Report Shows No Return on Public Investment for Oregon Wave Energy Trust

PORTLAND, Ore. – A new report released by Cascade Policy Institute concludes that the public-private partnership Oregon Wave Energy Trust has failed to achieve a return on public investment.

The Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET) is a nonprofit, public-private partnership established by the Oregon State Legislature that works to “responsibly develop ocean energy by connecting stakeholders, supporting research and development, and engaging in public outreach and policy work.” Since its inception in 2007, OWET has received nearly $12 million dollars in public funding from the Oregon Innovation Council (Oregon InC), another government-sponsored entity. OregonInC claims its initiatives must earn a profit, but that is clearly not the case with OWET. None of the money spent to date by OWET has led to any profitability.

Cascade President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr. commented, “Electric utilities in Oregon, both public and private, are quite capable of generating and delivering power to their customers. If wave power is a good idea, utilities themselves will bring it to commercial scale. If it’s a bad idea, taxpayers should not be forced to bear all the risks of early-stage experiments.”

The Cascade paper recommends that Oregon legislative leaders “should closely examine all state-sponsored venture capital funds to determine if grant recipients will ever become financially self-sufficient, as originally envisioned. OWET would be an excellent place to start.”

Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Cascade promotes public policy solutions that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. The full report, entitled Waiving Profitability: The Oregon Wave Energy Trust’s Failure to Achieve a Return on Public Investment, may be viewed here.

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Press Release: Report Shows No Return on Investment for Portland Seed Fund

December 3, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
John A. Charles, Jr.
503-242-0900
john@cascadepolicy.org
 

PORTLAND, Ore. – A new report released by Cascade Policy Institute concludes that the managers of the publicly financed Portland Seed Fund cannot provide documentation to show any positive return on investment for the millions of dollars spent on risky start-up ventures.

The Portland Seed Fund is a public-private venture intended to close a funding gap for entrepreneurs. It invests $25,000 in each startup selected and reserves money for follow-up investments as well. The City of Portland, the City of Hillsboro, and the State of Oregon (through the Oregon Growth Account) supplied most of the money for the first Seed Fund and a significant portion of the second Seed Fund. So far, the public funds amount to $3.4 million, with another $100,000 likely to come from this year’s Portland Development Commission (PDC) budget. The City of Portland and the Oregon Growth Account are the two biggest supporters, each contributing $1.5 million or more.

The Portland Seed Fund has spent large amounts of taxpayer money to subsidize private-for-profit companies, yet governments which gave money could not provide information about the success of those expenditures when questioned by Cascade researchers. It is not even clear that there are any defined expectations for this fund. Very little information is available, and the average taxpayer would have no way of knowing where tax funds are being spent. The Seed Fund is not even listed on the City of Portland’s Investment Reports.

Cascade President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr. commented, “The Portland Seed Fund allows politicians to play at being venture capitalists―without any of the personal risks that real venture capitalists bear. This is a misuse of taxpayer funds.”

The Cascade paper urges the City Councils of Portland and Hillsboro, and Oregon’s state legislators, to have public discussions about the Seed Fund, and either explain why tax funds are being spent on private companies or shut the Fund down.

Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Cascade promotes public policy solutions that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. The full report, entitled The Portland Seed Fund: Planting High Hopes, Reaping Few Results, may be viewed here.

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Press Release: New Report Proposes Better Outcomes, Lower Costs for State and Local Governments Through User Fees

PORTLAND, Ore. – A new report released by Cascade Policy Institute suggests numerous ways state and local governments can lower the costs of public services through judicious, targeted use of “user fees,” rather than relying on general taxation. Resurrecting User Fees in Public Finance: A Prescription for Lowering the Cost and Improving the Fairness of Public Services was authored by Randall Pozdena, Ph.D. Pozdena is president of QuantEcon, Inc., an Oregon-based consultancy.

The share of personal income collected as revenue by state and local governments has doubled since 1945. Oregon and other U.S. state governments obtain approximately 75 percent of this revenue through broad-based taxation and 25 percent from fees levied on the beneficiary of the service.

This report details the theoretical and practical advantages of reducing reliance on broad-based taxation in favor of user charges. It reviews the economic philosophy of reliance on user charges versus broad-based finance and the findings of the public finance literature. These key findings are:

  • The total cost of public services would decline. By making users of services and facilities aware of the costs associated with their use, spending would be limited only to those services for which consumers get benefits commensurate with their user costs.
  • Because user fees, unlike broad-based taxes, are only paid if one uses a service, the public or private providers of the services are incentivized to provide a service of value and at the minimum cost. This effect is particularly pronounced if users also enjoy choice of the provider of the service.
  • User fees link the generation of revenue intimately to the specific service or facility used. This avoids the “trust fund” or “trough” financing model that allows political lobbies to direct the allocation of revenues and provision of services to those with political power, rather than what is beneficial to consumers overall.
  • The result is more efficient and equitable provision of services because of the closer nexus of financing burden and receipt of benefits from the services.

