Month: July 2018

23 Million Reasons for Metro to Repeal Its Construction Excise Tax

By Jakob Puckett

How much do we have to tax something to make it affordable? You might think that’s counterintuitive, and you’d be right. But that’s exactly what the Portland-area Metro Council is doing with affordable housing through their Construction Excise Tax. So what is this tax? For every construction project valued at over $100,000, Metro taxes 0.12% of its value, with most of the revenue directed to fund grants to plan for affordable housing.

That number may not sound like much, but the Portland City Council also has a Construction Excise Tax, only it’s eight times higher than Metro’s, also for housing land-use planning. So two councils levy the same tax on the same people for the same purpose.

And the money raised rarely goes to constructing housing units. Metro recently approved 10 new grants; and while all of them fund more land-use planning exercises, none of them actually build new housing. This extra paperwork often leads to construction delays, creating an expensive, redundant mess for land developers.

And just how expensive has it been? Metro has renewed this tax twice, raising over $23 million for these projects, which has just made housing construction $23 million more expensive. And, in a city where every dollar put towards new housing counts, that’s 23 million reasons why Metro should repeal its Construction Excise Tax.

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

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Private Developers Leading the Way for Affordable Housing

By Rachel Dawson

The Metro Council voted June 7 to place a housing bond measure of $652.8 million for only 3,900 units on the ballot this fall. The regional government estimates the cost of new projects will be around $253,000 per home. But as there is no cap on cost per dwelling, project costs could be much greater. This bond will spend too much money on too few homes. However, private developers in the Portland region have shown it’s possible to build more residences at a lower cost compared with Metro’s proposal.

There is no better example of this than local private developer Rob Justus. With Home First Development, Justus has helped build a total of 431 public units for an average cost of $90,230 since 2011. Home First likes to call this “affordable-affordable” housing. Before a project begins, the company keeps itself accountable by working backwards: They contain the costs of the project so apartments can be rented to tenants at a price that works for them. This philosophy has allowed Home First to increase the number of homes they are able to build.

In concert with the Portland Habilitation Center, Justus built 78 affordable residences in 2015 in Portland at $65,000 per unit. In 2017 he offered to build 1,000 homes in Portland at $85,000 per unit if the city could gather $20 million, but Portland officials rejected this proposal. These homes would have cost 66% less than Metro’s housing bond estimates.

Justus has made low costs possible by building in less expensive neighborhoods and using non-union labor. These homes may not be the largest dwellings in the best part of town, but they are affordable to those in the lower 30% of area median income who are in need of a home.

Along with wages and location, the materials used can greatly affect the price of a project. A Catholic charity attempted to build the complex known as St. Francis Park in 2015 using an inexpensive siding called HardiPlank. When the project went through Portland’s required design review, city regulators decided to choose a more expensive siding, which drastically increased the cost of the project. This additional cost caused the city to increase taxpayer subsidy to the building. Ironically, in 2006 a housing complex in Vancouver using the same inexpensive siding that was rejected by the city of Portland received a national development award.

The fatal flaw in this bond measure is that there is no cap on cost per home, which the city of Vancouver has demonstrated is possible to have. Vancouver passed their own Affordable Housing Fund in 2016 which caps the amount spent per housing unit at $50,000. Money from the fund would add to a project’s “capital stack,” rather than fully funding the complex. This forces project applicants (one of whom was Home First Development) to search for multiple sources of funding instead of relying on the Vancouver City Council to foot the bill.

The Metro Council could build cheaper apartments by using less expensive materials and contracting with private developers to decrease labor costs. Without a cap on cost per unit to keep themselves accountable, Metro is able to write a blank check with taxpayer dollars for every project.

Housing can be made affordable to both taxpayers and renters. Metro can do this by withdrawing the bond measure and redrafting it to include a cap on costs. Doing so would allow them to follow the lead of private developers like Rob Justus to make “affordable-affordable” housing a reality.

Rachel Dawson is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article appeared in The Portland Tribune on July 26, 2018.

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The Smartest Choice Is School Choice

By Miranda Bonifield

What do 29 states and nations from Australia to the Netherlands have in common? School choice. In Belgium, school choice is enshrined as a constitutional right. Pakistan utilizes a voucher program. The result is higher-quality education for kids of all backgrounds. It’s time for Oregon to recognize these benefits and embrace school choice.

