washington’s.

While our incomes are lower, they are more evenly distributed. By various measures, Oregon has less income inequality than most other states. Our top one percent of income earners has a smaller share of total incomes, and our poverty rate is lower than the national average.

On the one hand, our state does not have enough deep pockets to feed soak-the-rich tax policies. On the other hand, our below-average incomes mean we don’t have the resources to feed soak-the-middle-class tax policies like the health insurance and provider taxes that a “no” vote on Measure 101 in the upcoming January 23 election would repeal.

It also means we don’t have the resources to feed soak-the-poor tax policies like the carbon tax the legislature is almost certain to take up next February.

Regulations regarding paid time off, employee scheduling, and occupational licensing increase the cost of employing people without directly adding money to workers’ paychecks. The result is reduced employment and lower wages.

Oregon’s land use laws—as well as regulations regarding design review, historic preservation, and inclusionary zoning—have stifled residential development. Demand for housing is outpacing construction, driving up housing prices. The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis estimates that over the past 10 years, the Portland area has underbuilt by 27,000 units.

The application of Oregon’s land use laws has also limited commercial development. While local areas are supposed have a 20-year supply of vacant industrial land, too often much of that land is not development-ready. Modern companies operate in globally competitive markets and cannot wait for a years-long planning process. Instead of waiting, they locate and expand elsewhere, taking jobs with them.

Anyone who drives through the Portland area knows that congestion has worsened over the past few years. It affects more than just commuters. The Oregon Department of Transportation concludes that congestion is affecting freight traffic and businesses throughout the state, threatening their national and international competitiveness. Higher transportation costs result in higher prices for consumers.

With the decline in water traffic in the Port of Portland and increased railway congestion, highway traffic is a key transportation mode for freight. As highway conditions worsen, Oregon is more likely to get crossed off the list of places to do business, resulting in a loss of potential middle-income jobs.

A recent study of income and cost-of-living data between states concludes: “Cost of living is clearly impacted by state policies [such as those noted above].” Oregon can move from being a poor state to a rich state through straightforward policy reforms. These must address our high cost of living as well as our lower incomes. Reforms to speed up and expand real estate development will relieve housing price pressures and attract employers. Construction to relieve congestion will improve our competitiveness while reducing roadway accidents and alleviating commuter stress. Labor market reforms will increase employment and boost Oregonians’ paychecks.

Do these things, and Oregon can meet its promise to all of us.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is an Oregon-based economist, adjunct professor at Portland State University, and Academic Advisor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article was originally published by the Pamplin Media Group and appeared in the Gresham Outlook and The Portland Tribune.

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Vote NO on Health Care Tax Measure 101

Vote NO on Health Care Tax Measure 101

By Steve Buckstein

Oregonians will have the opportunity in January to vote No on Ballot Measure 101, thus rejecting new taxes that the state legislature and the governor tried to impose on health insurance premiums and hospital services. While these and other taxes are meant to shore up state funding of Medicaid services to low-income Oregonians, it has become clear that the state has been misspending such funds for years.

Voters’ Pamphlet statements for and against Measure 101 were due by November 13, and Cascade Policy Institute submitted an Argument in Opposition which you can read below. In it, we noted three ways that the state has mismanaged over $650 million in health care funds entrusted to it by state and federal taxpayers. But, that may be far from the final number.

On November 17, four days after the Voters’ Pamphlet deadline, Oregonians learned that the state may have “erroneously paid, allocated, inaccurately recorded or over-claimed $112.4 million in health care funds, according to a letter Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Director Pat Allen sent to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. Allen also told state legislators that “the state was likely to see more processing problems come out of the state’s health agency.”

These revelations were too late for Cascade, or anyone else, to include in our Voters’ Pamphlet statements. So voters will need to keep up with all the reasons to vote No on Measure 101. More reasons may emerge when the Secretary of State releases an expected audit of the OHA by early December.

An early version of the Voters’ Pamphlet for Measure 101, including the full text of the Measure and Arguments in Favor and in Opposition can be found at the Secretary of State’s website.

Here is Cascade’s Argument in Opposition:

STOP NEW SALES TAXES ON HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS
AND HOSPITAL SERVICES

Vote No on Measure 101.

