Testimony on SB 847 Regarding Management of Common School Trust Lands

Testimony of John A. Charles, Jr.

President and CEO, Cascade Policy Institute 

Regarding SB 847

June 5, 2017

My name is John Charles and I have been closely following the management of Common School Trust Lands since 1996.

Sadly, the Trust Lands have been steadily losing value as an endowment asset during that entire period. For example, the Elliott State Forest was estimated to be worth over $800 million in 1995; it is currently a liability for the Common School Trust Fund.

The 620,000 acres of rangelands had net operating income of -$1.2 million in 2016.

SB 847 offers a pathway for the disposal of underperforming lands, but it’s difficult to see how a proposed transfer to other public bodies would be compliant with the fiduciary duty that Land Board members have to CSF beneficiaries.

Funds that the legislature might appropriate to “buy out” Trust Lands have to be paid by taxpayers. A large subset of that group will include beneficiaries of the CSF, including public school parents, school board members, public school teachers, and other school employees. Taxing them with debt service on bonds, as is now being proposed by the Governor for the Elliott, would be taking money away from them.

The Trust Land portfolio includes 1,540,000 acres of lands, as displayed in the attached summary from the most recent DSL status report. The estimated return on asset value for 2016 was 0.4%, which is an inflated number due the unknown market value of 767,100 acres of “Mineral and Energy Resource” lands and 13,200 acres of “Special Stewardship Lands.” They have minimal value to the CSF as an endowment asset, and that will not change.

The only way to carry out the fiduciary duty to CSF beneficiaries is to inject new, private capital into the picture. The state should sell the remaining Trust Lands – which could be worth more than $700 million — and invest the net proceeds in the Common School Fund, where annual total returns of 5%-8% could be expected for centuries to come.

[Click Download the PDF to view exhibits]

Testimony Before the Oregon State Land Board Regarding the Potential Sale of the Elliott State Forest

By John A. Charles. Jr.

The decision before you today is simply one of exercising your fiduciary duty. You have an offer on the table of $220.8 million in private funds. If you accept the offer, the money will be deposited in the CSF, where it will immediately begin earning income for schools.

Alternatively, the various public ownership options require: (1) persuading the legislature to approve the sale of $100 million in state bonds so that taxpayers can “buy” an asset they already own; and (2) paying debt service on the bonds. Those costs (presently unknown) will be paid in part by public school parents, teachers, and other CSF beneficiaries. Therefore, debt service has to be subtracted from earnings on the invested $100 million.

Additionally, a new HCP will need to be negotiated. Since DSL has failed to do this for over 15 years, this is a highly speculative “benefit.” It’s also possible that even with a new HCP, timber harvesting would result in continued losses to the CSF.

As the chart below indicates, over a 100-year horizon, the difference between the Lone Rock offer and the public ownership option is roughly $1.08 billion in earnings. There is no plausible scenario in which continued public ownership can make up that loss. As fiduciaries, this is not even a close call: you should take the offer in hand.

CSF Financial Projections for New Revenue Derived from the Elliott State Forest 

Lone Rock Offer vs. Continued Public Ownership

Cumulative CSF Payouts to Schools @4% of Annual Earnings

Assumes total annual return of 5.58% (CSF average for 2000-2015)

  Add timber harvest revenue Subtract cost of debt service payments Cumulative payout to schools – first 10 years Cumulative payout to schools – first 100 years
L. Rock – $220.7 M invested 6/1/17 N/A N/A $99,107,680 $1,956,775,945
Bond sale – $100 M invested 9/1/17

 

Requires new HCP; could also result in annual losses ??? $44,300,595 $874,668,232
Difference ??? (???) ($54,807,085) (1,082,107,713)

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

Oregon Land Board Should Take the Deal

By Lydia White

At a time when Legislators threaten to slash government services to cover a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, Governor Kate Brown and Treasurer Tobias Read plan to make things worse.

