Month: June 2011

State Budget vs. Union Benefits

By Christopher Robinson

Mediation continues in Salem between two major labor unions and Governor John Kitzhaber’s team over public employee benefits. The governor is seeking concessions from SEIU and AFSCME regarding the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) and the state employees’ health insurance plan.

 

PERS members pay 6% of their salary towards retirement. Currently, the state pays for this mandate as part of a previous deal. The state also pays 100% of employees’ health insurance premiums.

 

It’s no secret that Oregon is facing budget shortfalls, including financing for public employee benefits. Attempts at legislative reform have largely failed. State negotiators initially aimed to end the 6% pick-up and to require that employees pay 5% of insurance premiums. They have since dropped the pick-up demand.

 

Union supporters argue state employees have already made concessions by forgoing certain wage increases in favor of hardier retirement benefits. However, this still does not account for free health insurance premiums or the wealth of other benefits union membership provides. SEIU Local 503 members are eligible to receive, among other things, free life insurance and legal compensation. AFSCME members get heating oil and rental car discounts.

 

The worst case scenario of not being able to fund state employee benefits is bankruptcy. Making a few concessions wouldn’t be a bad idea, and Oregon taxpayers likely would agree.

 

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An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama:

 

Your recognition of the importance of rural America is appreciated, but it appears shallow thus far in your presidency. The announcement of the establishment of the White House Rural Council has lofty goals, but actions speak louder than words. At this point your administration’s actions have done little to relieve the economic woes of rural communities, especially in Oregon.

 

The executive order establishing the Council lists 25 agencies and other federal government entities that will participate under the leadership of the Secretary of Agriculture to “better coordinate Federal programs and maximize the impacts of Federal investment to promote economic prosperity and quality of life….” My question is, whose quality of life and economic prosperity? The only mention of economic opportunity in the order pertains to “…energy development, outdoor recreation, and other conservation related activities.”

 

Here in Oregon, we have lived with this utopian concept of economic development for more than twenty years. If you were to ask folks who actually live in rural communities throughout Oregon, you would be informed overwhelmingly that the results of this new conservation economy are dismal at best. In fact, statistics show that the poverty rate in rural Oregon has increased from 12% in 1979 to 17.2% today.

 

Your administration has touted the billions of dollars that have been spent on pet projects throughout the country like broadband and renewable energy. Why not allow communities to identify projects that will best fit their needs locally? Better yet, in these financially strained times, let’s consider removing bureaucratic roadblocks to prosperity and allow the free market to determine the viability of industries, instead of the federal government investing billions of dollars picking the economic winners and losers.

 

Ethanol is one of the best examples of the federal government picking winners and losers. Corn growers definitely have benefited from ethanol subsidies, but livestock growers have seen the costs of their feedstuffs skyrocket.

 

There are also great examples of how public-private partnerships can be successful without federal government funding and bureaucracy. Just look at Powell, Wyoming, which successfully created a community based broadband network without any of the $7.2 billion being offered by the federal government to subsidize broadband development.

 

A critical and often forgotten factor in stimulating America’s rural economy is removing the burdensome regulations placed on communities and businesses throughout the country. Your administration has introduced a litany of rules that only continue to increase the bureaucratic burden on businesses of all sizes and has offered little to no relief or flexibility to businesses trying to meet often over-reaching regulations.

 

Durkee, Oregon is just one rural community caught in the cross hairs of EPA regulations. The town’s largest employer, Ash Grove Cement (116 employees), is facing possible closure despite investing $20 million in retrofits to control airborne mercury emissions. EPA has proposed new airborne emission standards for mercury that are below the natural background levels and beyond levels which technology can economically address in this area. Without an exception to the proposed rule, the business will have to shut down, eliminating a significant number of full-time family wage jobs. There are numerous other examples of egregious, overly restrictive regulations forced upon rural communities by a multitude of federal agencies which greatly diminish market opportunities for businesses.

 

Last, but most important to Oregon and to the stabilization of our rural economy, 53 percent of our land is owned by the federal government. The federal government has shifted its land management philosophy from sustainable active management of renewable natural resources to a passive management regimen that has cost our communities thousands of full-time living wage jobs and greatly increased the vulnerability of our forests to disease, pest infestations and devastating wildfires. The negative impacts of federal management decisions (or the lack thereof) on our renewable resources have been destructive to both the environment and rural communities.

