OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Oregon Land Board Low-Balls Elliott Timber with Fixed-Price “Bidding”

Last week the Oregon Department of State Lands announced the “fair market value” of 82,450 acres of Common School Trust Lands within the Elliott State Forest as $220.8 million. The number was picked by Roger Lord of the consulting firm Mason, Bruce & Girard after analyzing three different professional appraisals. Proceeds from the land transfer will go to the Common School Fund and be invested for the long-term benefit of public school students.

At a public meeting held in Salem, the Director of the Department, Jim Paul, reiterated that anyone hoping to acquire the 82,450 acres must offer exactly $220.8 million. Any offer above that will be considered “outside the protocol” and deemed “non-responsive.” This announcement was the latest step in the Land Board’s plan to dispose of the Elliott property in a non-competitive bid process.

The Land Board has invented a “fair market” value of the Elliott timberland without allowing a market to actually function. The price investors are willing to pay might be higher than $220.8 million, or even multiples of that number. Unfortunately, we’ll never know because the Land Board is refusing to take competitive bids. Clearly, this is a breach of fiduciary trust. Public school students, teachers, and parents deserve to get top dollar in this once-in-a-lifetime sale of a public asset.

7886523366_1c7d110fbf_z

Portland Schools Need Radical Change, Not Just a New Superintendent

Portland school superintendent Carole Smith abruptly resigned in July, after nine years on the job. She was originally planning to retire next June, but the release of an independent investigation into the district’s inept handling of contaminated drinking water caused her to speed up her departure.

The school board immediately announced a national search for a successor, and the rest of the story is predictable. After months of searching, finalists will be scrutinized in a detailed public vetting, and someone will be signed to an expensive contract. The new leader will enjoy a short honeymoon and then gradually sink into the bureaucratic quagmire of school politics.

Amidst never-ending arguments about school transfers, graduation rates, and a myriad of other issues, buyer’s remorse will set in. Eventually the superintendent will resign and the process will begin anew.

This is the way we’ve been doing things for decades, usually with disappointing results. We could take a different path. But first we have to admit that if system results are disappointing, we need to change the system, not the people.

Large urban school districts are inherently dysfunctional. Teaching is a distributed service; the learning takes place student by student, classroom by classroom. When measured in terms of students, teachers, money, and facilities, there are millions of moving parts. The notion that a single bureaucrat in the central office can design the optimal system to satisfy all customers is a fantasy.

The system itself needs radical change, and the single most important reform Portland could pursue would be to redesign how the money flows.

Right now, tax dollars go to the district, regardless of results. Students are assigned to schools like factory widgets and few families have other options. The suppliers of service have all the leverage, while consumers have almost none.

A better option would be for the district to seek legislative approval of Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs). The ESA concept is simple: Parents who are dissatisfied with the government school assigned to them can opt to have most or all of the per-student money that would have gone to that school for their children deposited instead in personal accounts managed by the state treasurer. The funds in each account become property of the family and may be used for a variety of educational services, including private education, home schools, online learning, and tutoring.

Ideally, any money left over at the end of a school year would remain in the account, available for future use. This would encourage wise stewardship of those funds. If the account still had money at the time the student graduated from high school, it could be used for college tuition or technical training.

Distributing school funding through consumers rather than providers would instantly change the balance of power. High-cost union contracts would have to change. Parents would need to be satisfied. And market discipline would replace ineffective top-down management.

Most parents would probably not use ESAs. It’s likely they are satisfied with their neighborhood school and wouldn’t want the hassle of shopping around. But the mere fact that they could use an ESA would create incentives for teachers and administrators to behave differently. When suppliers of a service know that 100 percent of their customers have the means to shop elsewhere, they focus on satisfying those customers.

Carole Smith was neither the worst nor the best Portland school superintendent in recent memory; she was just part of the conveyor belt of socialism that defines generic government education. Stopping the conveyor belt would be a good first step toward liberating students and improving educational achievement in Portland.


This article originally appeared in the July 2016 edition of the newsletter, Oregon Transformation: Ideas for Growth and Change.

Elliott Forest Oregon.gov

Oregon Land Board Low-Balls Elliott Timber at $220.8 Million

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
John A. Charles, Jr.

503-242-0900

john@cascadepolicy.org

 

PORTLAND, Ore. – Today the Oregon Department of State Lands announced the “fair market value” of 82,000 acres of Common School Trust Lands within the Elliott State Forest as $220.8 million.

The number was picked by Roger Lord of the consulting firm Mason, Bruce & Girard after analyzing three professional appraisals which valued the land at $262 million, $225 million, and $190 million, respectively.

