The most pervasive public policy myth in Oregon is that we are not spending enough money on public education. This supposed lack of funding drives legislative and school board debates across the state. It also drives the constant calls for “tax reform,” which are veiled attempts to raise taxes.
As the last decade ended, healthcare spending by Oregon’s state and local governments was 57 percent higher than in demographically comparable states. This startling statistic, from Cascade’s just-released report, How Does Oregon Government Spending Rank? should energize policy makers to look for better, cheaper ways to deliver healthcare services to Oregonians.
Test scores are one way to judge our public schools. But no one likely knows the condition and quality of public schools better than the teachers who work in them every day. Whether these teachers send their own children to public schools more or less frequently than their neighbors may thus be a strong indicator of how good our schools really are.
Now, an analysis of the 2000 U.S. Census Long Form data gives us this answer.* That year, 17.5 percent of all families in the nation’s fifty largest cities sent their kids to private schools, while 21.5 percent of public school teachers did the same.
In the Portland Metropolitan area the disparity was greater.** Here, only 12.7 percent of all families sent their kids to private schools, but 20 percent of public school teachers apparently decided that their children deserved a better school than their districts offered. Doing some basic grade school math shows us that, on average, teachers in the largest cities are 23 percent more likely to send their children to private schools, but inPortland, they are 57 percent more likely to do so.
Those who know our schools best are exercising school choice the most. They know that some schools are better than others. Offering all families comprehensive school choice is long overdue.
* Denis P. Doyle, Brian Diepold and David A. DeSchryver, “Where Do Public School Teachers Send Their Kids to School?”, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, September 7, 2004,
** The Portland Metropolitan area is officially known as the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Approximately 80% of its population is in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Columbia and Yamhill counties in Oregon; the remainder is in Clark and Skamania counties in Washington. About one-third of the cities in the study, including Portland, included nearby suburban areas. Since private school enrollment is generally higher in urban areas, the urban-suburban area results in the study are likely somewhat smaller than if the researchers had been able to find urban-only data for those cities, again, including Portland.
This report updates and expands on a previous Cascade Policy Institute report by Dr. Pozdena. The purpose of this report is to compare Oregon’s state and local spending level against that of other states through benchmarking.
Benchmarking helps Oregon citizens understand the extent to which their state’s spending choices differ from those of other states. Since individual states vary widely in both their ability to pay for public services and in population characteristics that determine the demand for spending, simple ratio comparisons are insufficient to fairly benchmark individual states. (more…)
Conventional wisdom tells us that Republicans fight for balanced budgets and smaller government. Not true, according to Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman and host of MSNBC’s Scarborough Country.
Congressman Joe, as his constituents called him, helped take control of the House of Representatives when 73 “barbarians” were elected to “storm the gleaming gates of Congress” in 1994. Led by newly appointed Speaker Newt Gingrich, they pledged to balance the budget and reduce the role of government in the lives of Americans. Ten years later, and out of office for three, Scarborough blows the whistle on members of his own party in his new book, Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day.
Politicians often use science as a source of statements to place their policy proposals beyond debate. One of their policy goals is to minimize risk. Nothing is without risk, but politicians and policy advocates often treat risk as an absolute hazard to eliminate at all costs, not as one factor to weigh with a proposal’s other detriments and rewards. A politician can gain greatly by uncovering a risk and lose greatly by championing a risky proposal, even if its benefits far outweigh its risks. When politicians can’t manipulate and exploit science to support their policy proposals, they will sometimes try to suppress its findings. Scientists can play the risk game, too, usually when writing proposals for government-funded research.
The new book, Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policymaking, contains essays by eleven scientists telling how political uses of science too often corrupt the scientific search for truth. The Hoover Institution and the George C. Marshall Institute published the book in the hope that its insights will promote the beneficial use of science and “discourage purely opportunistic behavior.”
Unproven assertions of risk are accepted as fact because it is impossible to prove the negative that contradicts them. Editor Michael Gough observes that, lacking a means of such verification, the “consensus” of some committee is often promoted to support eliminating a particular risk.
The most avid activists advance the “precautionary principle,” which reasons that if something’s dangers are unknown, it should be banned completely, just to be on the safe side. Believers in the precautionary principle ignore any potential benefits of a device or substance. DDT saved hundreds of millions of human lives by killing the mosquitoes that spread malaria, but was banned because of its potential to harm certain birds.
Politicizing Science includes many accounts of science-abusing processes in public policy and government regulation, covering issues ranging from nuclear power generation to “global warming.” A chapter on chemical use in Sweden tells how scientific guidance was displaced by the precautionary principle, resulting in significant over-regulation.