 

Whether it is the livestock industry struggling to meet the impossible demands of federal grazing leases, or lumber mills trying to source enough timber to make up for the lost volume no longer coming from the federal forests — all of Oregon has been impacted. In fact, 31 out of 36 counties in Oregon receive funds from the federal welfare program for counties known as the Rural Secure Schools Act. These funds are provided to counties in a dismal attempt to offset the economic impact on county government (not individuals or businesses) due to the lack of management and bureaucratic entanglement of federal lands in Oregon. Local governments, business and citizens alike would prefer to be self-sufficient, but that is unlikely to happen unless the federal government liquidates its land holdings or begins to actively manage its natural resource assets.

 

While facing this recession, there is no better time for the federal government to stop frivolously spending money choosing economic winners and losers and to begin looking at how it could remove regulatory burdens that would free citizens and businesses to rethink free market opportunities and invest in their own future.

 

Daniel Kemmis wrote in This Sovereign Land: “…[P]eople who live and work, raise their families and build their communities, on a particular landscape cannot be and will never be persuaded by any amount of purely legal reasoning that people who have no such dependence on or knowledge of those landscapes should have an equal say in their governance.” Rural communities like Burns or Enterprise, Oregon would welcome the opportunity to host a listening session and tour for the White House Rural Council to reveal opportunities which would allow them to control their own destiny and once again flourish.

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The Truth about the Canadian Health Care System

By Frank S. Rosenbloom, M.D.

President Barack Obama and supportive members of Congress were able to get the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) passed, in part by extolling the virtues of the Canadian health care system. In speech after speech, Obama has touted the alleged lower cost, “universal coverage” and better medical care of that system. All of the mentioned supposed benefits are untrue, but the most disconcerting fact is that Mr. Obama has never discussed any deficiencies of the Canadian system.

Other influential people have shared their concerns about the serious deficiencies in the Canadian health care system. Perhaps the most important of these is the man some call the ”father” of the Canadian health care system, Claude Castonguay. Although several provinces had government involvement in health care from 1946, Castonguay was the pioneer of socialized medicine in Quebec, which gave impetus to the establishment of a nationwide socialized medical care law in 1966.

However, in 2008 Castonguay had this to say about the health care system: “If nothing is done, at one point we will reach a crisis point. This is why we say it is urgent to act. There’s no miracle solution, there is no simple solution.” He has urged some privatization in the health care system to increase choice and fees of up to $100 for doctor visits. How could this be? Haven’t we been led to believe that the Canadian health care system is financially stable? In fact, the system is close to collapse.

Let’s review the facts. The Canadian health care system was established in the 1960s, when the government was spending like a drunken sailor trying to promote economic growth. Sound familiar? The assumption was that the economy would grow at a predictable rate and that the system therefore would be affordable. However, Canadians made the same fundamental mistakes governments always make when establishing entitlement programs; that the economy would act predictably and that the program’s costs would grow in a predictable linear fashion. These two assumptions have proven to be incorrect in all cases, as they were in establishing our own Medicare system.

Health care reform has been a serious issue in Canada for over fifteen years, as the financial burdens of socialized medicine have put increasing strain on resources. Canadian media regularly trumpets fears about escalating health care costs. Furthermore, since accurate statistics are kept only on government spending, substantial hidden costs are associated with that system. Some Canadians are even breaking the law by opening private clinics to relieve a system that is imploding. One significant reason the Canadian system has lasted this long is the safety valve provided by the U.S. system, where Canadians can receive timely care at a fair price. Yet, if you believe President Obama, the Canadian health care system moves along like a well oiled machine.

Although Canadians spend less per capita than we do in the U.S., the rate of rise in their health care costs has been at times equal to or greater than ours during the past decade. So, how can we be told that Canadian health care costs are rising at a slower rate than our own? The rate of rise in Canadian health care expenditures can be seen by reviewing the widely available graph below.

 
Canadian Institute for Health Information

The graph shows total expenditures in constant 1997 dollars. A quick review shows Canadian health care costs rose about 240 percent from 1996 to 2009, by which time they actually exceeded $180 billion.

