Media Release: The Case of the Disappearing Backyard

February 25, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

PORTLAND, Ore. – Cascade Policy Institute today released a report investigating the disappearance of backyards throughout the Portland metropolitan region.

In 1995, the average lot size for a new home in Washington County was 15,000 square feet. Today, new residential housing projects in Washington County list 7,000 square foot lots as “executive housing,” an apparent luxury only for the rich. Has the American Dream disappeared in the Portland region?

The purpose of this research project was to see if the disappearance of backyards was real or an illusion. After examining the adopted land-use plans and accompanying zoning codes of the three metro counties and a cross-section of local cities, it became clear that private backyards in fact are being zoned out of existence, in order to comply with state and regional land-use mandates.

All new development projects on lands recently approved for urban growth boundary expansion in the Portland region have high-density overlays that prevent traditional backyards (roughly 4-5 units/acre), except for a small percentage of all units. In addition, many older neighborhoods with large lots are experiencing an epidemic of teardowns, due to the artificial shortage of buildable land. Homes with large yards are being purchased, demolished, and replaced with several homes or towering apartment complexes.

As a result of density mandates, homebuyers are increasingly paying more while getting less in the way of private open space.

According to report author John Glennon, “Local planners know that most people prefer lower-density neighborhoods; yet zoning codes have been written to take that option away.”

Cascade Policy Institute President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr. noted, “As Metro prepares for another round of possible growth boundary expansions, elected officials should think hard about the effects of land-use regulation on livability. In a state that is already 98% open space, there is no reason to create an artificial shortage of buildable land. The State Legislature should enact reforms this year to remove high-density mandates from local governments.”

The full report, Have Private Backyards Been Outlawed in the Portland Metropolitan Area?, can be downloaded here.

Report Shows Oregon Public Employment Contracts Are a Ticking Time Bomb

PORTLAND, Ore. – Cascade Policy Institute today announced the release of a new report showing that Oregon public employers have more than $2.6 billion in unfunded actuarially accrued liabilities associated with non-pension benefits promised to current and future retirees. These benefits, often referred to as “Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB),” typically include health care coverage for retirees, but may include other forms of deferred compensation such as life insurance.

A decade ago, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) mandated that public employers begin clearly stating financial obligations for OPEB in their comprehensive annual financial reports. However, employers were not required to set up trust funds to pay for these promises. As a result, the Cascade review of 125 financial reports of state, regional, and local governments shows that most employers have no money set aside and are paying for OPEB obligations out of annual operating revenues. This cannibalizes funds needed for actual services.

The Portland transit agency TriMet has the biggest unfunded OPEB liability, estimated to be $950 million as of January 2014. Other employers with relatively large unfunded liabilities include Lebanon school district, Tillamook County, and the city of Corvallis.

Cascade President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr. said, “Over a period of decades, Oregon public employers have deliberately back-loaded employment contracts so that the cost of generous compensation packages would not become apparent until decades later, when the decision-makers themselves would be long gone. Those time bombs are now exploding, harming public school students, transit riders, and others who rely on public services.”

The Cascade paper is a call to action for the legislature to impose some form of fiscal discipline on public employers by requiring them to make annual contributions to OPEB trust funds. Legislation to accomplish this has been considered in past sessions but never approved.

In commenting on this failure, Charles noted, “Actuaries always state what it would take to amortize OPEB liabilities over a 25-year period; these are referred to as ‘annual required contributions (ARC).’ Unfortunately, most government managers treat the ARC as merely a suggestion. All the Oregon legislature has to do is pass a one-page bill reaffirming that ‘required’ means ‘required.’ How hard can that be?”

The Cascade report, Unfunded OPEB Liabilities for Oregon Public Employers: A $2.6 Billion Time Bomb, can be downloaded here.

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: Requiring a Prescription for Cold Medicine Has Not Reduced Meth Use in Oregon

Media Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:

Steve Buckstein

Senior Policy Analyst
Cascade Policy Institute
Phone: (503) 242-0900

steven@cascadepolicy.org

February 21, 2012

Requiring a Prescription for Cold Medicine Has Not Reduced Meth Use in Oregon

Cascade Study Raises Questions about Real Impact of Oregon’s
Prescription-Only Requirement

PORTLAND, OR — Cascade Policy Institute released a study today which found the 2005 Oregon law which restricts access to medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE) has not made the illegal drug methamphetamine harder to get or reduced the number of people using it. The Oregon law makes any medication containing PSE available only via prescription (“Rx-only”).

“This study affirms what we predicted over six years ago: The law would not significantly curb meth use or production, but it would impose a considerable burden on legitimate users of cold and allergy medicines like Claritin-D and Sudafed,” said Steve Buckstein, Cascade’s founder and Senior Policy Analyst. “With other state and federal lawmakers considering following Oregon’s lead on this issue, we thought it was critical to find out what has actually happened here since the law went into effect.”

“The prescription requirement for cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine had no more of an impact on the reduction of meth lab incidents than other measures adopted in neighboring states. In fact, the rate of mobile meth lab reductions in Oregon is nearly identical to that of six neighboring and nearby states that do not have a prescription requirement. Moreover, meth addicts in Oregon can still get access to their drug of choice,” added Buckstein. “Overall, our study raises fundamental questions about the effectiveness of Oregon’s law and whether such a prescription mandate—which impacts all consumers in the state—is warranted.”

Key findings of the study:

  • Law enforcement in Oregon report that methamphetamine remains the state’s greatest drug threat, despite the reduction in in-state meth production, and contributes the most towards drug-related crime.
  • Methamphetamine lab incidents in Oregon declined more than 90 percent between 2004 and 2010. Most of this decline occurred before the prescription-only law went into effect in 2006.
  • Six neighboring states including Washington and California experienced similar declines in meth lab reductions without imposing a prescription requirement during the same time frame.
  • The number of methamphetamine admissions to substance abuse centers in Oregon declined about 23 percent from 2006 to 2009, the exact same rate as the rest of the United States. Usage was slightly higher in California at 29 percent and slightly lower in Washington at 20 percent.
  • Legitimate users of pseudoephedrine in Oregon incur additional costs as a result of this law, because it requires a doctor visit to get Sudafed and similar products that are available over-the-counter in 48 other states. Some of these additional costs are also borne by all taxpayers who fund government health care programs.

The first part of the study examines whether the manufacture and availability of methamphetamine in Oregon is substantially different from similar states and similar regions of the country. Part two examines trends in indicators that track methamphetamine production, such as Oregon’s lab incidents compared to other states. Part three examines trends in indicators of methamphetamine use, such as substance abuse-related admissions in Oregon compared to other geographies. And finally, part four explores the costs, financial and otherwise, to consumers.

The report’s findings are consistent with studies conducted by other independent groups, such as Oregon’s High Intensity Drug Area (HIDTA), which reported: Methamphetamine continues to be highly available and widely used throughout the HIDTA region and remains the most serious drug threat to Oregon” (“Threat Assessment & Counter-Drug Strategy,” 2011 Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Report, Accessed 9/26/11).

Please visit the Cascade Policy Institute website to read the entire study, entitled

Making Cold Medicine Rx-Only Did Not Reduce Meth Use
Analyzing the Impact of Oregon’s Prescription-Only Pseudoephedrine Requirement

The study was conducted by Chris Stomberg, Ph.D., a Partner, and Arun Sharma, a Principal, in the Antitrust and Competition, and Healthcare practices at Bates White, LLC, an economic consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. Primary report author Chris Stomberg can be contacted at chris.stomberg@bateswhite.com or (202) 747-1421.

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