Oregon state government has a long history of mismanaging “other people’s health care dollars,” including:

  • Wasting $300 million federal tax dollars building a website, Cover Oregon, that wasn’t able to sign up a single person for health insurance.
  • Paying $280 million a year for nearly 55,000 Medicaid recipients recently found to no longer qualify or who failed to respond to an eligibility check.
  • Overpaying health care organizations $74 million over three years to provide expanded Medicaid coverage to some Oregonians. The state initially only asked for $10 million of those overpayments back, and under political pressure eventually asked for the rest.

As one Oregon economist notes about the taxes in Measure 101:

“The law explicitly allows the new taxes on health insurance providers to be passed on to consumers. With these new taxes, that Silver ACA plan will cost about $625 more in 2019 than in 2018. It’s not just 40-year-olds who will get hit with the insurance tax. Nearly 12,000 college students…will pay the tax. Small group employers…will pay the new tax.

“Taxes on hospitals will raise the costs of care across the board….The cost of these taxes also will be passed on in the form of higher deductibles and premiums. Even if you don’t go to the hospital, you will be paying the hospital tax through higher insurance prices.”*

The cost of health care is already too expensive for many Oregonians. Don’t let the state add even more taxes onto services that are expensive enough already, especially when it has such a poor track record spending the health care tax money it already gets from us.

Say No to these new health care sales taxes.

Vote No on Measure 101.

*source: Health Care Tax Would Hurt Middle Class
at: CascadePolicy.org/Health-Care

(This information furnished by Steve Buckstein, Cascade Policy Institute.)

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

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Tolling People on to Portland’s Highways

Tolling People on to Portland’s Highways

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Earlier this year the state legislature passed a bill requiring the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) to apply for federal authorization to implement “value pricing” on two regional highways: I-205, and I-5 from the Washington border to the intersection with I-205. The OTC must apply by December 31, 2018.

Although value pricing may sound vague or somewhat ominous, motorists should be happy with this new policy. It has the potential to eliminate traffic congestion and create a revenue stream that will allow us to build the new highways and bridges that we need.

First, some background. “Value pricing” is a bureaucratic term for electronic tolling of highways where the toll rates vary based on the density of traffic. Usually, the rates change based on time of day, direction of travel, and day of the week. The rates are set to ensure 45 MPH driving conditions at all times of the day, hence the “value” offered to motorists.

There are many possible variations on this theme. In most cases, value pricing is used on new highway lanes, allowing drivers the option of staying in the unpriced, general purpose lanes. That probably will not be feasible in the Portland region because there is no room for an entire new network of priced lanes on I-5.

In some ways this is a blessing, because variable tolling will make our current lanes more productive. If priced properly, it’s possible that new lanes will not even be needed, saving us the expense of construction.

Value pricing is necessary because our current system cannot address congestion. Our highway network is an open access system, where each trip appears to be “free.” Of course, it’s not free—it’s being paid for by various back-door mechanisms such as motor fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, and random federal grants. But we think it’s free, so during peak hours we see a “stampede” effect.

When too many people try to get on at the same time, per-lane throughput drops substantially. The carrying capacity for most highways is roughly 1,800 vehicles per-hour in each lane. At times of hyper-congestion, this can drop to 900 vehicles or fewer.

By using variable pricing, we can clear up the stampede and get per-lane travel back to 1,600 or 1,800 vehicles per-hour. In essence, value pricing allows us to “toll on” more people than we “toll off.”

The effect of this was seen recently when tolls on the Port Mann Bridge in Canada were removed on September 1. The Port Mann is a 10-lane bridge over the Fraser River near Vancouver. After tolls were removed, the result was a huge increase in congestion. One driver saw her daily commute increase by 25 minutes each way. She told a news reporter, “Absolutely, it’s terrible. It’s selfish but I want those tolls back on.”

In addition to the benefits of free-flow driving conditions, variable tolling will also create the dedicated revenue stream we need for future highway expansion. There is no doubt that we need several new bridges over the Columbia River, plus additional highway lanes elsewhere. Value pricing will tell us where to build, when to build, and who is willing to pay.