By contrast, the rise in U.S. health care costs can be reviewed below.

 
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Office of the Actuary. National Health Expenditure Accounts – Projected, Table 1: National Health Expenditures; Aggregate and Per Capita Amounts, Percent Distribution, and Average Annual Percent Growth, by Source of Funds: Calendar Years 2003-2018

We see that in 1996, U.S. health care spending was about $1 trillion. By 2009 it had reached about $2.4 trillion, which is an increase during that period of about 240%. Now, wait a minute! The rate of rise of Canadian health care costs is really no lower than ours? Yes, President Obama, (and Governor Kitzhaber), there is no Santa Claus, and no Shangri-La. The often reported, widely disproportionate cost increases between the Canadian and the U.S. health care systems are a myth.

Statistics can be adjusted to promote a particular ideology, as was seen by the graph above adjusted to constant 1997 dollars and the addition of the “projected” 2018 spending in the U.S. graph. Despite these difficulties, the truth about the Canadian health care system and socialized medicine is available to anyone who diligently studies the matter. Unfortunately, many Americans have relied on liberal politicians for their information, and nothing but higher costs and lower quality medical care will be the inevitable result. If we really want costs to decrease while maintaining quality health care, we need real free market reform before the inevitable complete collapse that will occur nationally under ObamaCare and the disaster that will befall Oregon under Gov. Kitzhaber’s reform proposals.


Frank S. Rosenbloom M.D. is a practicing physician and president of the Docs 4 Patient Care Oregon chapter. He is a guest writer for the Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Milton Friedman Birthday Celebration!

Come celebrate the birthday of one of the economic greats of our time!

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John Charles Gives Legislature Issues to Work for Next Session

On 6/2, John Charles was an invited witness before the House Committee on General Government and Consumer Protection. He proposed issues for the committee to work on between now and the start of the 2012 legislative session.

Click here to listen

Testimony starts at 35:43

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John Charles testimony on OPEB Unfunded Liabilities

John Charles was an invited witness before the Senate Government Operations committee on June 8th. It was an informational hearing about the unfunded liabilities of OPEB (other post employment benefits), such as retiree health insurance.

Click here to listen

Testimony starts at 37:32.

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Oregon’s Next Green Folly

By Michael Bastasch

Governor John Kitzhaber’s new “green” energy ploy, the Oregon “Cool Schools” Initiative or House Bill 2960, directs the Oregon Department of Energy to give out zero to low-interest loans and grants to school districts for energy efficiency building improvements, and also create jobs in Oregon. HB 2960 is a bad idea for at least three reasons.

First, Washington State launched a similar initiative in 2005 and found that many “green” schools used up to 52% more energy than predicted, students’ academic performance was actually lower on average than in comparable schools, and most of the money each district received went to meeting non-energy-saving requirements.

Second, Gov. Kitzhaber claims that for $1 million spent 10 to 15 jobs will be created, but he ignores total economic costs. Each job created in this initiative will be temporary and cost between $67,000 and $100,000, meaning tens of millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent to temporarily benefit a small group of people at the expense of everyone else. How will that solve Oregon’s economic problems?

Third, Washington State’s initiative has a 43-year payback time for school energy efficiency upgrades. Since schools rarely go that long without being renovated, Oregonians will never see these upgrades pay for themselves. The Legislature should have considered the economic implications of HB 2960 before it was passed.


Michael Bastasch is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Say what you want about John Charles…

… but you can always enjoy his show!

(This excerpt is from a TriMet board meeting on June 11, 2011).

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John Charles to TriMet Board: Understand Obligations Before Signing FTA Grant Agreement

Testimony before the TriMet Board of Directors

Regarding Resolution 11-06-38

Application for a Full Funding Grant Agreement with FTA for the Milwaukie Light Rail Line

June 8, 2011

In your consideration of this Resolution, please focus your attention on the second “Whereas” clause: “Federal assistance will impose certain OBLIGATIONS upon the applicant.”

I suggest you review and UNDERSTAND those obligations BEFORE you approve the resolution. Your predecessors approved a similar resolution for the Green MAX Line, yet TriMet is now operating that line at service levels 33% those originally planned do to financial problems.