Not only are participants in school choice programs more likely to graduate and enroll in college, but 31 of 33 available studies have demonstrated that the resulting interschool competition positively impacts public schools.

It’s the best policy for low-income communities: As the Brookings Institute’s John White noted in 2016, school choice gives low-income kids the chance to take advantage of options like private schools or tutoring that otherwise would be out of reach.

School choice doesn’t favor any one religion or group, since well-structured programs like Education Savings Accounts allow parents themselves to choose the educational resources that meet their own children’s needs. And as a cherry on top, all but three of the 40 available fiscal analyses found that school choice resulted in savings of taxpayer dollars.

However you spin it, the smart choice is school choice.

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

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High Costs and Low Ridership Are Nothing New for Southwest Corridor Project

By Rachel Dawson

Decreasing ridership paired with increasing costs makes for a bad business decision for TriMet’s proposed Southwest Corridor plan. The TriMet proposal would add an additional light rail line stretching from downtown Portland to Bridgeport Village in Tigard. The project’s draft environmental impact statement predicts what TriMet thinks will happen, without taking into consideration what has occurred with past projects.

The plan estimates that rides on every current light rail line will more than double, and the total weekday rides will nearly triple by the year 2035. However, in recent years light rail rides have been decreasing or plateauing across the board.

But overpredicting ridership isn’t anything new: Every single past TriMet light rail plan overestimated the number of rides it would have.

Additionally, the capital costs of light rail projects historically have been underestimated, meaning projects have proven to be more expensive than what TriMet had predicted. This has already become evident with the Southwest Corridor plan: In 2016 the capital costs were predicted to be $1.8 billion dollars, which increased to $2.8 billion in 2018.

Increasing prices plus decreasing ridership sounds more like a recipe for economic disaster than a successful project. You have the opportunity to voice your opinion at the southwest corridor public hearing on Thursday, July 19 at the Tigard City Hall.

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

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Metro’s Waste Reduction Program Lacks Direction and Accountability

By Justus Armstrong

This October, the Portland-area Metro Council will award the first round of grants for its Investment and Innovation program. The program’s goals include strengthening local waste reduction efforts and fostering economic benefits for those from marginalized communities; but with a combination of corporate welfare and vague performance measures, the means by which Metro hopes to obtain these goals are murky at best and unethical at worst.

The program, which sets aside $3 million a year from Metro’s solid waste reserve fund over a three-year pilot period, offers two tiers of grants—one tier ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, the other from $50,000 to $500,000—to nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses alike. Metro directs the larger capital grants toward “investments in equipment, machinery and/or buildings” for projects in line with its waste reduction goals. In awarding capital to businesses, Metro seeks to improve regional recycling and disposal infrastructure, but seems to have no regard for the program’s marketplace consequences.

By matching assets with public funding, Metro grants an unfair advantage to businesses that follow its environmental agenda. While the grants program limits funding to costs tied to waste reduction projects, padding companies’ overhead and capital costs to benefit these projects goes outside the scope of Metro’s stated goals and undermines the competitive marketplace. Businesses should earn investment capital such as buildings and equipment by themselves, not through taxpayer handouts. Most citizens would oppose the use of their tax dollars to prop up privately owned corporations. Apart from good intentions and “green” packaging, what makes this project demonstrably different? How does it fit into Article XI, Section 9 of Oregon’s Constitution, which states that no municipality shall “raise money for, or loan its credit to, or in aid of, any such company, corporation or association?” Many questions have yet to be addressed.

Even for measuring success, the program’s standards are unclear; and Metro has been down this road before. Metro’s Community Planning and Development Grants program awarded around $19 million from 2006-2015 to help local governments prepare land for development. Like the Investment and Innovation program, these grants were intended to advance Metro’s long-term vision, but a 2016 report from Metro auditor Brian Evans found problems with clear direction. “The program has become less aligned with certain regional planning priorities over time,” Evans wrote. “Changes to the program reduced clarity about what was intended to be achieved and there was no process in place to evaluate the program’s outcomes.”