Fortunately, the Oregon Constitution does not allow toll revenues to be siphoned off for non-highway uses such as light rail construction. Therefore, money paid by motorists will benefit them directly.

The new law mandates value pricing on two specific highways but also authorizes the OTC to implement pricing anywhere else. Since the Portland highway network is an integrated system including I-84, I-5, I-405, HW 26, HW 217, and I-205, it would be better to implement value pricing region-wide to ensure that motorists get what they want: free-flow driving conditions, at all times of the day.

Most new highways being built around the world are using electronic tolling with variable rates. The new Oregon law is an opportunity for us to learn from that experience and to implement a Portland highway pricing system that truly delivers “value” for motorists.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article was originally published by the Pamplin Media Group and appeared in the Wilsonville Spokesman and The Portland Tribune.

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Too Late to Fix PERS by Fooling Oregonians

By Scott Shepard

Governor Kate Brown’s task force, assigned to find ways to cut Oregon’s yawning unfunded PERS pension liability, is approaching its November 1 reporting deadline. Governor Brown is relatively new at her job, so perhaps she can be forgiven for hoping her PERS task force can produce magical founts of free money. But it can’t.

The Governor wants proposals to cut the admitted pension deficit of about $25 billion by 20 percent ($5 billion). Even if the task force managed this feat, the recognized debt would only return to its 2015 level, before the PERS Board started inching the assumed rate of return down from its long-standing eight percent figure toward more plausible figures. If the Board shifted to an assumed rate that matched risk with the certainty of payment obligations, unfunded pension liabilities would approach $50 billion.

Oregon taxpayers simply cannot—and will not—pay this tab. Oregon is not wealthy or highly populous. Raising an extra $50 billion—or even 25—is likely impossible. Taxes would have to rise and services decline to the point that businesses and families would begin to flee the state. This would spark a vicious cycle. Fewer taxpayers would be taxed even more to pay a fixed, unpayable bill, creating more incentives for emigration, until the state inevitably declared defeat. While this might sound apocalyptic, it’s not far-fetched: Puerto Rico has already slid into this vortex, and Illinois may become the first American state to fall into default and possible federal receivership.

Governor Brown’s task force efforts cannot thwart this process. She has charged it to find “out-of-the-box solutions” for raising these $5 billion. But no such ideas, out of any box whatever, can come without cost to taxpayers. Some ideas recently floated include increased “sin” (e.g., alcohol and tobacco) taxes. Those who don’t drink or smoke might think themselves off the hook, but they’re not. These increases, if not dedicated to PERS payments, could (and probably would) go to other purposes, like funding the state’s perennial non-pension budget deficit.

The same is true of all proposals floated. Money spent one way can’t be spent in others. Raiding the rainy day fund would force tax increases during the next economic downturn, increasing the pain of the next recession. Raiding the workers’ compensation fund would increase fees to employers, which would increase the costs of goods and services and decrease wages. Selling government property for pensions would mean that property is not available for public use or to sell for other purposes.

Governor Brown knows this. When she seeks “out-of-the-box” funding increases, the constraint she seeks to escape is really our knowledge that taxes are rising, public assets are shrinking, services are being curtailed, and our options are closing around us.

The only viable answer to Oregon’s pension and budget crisis is to reduce pension benefits for government workers. They enjoy more generous wages and benefits than those of comparable private-sector workers. Older government workers also earn benefits for every hour of work that are far higher than those earned by their younger peers.

The legislature first must shift all government workers, for work not yet performed, to the lower benefit structure that serves as a permanent cap for newer public employees. A 2015 Oregon Supreme Court opinion* fixed a long-term Court error by recognizing that the state can take this basic, equitable step to put all employees on the same basis for work not yet completed.

Then it must make use of another implication of that 2015 decision: that the Supreme Court has wrongly suppressed a set of amendments added to the Oregon Constitution in 1994 that, if followed, would have averted this crisis. The legislature should pass legislation to facilitate the equitable adjustment of excessive pension payments made for more than 20 years on the basis of the Court’s error, and fast-track review of the legislation to the Court.

