Category: Audio

Beaverton Wants More Affordable Housing

By Doug DeFilipps

The Beaverton City Council is considering exempting non-profit organizations that open new affordable housing units from paying the city’s property tax. An associate planner for the city said that “affordable units [are] going to be a major challenge in the future” because “[t]he housing market is tight, and a lot of affordable units in Beaverton are occupied by residents who could pay more but opt for cheaper housing.”

If the goal is affordable housing, then the city should ease the tax and regulatory burden on all development and businesses. That way it would be easier for developers to build new housing, and housing would become more affordable. If a major cause of the lack of affordable housing is “people who could pay more but opt for cheaper housing,” then it makes sense to try to give everyone more, less expensive options.

Developers of affordable housing should not be given special treatment. Why should other developers, not to mention businesses and residents, be taxed more than these affordable housing groups? Why should they be forced to make up the shortfall?

Government entities, including the Beaverton City Council, have an obligation to treat all citizens and businesses fairly and equally, and not to pick favorites.

Doug DeFilipps is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute. He is a graduate of Santa Clara University.

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School Choice Results Trend Positive in New Study

School choice programs empower parents to choose the schools their children attend―public or private―by allowing parents to direct a portion of public education funding for their child through tax credits, scholarships, vouchers, and education savings accounts. School choice programs are among the most prominent and successful reforms in education today.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has released a new report examining 23 empirical studies of school choice programs. The report is authored by scholars at the University of Arkansas, Harvard University, the Federal Reserve Bank, Stanford University, and Cornell University.

According to the study, “[o]pponents frequently claim school choice does not benefit participants, hurts public schools, costs taxpayers, facilitates segregation, and even undermines democracy. However, the empirical evidence consistently shows that choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, moves students into more integrated classrooms, and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy.”

More than 250,000 students attend private schools through 41 school choice programs in 22 states and Washington, D.C. Expanding educational options through widely accessible school choice programs for all children can deliver the kind of dramatic improvement American schools desperately need to meet the diverse needs and aptitudes of all students. Putting parents back in charge is the way to revolutionize education today.

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

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The Marketplace Fairness Act: Taxation Without Representation?

Congress is poised to raise taxes again, this time by allowing states to impose sales taxes on online sales. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Max Baucus (D-MT), and Kelly Ayotte (R-RH)―all representing states without sales taxes―oppose the Senate’s “Marketplace Fairness Act” as “taxation without representation.” The proposed legislation would burden online businesses with enforcing potentially thousands of state and local taxes across the country at the point of sale.

 

Andrew Moylan, senior fellow with the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C., writes, “This means quizzing purchasers about their location, looking up the appropriate rules and regulations in more than 9,600 taxing jurisdictions across the country, and then collecting and remitting sales tax for that distant authority. No brick-and-mortar shop has to do this for in-store sales, and yet every online retailer would have to do it for remote sales.”

 

In an editorial this week, The Wall Street Journal added: “Small online sellers will therefore have to comply with tax laws created by distant governments in which they have no representation, and in places where they consume no local services.”

 

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) claims tax accounting software makes it easier for smaller businesses to comply with the proposed law than opponents allege. Still, forcing retailers to enforce the tax laws of thousands of different localities across the country is a massive change in the way we do business―one that will have far-reaching consequences for small businesses and consumers alike.

 

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

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“Housing Fairness” Bill Is Unfair to Landlords

By Doug DeFilipps

Ending “housing discrimination” against holders of Section 8 rent assistance may sound like a worthy goal, but not all ways of expanding their living options are fair. Oregon House Bill 2639 is one such deeply flawed method.

On the surface the law seems reasonable: It requires landlords to consider applications from Section 8 voucher holders, but it does not give special preference to such renters. However, the catch is that any landlord who accepts Section 8 voucher payments must have the building undergo inspection, and it must meet certain marketplace standards. This may be fine when landlords’ participation in Section 8 is voluntary; but is it fair to place these requirements on all landlords?

Meeting these standards takes time and money. No one benefits from landlords having to consider renters whom they then have to accommodate differently from other people. The landlord loses money by having to bring the building up to these standards.

Ending discrimination is one thing. It’s another to saddle Oregon landlords with the burdensome requirements that come with House Bill 2639.

Doug DeFilipps is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute. He is a graduate of Santa Clara University.

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Saving Transit by Shrinking TriMet

In the past eight years, the all-funds budget for TriMet has gone up by 125%, but transit service has dropped by 14%. This trend will only get worse. In what future historians likely will refer to as a suicide note, TriMet recently predicted that within seven years, much of its bus service will have to be cancelled due to the high costs of operation.

Several bills have been introduced in the legislature to address this problem. Rep. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale) is sponsoring HB 3316 to expand the TriMet board and change the board composition. This bill is tentatively scheduled for a hearing on April 15.

Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby) has sponsored SB 826, which would allow local jurisdictions to leave TriMet at any time, for any reason.

Both bills actually could be combined. A more diverse board could bring better oversight, and allowing cities or counties to leave the district (as Wilsonville, Sandy, and Canby already have) would encourage innovation and reduce TriMet’s unsustainable operating costs.

After 44 years, it’s time to admit that TriMet has failed. Its cost structure is too high and cannot be reformed. The policy objective from now on should be to serve transit riders, not the TriMet bureaucracy. Transit advocates should speak forcefully to these points at the April 15th hearing in Salem.

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Don’t End Tax Increase Warnings

In the late 1990s Oregon voters approved measures that require envelopes containing certain property tax measures to be boldly stamped in red with this warning: CONTAINS VOTE ON PROPOSED TAX INCREASE.