Next week, the State Land Board will meet to consider selling 84,000 acres of the Elliott State Forest to Lone Rock Timber Management for $221 million. If the sale is approved, all the money would be invested in the Common School Fund, generating billions of dollars in earnings for K-12 schools.

Governor Brown, who supported the sale in 2015, now wants the state to buy out the Elliott for $100 million by issuing bonds. Taxpayers would pay back the principal and interest for the next 25 years, at a cost of $120 million or more.

But the Land Board has a constitutional obligation to produce revenue for Oregon schools by either managing the Elliott for a profit or selling off dead assets. Forcing taxpayers to buy an asset they already own, plus forgoing $121 million in additional funds from a willing buyer and millions more when factoring in compound interest, would violate the Board’s fiduciary trust.

Fortunately, the Oregon School Boards Association, one beneficiary of the Common School Funds, expressed intent to sue if the Land Board refuses to “fulfill its fiduciary duties.”

The Board has a firm offer of $221 million. They should accept it.


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

Selling Bonds to Buy the Elliott State Forest Would Be a Breach of Fiduciary Trust

By John A. Charles, Jr.

State Treasurer Tobias Read has announced that he is now prepared to support a plan being developed by Gov. Kate Brown to sell bonds that would “buy out” the Elliott State Forest from the Common School Trust Land portfolio and keep it in public ownership.

Unfortunately, this would saddle taxpayers with debt service on the bonds, thereby reducing or even eliminating the financial benefits of adding the bond proceeds to the corpus of the Common School Fund. This would be a breach of fiduciary trust on the part of the State Land Board.

Members of the public may not understand that bond sales don’t create “free” money; the face amount must be repaid over some designated period of time, with interest.

For example, if the legislature authorizes the sale of $100 million in general obligation bonds, total principal and interest will likely exceed $150 million over several decades.  All Oregon taxpayers will be legally obligated to pay off that debt.

Another option might be the sale of bonds backed by future earnings on the Oregon Lottery. But lottery revenues are essentially the same as General Fund revenues. Paying debt service on lottery-backed bonds will inevitably take money from public schools.

The Governor’s proposal to have the public buy a forest it already owns is akin to someone losing money in an IRA, then transferring funds into the account from a 401(k) to make up for the loss. If both accounts are owned by the same individual, there is no net gain; the loss is just disguised.

As the state’s elected Treasurer, Tobias Read should know better. The only way to decouple the Elliott State Forest from the Common School Fund is to sell it to private parties with no taxpayer financing involved.

Such an offer is sitting in front of the Board today. The Board should accept the offer of $220.8 million from the Lone Rock Timber consortium, place the net proceeds into the Common School Fund, and let the money begin immediately working for public school students.


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

 

It’s Finally Time to Sell the Elliott State Forest

By John A. Charles, Jr.

At the February 14 meeting of the State Land Board, the Board voted 2-1 to enter into negotiations with a private consortium to sell 82,450 acres of the Elliott State Forest. Gov. Kate Brown, who was on the losing end of the vote, has ordered the Department of State Lands to come back in April with an alternative plan that would allow for continued public ownership.

Not only is the Governor being petulant, but the alternative she favors has been studied repeatedly since 1995. That was the year that the Board released its first “Draft Asset Management Plan.” The Elliott was then valued at $850 million, but annual revenues were dropping due to rising management costs.

The Land Board was told by a consultant that “selling the Elliott State Forest would be the most effective way to maximize Common School Fund revenues.” The Board is required by the Oregon Constitution to make money on the Elliott because it is an endowment asset for public schools.

Sadly, that recommendation was rejected. Instead, state officials spent the next 20 years engaged in fruitless negotiations with federal regulators regarding compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Every time the Board thought an agreement to cut more timber had been reached, it turned out to be a false summit.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups used the Elliott as a legal piñata. They successfully sued the Land Board so many times that the forest stopped generating any revenue by 2013 and actually became a financial liability for Oregon schools.