The report also examines historical and current patterns of state and local spending and revenue collection. The review of these practices reveals that increased reliance on user charges is both practical and desirable in K-12 education, higher education, health services, public safety, and transportation infrastructure (especially highway and transit services). Together, these services constitute approximately 50 percent of state and local public spending in Oregon and other states in the aggregate, but in total have less than 5 percent reliance on properly designed user fees at present.

Cascade President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr. commented, “Switching from general taxation to user fees would be a more progressive way to pay for infrastructure because those who consumed the most would pay the most. This is how we pay for electricity, gasoline, and thousands of other commodities.”

User fees can completely, or near-completely, replace broad-based taxation in key areas of public spending, and consistently yield better outcomes and lower costs. This would be a benefit to state and local government budgets and, ultimately, to the taxpayers who finance them.

Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Cascade promotes public policy solutions that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. The full report by Cascade Policy Institute may be viewed here.

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Press Release: Legal Analysis Finds Land Board in Breach of Trust over Elliott State Forest

November 25, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts:
John A. Charles, Jr.
503-242-0900
john@cascadepolicy.org

Kathryn Walter
617-519-6168
kwalter@altuslaw.com

 

PORTLAND, Ore. ― A detailed legal analysis released today by Cascade Policy Institute concludes that the State Land Board, which has responsibility for the Elliott State Forest, has not prudently managed this asset and likely has breached its fiduciary trust to generate maximum net revenue over the long term for K-12 schools, as required by the Oregon Constitution.

The Elliott is a 93,000-acre forest on the south coast. It is part of a portfolio of lands known as “Common School Trust Lands” (CSTL), and these lands must be managed as endowment assets for public schools. The State Land Board, comprised of the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Treasurer, manages all Trust Lands.

For over 30 years, the net revenue from the Elliott has been steadily declining. In 1994 a consultant to the Oregon Department of Forestry recommended that the Board divest itself of the Elliott entirely, stating that, “Selling the Elliott is the only marketing alternative likely to significantly increase net annual income to the CSF.”

In 1995, the Division of State Lands (as it was then known) recommended that the Board sell all 3.4 million acres of Trust Lands for the same reason. Both recommendations were rejected by the Board.

In 2013, the Elliott actually lost $3 million, prompting the Board to sell 2,800 acres. On December 9, 2014, the Board will consider recommendations from the Department of State Lands for a “new business model” for the Elliott.

Trust law requires that trustees exercise reasonable care and skill in managing a trust and make trust property productive. Trustees must also preserve trust property and defend actions that may result in loss to the trust and must act with absolute loyalty to the beneficiaries. Failure to carry out these duties is a breach of the trustee’s fiduciary duties.

The Cascade legal analysis, undertaken by Portland attorney Kathryn Walter, concludes that:

  1. The Board is not prudently managing the trust land assets. Although a trustee is not charged with 20/20 hindsight, the trustee must be able to explain the reasoning behind an investment strategy. Only recently has the State Land Board attempted to understand the value of the Elliott State Forest. Further, the Board has ignored recommendations to divest all trust land holdings.
  1. The Board should have known that doing nothing was imprudent. The Board, by its inaction, has breached its duty by failing to dispose of the Elliott State Forest when the opportunity presented itself and, by waiting too long, has left the trust with devalued property.
  1. The Board must protect the trust from loss, including insuring trust property against loss and when facing litigation or other claims implicating the trust. A trustee is also obligated to defend the trust against claims, to avoid claims of liens and other losses, and to pay taxes. The Board failed to fulfill its duties by not negotiating a Habitat Conservation Plan (“HCP”), which would have alleviated the impact of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) on the Elliott.
  1. The appointment of the State Land Board as trustee in Oregon’s constitution likely violated trust principles from the trust’s beginning. A trustee has a duty to act honestly and with undivided loyalty to the interests of the trust and its beneficiaries. By virtue of the Board members’ political roles, the Board members cannot offer undivided loyalty to the beneficiaries because they are beholden to so many competing interests.