All proposed “Elliott Acquisition Plans” are due to the Department of State Lands by 5:00 p.m. November 15, 2016. If there are multiple plans accepted, the Oregon Land Board will choose the winning offer at its December meeting. Proceeds from the land transfer will go to the Common School Fund and be invested for the long-term benefit of public school students.

At a public meeting held in Salem, the Director of the Department, Jim Paul, reiterated that anyone hoping to acquire the 82,000 acres must offer exactly $220.8 million. Any offer above that will be considered “outside the protocol” and deemed “non-responsive.”

Today’s announcement was the latest step in the Land Board’s plan to dispose of the Elliott property in a non-competitive bid process. This prompted Cascade Policy Institute President John A. Charles, Jr. to make the following statement:

“The Land Board has invented a ‘fair market’ value of the Elliott timberland without allowing a market to actually function. The price investors are willing to pay might be the $262 million appraisal, or it could be multiples of that number. Unfortunately, we’ll never know because the Land Board is refusing to take competitive bids. Clearly this is a breach of fiduciary trust. Public school students, teachers and parents deserve to get top dollar in this once-in-a-lifetime sale of a public asset.”

Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research and educational organization that focuses on state and local issues in Oregon. Cascade’s mission is to develop and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. For more information, visit cascadepolicy.org.

###

Portland Schools Need More Than a New Superintendent

Portland school superintendent Carole Smith announced her resignation this week after nine years on the job.

The next steps are predictable: The school board will conduct a national search for a successor and eventually sign someone to an expensive contract. After a short honeymoon, the new leader will sink into the bureaucratic quagmire and leave after a short and forgettable tenure.

Management experts know that if system results are disappointing, you need to change the system, not the people. The single most important change Portland could make would be to redesign how the money flows.

Right now, tax dollars go to school bureaucracies, regardless of results. Students are assigned to schools like widgets in a factory, and few families have a “Plan B” if they are unhappy.

A better option would be to enact Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs). This would allow every family to have their share of per-student revenue diverted from the bureaucracy to the student’s ESA, where alternative services could be purchased. Families would instantly have dozens of exciting options.

Equally important, ESAs would incentivize school administrators to make each school perform at a high level, thereby benefiting all students, including those not using ESAs.

Carole Smith made her share of mistakes, but the Portland school district needs institutional change more than it needs a charismatic new leader.

Trust Lands Should Be Auctioned to High Bidder to Benefit Schools

In his recent guest column in The Oregonian, Director of the Oregon Department of State Lands Jim Paul summarizes the history of the Elliott State Forest. He correctly notes that the Common School Trust lands within the Elliott must be managed as an endowment asset for public schools.

Since the Elliott is now a net liability instead of an asset due to environmental litigation, the State Land Board has appropriately concluded that the Trust Lands should be sold.

Unfortunately, the sale will not take place through competitive bidding, because this is not an auction. On July 27, the Land Board will announce the results of an appraisal and set the sale price as the appraised price. If you dare to offer even one dollar more, your bid will be set aside by state lawyers as “nonresponsive.”

The three Land Board members – the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Treasurer – do not want prospective purchasers to compete on price. They want them to compete on four non-financial variables, which will greatly complicate the sale process.

All offers must include at least the following set of “public benefits”: (1) at least 50 percent of the timberland must remain open for public recreational use even after it is transferred to new owners; (2) 120-foot no-cut buffers on each side of fish-bearing streams must be left permanently untouched; (3) at least 25% of the older stands of trees must be left standing; and (4) at least 40 full-time jobs annually must be provided over the first ten years of ownership.

If there are multiple offers at the same mandated price, the tie will be broken by the strongest package of these public benefits. But that turns the process into a beauty contest. There is no objective way to compare an offer with 130-foot buffers with another offer that has only 120-foot buffers but proposes to employ 50 people each year rather than 40.

Public school students, parents, and employees deserve to receive fair market value for surrendering this asset. An “appraisal” is not the same as market value.

Evidence of this is everywhere. For example, almost everyone selling a home in Portland right now knows that the final sale price is likely to be higher than the listed price, because the Portland market is red-hot.

When the State of Indiana decided to lease the operations of the state turnpike to a private vendor in 2006, the “experts” estimated that it might be worth $2 billion. In fact, the winning bid from a Spanish-Australian consortium was $3.8 billion.

In 1984 the Portland Trail Blazers famously appraised the value of Michael Jordan to be lower than that of Sam Bowie. Subsequent events proved that the Trail Blazers had made one of the worst talent “appraisals” in pro sports history.

And just last month, a Chinese investor paid $3.4 million for one lunch with investor Warren Buffet (the purchaser gets to bring seven of his closest friends). How many of us, if asked on the street, would have appraised a single lunch with anyone as being worth $3.4 million?

