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.