“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.

Coalition Releases New ‘Facing Reality’ Budget Report

For Immediate Release

April 8, 2013

 

PORTLAND, Ore. – Americans for Prosperity-Oregon and Cascade Policy Institute have released a new report, Facing Reality 2013, which calls attention to limited government and pro-growth solutions to current Oregon budget problems.

 

“The Legislature continues to give citizens the false choice of either failing our children or increasing taxes,” stated Karla Kay Edwards, Oregon State Director of Americans for Prosperity. “Facing Reality clearly demonstrates that Oregon can invest in our children’s education without negatively impacting our slow economic recovery.”

 

The report is based on a “Reality Based Budgeting” approach, encouraging political leaders to face reality, stop procrastinating, and adopt ideas to lower the cost of government and get the economy going again.

 

“It’s not too late to refocus Oregon government on its core functions, reduce costs and get out of areas it has no business in, such as the distribution of liquor,” said Steve Buckstein, Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute.

 

The report focuses on five public policy areas:

– Privatize Liquor Distribution and Sales

– Reduce Corrections Costs

– Eliminate the PERS Pick-Up

– Align State Employee Compensation with Private Sector Compensation

– Enact Right to Work Legislation

 

With solutions to controversial topics such as PERS reform, the report authors challenge legislative leaders to take effective steps to recharge the state economy.

 

“It is time for the Oregon Legislature to ‘Face Reality,’ as Oregonians have had to do, and adopt these non-partisan recommendations,” said Edwards.

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Click here to read the report.

Cascade in the Capitol: Testimony in favor of deregulating the natural hair care industry

The Oregonian published a great article about this hearing, pointing out Cascade’s long-held position against what the reporter labels government overregulation. She links to the Cascade QuickPoint I provided the committee yesterday.

Unlikely alliance presses Legislature to ease regulations on natural hair care
The Oregonian, March 27, 2013

Audio of the hearing is here. This bill, HB 3409, is heard in the first 36 minutes, with my testimony (in writing below) beginning at 33 minutes into the hearing.

March 26, 2013

Testimony before the House Committee on
Consumer Protection and Government Efficiency
in Favor of Deregulating the Natural Hair Care Industry
 by Steve Buckstein

Good afternoon, Chair Holvey and members of the Committee. I’m Steve Buckstein, Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, which is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank based in Portland.

I support HB 3409.

I submitted a short commentary one of our summer interns wrote last year after the public found out that Oregon makes it practically impossible for natural hair braiders to practice their trade in the state.

Eleven states already exempt braiders from cosmetology licensing, including our neighbors to the north and the south. Of course, in Washington state it took a lawsuit filed by the libertarian public interest law firm Institute for Justice to free hair braiders from the licensing regime.* I hope that won’t be needed in Oregon.

The law is silent on this issue in 22 other states.

Oregon is one of just seven states that impose licensing requirements on this profession, which include from 1,000 to 2,100 hours of classes.**

Reasonable people can disagree about which professions might require some form of state licensing, but in America the right to earn an honest living should take precedence over the need for the state to regulate everything in sight.*** It should also take precedence over an industry’s desire to keep upstarts out of the market.

Finally, I believe that your committee is in the business of Consumer Protection, not Industry Protection. By allowing hair braiders to earn an honest living, you’ll be doing them and their potential customers a real service.

Thank you.

* In my oral testimony I incorrectly stated that the Washington lawsuit was successful, but according to this article the Department of Licensing clarified the regulations to exempt hair braiding after the lawsuit was filed: Licensed to Work: We should not require state permission to, for example, braid hair, Alan During, Siteline Daily,  October 14, 2011.

**  A Dream Deferred, Valerie Bayham, Institute for Justice, 2005.

***  The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law, Tim Sandefur, Cato Institute, 2010.

Tobacco Cessation or Just Increasing General Fund Revenue?

The Oregon legislature is once again trying to raise the cigarette tax, this time by $1.00 per pack. According to the sponsors of the bill―Representative Mitch Greenlick and Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, both of west Portland―the primary purpose of HB 2275 is to reduce tobacco consumption, not raise revenue for the state.

But the bill itself tells another story. It states in Section 6 that “All moneys from the taxes imposed by this Act shall be credited to the General Fund.” Where is the specific assistance for smokers trying to quit smoking? It’s not there. Under current law, the state’s Tobacco Use Reduction account receives only 2.9% of all current cigarette tax revenue, and HB 2275 does not increase that.