But that’s the point of competitive bidding. Only the market knows the value of an asset. If even one person in the world is willing to pay millions for a single lunch, then that is exactly what the lunch is worth. If we don’t allow a market to set the price of Elliott State Forest timberland, we’ll never know its true value.

There is a simple fix to this problem. The Land Board should require that all offers for the Elliott Trust Lands include the mandated four public benefits, and then select the highest responsible bid.

School beneficiaries such as local school boards, employee associations, and parent booster groups should prepare now to sue the Land Board for breach of fiduciary trust if the Board continues with its absurd plan to give away Common School Trust Lands without competitive bidding. The appraised value announced on July 27 should be the starting point for competitive offers, not the end point.


A version of this article originally appeared in The Oregonian on July 14, 2016.

“Beyond Traffic” Has a Different Meaning in Portland

Portland is one of seven cities still in the running for a $50 million grant as part of the “Beyond Traffic” challenge sponsored by the federal Department of Transportation.

While the idea of solving traffic congestion sounds great, that is not an actual goal of Portland planners. In fact, local officials are trying to make traffic worse, by downsizing roads and lowering traffic speeds. As part of this campaign, a northbound travel lane on Naito Parkway was recently removed, and later this year two lanes on Foster Road will be eliminated.

Portland planners think we drive too much, so they want $50 million in federal funds to develop new data collection systems to encourage people to travel by bus, train, or bike. Since most people prefer a car, this will be a big waste of public money.

The transportation challenge for Portland is the need for an expanded highway system. Experimenting with technologies such as electronic tolling as a way of paying for that expansion might have been a useful grant application. But Portland planners don’t want to grow the system; they’d rather keep it small and congested, then use fancy technology to entice a few people onto a slow bus.

This is not a plan that will move us “beyond traffic.”

Updated as of 6/22: According to The Oregonian, the U.S. Department of Transportation has selected Columbus, Ohio as the winner of the federal “Smart City-Beyond Traffic” competition.

With this distraction out of the way, perhaps city planners can turn their attention to something more useful, such as finding ways to actually reduce traffic congestion in Portland.

Portland Schools Schedule Book-Burning Party

The Portland Public School board recently voted to prohibit textbooks or classroom materials questioning the mainstream thinking about climate change.

The decision has sparked an outpouring of commentary, with many writers supportive of the School Board.

However, the wording of the Board resolution should greatly concern parents of Portland public school students. Resolution No. 5272 is two pages long, but the most chilling part is the final sentence:

“[Portland Public Schools] will abandon the use of any adopted text material that is found to express doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities.”

The primary purpose of education is to teach students how to be critical thinkers. Now that the School Board has declared that expressions of doubt about complex scientific topics will be banned, what is the point of going to school?

Regardless of the subject we should encourage students to be skeptical. The more questioning, the better. They will be poorly prepared for adult living if they spend their childhood years being spoon-fed in schools where skepticism is prohibited.

Public education already faces a growing challenge from private schools, online learning, and home-based education. If Resolution 5272 is upheld, Portland Public Schools will give parents one more reason to leave.

If Gambling Is a Problem, Who Is Responsible?

Governor Kate Brown opposes a plan by the Coquille Indian Tribe to build a casino in Medford.

In her public statement, the Governor said she opposes the addition of any more casinos because “even a single additional casino is likely to lead to significant efforts to expand gaming across Oregon to the detriment of the public welfare.”

Her concern for the public welfare is touching, but if one simply “follows the money” associated with the state’s own gambling franchise—the Oregon Lottery—it’s clear that the Governor has little regard for the health of Oregon citizens.

The Oregon Lottery is a state-run monopoly using a network of 3,939 retailers to offer players a wide choice of games, including Scratch-its, Keno, Powerball, Win for Life, Mega Millions, Lucky Lines, and Pick 4.

In addition, the Lottery has approximately 11,925 Video Lottery terminals deployed throughout the state. These terminals accounted for 71.5% of total sales in 2015 and are highly addictive. According to the Oregon Health Authority, roughly 90% of problem gambling in Oregon is associated with Lottery video machines.

In 2015, Oregon earned $1.2 billion from the state Lottery. In January, Powerball mania resulted in record sales of $36 million in one week. An Oregon Lottery spokesman said, “Any time sales go up, that’s a good thing for our beneficiaries.”

Who are these beneficiaries? By law, 57% of net Lottery revenues support public education. Activities loosely defined as “economic development” get 27%. State parks and salmon enhancement programs split 15% of revenues.

Those activities account for 99% of all Lottery funds. The last 1% gets allocated for problem gambling. The state estimates that 81,800 adults and 4,000 adolescents have a gambling addiction.

