Category: Uncategorized

Metro’s Priorities Don’t Match Yours

By John A. Charles, Jr.

The Portland regional government known as Metro recently published the results of a poll regarding the most important issues to the region. Unsurprisingly, traffic congestion emerged as the number one concern: 96% of all respondents stated that congestion was a serious problem.

These results are consistent with virtually every poll taken over the past 25 years, yet congestion continues to get worse. The reason is that the Metro Council refuses to improve driving conditions and authorize new bridges and highways where they are needed, such as the west side of Portland.

Instead, Metro is determined to spend enormous sums of public money on additional light rail service that most people will never use.

Metro has appointed a 30-person Task Force to draft a ballot measure for 2020 seeking billions of dollars to build a light rail line to Bridgeport Village. This would be a complete waste of money. Transit ridership peaked in 2012. Since then, thousands of customers have left for Uber and Lyft, and they’re not coming back. TriMet is becoming irrelevant.

Sadly, no one at Metro or TriMet cares what taxpayers want—they only care about expanding their bureaucratic empires. Voters should remember this when the bond measure is unveiled later this year.

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

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School Choice Improves Student Mental Health

By Miranda Bonifield

If you’ve done your homework on school choice, you know it’s been linked with improved student safety, improved quality of public schools, and academic performance. But another compelling virtue of school choice, recently published by Dr. Corey DeAngelis and Professor Angela Dills, is its association with improved mental health and decreased rates of suicide. Even when controlling for students’ family backgrounds, the paper continued to find a strong association between school choice and decreased rates of suicide.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. When families are empowered to choose the best fit for their children, they are likely to favor schools with safe and nurturing environments that suit their child’s unique needs. The best answer to Oregon’s educational problems isn’t a longer school year or more access to preschool, even if those are potentially good things for some families. The answer is to expand Oregonian families’ choices through Education Savings Accounts, which would reserve a portion of state education funding for students’ families—making sure that money follows the educational needs of individual children, not the blanket dictates of administrators.

Every child should have the chance to receive a quality education. Oregon should make a change that’s good for our kids’ mental health and their long-term success.

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Is Oregon’s Department of Justice for Hire?

By Justus Armstrong

Last June, former Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick was hired by the Oregon Department of Justice as a Special Assistant Attorney General (SAAG). What many Oregonians may not know is that his entire salary is being paid by an out-of-state private source.

New York University’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies, funds Novick’s legal fellowship with the aim of strengthening state attorney general offices in their crusade against the Trump administration’s environmental policies.

The unprecedented practice of providing external funding to state attorneys general to push a policy agenda ought to raise ethical concerns. As attorney Andrew Grossman put it: “What you’re talking about is law enforcement for hire….Really, what’s being done is circumventing our normal mode of government.”

In August 2018, Competitive Enterprise Institute published a report by Christopher Horner which details the roots and function of the SAAG program. Law Enforcement for Rent: How Special Interests Fund Climate Policy through State Attorneys General describes the genesis of the SAAG program as an informal coalition between states, spearheaded by former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

A letter included in the report’s appendix from Schneiderman and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum shows she was invited to a March 2016 meeting of this coalition. The letter describes the program as “an important part of the national effort to ensure the adoption of stronger federal climate and energy policies.” Correspondence between members of the coalition (also compiled by Horner) expresses a desire to collaborate on targeting companies in the energy industry with regulatory and enforcement tools.

This same environmental policy agenda drives NYU’s Center, as expressed in its communication with state attorneys general. Emails state that the “opportunity to potentially hire an NYU Fellow is open to all state attorneys general who demonstrate a need and commitment to defending environmental values and advancing progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions.” NYU’s website directs interested attorneys general to demonstrate a need for outside funding to pursue these legal positions.

If this sounds questionable, imagine a similar practice being used to serve other political agendas. If a nonprofit backed by Charles and David Koch offered to fund a position in a state to provide legal assistance on regulatory matters, would it be considered a conflict of interest? If the National Rifle Association were bankrolling state employees to serve as a “resource” on gun law enforcement, would it raise red flags? This isn’t simply about protecting the environment versus not. It’s a question of impropriety and corruption. NYU states in its agreements that fellows owe their loyalty solely to the state attorney general once they’re assigned there, but SAAGs like Novick are still being paid by an outside source while working on behalf of the state.