Now, public employee unions are asking the legislature to end this practice on the grounds that the ballots themselves contain clear information about proposed tax hikes. What the unions don’t say is that without these bold warnings, many potential voters won’t even open the envelopes to discover what’s in store for them if the measures pass. Unopened envelopes mean fewer potential No votes, which is just what the unions want.

Another argument against the warnings is that they unfairly apply to some tax measures, but aren’t required for others. That’s true. But, rather than end the current warnings, we should print them on envelopes that contain tax increase votes of any kind. The unions won’t like this, but many taxpayers will.

The legislation aimed at killing the warnings is House Bill 3113. It has already had one public hearing that generated little public opposition. Unless more people stand up and oppose it, the bill may become law.

That would end what Jason Williams of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon calls the “common courtesy that we’re about to knock the daylights out of you with a tax increase.”

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

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Life, Liberty, and Obama’s Pursuit of Free Birth Control

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released the long-awaited “accommodation” on the so-called “contraceptive services mandate.” The mandate requires nearly all employers to provide birth control, “morning-after” and “week-after” pills, and sterilization without copayments in their employee health care plans. According to the Obama Administration, the revised HHS rule requires employees of objecting religious organizations to be offered “no-cost contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies” issued through insurance companies or a third-party administrator.

Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University, which has brought a lawsuit against the mandate, called the rule a “bizarre, new bureaucracy to obscure who exactly is paying for the abortion-inducing drugs and other services covered by the mandate.”

This is an important point for civil libertarians. Pharmaceutical companies will not provide a lifetime supply of free contraceptives to every American woman over the age of twelve out of the goodness of their hearts. The costs will be borne by individual policyholders, for-profit businesses, nonreligious nonprofits, and taxpayers―any of whom may object, and none of whom qualify for exemption.

President Obama pays lip service to the First Amendment and champions freedom of choice, but if he truly respected either, he would stop trying to create a universal entitlement to free birth control. The American way is a thriving marketplace where people can choose health care providers and coverage consistent with their beliefs. It looks as if we’ll get court battles instead.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization, and a graduate of the University of Portland.

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Sick of Government Sick Leave Policies

On March 6 the Portland City Council may vote on whether to require virtually all businesses that employ six or more people to provide them at least five paid sick days per year.

Some supporters of this policy believe it’s actually immoral to make someone choose between coming to work sick and losing a day’s pay needed to take care of their family. Another perspective is that it’s immoral to impose such a policy when its cost may very well lead to less employment, especially for the working poor.

Supporters also argue that other cities and states are beginning to implement such policies, and at least 45 other countries already have them. Of course, other jurisdictions have lots of policies that reduce the flexibility and freedom of employer-employee relationships, and their economies generally suffer the consequences. Such impositions elsewhere shouldn’t justify adding them here.

Finally, some local economists believe the cost of extending paid sick days to employees is far outweighed by reductions in other business costs associated with employee turnover.

But if such positive tradeoffs were obvious to employers, they would offer paid sick days voluntarily out of their own economic self-interest. Of course, it’s not government’s job to encourage voluntary implementation of anything.

Remember that government “is not eloquence, it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”*

*Often attributed to George Washington, similar phrases were apparently in common use in the 1700’s.

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

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Oregon Legislature Should End Its General Fund Lottery Addiction

A state legislator from Milwaukie, Carolyn Tomei, has introduced a package of bills designed to address some of the problems associated with the Oregon Lottery.

Perhaps the most important of the three bills is HB 2167, which would cap the total amount of lottery revenue going to the state’s general fund. Under her proposal, all money above the cap would be diverted into a so-called “rainy day” fund, used only during times of fiscal crisis.

This would begin to address a central problem with the lottery, which is the mixed incentives it creates for legislators. On one hand, most of them pretend to be concerned about the growing problem of gambling addiction. Yet, when they use lottery money to pay for base funding of important state programs, they are incentivized to promote gambling.

When priorities collide, the lottery as cash cow always trumps concerns about gambling addiction.

The best solution would be to get state government out of the gambling business entirely; but since that’s not politically feasible, cutting off some of the revenue to the state’s general fund is a good first step. If the cap is set low enough, it potentially could force legislators to look elsewhere for base funding, or maybe even cut spending. Either option would be better than the status quo.

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

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Freedom and Opportunity Are the Future of Education

Next week is National School Choice Week. Every January, National School Choice Week highlights the need for effective educational options for all children.

Planned by a diverse and nonpartisan coalition of individuals and organizations, National School Choice Week features special events and activities that support school choice programs and proposals. The world’s largest celebration of education reform, the 2013 School Choice Week will feature more than 3,500 independently planned events across 50 states.

According to schoolchoiceweek.com, “Participants in National School Choice Week believe that to improve student achievement, boost graduation rates, and improve American competitiveness in the global job marketplace, families must be empowered to choose the best educational options for their children. These options include high-performing public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, digital/online learning, and homeschooling.”

Students have different talents, interests, and needs; and they learn in different ways. The landscape of educational options to meet those needs is far more diverse today than it was even a few years ago. Freedom in education is good for all children, not just for children deemed by the state to be “at risk” or in “failing schools.” Parents, not government bureaucracies, should decide which learning environment is best for their children and be empowered to choose those schools. It’s becoming increasingly evident that more choices in education are the way of the future. For more information, visit National School Choice Week online at schoolchoiceweek.com.

Cascade Policy Institute will host a National School Choice Week School Choice Policy Picnic on Wednesday, January 30, at noon. Cascade founder Steve Buckstein will discuss the importance of school choice and where we go from here to get more of it in Oregon. Those interested in attending can RSVP here.

 

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

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