The costs of this wait-and-see approach were not trivial. According to a report published by the Board in 2014, the Elliott had cost the Common School Fund $1.4 billion in lost earnings since 1995.

Things actually worsened after the report was published. In 2015 the Land Board decided to finally sell the Elliott; but instead of taking competitive bids, the Board established a fixed price. The Board also downzoned the land by imposing multiple limitations on future timber harvesting.

The result was that the Board received a single offer in 2016, for the state-mandated price of $220.8 million. The net result of 22 consecutive years of public ownership was a loss to the Common School Fund of at least $1.62 billion.

Governor Kate Brown now wants to renege on the sale entirely (despite voting for it in 2015) and use state bonding capacity to “buy out” a portion of the Elliott. This is probably the worst idea yet. The public already owns the forest; why would we want to go into debt buying ourselves out?

While the $220.8 million offer now on the table is a far cry from the $850 million we could have received in 1996, it’s better than hanging on to a dead asset. Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and State Treasurer Tobias Read voted to sell the forest, and that was the appropriate decision. Adding $220 million in new revenue to the Common School Fund endowment will generate many billions of dollars for schools over the next century.


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 originally appeared in the Portland Tribune on March 16, 2017.

Land Board Votes to Sell Elliott State Forest

By John A. Charles, Jr. 

On February 14 the Oregon State Land Board – comprised of Governor Kate Brown, Treasurer Tobias Read, and Secretary of State Dennis Richardson – voted 2-1 to sell 82,450 acres of the Elliott State Forest to a consortium of private parties led by Lone Rock Timber Management Company. The agreed-upon sale price is $220.8 million; and the net proceeds will be placed in the Oregon Common School Fund (CSF), an endowment for public schools.

This parcel is a small part of the Oregon Common School Trust Land portfolio of 1.5 million acres of lands that must be managed by the Land Board to maximize revenue over the long term for the benefit of public schools.

For many years the Elliott was a money-maker, but environmental litigation steadily reduced timber harvesting to a trickle. For the last three years the Elliott has actually lost money, which prompted the Board in August 2015 to vote unanimously to sell the Elliott and put the proceeds into alternative investments.

As a long-time Board member, Gov. Kate Brown repeatedly voted to sell the forest, but in December 2016 she changed her mind and announced her intent to use state bonding capacity to buy a portion of the Elliott and keep it in public ownership. Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins agreed with her conceptually, but no formal vote was taken and both of them have since left the Board.

At the meeting earlier this week, Gov. Brown made a motion to terminate any further negotiations to sell the forest, despite the fact that Lone Rock and its partners had spent at least $500,000 putting together a good-faith offer in response to the Land Board’s sale protocol. Her motion never received a second.

New Treasurer Tobias Read indicated that he was uncomfortable walking away from the offer at the last minute, and that the legal doctrine of “undivided loyalty” to Common School Fund beneficiaries – public schools – compelled him to sell the money-losing forest. Secretary of State Dennis Richardson concurred and the Governor was out-voted.

Cascade Policy Institute has been urging the Land Board to sell the Elliott since 1996, when the forest was valued at roughly $800 million. It was evident to us that over the next several decades, environmental lawyers would treat the Elliott like a legal piñata and file continuous lawsuits to prevent timber harvesting. That is exactly what happened, turning this vibrant forest into a net liability by 2013.

Cascade published a number of technical papers demonstrating that over virtually any time period and under any reasonable set of assumptions, Oregon schools would be better off if the Board simply sold the forest and put the net proceeds into stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments. These papers were ignored by multiple generations of Land Board members, including John Kitzhaber, Ted Kulongoski, Jim Hill, Phil Keisling, Randall Edwards, and Kate Brown.

Many editorial writers are urging the Land Board to “hit the pause button” on this sale, but the fact is the Board has been “pausing” since at least 1995. As timber harvest receipts steadily declined over the next several decades, Oregon wasted more than $3 million trying to negotiate a so-called “Habitat Conservation Plan” with the federal government that would shield Oregon from further litigation. Such an agreement was never reached.