Finally, the legislature should move all government employees into the type of 401(k), defined-contribution retirement plans that are the only sort available to most taxpayers.

It is far too late for panels tasked with finding ways to fool the public. Oregon’s pension crisis requires fair but real pension payment adjustments. Nothing else can succeed.


* Moro v. State, 357 Or. 167 (2015).

Measure 8 (1994), incorporated at OR. CONST. art. IX, § 10–13.


Scott Shepard is a Salem lawyer and law professor and author of an academic study on Oregon state pensions published August 1, 2017 by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He is also an Academic Advisor to Cascade Policy Institute in Portland. A version of this article appeared in The Portland Tribune on September 28, 2017.

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Health Care Tax Would Hurt Middle Class

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

Many Oregonians are now spending as much on health insurance and health care as they are on their mortgage payments. The Oregon legislature recently passed House Bill 2391 (signed by Governor Kate Brown) that will spike these costs even higher.

The law provides $605 million in new funds to the Oregon Health Authority. The money is meant to fill the fiscal hole made by the state’s costly expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Most of the money will come from taxes on health insurance providers, hospitals, managed care providers, and insurance provided through the Public Employee Benefits Board (PEBB).

Two of Oregon’s largest insurance providers on the ACA exchange have been approved for double-digit premium increases: Kaiser at almost 15 percent and Providence at more than 10 percent. For a 40-year-old with a Silver ACA plan, that amounts to an increased cost of about $500 a year.

The law explicitly allows the new taxes on health insurance providers to be passed on to consumers. With these new taxes, that Silver ACA plan will cost about $625 more in 2019 than in 2018. It’s not just 40-year-olds who will get hit with the insurance tax. Nearly 12,000 college students who buy their own health care as a requirement of attending a public college will pay the tax. Small group employers—such as the local coffee shop, auto repair, or bookstore—will pay the new tax.

Taxes on hospitals will raise the costs of care across the board. Emergency room visits, surgeries, diagnostics, and even childbirth will be hit with this new sales tax on hospital services. The cost of these taxes also will be passed on in the form of higher deductibles and premiums. Even if you don’t go to the hospital, you will be paying the hospital tax through higher insurance prices.

Because of the tax on the PEBB, local governments and school districts will also pay higher prices to insure their employees. These higher costs will lead to further cuts in staffing and services. Oregon’s already crowded classrooms will almost certainly get more crowded as districts struggle to fund the PERS crisis and higher insurance costs.

Medicaid providers are also hit with the tax. Because they do not have the pricing flexibility of other providers, they will have a harder time passing on the higher costs to consumers. Instead, they likely will reduce payments to doctors, nurses, and staff. With reduced payments, these professionals may decide to get out of the Medicaid market, thereby worsening the current shortage of Medicaid providers.

The Oregon Health Authority reports it recently removed nearly 55,000 people from its Medicaid program, after the state found they no longer qualified or failed to respond to an eligibility check. State auditors said in May that each of these Medicaid enrollees costs Oregon, on average, about $430 per month, or more than $550 million a biennium. These new savings alone more than cover the legislature’s tax increases.

While nearly everyone will be hit with the cost of these taxes, Oregon’s middle-class families will be hit the hardest. The Census Bureau reports that more than half of Oregon’s uninsured are adults between the ages of 25 and 64 who are not in poverty. These middle-class Oregonians surely want health insurance but have been priced out of the market. According to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about half of the individuals buying insurance on the Obamacare exchange get no subsidies under the law. This has been called “the middle-class loophole of no help.” Adding the legislature’s new taxes will drive more of the middle class to take their chances with being uninsured. Is this really the state of health care we want for Oregon?

These taxes can be stopped. StopHealthCareTaxes.com is now collecting signatures to put Referendum 301 on the ballot, allowing voters to repeal about $320 million in new taxes on health insurance and health care.* It would save the average household more than $200 a year in new taxes. Middle-class families will see even bigger savings. The referendum won’t stop the cost of health care from rising, but it will stop things from getting worse than they already are for Oregon’s middle class.

* The Referendum did collect enough signatures and is now Ballot Measure 101 on the January 23, 2018 Oregon ballot. A No vote will keep these taxes from going into effect.


Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is an Oregon-based economist, adjunct professor at Portland State University, and Academic Advisor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article appeared in The Portland Tribune on September 21, 2017.

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Time to Stop Forcing Union Membership

By Steve Buckstein and Kathryn Hickok

This week (August 20-26) is National Employee Freedom Week, a national effort to inform union members about their freedom to opt out of union membership if they choose and to make decisions about labor representation and the use of their union dues. The effort “empowers union employees with information to make the decision about union membership that’s best for them, including identifying non-union alternatives that better suit their needs.” An interactive map at employeefreedomweek.com lets workers in Oregon and other states find links to information helpful to those wanting more employee freedom. More than 100 organizations across the country, including Cascade Policy Institute in Portland, are affiliated with the annual campaign.

“Right to Work” states are states in which union membership may not be enforced as a condition of employment. Workers may choose to join a union or not, without fear of losing employment, salary, benefits, or seniority. Workers in the 22 states that are not yet Right to Work, such as Oregon, do not have full freedom to opt out of union membership. However, they do have the right to become agency fee payers, to identify as religious/conscientious objectors, or to require that their dues not be used for political purposes. According to National Employee Freedom Week’s website, “many employees are thrilled to learn that alternative professional associations provide better benefits and professional development opportunities for a fraction of the cost of union membership.”

Last year a survey of union members and union households found that about two-thirds nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying all union dues and fees, they should represent themselves in negotiations with their employer, an option known as “Worker’s Choice.” By the same margin (66.9% to 33.1%), Oregonian union members support Worker’s Choice, too. Worker’s Choice would end the so-called free-rider problem (really a forced-rider problem) commonly touted by union leaders, who argue that labor laws require them to continue representing workers even after they stop paying all dues and fees.

Oregon labor law is similar to that of many states that don’t allow individual workers to represent themselves if a union has organized their workplace. But now we know that most Oregon union members want this to change. They want workers to be able to represent themselves, and they don’t want to force unions to represent these non-dues-payers.

You would think the unions would be all over the Worker’s Choice solution, but they aren’t. Unions want to be forced to represent all workers because under current labor law, states like Oregon that don’t have Right to Work require that non-union members still contribute the non-political portion of dues to their unions to cover bargaining and representation costs. The unions want the money, pure and simple. Of course, they also wanted compulsory political dues, but in 1988 the U.S. Supreme Court Beck decision gave all workers the right to opt out of those, thanks to now-Oregonian Harry Beck’s decades-long battle to preserve his free speech rights. He tells his story at oregonemployeechoice.com.

A case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last year (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) could have freed all public sector workers nationwide from paying compulsory union dues based on the argument that such compulsion violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association. Before the case could be decided, Justice Antonin Scalia died, leaving a four-four tie vote in the Court. This resulted in upholding a lower court decision denying ten California public school teachers their rights to be free of union compulsion.

This union compulsion brings to mind the well-known statement by Thomas Jefferson:

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

That is what the Supreme Court left in place—the right of public sector unions to compel workers to fund the propagation of ideas they disbelieve. It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end union compulsion in Oregon and nationwide. Until that happens, National Employee Freedom Week will continue to bring this injustice to the attention of union members and the public.


Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and Founder at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade. A version of this article originally appeared in The Portland Tribune on August 24, 2017.

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Let Parents Wield School Spending Power

By Kathryn Hickok

Are we missing the trees for the forest in Oregon school funding and education reform debates?

Media reports, school districts, and political leaders usually focus on the big picture: reaching a 100% high school graduation rate so all children have the best chance in life. That’s a great goal. Frequently lost, however, is the fact that every child is an individual. The focus of real-life Oregon parents is helping their kids reach their potential in light of their specific needs and gifts.

These two perspectives shouldn’t be at odds. In fact, the second could drive the first―if more parents were empowered to make meaningful choices for their children’s education.

According to the National Education Association’s Rankings and Estimates report for 2016 and 2017, counting local, state, and federal funding, current expenditures per Oregon student in Average Daily Attendance are estimated to be $13,230, more than 33 other states. Adding in spending for capital outlays and interest payments, that number increases to $14,911 per student.