Moreover, since 1999 the state has received more than $1 billion from smokers through the so-called “Master Settlement Agreement” with the four largest tobacco companies. That money was supposed to pay for the “costs of smoking” imposed on society. Yet, most of those funds were spent on other programs that had little to do with public health, and none of it went to tobacco cessation programs.

Smokers are routinely picked on by legislators because they are a vulnerable minority, but they are already paying more than their fair share of taxes. If reducing tobacco use is really the goal, it’s time for politicians to try another approach.

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

Where’s the Secret Tax for the I-5 Bridge Proposal?

On Monday, the Oregon Senate passed House Bill 2800, the new Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Proposal (otherwise known as the Columbia River Crossing), which now goes to Governor Kitzhaber for his signature. Despite its passage, the I-5 bridge plan is still seriously flawed.

Legislators have authorized $450 million in debt financing without telling Oregonians who will be taxed for the debt service. All they have said to date is that ODOT will have to pay between $27 and 35 million annually for interest payments on bonds. Since ODOT doesn’t have the money, there must be a future tax increase – just not voted on by the same people who voted for HB 2800 this session.

This “back-loaded” approach to paying for projects taxpayers can’t afford is cynical and dishonest. The I-5 Bridge Proposal passed because legislators didn’t have to admit they were raising taxes. If the plan had included a 4-cent-per-gallon tax increase or a doubling of the vehicle registration fee, the debate would have been completely different.

Legislators who voted for HB 2800 wanted the glory of passing a bill; but before they start pouring concrete, they should look us in the eye and tell us which tax they plan to raise. If they can’t give us an honest answer, they aren’t qualified to serve.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute.

Cascade in the Capitol: Testimony on benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit and harm done by the minimum wage

Testimony before the Senate Committee on Finance and Revenue
Regarding SB 326 and SB 507
by Steve Buckstein

Good afternoon, Chair Burdick and members of the Committee. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy research center based in Portland.

Cascade is supportive of any legislation that allows people to keep more of their own income, as these bills do. When the tax burden is diminished or eliminated, people are incentivized to work harder. This benefits both individual workers as well as the broader community.

However, if your goal is to help raise people out of poverty and lower unemployment, you should be aware that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) works at cross-purposes with the state’s high minimum wage law, which punishes employers for trying to offer jobs to entry-level workers.

The contrast between the two approaches was quantified in a study published last year by economists Joseph Sabia and Robert Nielsen, which found a 1% reduction in state poverty rates associated with each 1% increase in a state’s EITC. Yet, a 2007 study by Mr. Sabia found that single mothers were made worse off by increases in the minimum wage: Their employment dropped by 6% for each 10% hike in the minimum wage.

I understand that you will consider SB 326 and SB 507 as stand-alone measures, while Oregon voters have said that they want a high minimum wage. But the two approaches are in conflict, and the committee would do well to address the punitive effects of minimum wage laws in the future.

Thank you.

Cascade in the Capitol: Testimony in favor of a School Choice Tax Credit

Testimony before the Senate Committee on
Education and Workforce Development
in Favor of SB 500 and SJR 23

Good afternoon, Chair Hass and members of the Committee. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy research center based in Portland.

I support SB 500 and SJR 23 for several reasons.

First, in 1922 Oregon voters approved a Ku Klux Klan supported measure that would have outlawed all private and religious schools. It was a blatantly anti-Catholic effort. The measure never took effect because the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 1925, and uttered these famous words:

“The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

In 2009, a survey of 1,200 likely Oregon voters asked a series of questions about K-12 education and school choice. 83 percent of those polled had children in school. The key finding was that while 91 percent of Oregon families sent their children to a regular public school – only thirteen percent would do so if the choice where fully theirs. The rest, 87 percent, would choose private, charter or online schools, or educate their children at home.

Please don’t be fooled by the small percentage of parents who actually exercise school choice today.

Why would 91 percent of children be in regular public schools if only 13 percent of their parents want them there? Because most people can’t afford to pay taxes for public schools and tuition for private schools at the same time.  Even though more than $5 billion tax dollars a year go toward educating Oregon’s school-age children, virtually all of that money goes to public school districts, not parents or students. Send your children where the state wants you to send them and their education is “free.”  Make another choice, and you foot the bill yourself.  The tax money stays in the public system, even if your child is being educated somewhere else.