In a report paid for by the Department of State Lands in 2015, experts found that the failure to sell the Elliott in 1995 – as recommended by a Department of Forestry consultant – had cost public schools $1.4 billion in lost earnings over a 20-year period.

Gov. Brown’s last-minute effort to buy back timberland the public already owns was poorly thought out. Most of the media observers – who tend to favor public ownership – have apparently overlooked the fact that any revenue bonds sold by Oregon would have to be paid off by profits generated on-site. Since the Elliott has been steadily losing money under public management, it’s unlikely that anyone would even buy such bonds.

Although selling the Elliott was the right thing to do, we will never know if the public received fair market value because the Land Board refused to take competitive bids. In 2016 the Board established a price of $220.8 million based on multiple appraisals, and no one was allowed to offer a higher amount. Clearly, this was a bizarre way to sell a valuable asset and demonstrates how Kate Brown, Ted Wheeler, and Jeanne Atkins consistently abdicated their fiduciary responsibilities in favor of a political agenda to retain public ownership.

Treasurer Read and Secretary Richardson deserve credit for moving forward with the sale. Neither of them wanted to do it, but they understand that they have an obligation to current and future public school students to add value to the Common School Fund.


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

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.

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Not One Dollar More

The State of Oregon will sell 84,000 acres of the Elliott State Forest by March 2017, in order to make money for public schools.

However, the lands will not be auctioned to the highest bidder. In fact, they will not be auctioned at all. The State will set the price based on appraisals, and purchasers will pay that price.

If there is more than one offer, the tie will be broken based on which buyer promises the most “public benefits.” Those benefits are defined as public access to at least 50% of the property; preservation of old growth timber; protection of stream corridors; and the guarantee of at least 40 jobs for 10 years.

Evaluating competing offers promising “more jobs” versus “wider stream corridors” will be entirely subjective—in essence, a beauty contest. At a meeting last week for prospective buyers, the Department of State Lands was asked about the possibility of simply offering a higher bid. They responded that if someone bid even one dollar over the appraised value, it would be deemed a “non-responsive” offer and rejected.

Prospective buyers were stunned. The timber is likely to be worth somewhere between $300 million and $450 million, and a high bid could really help schools. But for the State Land Board, price doesn’t matter.


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

When Will the State Land Board Restore the “Trust” in Oregon’s State Trust Lands?

 

By Anna Mae Kersey

When Oregon joined the Union in 1859, it was granted approximately 3.4 million acres by Congress in State Trust Lands, public lands managed by the state to support public education. In so doing, Congress assigned a fiduciary responsibility to the state to produce a profit from these lands for the Common School Fund in perpetuity. Over time, Oregon sold the majority of these lands in an effort to yield more economic benefits for the fund, with some 772,776 acres remaining under state management.

 

Unfortunately, those lands have been poorly managed, especially when compared with other Western states and the federal government.


 

Average Annual Return on Investment

State Trust Lands vs. Federal Management

2009-2013

Jurisdiction Revenues Expenditures Returns per dollar spent
 
New Mexico $554,218,262 $13,516,608 $41.00
Arizona $231,823,603 $16,629,652 $13.94
Montana $107,610,838 $12,443,132 $8.65
Bureau of Land Mgmt. $4,690,082,024 $1,508,484,072 $3.11
Idaho $66,033,347 $23,572,154 $2.80
Oregon (2013-14) $8,096,821 $7,593,305 $1.09
U.S. Forest Service $571,781,109 $5,708,126,237 $0.10

 

 

 


 

When Oregon can barely break even on lands that other states manage for great profit, it is a serious indictment of leadership by the State Land Board.

Furthermore, only 7,400 acres of the 772,776 acres currently classified as State Trust Lands actually meet the criteria of having either short- or long-term revenue earning potential. This means that approximately 96 percent of State Trust Lands show no signs of generating revenue in five to ten years.