How, specifically, will TriMet operate this line successfully when there is not even a plan to fully restore transit service over the next decade? I’ve sent you all a copy of my letter to FTA about the Green Line. No one from TriMet has responded or even acknowledged receipt of the letter.  I’ll take that as an admission that you don’t HAVE a response.

You have a fiduciary obligation to conduct proper due diligence. Have you accounted for the following factors?

  • The $25 million promised from Clackamas County is unlikely to be available when you need it, due to an initiative petition being circulated that would require a public vote on new urban renewal districts. The only option Clackamas County has to generate the $25 million is through Urban Renewal. We know from the recent county defeat of the small, $5 motor vehicle fee for the Sellwood Bridge replacement that Clackamas County voters would likely vote against Urban Renewal by a wide margin.
  • The legislature may begin requiring all units of government to begin making annual required payments into OPEP trust funds, which would be a $60 million hit to TriMet’s general fund.
  • What is TriMet’s “Plan B” if you lose the arbitration dispute with the ATU? The boad’s only public statements have indicated that loss of arbitration would result in more service cuts.  How will you operate the Milwaukie line successfully if you are reducing service for the 5th time in less than 3 years?
  • What happens if someone on the relevant Congressional oversight Committee decides that your Milwaukie FFGA application should be held up until such time that you restore service to the Green Line? You’re going to be building this line for an entire year on SPECULATION that the FFGA will be approved. What if it isn’t? What is your back-up plan?

Conclusion

You promised the legislature in 2003 that you would increase service if they gave you a payroll tax rate increase. They approved the tax rate increase, you took in $60 million in new revenue, and you cut service. You BROKE the promise.

You promised the FTA you would operate the Green Line properly if they gave you federal grant money. You BROKE the promise.

You promised the public last year that you would begin funding OPEB obligations in FY 12 at the rate of $1 million per year. You will BREAK that promise when you adopt the budget later this month, by only putting in $435,000.

This will be a dark day in the financial history of TriMet when you approve this resolution. TriMet’s “business model” is broken, and now you plan to make things much worse. I just want the record to show that you knew all of these risks when you voted YES.

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Thousands of Oregon Kids Waiting – Literally – for Education Package

This week, legislators and lobbyists are working frantically behind the scenes on an education package that could help transform educational opportunities for students across Oregon. The package features reforms that will shape the state’s oversight of education as well as parents’ ability to choose a public school based on a school’s merits rather than its address.

One of the bills at the center of the tension, HB 3645, would allow Oregon’s public colleges to sponsor a charter school. Oregon’s charter schools are public schools that are operated by non-profit organizations. These schools do not charge tuition, cannot be religiously based, and cannot discriminate against students for their background, academic aptitude, or any other reason. Currently, only school districts or the State Board of Education may sponsor charter schools. This bill would allow charter applicants to ask Oregon’s public colleges to sponsor charters. Many states, including New York, Michigan, and Minnesota already have similar laws.

I discovered the urgent need for such a reform last year when I set out to learn how many of Oregon’s children were on waiting lists to get into a public charter school. Out of Oregon’s 108 charter schools, 92 schools finally responded. More than 4,700 kids were on waiting lists for a charter school last summer. Fewer than 20,000 kids (less than 3%) currently attend charter schools, but clearly far more would, if given the opportunity. In fact, a 2008 poll showed that 24% of Oregon parents would choose a charter school if they could.

Parents want options for their kids beyond the local district school. But why haven’t charter schools expanded enough to meet the demand? District politics frequently make it nearly impossible for even excellent applicants to get permission to start or expand a charter school.

Portland Public Schools’ (PPS) history with charter schools is telling. The application process is lengthy and expensive, taking 12 – 18 months and costing thousands of dollars since applicants typically hire experts to help. They not only must submit a detailed operating budget and curriculum, but they must pay to send out surveys and conduct focus groups to determine student demand. The PPS application itself is 50 pages long, and complete applications are hundreds of pages long. The hurdles continue through the process and the record reflects that clearly. PPS only approved three out of 17 charter applications (18 percent) between 2004 and fall of 2010.

