Month: February 2010

Unemployment Insurance Extensions Appeal to the Heart but Rob the Soul

Christina Martin
Cascade Commentary

Unemployment Insurance Extensions Appeal to the Heart but Rob the Soul

By Christina Martin

Download the pdf here

The federal government is likely to extend unemployment benefits with approval from both conservatives and liberals. If all federal extensions pass, Oregonians will be eligible for up to 105 weeks (about two years) of Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, compared to the usual 26 weeks. Oregon’s extended benefits bill recently passed the state legislature with unanimous support by Democrats and Republicans. The U.S. Congress’s extensions, likewise, are predicted to pass with bipartisan support. Why have these extensions received such wide approval? Are they incontrovertibly good, or do these bills just feel good?

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More Red Tape for Virtual Charter Schools

Christina Martin
QuickPoint!

[audio:QuickPoint 2-24-10.mp3]

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More Red Tape for Virtual Charter Schools
February 24, 2010

By Christina Martin

The Oregon legislature is once again increasing the web of red tape for Oregon’s virtual charter schools via House Bill 3660. Last year, the legislature passed a two-year moratorium on virtual schools. It capped enrollment and temporarily forbade future waivers from a misguided regulation requiring half of charter school students to live in the school’s home district. The regulation limits the power of virtual education to help students everywhere.

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Speech to the Junior State of America

Christina Martin
Cascade Commentary

Speech to the Junior State of America

by Christina Martin

Cascade’s Christina Martin spoke recently to around 200 high school students about the importance of political involvement and the need for reforming our educational institutions to increase school choice. Read an edited form of her speech here:

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Oregon Politico Officially Launches

Sarah Ross
Cascade Commentary

Oregon Politico Officially Launches

By Sarah Ross

Oregon Politico, the sister news site of Cascade Policy, has officially launched.

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Klamath Restoration Agreement Makes Water Rights a Water Sport

Karla Kay Edwards
Cascade Commentary

Klamath Restoration Agreement Makes Water Rights a Water Sport

By Karla Kay Edwards

Summary: The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement signed on February 18, 2010 will critically impact the way water rights are determined in Oregon. With so many victims of the process, the one-sided adulation by the Governors of Oregon and California, as well as others present at the signing ceremony in the state capitol rotunda, is disheartening.

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Increased Costs Are Blowin’ in the Wind

Todd Wynn
Cascade Commentary

by Todd Wynn and Eric Lowe

Increased Costs Are Blowin’ in the Wind

Summary: Wind energy on the Pacific Northwest’s electricity grid has increased substantially. Often overlooked are the impacts of increasing wind generation on the reliability and affordability of electricity that very well might outweigh any of the promised environmental benefits.

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Tea Time at the Capitol

Steve Buckstein
QuickPoint!

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Tea Time at the Capitol

February 17, 2010

By Steve Buckstein

Monday was President’s Day. Schools were out, and many people had the day off. It was the perfect day for Oregonians upset with their state government to come to Salem and let their voices be heard.

And heard they were. Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works held back-to-back rallies on the steps of the State Capitol that together saw hundreds of activists and concerned citizens march, hold signs and listen to a bevy of speakers.

The theme was best summed up as “Taxed Enough Already” – the acronym for the emerging tea party movement here and around the country. Oregonians upset with the legislature’s tax and spending increases showed up to tell their lawmakers that enough is enough. Many of the lawmakers who agree with them came to the Capitol steps to side with the demonstrators.

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Testimony on HB 3614 in favor of prioritizing Core Functions of State Government

Steve Buckstein
Cascade Commentary

Listen to the full testimony here. The bill testimony begins at 1:20:30. Buckstein testimony begins at 1:56:17.

Before the House Consumer Protection and Government Accountability Committee in favor of prioritizing Core Functions of State Government

By Steve Buckstein

Good afternoon, Chair Holvey and members of the Committee. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a public policy research center based in Portland.

I’m here to lend my support to the idea that Oregonians would be well-served by our state government going through the process of determining what the Core Functions of government should be.

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15 Years of Audits Reveal a Pattern of Fiscal Irresponsibility at the Oregon Commission for the Blind

Jacob Szeto
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[audio:QuickPoint 2-10-10.mp3]

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15 Years of Audits Reveal a Pattern of Fiscal Irresponsibility at the Oregon Commission for the BlindFebruary 10, 2010

By Jacob Szeto

A Secretary of State Audits Division audit report questions if $1.46 million used by the Oregon Commission for the Blind was spent prudently or lawfully.

The audit was initiated in 2007 after the Secretary of State received allegations of mismanaged operations and misused funds. After substantiating several allegations, it was found that problems identified in several previous audits were still occurring. According to the report, $61,000 was used for “purposes that did not always benefit clients and, in some cases, were not allowed by federal regulations.” Examples include $12,000 for a trip to the San Juan Islands.

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Testimony to the House Education Committee on HB 3660

Christina Martin Cascade Commentary

Testimony to the House Education Committee on HB 3660

February 3, 2010

By Christina Martin

Good afternoon, Chair Gelser and Representatives. My name is Christina Martin. I am here on behalf of Cascade Policy Institute. Cascade is a strong advocate of increasing educational options for families. Online education is one of those important options.

Some parents have more options than others. Wealthy parents can choose online education regardless of what you do here today. But ordinary parents’ choices may rest on what you decide here. Currently, some can choose ORVA (Oregon Virtual Academy), while others cannot get permission from their district to make that choice. Parents can choose ORCA (Oregon Connections Academy), provided that ORCA is within its cap. But why should a parent have to settle for anything but her first choice?