The primary reason for the discrepancy between Oregon’s profit margins and those of its peer states is the endangered species restrictions placed on the Elliott State Forest. These restrictions have transformed these lands from profit producing assets into deficit inducing liabilities.

Oregon, in essence, is in default to the Common School Fund. In addition to its obligation to continue to bring in revenue, it is also legally bound to maintain “intergenerational equity” and “cannot benefit current students at the disadvantage of future students, or vice versa.” Neither current nor future students stand to benefit from a deficit.

In contrast, the Common School Fund itself earns significant net revenue for schools each year. Assets of the Fund are invested by the State Treasurer and the Oregon Investment Council and consistently exceed performance expectations, earning an annual average of 13.25 percent return on investment over the past three years, as opposed to the 0.1 percent return on investment by the State Trust Lands.

There can be no public trust in an agreement where one side, time and time again, fails to deliver. On August 13, the State Land Board will meet in Salem to discuss the Elliott State Forest. It is imperative that board members look to the past to prepare for the future. There is already a precedent of transferring lands to private ownership. The board needs to sell those lands that are costing the fund and future generations, so that the trust in State Trust Lands can be restored.

Anna Mae Kersey is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. She recently graduated from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia with an Honors B.A. in Philosophy and is pursuing a Master’s of Liberal Arts at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 

 

If the state loses $1.4 billion for schools and nobody notices, did it really happen?

The Oregon legislature is in the midst of its biennial quest for more public school funding. Advocates are so desperate for cash that they are even proposing that the state seize gift cards as “abandoned property” if some portion of the original value remains unused after three years.

While grabbing gift cards is certainly creative, it will not materially affect school funding. A much more lucrative source is available if we have the political will: selling the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest (ESF) and placing the net receipts (likely to be $400 million or more) into the Common School Fund, where investments typically earn 8% or more annually.

In fact, the failure of the state to sell the Elliott 20 years ago when it was first proposed has already cost schools at least $1.4 billion in lost value. It’s a mystery as to why school advocates are willing to accept this.

The Elliott is located on the South Coast near Reedsport. By law, most of the timber must be managed to maximize revenue for the “common schools.” Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, timber harvesting on the ESF has plummeted due to environmental litigation. As a result, in 2013 the state actually lost $3 million on the Elliott, then lost more money in 2014. These losses drain money from public schools.

This disaster could have been avoided. In 1994, the state commissioned a study of ways to increase net revenues on the Elliott. The consultant reported that “selling the ESF would be the most effective way to maximize CSF revenues.”

The State Land Board (made up of the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the State Treasurer) considered selling the Elliott in 1996 but rejected the idea. That decision locked the state into a revenue death spiral on the forest.

The extent of that loss was quantified by the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) in a report published last November. The chart below summarizes the results:

Simulated Prior Elliott Sale versus Actual Elliott Management

 

Simulation Simulated endowment in 2014

Simulated distribution over time period

Estimated residual land value Total value over time period
(Actual) managed for timber since 1995 $1.4 billion $0.7 billion $0.4 billion $2.5 billion
Sale in 1995 and invested proceeds $2.5 billion $1.4 billion $0 $3.9 billion
Buyout in 2005 and invested proceeds $1.8 billion $0.8 billion $0 $2.6 billion

Source: Oregon Department of State Lands, November 2014

The failure to sell the ESF in 1995 cost schools $1.4 billion in lost value. That is a very large number, not only in absolute terms, but compared with public losses elsewhere that have resulted in resignations and political scandal.

For example, the U.S. Congress is investigating the disappearance of $305 million in federal funds spent on Cover Oregon. At the state level, the Oregon Department of Justice has just opened a civil and criminal investigation into the $11.8 million of energy tax credits issued for an array of solar panels installed by several state universities.

Yet the loss of $1.4 billion in school funding seems to be uninteresting to school advocates. No lawsuits have been filed, and no investigations are underway.

The legislature should insist that the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Treasurer turn the Elliott from a liability into an asset, as required by law. Selling the entire forest is the best option for doing that.


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

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