Cascade Policy Institute President John A. Charles, Jr. stated, “During 2013, the Land Board managed to lose $3 million on a timber asset worth some $500 million, while the S&P 500 Index was enjoying total returns of 32%. When the Land Board meets on December 9, it must take action to ensure that the Elliott State Forest begins generating income for public schools.” Cascade has recommended that the Board either sell the Elliott, or explore a land exchange with the federal government.

Charles also noted, “Since the Land Board is a highly political entity, the state legislature in 2015 should consider establishing a new, non-political board to assume management responsibilities for all Common School Trust Lands.”

The full report by Cascade Policy Institute may be viewed here.

Report Shows Possibilities for Elliott State Forest to Make Money for Oregon Schools

Today, the Cascade Policy Institute released a report analyzing the range of policy options for turning the Elliott State Forest from a liability into an asset for Oregon’s Common School Fund.

The Elliott State Forest (ESF), located on Oregon’s South Coast, is part of a portfolio of lands known as “Common School Trust Lands.” These lands are an endowment for the Oregon public school system and must be managed by the State Land Board to maximize income over the long term. Unfortunately, due to environmental litigation, income from the Elliott’s net timber harvest receipts has been steadily declining over the past two decades. In 2013, the ESF cost Oregon taxpayers $3 million, which was a drain on the Common School Fund.

“The State Land Board has been watching the financial returns from the Elliott State Forest steadily decline for over 20 years, while doing essentially nothing,” said Cascade Policy Institute President John A. Charles, Jr.

“The Elliott is now a liability instead of the $800 million asset it was in 1995. Oregon schools deserve better,” said Charles. “The State Land Board has a fiduciary obligation to take decisive action, and the analysis by Strata Policy helps provide a road map for Board decision-making.”

The Land Board in 2014 directed the Oregon Department of State Lands to develop a “new business model” for the ESF. The Cascade report, prepared on contract by Strata Policy, a Utah-based consulting firm, provides a critical review of various options for accomplishing this goal.

The report divides the known options into three categories: viable options, potentially viable options, and individually unviable options.The top three recommendations – the only ones considered “viable” – are full privatization, a land exchange with the federal government, and completion of a Habitat Conservation Plan that would allow logging in habitat currently used by protected species.

The full privatization option was analyzed at length for Cascade Policy Institute by economist Eric Fruits and published as a separate paper in March. Selling or leasing the forest clearly would result in the greatest financial returns to Trust Land beneficiaries over the long term.

A land exchange with the federal government also could result in healthy financial returns to the Common Schools if any lands could be identified for such an exchange, but that is doubtful given the litigious nature of federal forest management in the Pacific Northwest. Moreover, it would take Congressional approval, which likely would take a decade or more to execute. Such delays appear to be a violation of the fiduciary trust responsibilities held by the Land Board.

Development of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) would face the same bureaucratic challenges. Oregon attempted to develop an HCP in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and spent $3 million over a 10-year period without gaining federal approval. Before reviving this effort, there needs to be some reassurance from the federal government that an HCP is actually possible.

The Land Board is scheduled to take public testimony regarding ESF management in Coos Bay on October 8, and will discuss options for a “new business model” at its December meeting in Salem.

The full report by Strata Policy may be viewed here.

Report Shows Possibilities for Elliott State Forest to Make Money for Oregon Schools

Today, the Cascade Policy Institute released a report analyzing the range of policy options for turning the Elliott State Forest from a liability into an asset for Oregon’s Common School Fund.

The Elliott State Forest (ESF), located on Oregon’s South Coast, is part of a portfolio of lands known as “Common School Trust Lands.” These lands are an endowment for the Oregon public school system and must be managed by the State Land Board to maximize income over the long term. Unfortunately, due to environmental litigation, income from the Elliott’s net timber harvest receipts has been steadily declining over the past two decades. In 2013, the ESF cost Oregon taxpayers $3 million, which was a drain on the Common School Fund.

“The State Land Board has been watching the financial returns from the Elliott State Forest steadily decline for over 20 years, while doing essentially nothing,” said Cascade Policy Institute President John A. Charles, Jr.

“The Elliott is now a liability instead of the $800 million asset it was in 1995. Oregon schools deserve better,” said Charles. “The State Land Board has a fiduciary obligation to take decisive action, and the analysis by Strata Policy helps provide a road map for Board decision-making.”

The Land Board in 2014 directed the Oregon Department of State Lands to develop a “new business model” for the ESF. The Cascade report, prepared on contract by Strata Policy, a Utah-based consulting firm, provides a critical review of various options for accomplishing this goal.