In his essay “Science or Political Science,” Patrick J. Michaels evaluates the U. S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change (USNA), the document that alleges the existence of ongoing “global warming” and which is so often used by alarmists to urge ratification of the Kyoto protocol. Prof. Michaels compared the USNA’s climate-change models with the actual observed temperatures during the 20th century and found the models did “worse than no model at all” in predicting temperatures. Because science consists of seeing whether predictions made from an asserted hypothesis do indeed happen, a true scientific model of climate change would actually predict climate change. Michaels observes that the present USNA is “clearly not science” and more like a “politically based polemic.” He recommends that a new USNA be created by a team of objective-minded scientists.
Other essays in Politicizing Science address such topics as spotted owls, lynx, wolves, DDT, dioxins, PCBs, endocrine disrupters, carcinogens, pharmaceuticals, herbicides, pesticides, Agent Orange, cold fusion and the competition for water. “Science Gored” recounts the bizarre claims and “unprecedented interference” by Al Gore in anti-technology actions.
The final essay rivals a detective story for suspense as Dr. S. Fred Singer reveals what was uncovered in pre-trial discovery when Dr. Singer found it necessary to defend himself and the late Dr. Roger Revelle by suing a Harvard scientist for libel. The very last page prints the retraction and apology statement from a scientist who had served as a political henchman against doctors Revelle and Singer. Dr. Singer’s account inspires the hope that legitimate science will meet worthy advocates in court and in public opinion.
Property rights — and liberty — were victorious on July 30th when the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously reversed a ruling from two decades ago. The Court’s ruling halts governmental abuse of eminent domain in that state for “economic development.”
A new tool for helping the poor is proving effective around the world. Microfinance institutions provide small loans and other financial services to low income individuals who are considered unbankable by traditional lending standards, usually because they do not have the collateral to secure a loan from a bank.
These nongovernmental organizations are (more…)
In 2003, Portland and Multnomah County politicians cried crisis and pushed a new three-year “temporary” county income tax, mainly to benefit education. This November, county voters, most of them city residents, will have the opportunity to recall the remaining two years of the income tax. The free-spending politicians who cried crisis have given voters good reasons to do so.
In 2003, the county hired a new (more…)
Many public school supporters blame poor academic results on stingy taxpayers. On July 8, more evidence was released showing that funding is not the problem. Arthur Academy, a public charter school in the David Douglas School District near Portland, just announced amazing achievement results.
In business just two years, Arthur Academy saw (more…)
On Thursday, July 8, a Metro committee will finalize the funding plan for TriMet’s $494 million “South Corridor” light rail expansion project. It will run to Clackamas County and through the Portland bus mall. The committee is counting on Portland State University to contribute approximately $5 million.
Unfortunately, putting light rail on the (more…)
Last Monday, an historic event occurred in the skies over the Mojave Desert. The first privately owned and piloted vehicle exited the Earth’s atmosphere for a few brief minutes. Until then, space had been the exclusive province of governments. This new area of spaceflight suddenly turns dreams into real possibilities for the private sector—and provides an excellent opportunity for government to get out of the space race.
The impetus for this occasion was the (more…)
Recent revelations about SAIF Corporation have caused some to demand that the state get out of the workers’ compensation insurance business — and rightly so. There are many solid reasons to privatize SAIF.
SAIF insures only 40 percent of Oregon’s workers, and there are (more…)
Last week, the Portland City Council adopted a plan to build and finance the aerial tram that will run from OHSU to the North Macadam district down along the Willamette River. In a surprise move, the Council approved an amendment offered by Commissioner Dan Saltzman that requires the city to buy any properties below the tram’s right-of-way if the owners feel that the market value is threatened by the tram. The city will then re-sell the homes, either reaping the rewards of profit or bearing the risk of loss.
This is an important recognition by the (more…)
We should applaud the demise of an Oregon Legislative Special Session for one good reason: Democrats took the opportunity to proclaim support for fiscal responsibility. Many publicly stated such a gathering would waste taxpayer dollars. Buoyed by these pronouncements, the next regular session could advance ideas that increase freedom and reduce the burden of state government on all Oregonians.
Fiscally responsible Democrats can support contracting out as a way to (more…)
People who argue that Oregon’s public schools need more tax dollars lost another battle this month. Our Secretary of State just released an analysis of spending on school district support services.
In 2001, the latest year for which nationwide data is available, Oregon spent (more…)
On May 1, Portland’s North Interstate light rail line opened for business. The cost to taxpayers was $60 million per mile, or $350 million total. The train, which runs from downtown to the Expo Center, replaces TriMet’s bus line 5, which used to go all the way to Vancouver. Now Vancouver customers must leave the train at Kenton and transfer to a bus to cross the river—their daily commute takes longer.
Oddly enough, superior transit service could have (more…)
In April, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) announced a two-year pilot project to allow liquor sales in up to six large grocery stores. The liberalization of liquor sales comes only 71 years after the end of Prohibition. Certainly, this step is more about increasing government revenue than serving consumers better, just as was the recent allowance of Sunday liquor sales.
The OLCC has a conflicting mission: to both (more…)
Even after voters soundly rejected a government takeover of Portland General Electric, Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten still wants the city to take over PGE.