So, ask yourselves, are we spending those $5 billion a year to support brick school buildings and the adults who work in them, or are we spending that money to educate children, wherever they can learn best?

Allowing a $1,000 tax credit is a small, but significant step you can take now to help parents exercise what the Supreme Court said was their right, and high duty — to prepare their children for additional obligations.

Oregonians clearly want to be able to choose where their children go to school. It’s about time that our lawmakers give them that choice by letting the money follow the child.

I urge you to support both SB 500 and SJR 23.

Thank you.

Cascade in the Capitol: Testimony in Opposition to More Subsidies of Student Higher Education Costs

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler has proposed that the state obligate its citizens to repay hundreds of millions of dollars in General Obligation bonds to subsidize student higher education costs. Below is the prepared testimony that I gave to a House committee last week and will give to a Senate committee tomorrow, setting out my objections to the plan:

I oppose HJR 6SB 11 and SJR 1 for several reasons.

First, as Professor Richard Vedder, author of the book “Going Broke By Degree: Why College Costs Too Much,” says, higher education prices are rising rapidly because of the predominant role of third-party payments, including federal and state support for institutions and students. “When some else is paying a lot of the bills, students are less sensitive to the price, thus allowing the colleges to care less about keeping prices under control.”

So, rather than help keep college costs and student debt levels down, Treasurer Wheeler’s proposal will likely do just the opposite.

That would be bad enough, but it will be worse because even if the investment assumptions for his proposal work out, taxpayers will be on the hook to repay hundreds of millions of dollars of bond principal, plus interest decades into the future.

Worse yet, there is evidence that more government funding of higher education actually translates to slower state economic growth. That’s likely because individuals know their needs better than politicians do, so leaving the money in private hands produces better economic results.

Further, academics such as Charles Murray and Carl Bankstron join Dr. Vedder in arguing that four-year degrees aren’t what they used to be, and that state funding may simply waste precious financial and human resources.

All that said, if increasing the percentage of Oregonians who earn two- and four-year degrees is a good goal, you should step back and look at efforts in other states to significantly reduce the cost of those degrees. Arthur Brooks recently noted in the New York Times that one idea gaining traction is the $10,000 college degree, which public universities in several states are moving toward right now. That’s $10,000 total direct costs for four years. According to Brooks, this “is exactly the kind of innovation we would expect in an industry that is showing every indication of a bubble that is about to burst.”

In conclusion, whatever the value of a college degree to an individual, it’s becoming clear that state funding of those degrees is likely to cost taxpayers more than they gain. I urge you to reject HJR 6, SB 11 and SJR 1.

Thank you.

Cascade in the Capitol: Light Rail to Vancouver vs. CTRAN Express Buses – Testimony on HB 2800

Cascade President John Charles testified today before the Joint Committee on Interstate-5 Bridge Replacement Project regarding HB 2800. His testimony follows.

The CRC Plan for Light Rail:

A Step Backwards for Transit Customers

 John A. Charles, Jr.

Cascade Policy Institute

February 2013

Metric

TriMet Yellow MAX Line to North Portland

CTRAN Express Buses Serving Downtown Portland

Capital cost of expanding  light rail to Vancouver

$932 million

$0

2011 annual operating cost

$10.2 million

$5.04 million

Operating cost/hour

$270

$110

Annual hours of service

40,492

45,996

Farebox recovery ratio for operations cost

47%

67%

Cost/new vehicle

$4,200,000

$458,333

Peak-hour frequency

Every 15 minutes

Every 10.3-15.5 minutes

Peak-hour travel speed

15 MPH

31-45 MPH

Travel time, Vancouver to Portland

36-38 minutes

16 -18 minutes

% of passenger seating capacity actually used at the peak period

34%

38%

Promises of Frequent Transit Services: Hope Over Experience

According to the most recent finance plan for this project, “Light rail in the new guideway and in the existing Yellow line alignment would be planned to operate with 7.5 minute headways during the “peak of the peak” and with 15-minute headways at all other times. This compares to 12-minute headways in “peak of the peak” and 15-minute headways at all other times for the existing Yellow line.”[1]

In fact, the Yellow Line runs at 15 minute headways all day, with even less service at night.  Yet according to the FTA Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Yellow Line, service is supposed to be operating at 10-minute headways at the peak, improving to 7.5 minute headways by 2020. TriMet is violating its FFGA contract, which could lead to a denial of funding for the $850 million grant request that the CRC project plans to make.