The report divides the known options into three categories: viable options, potentially viable options, and individually unviable options.The top three recommendations – the only ones considered “viable” – are full privatization, a land exchange with the federal government, and completion of a Habitat Conservation Plan that would allow logging in habitat currently used by protected species.

The full privatization option was analyzed at length for Cascade Policy Institute by economist Eric Fruits and published as a separate paper in March. Selling or leasing the forest clearly would result in the greatest financial returns to Trust Land beneficiaries over the long term.

A land exchange with the federal government also could result in healthy financial returns to the Common Schools if any lands could be identified for such an exchange, but that is doubtful given the litigious nature of federal forest management in the Pacific Northwest. Moreover, it would take Congressional approval, which likely would take a decade or more to execute. Such delays appear to be a violation of the fiduciary trust responsibilities held by the Land Board.

Development of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) would face the same bureaucratic challenges. Oregon attempted to develop an HCP in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and spent $3 million over a 10-year period without gaining federal approval. Before reviving this effort, there needs to be some reassurance from the federal government that an HCP is actually possible.

The Land Board is scheduled to take public testimony regarding ESF management in Coos Bay on October 8, and will discuss options for a “new business model” at its December meeting in Salem.

The full report by Strata Policy may be viewed here.

Report Questions Legality of Renewable Energy Certificates

PORTLAND, Ore. – Cascade Policy Institute issued a report today, questioning the legality of renewable energy certificates (RECs) and calling for the state Attorney General to investigate possible violations of the Oregon Unfair Trade Practices Act.

RECs are tradable commodities purporting to represent the “environmental amenities” of producing electricity from a select list of renewable energy sources. A REC is created electronically for each megawatt-hour of electricity produced by qualifying sources, and a unique number is assigned to the REC. It can then be bought or sold as a product that is either bundled with the actual electrical output of the facility, or sold separately.

However, nowhere in the transaction process are the so-called “environmental amenities” associated with each REC verified. The REC market is shrouded in secrecy; relevant data about individual RECs such as the power facility it is associated with cannot be obtained from utilities, REC brokers, or the Oregon Public Utility Commission. This is the major finding in the Cascade report entitled “Renewable Energy Certificates: A Costly Illusion.”This lack of transparency is a problem because not all “renewable power” sources are benign. Intermittent sources such as wind and solar require back-up power at all times to ensure reliability of the regional grid, and most of those sources create environmental problems such as air pollution or fish mortality. It is impossible for any consumer to know where their purchased RECs came from, and therefore impossible to know if there are any net environmental benefits.

“We believe that statements made by REC producers and brokers violate the Oregon Unfair Trade Practices Act by representing that the purchased RECs have benefits and qualities that they do not have,” Cascade’s President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr. stated in the letter to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

There is no direct link in time or location between the payments a customer makes for “renewable” energy and the production of that electricity or its delivery to the customer paying for it. According to Charles, “The REC market is a Trojan Horse. Purchasers of RECs such as universities and businesses are buying these certificates to provide a ‘green glow’ for themselves, yet the alleged environmental benefits probably do not exist.”

In 2007, the Oregon legislature approved a law that would require at least 5 percent of power generated by electricity utility companies to come from “renewable resources,” like solar and wind power. This required percentage increases to 15 percent by 2015, 20 percent by 2020, and 25 percent by 2025. Instead of having to actually produce this electricity themselves, the law allows electricity companies to purchase or produce RECs.

The Cascade report recommends that the Oregon Legislature amend the 2007 statute to prohibit the use of RECs for compliance purposes if they are associated with intermittent power sources.

Click here to read the report.

Sale of Elliott State Forest Would Mean Millions More Each Year For Schools

A new report released today shows that if the Oregon State Land Board sold or leased the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest, public school funding would increase by at least $40 million annually.

Roughly 85,000 acres of the Elliott State Forest are managed for the primary purpose of raising funds for public schools. These lands are known as “Common School Trust Lands,” and the Oregon State Land Board is required by law to manage them for the trust beneficiaries: public school students. Net receipts from timber harvest activities on the Elliott are transferred to the Common School Fund (CSF), where assets are invested by the Oregon Investment Council in various financial instruments. Twice each year, public school districts receive cash payments based on the investment returns of CSF assets.

Due to environmental litigation, the State Land Board lost $3 million managing the Elliott State Forest in 2013. As a result, the Land Board has recently decided to sell 2,700 acres of the Elliott. An independent analysis conducted for Cascade Policy Institute by economist Eric Fruits shows that selling or leasing the entire forest would dramatically increase the semi-annual returns to public schools, and would do so in perpetuity.