The Investment and Innovation program faces similar risks. Since the grants outsource waste reduction goals to third parties, Metro can only guess at their potential effectiveness. In a pre-proposal workshop for prospective applicants, Program Manager Suzanne Piluso could offer no estimate of the program’s effect on waste, saying it would take until after the pilot period to “determine if it’s moved the needle.” To be clear, that’s $9 million for a waste reduction program that can’t promise to actually reduce waste. Metro is handing out taxpayer money for hypothetical benefits that are unlikely to match the price tag.

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

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Gov. Brown, lawmakers, unions decry court ruling / Published in News Channel KTVZ

SALEM, Ore. – Top Oregon Democrats, including Gov. Kate Brown and Sen. Jeff Merkley, joined union officials Wednesday in expressing disappointment in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down an Illinois law allowing unions to assess fees against non-members to help fund collective bargaining efforts.

In reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Governor Kate Brown, Tom Chamberlain (president of Oregon AFL-CIO), John Larson (president of the Oregon Education Association), Melissa Unger (executive director of SEIU Local 503), and Stacy Chamberlain (executive director of Oregon AFSCME), released the following joint statement:

“Oregon’s economy is thriving, but the rising economic tide is leaving too many behind. Every day, we hear from families struggling to make ends meet, single parents working two jobs to get by, young people buried by student loans, and seniors who’ve spent down their life savings to keep up with the rising cost of living.

“Today, Oregon families face new challenges, but unions are on the forefront, fighting for working families, fair pay, and more affordable housing. Our union members have led the fights to raise the minimum wage, ensure that women and …

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Local unions rally against SCOTUS union decision / Published in KOIN

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Unions, and the people that make them up, headed to Portland City Hall on Wednesday night to rally against a Wednesday ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that ended mandatory union fees that support government employees working in collective bargaining agreements.

Those people say they will not be beaten by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, a decision they say threatens organized labor.

“Our members know what is at stake,” said Stacy Chamberlain, the ex-director of AFSCME. “They know they need to stand together if we are going to be strong and negotiate good contracts and fight against privatization, some of the other things that we know that these anti worker groups are going to try to do.”

Gov. Kate Brown, along with other union leaders, issued a statement, calling the ruling …

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Supreme Court deals big setback to labor unions, local groups gather in Portland / Published in KATU

The Supreme Court issued a ruling in an Illinois labor case Wednesday that said public employees can’t be forced to pay fees to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining.

Union organizers in the Portland area are expected to gather around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in front of Portland City Hall.

Those in favor of the decision say it’s a victory for freedom of choice and speech for workers who may disagree with a union position and decide not to support the organization financially.

Others like Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley say it is a blow to workers represented by unions.

“This is another movement away from a nation that …

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Local unions react the ruling by the Supreme Court / Published in KVAL Eugene Oregon

EUGENE, Ore. – Top public employee unions in Oregon are less than pleased with the big decision on Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on union dues.

The case is called Janus versus AFSCME, and the high court’s ruling on Wednesday is causing a lot of reaction. Supporters of the ruling say that it’s a boost for first amendment rights, but detractors say it’s a big setback for working families.

The Supreme Court ruled that government workers cannot be compelled to contribute fees to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining. It’s considered a significant financial blow to organized labor.

One of the chief free-market think-tanks in Oregon says that this decision was the right one.

“Public employees, as of today in Oregon and 22 other states that are not right-to-work states, do not have to pay dues to a union that they disagree with,” said Steve Buckstein, the Director of the Cascade Policy Institute.

Some local labor and management agencies refused to go …

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Supreme Court Decisions Deals Blow to Labor Unions / Published in KAST 1370AM

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that government workers can’t be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, dealing a serious financial blow to organized labor.

The justices are scrapping a 41-year-old decision that had allowed states to require that public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join.

The 5-4 decision fulfills a longtime wish of conservatives to get rid of the so-called fair share fees that non-members pay to unions in roughly two dozen states. The court ruled that the laws violate the First Amendment by compelling workers to support unions they may disagree with.

“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees,” Justice Samuel Alito said in his majority opinion for the court’s five conservative justices.

President Donald Trump weighed in minutes after the decision was handed down, while Alito …

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