The Green MAX line is also operating at service levels of at least 33% below those promised in the FFGA. 

The legislature should not be expanding TriMet’s territory at this time – especially into another state that already has a transit district – because TriMet cannot afford to operate the system it already has. Despite a steady influx of general fund dollars, TriMet has been cutting service ever since the legislature approved a payroll tax rate increase in 2003, as shown below.

TriMet Financial Resources, 2004-2013 (000s)

 

FY 04/05

FY 08/09

FY 10/11

FY 11/12 (est)

FY 12/13 (budget)

% Change 04/05-12/13

Passenger fares

$   59,487

$   90,016

$   96,889

$   104,032

$117,166

+97%

Payroll tax revenue

$171,227

$209,089

$224,858

$232,832

244,457

+43%

Total operating resources

$308,766

397,240

$399,641

$476,364

$465,056

+51%

Total Resources

$493,722

$888,346

$920,044

$971,613

$1,111,384

+125%

Note: Pursuant to legislation adopted in 2003, the TriMet payroll tax rate was increased on January 1, 2005, will rise by .0001% annually until it reaches a rate of .007218% on January 1, 2014.

 

  Annual Fixed Route Service Trends, 2004-2012

FY 04

FY 06

FY 08

FY 10

FY 12

% Change

Veh. revenue hours

1,698,492

1,653,180

1,712,724

1,682,180

1,561,242

-8.1%

Vehicle revenue miles

27,548,927

26,830,124

26,448,873

25,781,480

23,625,960

-14.2

Average veh. speed – bus

15.8

15.8

14.9

14.7

14.6

-7.6%

Average veh. speed – L. Rail

20.1

19.4

19.3

19.4

18.4

-11.5%

Source: TriMet annual service and ridership report; TriMet budget documents and audited financial statements, various years.



[1] C-TRAN, High Capacity Transit System and Finance Plan, July 20, 2012, p. 4.

Press Release: Whistleblower Lawsuit Claims Oregon DHS Falsely Inflated “Healthy Kids Connect” Enrollment

February 8, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Steve Buckstein
               503/242-0900

Whistleblower Lawsuit Claims Oregon Department of Human Services Falsely Inflated “Healthy Kids Connect” Enrollment

…Cascade Policy Institute first reported inflated enrollment in its 2010 publication, “Facing Reality”

Portland, Ore. ― A former state employee has filed a $6.7 million whistleblower lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS), saying she lost her job after pointing out financial irregularities and inflated enrollment projects for the state’s Healthy Kids Connect program.

Enrollment problems in the Healthy Kids Connect program were highlighted in “Facing Reality,” a report published by Cascade Policy Institute and Americans for Prosperity – Oregon in October 2010:

“Proponents of the program and DHS projected that the additional tax revenues would provide health insurance coverage to 80,000 Oregon children by the end of the 2009-11 biennium. However, with only a few months remaining in the biennium, the program has yet to enroll 26,000 more children to reach its projections.”

The complaint filed with the Marion County circuit court shows that as early as November 2009, there was evidence that the DHS projections were inflated:

“The press release draft stated Healthy Kids had a target enrollment of 80,000 kids. Plaintiff relied on three internal sources and the data revealed there were not 80,000 uninsured kids in the state.”

The complaint also alleges that DHS director, Bruce Goldberg, issued a directive regarding the method for counting the number of children enrolled in Healthy Kids. The method appears to be designed to inflate the number of children enrolled:

“In response to a question Plaintiff asked, [Healthy Kids staff member Melissa] Hanks provided Plaintiff with a document which outlined Goldberg’s directive on how the agency would calculate the number of enrollees. The document read, ‘For monthly caseload reporting on Healthy Kids Plan, we propose attributing any children’s caseload changes after June 30, 2009 to the HKP. This would generate the largest child count attributable to the HKP. That number will represent changes in caseload once Healthy Kids begins, and “Healthy Kids” become indistinguishable from all children.’ Plaintiff understood that any child enrolled in any state program was counted as ‘Healthy Kid’ for purposes of reporting enrollment. Enrollment was all children new to the program and all returning clients who have a gap in enrollment, which could be as short as one month. Plaintiff believed Healthy Kids took credit for the enrollment which predated the start of the program.”

In “Facing Reality,” Cascade Policy Institute called for ending the Healthy Kids Connect program. With the program sunsetting this year, the Legislature should make sure this troubled program ends with the sunset.

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