According to Cascade president John A. Charles, Jr., “The Land Board has a fiduciary duty to manage the state trust lands for the benefit of the public schools. Losing $3 million on a timberland asset worth at least $600 million is likely a breach of that duty. The Land Board is doing the right thing by taking bids to sell parcels of the Elliott, and should continue to pursue a path of selling or leasing larger portions of the forest. There is no plausible scenario of Land Board timber management that would bring superior returns to public schools than simply disposing of these lands and placing the funds under the management of the Oregon Investment Council.”

Click here to read the report.

Report Makes the Case for Cities and Counties to Leave TriMet

report released Monday by Cascade Policy Institute recommends that cities and counties within TriMet’s service jurisdiction consider leaving the transit district.

The study shows that TriMet’s ongoing financial crisis is not just a temporary problem, but a permanent one caused by a failed business model. The agency has one of the most expensive union contracts in America, and the managerial obsession with rail transit is cannibalizing bus service. These problems go back decades, and it’s now too late to fix them.

Due to these factors, TriMet will face annual service reductions beginning fiscal year 2017. Those cuts will slowly destroy the agency. State law has long allowed jurisdictions to leave TriMet, and six communities already have: Molalla, Wilsonville, Sandy, Canby, Damascus, and Boring. Four of those cities created their own transit districts. Based on these experiences, the Cascade study recommends that more jurisdictions consider opting out and create their own transit districts.

Cascade Policy Institute’s report shows that the four cities operating their own public transit systems have lower labor costs, lower payroll tax rates, no long-term debt, virtually no unfunded liabilities for retirees, and better service than they previously had under TriMet.

Services under TriMet have continually declined since 2005, yet the TriMet payroll tax is at an all-time high of 0.72 percent.

“With major TriMet service cuts projected for FY 17 and every year thereafter, jurisdictions still paying the TriMet payroll tax should begin investigating options for leaving the district,” says the report.

According to Cascade President John A. Charles, Jr., “When TriMet was formed in 1969, the expectation among supporters was that creating a single public monopoly transit provider would create economies of scale. Unfortunately, what we really created were ‘diseconomies of scale.’ TriMet’s business model is now permanently dysfunctional, and the evidence from opt-out cities is that ‘smaller is better.’ Cities such as Sherwood, Tualatin, Lake Oswego, and West Linn should not wait for the inevitable collapse of TriMet; they should actively begin assessing the prospects for creating their own transit agencies, either as stand-alone districts or in partnership with nearby communities.”

Click here to read the report.

Report Shows $52 Million Street Project Makes Traffic Worse

case study released today by Cascade Policy Institute shows that the $52 million retrofit to Portland’s Southwest Moody Avenue is already increasing local traffic congestion and will be unable to accommodate future road capacity needs for the South Waterfront district in the future.

During 2011-12 SW Moody Avenue was raised 14 feet and the overall right-of-way (ROW) widened to 75 feet. This was done to accommodate double-tracking of the Portland streetcar, pedestrian walkways on either side, a massive two-way bicycle track, storm water treatment planters, and relocated utilities. The primary purpose of the retrofit was to allow the Portland-Milwaukie light rail line to pass over Moody Avenue at-grade and stop at the OHSU Collaborative Life Sciences Building, currently under construction.

The retrofit reduced lane capacity on Moody for motor vehicles by moving the streetcar directly onto the road (it had previously run on adjacent ROW) and adding a double-track, despite the fact that motor vehicles are the dominant mode of travel in the district. Before-and-after traffic counts conducted by Cascade Policy Institute on Moody Avenue show that the percentage of all trips by automobile has increased since the retrofit was completed, despite the generous ROW allocated to non-motorized travelers.

To make matters worse, in September 2013 the entire road was shut down for three weeks and much of the new work torn up so that the light rail tracks could cross at grade just west of the new Willamette River rail bridge. Since accommodating light rail was the primary purpose of raising Moody in the first place, this additional retrofit simply wasted tax dollars and inconvenienced local travelers. Neither the City of Portland nor TriMet has provided a credible public explanation of why this was done.

According to Cascade President John A. Charles, Jr., “The South Waterfront has long been a Potemkin Village for Portland planners. It’s likely the only neighborhood in the world that will soon be served by an aerial tram, streetcar, light rail, elevated pedestrian walkway, a monster cycle track, and a 100-foot wide pedestrian greenway. But the actual evidence shows that the district is highly reliant on auto use, and the reliance is growing. Now it’s too late to provide road capacity for future build-out because so much space was allocated to the streetcar and light rail.”

Click here to read the report.

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