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The Citizen Lawsuit Racket

Karla Kay Edwards QuickPoint!

[audio:QuickPoint 2-03-10.mp3]

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Throughout the Northwest, even a small timber sale is rarely completed without first being challenged by a citizen’s lawsuit filed by an environmental organization. These lawsuits, with legal fees from both sides typically paid by taxpayers, have stifled the management of our public lands. Billions of private and tax dollars are spent by private entities and government agencies to defend sound management decisions that may or may not have been tripped up by technical errors or missed deadlines.

Eric Hoffer once said, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and then a racket.” Citizen lawsuits are the critical tool that has allowed the environmental movement to become a racket. According to research done by Budd-Falen Law Offices from 2003-2007, more than $4.7 billion were paid to environmental law firms by federal agencies using our tax dollars.

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Testimony on HB 3611 regarding individual health insurance

Steve BucksteinCascade Commentary

Before the House Committee on Health Care in favor of making individually purchased health insurance tax deductible

February 3, 2010

Good afternoon, Chair Greenlick and members of the Committee. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a public policy research organization based in Portland.

Why are my health insurance premiums tax deductible if paid by my employer, but fully taxable if I pay them myself, which I do by the way. This dichotomy has been part of our nation’s tax code for far too long.

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Testimony in opposition to HJR 100 regarding health care as a fundamental right

Steve BucksteinCascade Commentary

Testimony before the House Committee on Health Care

February 4, 2010

Chair Greenlick and members of the Committee, my name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based research center that promotes individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity in Oregon.

On a philosophical level, I object to defining health care as a right, or more precisely, what philosophers call a “positive” right. This country was founded on the belief that government cannot create rights; it can at best protect our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These so-called “negative” rights don’t put demands on anyone else; except the demand that no one violate them.

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After Raising Taxes, Oregonians Should Reject Moves to Gut the Kicker Law

Todd WynnCascade Commentary

Click here to read the full report in PDF format

Summary: Governor Kulongoski and others propose to transfer even more money from the private sector to government coffers through what is becoming known as “kicker reform.” As an appointed taxpayer advocate on the Governor’s Task Force on Comprehensive Revenue Restructuring, I have a different view of the kicker and its effect on budget stability.

The voters have spoken and agreed with legislative leaders that the “rich” and corporations should pay more taxes through Measures 66 and 67. Now, Governor Ted Kulongoski and others are turning their attention to transferring even more money from the private sector to government coffers through what is becoming known as “kicker reform.” As an appointed taxpayer advocate on the Governor’s Task Force on Comprehensive Revenue Restructuring, I have a different view of the kicker and its effect on budget stability.

The Task Force found, and I agree, that establishing more reliable state income forecasting and more prudent budgeting are worthy goals. I do not agree, however, that the state is the best repository for ending balances under a proposed new forecasting method. That money rightfully belongs to the individuals and corporations who earned it.

The Task Force Proposal basically requires the Governor to develop a point estimate for General Fund revenue in each biennium, and then determine a range of roughly six percent above and below that point estimate. This would be an improvement over the current point-estimate-only approach, which is almost always wrong.

The problem lies in the Proposal’s requirement that only revenue above the top of the forecast range be returned to taxpayers in the form of kicker checks. This will have the practical effect of eliminating most kicker refunds that Oregonians have come to expect when state revenue exceeds estimates by more than two percent.

The Proposal also requires that revenue above the point estimate, but below the top of the forecast range, be placed in a rainy day fund of up to ten percent of the General Fund. The intent is to grow a more substantial fund that can help the state deal with recessions like the one we are in right now.

I will tell the legislature that locking this entire Proposal into the Constitution will simply make it easier for the state to avoid exercising the kind of real fiscal discipline that Oregonians should expect. The effect would be to permanently transfer billions of dollars from the private to the public sector into the foreseeable future. I also will point out that, in my opinion, it will be relatively easy for opponents to derail the effort by telling voters that it is simply an attempt to “steal our kicker.”

How to build a rainy day fund without “stealing the kicker”

In fact, the Proposal is built on a fallacy. Its supporters assume that the kicker somehow has prevented the state from building a substantial rainy day fund, when in reality there has been no legal prohibition against lawmakers budgeting for less spending than the point estimate revenue forecasts would allow.

If, for example, the revenue estimate for a biennium is $15 billion, the legislature is free to budget spending of $14 billion, and budget one billion dollars toward the rainy day fund. They never do this, not because it’s legally prohibited, but because the political pressure to spend every dime is so strong.

Under the Task Force Proposal, however, if the point estimate is $15 billion and the top of the range is $16 billion, the legislature can budget and spend $15 billion and must save the additional billion dollars. The effect is to transfer one billion dollars from the private to the public sector and effectively to grow government faster than the people have allowed it to grow under the current kicker law.

My recommendation is to accept the part of the Proposal that improves state revenue forecasting, but reject the part that, over time, would transfer billions of dollars from the private to the public sector.

If legislators wish to grow a substantial rainy day fund, they can ask voters to change the Oregon Constitution to require that they can only budget and spend up to the low end of the forecast range, and save everything else up to the point estimate until the rainy day fund has reached some predetermined level. This would leave the kicker law intact, restrain the growth of government, and grow the rainy day fund all at the same time. It would be reform that many taxpayers could enthusiastically support.


Steve Buckstein is founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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