Are such sky-high hurdles altruistic attempts to protect students from bad charter schools? Theories about the cause or justification of such district suspicion abound, but ultimately school boards are driven by local politics. Political incentives involve a number of competing interests, many of them selfish and in opposition to students’ interests.

Such competing incentives are sometimes apparent in the denials themselves, which often claim that charter schools will have an “adverse impact” on regular district schools by drawing too many students (and accompanying funding) from regular district schools. These claims neglect the reality that charter schools get about 55 cents for every dollar that a regular public school spends per student, and when a student transfers to a charter school, regular district schools no longer bear the cost of educating that child, allowing more money to be spent per student who remains in district-run schools.

HB 3645 will help charter schools steer past some of the political obstacles and to be judged more on their merits. But first, the bill must endure the political game at the state level. The Oregon Education Association (OEA), a union, has stated that it opposes allowing public colleges to sponsor charter schools because, “[a]t a time that we are closing neighborhood schools it doesn’t make sense to promote the growth of charter schools.”

Likewise, the OEA opposes HB 3681, which would essentially carry charter schools’ open-enrollment policy over to regular public schools, increasing kids’ educational options. It also opposes HB 2301, which would loosen enrollment restrictions that currently restrict many families from being able to choose a virtual charter school.

The OEA apparently believes that regular district schools are entitled to local student enrollment. The OEA fears that giving parents a choice would create financial instability for schools that might lose too many kids to transfers. But if parents are leaving a particular school in droves, doesn’t that suggest that something is wrong with that school? And if something is wrong, why should parents be forced to send their children there? Opponents of school choice argue that those children who are left behind in bad schools would suffer most. Yet, evidence across the nation suggests that these kids, too, benefit as schools are forced to improve their performance to retain students and accompanying funds.

This is not a battle between private education and public education. All of these educational options are public schools! School choice – empowering parents to choose a school that is the right fit for their kids – is making a significant difference for thousands of Oregon families already. Many more could benefit, finding the schools that work best for them, with bills like HB 3645, 3681, and 2301.

Stand for Children, Governor John Kitzhaber (a Democrat), and many House Republicans have fought the OEA and popular myths to support this education package. As Oregon’s voters and legislators consider these school choice bills, they should consider the thousands of Oregon families who are waiting for a better educational opportunity for their kids.

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The Not So “Cool School” Initiative

By Michael Bastasch

The Oregon “Cool Schools” Initiative (House Bill 2960) directs the Oregon Department of Energy to provide zero to low-interest loans and grants to school districts for energy efficiency building improvements. Governor John Kitzhaber, the bill’s main proponent, argues that HB 2960 will create healthier, more energy efficient schools and create jobs. However, given the propensity of government to overestimate the benefits of its programs while completely understating the costs, the economic impacts of HB 2960 most likely will yield the opposite results of what Gov. Kitzhaber claims.

Luckily, Oregon has a case study in Washington State. Washington initiated a similar program in 2005, and the results were underwhelming. A recent report from the Washington Policy Center shows the costs of the program greatly outweighed the benefits. First, many of the new “green” schools actually used up to 52% more energy than predicted, and some were even less efficient than buildings that were decades old.

Second, most of the money that went to each school was spent on meeting the program’s guidelines and not to energy savings. For example, the Spokane School District spent $455,826 bringing Lincoln Heights Elementary up to the “green” requirements. Only $81,000 (18%) was spent on energy efficiency measures, while the rest (82%) was spent on meeting other requirements that didn’t yield any energy savings. In addition, estimates reveal that the payback time on these “green” improvements is about 43 years. Since virtually no school goes that long without making any changes, it is very likely that energy efficiency investments will never pay for themselves.

Third, student scores at these “green” schools were not significantly improved. In fact, student performance was 25% below what was promised by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2005. Moreover, academic performance was lower on average at “green” schools than at comparable schools in the same district, according to the State Board of Education’s Accountability Index. Students in these schools are actually performing worse and at a higher cost to Washington taxpayers.

Washington’s experiment should provide us with a lesson on why “green” projects such as these almost never pan out. Instead, Gov. Kitzhaber and other proponents of HB 2960 tout the popular phrase “job creation.” The question we should be asking is, job creation for whom and for how long? HB 2960 requires that schools receiving initiative funds only hire Oregon-based contractors and that district employees not perform work constituting over 5% of the project’s total cost.