Sten particularly opposes Oregon Electric’s purchase offer for PGE because (more…)
Bob Williams, president of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, once served as a Washington state legislator. He often tells the story about a state government department that didn’t want to provide him and other legislators with requested information. So, Williams cut the department’s budget to zero.
What happened next? Williams and his colleagues got the (more…)
For the 2004-05 city budget, Portland Mayor Vera Katz proposes hiring 20 police officers — part of a plan to fill 54 vacant positions at the Police Bureau. To pay for this, she allocates a mere $1 million out of the $370 million general-fund. Ahead of the police is (more…)
Oregon finds itself in the middle of one of this year’s hottest presidential campaign issues: outsourcing. The state contracts with a company that uses call centers in India to answer Oregonians’ questions about food stamp and welfare payments. Is this a good policy, or an act of treason?
Lately, Senator John Kerry has called (more…)
Earlier this month, Portland was designated by Inc. magazine as the eighth worst city to do business in. Local politicians, long accustomed to fawning reviews by east coast media outlets, were stunned by this rebuke. Don Mazziotti, director of the Portland Development Commission, dismissed the ranking by saying, “If you use a screwy methodology, you get screwy results.”
Unfortunately for Portland, Inc. didn’t use (more…)
Federal job retraining programs ended up helping only 44 percent of the Oregonians who enrolled. Employment trends are difficult for anyone, let alone a federal bureaucracy, to predict. Thus, haphazardly throwing training at Oregon’s unemployment problem is a prescription to waste billions of dollars.
A few years ago, technology companies provided the (more…)
While the D.C. school system spends more per pupil than most US cities, its student test scores are the lowest in the country. Recently, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige praised a new federal voucher law granting up to $7,500 to low-income children in the District of Columbia to attend private schools.
Oregonians are busy debating whether the state should approve same-sex marriages. The better question would be, “Why is the state involved in marriage at all?”
As the government is concerned, marriage is primarily a contract between two adults. There’s no inherent reason why the state should regulate the nature of the transaction. If the state’s role were to simply (more…)
Paul Allen owns the Portland Trail Blazers and has privately funded the team for years. Allen’s Oregon Arena Corp. also owns the Rose Garden where the Blazers play. This largely privately funded arena just filed for bankruptcy. The important lesson to learn: Let private people risk private money when they bring Major League Baseball to Oregon.
A couple years ago, the City of Portland spent (more…)
The Portland Development Commission (PDC) just rejected the only Convention Center hotel proposal that does not require government subsidies. All the other proposals depend on what the PDC calls, “some kind of public participation.” When private investors won’t risk their own money, taxpayers will likely take a bath. Look at PGE Park.
The Grand Ronde Indian Tribe said it could (more…)
Public health nannies complain that the defeat of Measure 30 reduced Oregon’s tobacco tax by ten cents per pack. They argue that higher taxation on tobacco leads to less smoking and also funds smoking cessation programs.
There’s little evidence to support either assertion. When consumers are taxed too much, they simply buy from lower-cost outlets, either on the Internet or from Native American retailers who don’t pay taxes. This actually (more…)
Various groups are organizing tax reform meetings throughout the state. The big question: How do we “fix” Oregon’s tax system. In reality, the goal is more like: How do we increase taxes?
Let’s assume the best of intentions — momentarily. Common sense tells us, before we start fixing something we should have (more…)
Voters did more than reject a big tax package on Tuesday, they gave their elected officials an opportunity to do the right thing and put core functions first.
Measure 30’s defeat will trigger automatic cuts in a number of state government services, some of which should not happen. While restraint is necessary, the automatic cuts are not. Elected officials must (more…)
Last week we discovered that the Washington County commuter rail line, which is planned to run from Beaverton to Wilsonville, will likely carry 35 percent fewer daily passengers than originally projected. According to TriMet, the rail line was supposed to carry 4,650 daily trips by 2020. But the Federal Transit Administration claims these numbers are inflated, and pegs estimated daily ridership at only 3,000, resulting in a loss of $20 million in federal funds.
Had this anemic level of ridership been (more…)
Some folks are pushing higher taxes in Oregon as a way to strengthen the economy. A January 5 Oregonian editorial exemplifies this argument; it concluded, “the small [about $1 billion] tax increase is much better for the Oregon economy than big reductions in spending.”
Well, if a small tax increase is good for the economy, the state government should (more…)
Oregonians will soon vote on the legislature’s $1 billion tax package. Because this added revenue will translate into more government spending, it makes sense to see just how Oregon compares to other states in the spending arena.
Sharon Kitzhaber was interviewed for the Dec. 24, 2003 Willamette Week. The former First Lady of Oregon said her son Logan attends the private French-American school. When asked why she chose a private school, she responded in part by claiming that Oregonians have “under-invested” in their government schools.
This raises the question: What, exactly, does (more…)