If Governor Brown were so interested in the “public welfare,” she would be advocating for an increase in the percent of Lottery funds dedicated to the 86,000 problem gamblers. This would at least give her some moral high ground to stand on before criticizing a casino proposed by the Coquille Tribe.

But despite total control of the legislative process by the Democratic Party, the Governor has not made this a priority.

Oregon’s misuse of tobacco tax money is even more egregious. Oregon was one of 44 states that sued the tobacco industry in the mid-1990s regarding the health care costs associated with smoking. As a result of a Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) with the four largest tobacco manufacturers, each state was to receive payments every year from 1998 through 2025.

According to the plaintiffs, MSA money was supposed to be used for tobacco prevention activities and health care subsidies necessary to treat smoking illnesses, but that was not a formal part of the agreement. Thus, each state was free to use the funds in whatever way its state legislature approved.

In Oregon, total MSA funds received since 1998 equal $1.26 billion—yet only 0.8% of the money has been used for tobacco prevention activities.

The Governor’s hypocrisy associated with the use of tobacco and gambling profits is embarrassing. She should clean up her own house before she starts lecturing any of the Tribes about their casino expansion plans.


This article originally appeared in The Coos Bay World on May 24, 2016.

Google’s War on the Poor

Google announced recently that it would no longer run ads for payday loans, the short-term loans that typically have high annual interest rates due to the poor credit of customers.

Google’s decision is significant because many states (including Oregon) have effectively regulated payday lenders out of existence, so much of the business has moved online. If Google cuts off ads, potential customers will have a more difficult time getting loans.

Google undoubtedly considers this decision part of its “corporate social responsibility.” What they overlook is the adverse impact it will have on low-income individuals. A week ago, payday loan customers had few legal options for short-term borrowing. Now they have even fewer.

When the Oregon legislature outlawed much of the payday lending industry in 2007, the most striking aspect of the public debate was the total absence of payday loan customers. Borrowers themselves weren’t the ones complaining about high interest rates; it was the upper-income Progressives, who didn’t need payday loans.

Google has been one of the most successful companies in American history. The company should stick to its core business and stop trying to protect payday loan customers by censoring ads. Borrowers don’t need that kind of help.

Why is the State Land Board selling the Elliott State Forest without competitive bidding?

In August 2015 the Oregon Land Board (Governor Kate Brown, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins, and Treasurer Ted Wheeler) voted to sell roughly 82,450 acres of “Common School Trust Lands” within the Elliott State Forest because the state was losing money on those lands. Under Oregon law, School Trust Lands are supposed to make money for schools.

Given the ongoing losses, the Board reached the correct decision. Unfortunately, the sale protocol adopted by the Board is bizarre. The Board will establish a price for the land based on appraisals, and that will be the only price accepted. If you dare to offer $1 more, your offer will be declared “non-responsive.”

How can this make sense when Trust Lands serve an as an endowment for public schools? Trustees of any endowment have a fiduciary obligation to make decisions in the best interest of beneficiaries. The 82,450 acres of timberland being sold in the Elliott may be worth anywhere from $300 million to more than $400 million, but no one knows the exact value. Setting a non-negotiable price through appraisals means that potentially vast amounts of money could be left on the table.

Anyone who has been to a charity fundraising auction knows that the estimated value of something frequently turns out to be wrong—by a lot. That’s why we have competitive bidding.

The same is true in business transactions. Just last month, for example, Alaska Airlines bought Virgin Airlines for $2.6 billion, or $57/share—a price that was 80% higher than what the shares had been trading for prior to the sale.

Instead of bidding on price, the Land Board plans to pick a winning offer based on which prospective purchaser has the best package of “public benefits.” The minimum level of benefits has been defined by the Board as the following: (1) at least 50 percent of the purchased timberland must remain open for public recreational use; (2) no-cut buffers of 120 feet on each side of fish-bearing streams must be left permanently untouched; (3) at least 25% of the older stands of trees must be left intact; and (4) at least 40 full-time jobs annually must be provided over the first 10 years of new ownership.

These benefits may have merit, but using them as the way to choose the best offer will turn the sale protocol into a beauty contest. There is no objective way to compare an offer including 130-foot buffers with another offer that has only 120-foot buffers but proposes to employ 50 people each year rather than 40.

This protocol is going to create a nightmarish decision process for the three Land Board members, while violating their fiduciary obligations to schools.

There is an easy solution to this problem: Simply make the four public benefits a minimum requirement, and then pick the highest-price offer meeting those requirements. Maybe we’ll find out that the Elliott is worth a lot more than it’s been appraised for.

Anyone who works at a public school, serves on a school board, or has a child enrolled at a public school should be outraged at this giveaway.


This article originally appeared in the Salem Statesman Journal on April 30, 2016.

1 2 3 4 5 28