It appears that Rosenblum was anxious about the ethical gray areas of this arrangement from the start. Emails from within the DOJ show that Rosenblum instructed the DOJ not to use the word “volunteer” to describe Novick’s position in his hiring paperwork. The obfuscating language of the hiring process is notable: In reality, Novick isn’t working as a “volunteer” or a “research fellow,” but as an environmental lawyer, as he has been for years. Rosenblum also showed apprehension about the potential media attention the unprecedented arrangement could draw, as one email states:

“We need to be sure we are prepared to explain his position to the media, who, no doubt, will be interested. (Because he is being paid by an outside entity—which is quite unusual I think)….”

Novick’s position is quite unusual indeed, and Oregonians deserve an explanation. Regardless of one’s views on Novick, Rosenblum, or Bloomberg’s environmental policy agenda, embedding privately funded legal counsel in our justice department is a conflict of interest. The Attorney General’s office should be loyal to Oregon citizens, not out-of-state donors, and should uphold the law rather than push a legislative agenda.

If statutes aren’t clear enough on the practice, Oregon voters may need to consider a constitutional amendment to keep privately paid employees out of state offices and keep the DOJ from undermining the democratic process. The Resistance agenda belongs on the campaign trail, not in law enforcement.

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

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Metro’s November Bond Measure Would Make All Housing More Costly

By John A. Charles, Jr.

Metro recently decided to refer a $652.8 million bond measure to the November ballot. If approved by voters, it would authorize Metro to borrow money either to purchase existing housing units or to subsidize the construction of new ones. The loans would be paid off by higher taxes on every property owner in the region for the next 30 years.

Unfortunately, of all the things Metro could do to reduce the price of housing, borrowing money is likely to be the least effective.

For one thing, new construction is expensive. Many public housing projects in recent years have cost more than $250,000 per unit. If Metro is lucky, the bond measure might pay for a total of 2,400-3,000 new apartments. Since the Portland region produces over 10,000 units of new housing every year, Metro’s intervention would not even be noticed.

In addition, borrowing $652.8 million and paying it back with interest (for a total of over $1 billion in debt service) would make every current home and apartment more expensive. We can’t tax ourselves to prosperity.

The basic weakness in the Metro bond measure is that it misdiagnoses the problem. When the Metro Council adopted its long-range growth management plan in 1995, it made a conscious decision to limit the physical size of the urbanized metropolitan region. That limit is imposed through Metro’s control of the Urban Growth Boundary. The planning goal was to “grow up, not out,” in order to prevent rural development and create the population density needed for light rail.

While that vision may sound appealing to some, there is a tradeoff: It limits the supply of new housing. Metro has always known this. As the agency’s economists wrote in 1994, “…the data suggest a public welfare tradeoff for increased density, more transit use, and reduced vehicle miles traveled. The downside of pursuing such objectives appears to be higher housing prices and reduced housing output.”

Metro controls the regional land supply and doesn’t want lots of cheap land for housing. Metro actually needs land to be scarce and expensive, because that’s the only way to justify its vision of high-density housing projects and light rail transit. Inevitably, this will be self-defeating; higher home prices will push more and more people out of Portland, where they will become even more auto-dependent.

In addition to its control of the regional land supply, Metro also imposes a tax of 0.12 percent on all new housing construction, with the exception of projects where the value of land improvements is less than $100,000. The tax revenues are used to pay for planning required on lands that might be used for housing in the future. The City of Portland also imposes its own tax for a similar purpose, at a much higher rate. It should be obvious that taxing new construction makes the housing problem worse.

The only way to significantly reduce the price of all homes in the region—both current units and new ones—is to make it easier to increase the supply. The best thing Metro could do would be to systematically inventory every artificial barrier to housing production, such as zoning ordinances, planning requirements, building codes, system development charges, and hidden taxes—and figure out a way to reduce or eliminate them.

In other sectors of the economy where supply is unregulated, the market does a wonderful job of providing us with the products we want at reasonable prices. The same thing will happen in housing, if we allow it.

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 appeared in The Portland Tribune on July 3, 2018.

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School Choice Is More Than “Just Choosing a Different Brick Building”

By Kathryn Hickok

This week is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of educational choice. Held nationwide every January, the Week raises awareness about the K-12 possibilities available to children and families, while spotlighting the benefits of parental choice. More than 313 events will take place in Oregon alone, sponsored by private schools, charter schools, and other organizations. The Week is nonpartisan and nonpolitical.

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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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