Yet, the National Association of Education Progress reports that only 34% of Oregon fourth-graders tested “proficient” in reading in 2015; and Oregon has the third-worst high school graduation rate in the country.

No one disputes the need for improvements to public schools. But children who need help today—first to learn the basics (like reading and math) and then to graduate from high school—should get the help they need now. What we ought to do is give Oregon students the power of choice to find their own paths to success.

For lower-income parents, the stakes are high. Nearly half the children born into poverty will stay in poverty as adults. Key to changing that outcome is an education that leads to high school graduation and future employment. Unlike parents with greater means, who can move to another neighborhood or pay out-of-pocket for private schools, lower-income parents often find their children trapped in public schools that do not meet their kids’ needs. Education Savings Accounts could change that.

Six years ago, Arizona became the first state to pass an Education Savings Account (ESA) law for some K-12 students, and it recently expanded eligibility to eventually include all Arizona children. Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee also have ESA programs limited to certain students, such as those with special needs.

An ESA is analogous to a limited-use debit card for qualifying education expenses. It gives parents who want to opt out of a public school a portion of the per-student state funding to spend on their child’s education in other ways. ESAs can fund a wide variety of education-related expenses, including tuition, tutoring, and supplemental materials. Money not used in one year can be rolled over for future education expenses, even college.

But if ESAs let parents spend education funds outside the public school system, would ESAs drain money from public schools? Not necessarily. Schools are funded by local, state, and federal money. ESAs would be funded by only part of the state component. The amount of the ESA deposits is negotiable and would be the biggest driver of their fiscal impact.

Legislators can design an ESA program so that it would be revenue neutral to public schools, or even create a net increase per student who remained in the system. If students leaving public schools took less funding with them than would have been spent if they had remained, schools could reduce their class sizes without a negative impact on per-student funding.

No one can craft a school system that meets every child’s needs. Statistical data analysis and bureaucratic goal-setting can’t ensure that any particular child makes it to high school graduation or excels in a career. But most parents are keenly aware of their own children’s needs. Giving parents power to find the right fit for their kids would make a world of difference, as any parent knows.

Focusing on the forest (the public school system), Oregon is missing the trees (kids). We should expand the role of parents in achieving better educational outcomes for their children. We’ve tried everything else. Parental choice is the future of education reform, and Education Savings Accounts are a fiscally responsible policy solution that can give all kids options now.


Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She is also Director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program, which provides privately funded, partial tuition scholarships to Oregon elementary students from lower-income families. A version of this article originally appeared in The Portland Tribune on July 18, 2017.

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Oregon’s new minimum wage law will hurt the people it aims to help

By Lydia White

Just prior to Oregon’s July 1 minimum wage* increase from $9.75 to $11.25 (Portland Metro Area), a team of researchers from the University of Washington produced a study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, that measures the effects of Seattle’s $13 minimum wage. In just nine months, Seattle wages rose substantially, from $9.47 in 2014, to $11 in 2015, to $13 in 2016 (an increase of 37.3%), and again to $15 on the first of this year.†

Unique to this study is a data set collected by Washington’s Employment Security Department which tracks hours worked in addition to earnings, making this particular study the first of its kind. Washington and Oregon are among four states that track these data.

The study‡ found that the city’s mandates resulted in 5,000 fewer jobs around Seattle. The average low-wage employee saw 3% higher hourly wages, but 9% fewer hours worked, resulting in a net loss of $125 per month. For low-income households especially, an annual loss of $1,500 is significant.

Jacob Vigdor, one of the study’s authors, said, “Traditionally, a high proportion of workers in the low-wage market are not experienced at all: teens with their first jobs, immigrants with their first jobs here.”

Wages are prices, or market signals, that indicate the value of labor productivity employees create. Low-skilled, low-paying jobs provide the opportunity to acquire knowledge and experience they were previously without, setting up workers for their next, potentially higher paying jobs. Henry Hazlitt, author of Economics in One Lesson, wrote:

“The more the individual produces, the more his services are worth to consumers, and hence to employers. And the more he is worth to employers, the more he will be paid. Real wages come out of production, not out of government decrees.”

The least skilled are further disadvantaged when artificially high price floors are implemented. As described in the UW study, when the cost of employing a worker exceeds the value that worker creates, employers are forced to reduce hours or eliminate positions within their business by laying off employees, who are often replaced by automation. These alternatives harm low-wage employees.

Additionally, employers are less likely to take a chance by hiring an unskilled worker and instead will search for only the most qualified candidates. Since teenagers are naturally less skilled due to lack of work experience, these policies create higher youth unemployment. A study last December by Cascade Policy Institute examined these and other “unintended consequences” of the minimum wage on youth.

Instead of, or in addition to, cutting costs of labor, employers increase prices of their goods or services. Consumers may choose to forgo such products or reduce their levels of consumption, in turn decreasing the need for labor. When the price of goods inevitably catches up to the employee’s higher wages, they find the purchasing power of their earnings has diminished.

Furthermore, large businesses can more easily absorb wage increases by operating within thinner profit margins or relocating to a region with a lower minimum wage. Local mom-and-pop stores don’t enjoy that same flexibility and must close their doors. With less competition, larger businesses have more power to raise prices.

When economists warn against the costs associated with the minimum wage, it’s not to protect greedy capitalists; it’s to protect both the worker and the small business owner from being priced out of the market.

For the benefit of all Oregonians, political leaders should learn from our northern neighbors and create an environment that doesn’t punish low-wage workers and the businesses that employ them. They can start by repealing the state’s onerous minimum wage law.


*Oregon’s and Washington’s minimum wages vary depending on region, population, benefits, tips, and business size. The minimum wages discussed here refer to those of Seattle and the Portland Metro Area.

†The latest 2017 increase was not included due to incomplete data.

‡The study used a “relatively conservative” $19 per hour low-wage threshold to account for the spillover effect of “miscoding jobs lost when they have really been promoted to higher wage levels….”


Lydia White is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article originally appeared in The Coos Bay World on July 10, 2017.

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Freedom in Film: Shane (1953)

By Kathryn Hickok

“That’s the trouble with this country. There ain’t a marshal within a hundred-mile ride.”

Considered by many to be the greatest Western of all time, Shane (1953) is a Father’s Day-worthy classic about a young boy’s relationships with his father and a mysterious gunslinger. A tale of the era of cattle drivers, the open range, and gunfighters settling disputes, the visually stunning Shane was filmed on location near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Alan Ladd plays Shane, a man with a past who works as a farm hand for Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and his wife Marian (Jean Arthur). Starrett is the unofficial leader of seven homesteading families, who want to put down roots and create something bigger than themselves―a future built from hard work and devotion to each other. They want to build a town, with “a church and a school,” a place where people can come and raise families.

The settlers’ vision of civilization conflicts with the desires of the cattle barons, who want to keep the range open. The barons reject the settlers’ claims to private property, stampeding through plowed fields and fences to terrorize people into giving up and leaving. When the barons resort to lawless violence, the homesteaders’ last chance of winning is Shane.

Starrett and Shane are each men of courage, self-restraint, and high ideals. They seek prudent, honorable solutions to the settlers’ problems; and in different ways they need to work together to survive. Shane celebrates individual initiative, creativity, free enterprise, and the classic opportunity of the American West.

But it is also clear that no one succeeds alone. Joe and Marian Starrett are a team. Their farm is only possible because they have each other, as Joe points out with loving pride. Their family also needs neighbors. The farmers rely on each other for moral and physical support and protection. The rights of individuals are only secure as long as honest people defend them. And the whole community needs the act of selfless courage that only Shane can pull off.

The lawless days gradually give way to civilization; but only through the courage of homesteading families determined to turn the Wild West into a peaceful, self-sufficient, hard-working community. The Starretts’ young son Joey idolizes Shane, but Shane steers him away from the false glamour of the lone ranger. When Shane rides off into the sunset, he tells Joey, “You go home to your mother and father and grow up to be strong and straight.” As Shane exits, the day of the gunfighter is over. The family now guards the range.


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. A version of this article was originally published in August 2013.

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