Gov. Kitzhaber and his staff also claim that for every $1 million spent, 10 to 15 jobs will be created. How would spending approximately $67,000 to $100,000 per job add jobs to the economy, especially when these jobs are temporary? What the Governor does not mention is how many jobs will be lost for every “Cool Schools” job that is created. Basically, HB 2960 carves out a nice little temporary benefit for a small group of people at the expense of all Oregon taxpayers. What is ignored are the unseen costs to the overall economy, such as jobs not created had the funds been efficiently spent by individuals, and also the goods that those workers could have produced had resources been employed in different areas.

Washington’s “green” schools debacle should show Oregonian lawmakers that these types of endeavors are often fruitless and result in wasted tax dollars, lost jobs and misallocated resources. Why should Oregonians be forced to “invest” in an initiative where they will never see any returns or any noticeable long-run benefits? They shouldn’t, and legislators should consider the wider economic impacts of HB 2960 before blindly passing it.


Michael Bastasch is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Real Health Insurance Reform

The day after the Oregon legislature finished voting to create an Oregon Health Insurance Exchange, as required by the federal Affordable Care Act, a three-judge federal panel in Atlanta heard arguments from 26 states seeking to have the federal law declared unconstitutional. The act, better known as ObamaCare, seeks to impose sweeping changes on this country’s health insurance and health care systems. One key provision would require everyone to either purchase insurance by 2014 or face a fine.

Those 26 states argued that the federal government has no legitimate power to require individuals to purchase any product, in this case health insurance. All three judges who heard the case last Wednesday seemed at least somewhat receptive to that argument. Chief Judge Joel Dubina asked, “If we uphold the individual mandate in this case, are there any limits on Congress’ power left?” Judge Stanley Marcus wanted to know, “…[G]oing back to the first principles, is there anything out there that actually suggests that Congress can compel a private party to buy a private product on the open market if they’re not disposed to do so?”

Oregon is being offered 48 million federal dollars to set up an insurance exchange to help our citizens comply with that federal mandate. Some legislators voted for the bill because they feared that if we don’t set up an exchange on our own terms, the feds will impose a less palatable one on us when the individual mandate takes effect.

 

Whether we ever get that $48 million is open to question. The U.S. House voted not to fund such grants, but that decision may be reversed in current Congressional budget deliberations. Whether we eventually get the cash or not, Oregonians will not be well served by an exchange that only helps us purchase policies that our state insurance regulators approve. Some other states have far fewer mandates on similar policies. Many of us could save hundreds of dollars a month if only we were allowed to shop for policies approved by those states.

Any exchange Oregon sets up should increase, not maintain limits on, Oregonians’ insurance policy choices. Then, whether ObamaCare eventually gets overturned or not, our state could lead the way in helping its citizens make informed choices on a wide range of insurance products. Now that would be real insurance reform.

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Oregon Education Spending Increases―But for What Outcome?

How much do we spend to educate students in Oregon? It depends on what kind of spending you include. On May 31, The Oregonian cited a U.S. Census Bureau report stating that Oregon spent $9,805 on average in 2008-09 school year, 7% below the national average for per pupil education spending. That figure excluded certain spending and is well below the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and national teachers union (NEA) figures for that same year: $10,029 and $10,129 respectively. Add the year’s debt service expenditures reported by the ODE (which presumably go toward improving kids’ education), and spending per enrolled pupil jumps to around $11,200 per student. This total figure climbs even higher to around $12,600 if you measure per pupil expenditures by actual average attendance rather than the October 1 student enrollment.

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s biggest union, ranks Oregon around the national average for spending (less than 2% under the average spending per enrolled pupil, but above average for spending for average daily attendance), despite our lower than average cost of living. Typical for the U.S., Oregon has significantly increased per pupil spending, from around $7,000 in 1981-1982 (after adjusting for inflation to 2010 dollars), to more than$11,000 in the 2009-2010 school year.

Yet, focusing on how much Oregon spends per student begs the question as to how much spending is enough. Nationwide, spending has more than doubled since 1970, but improved outcomes have not followed. While fourth and eighth graders are doing slightly better on the nation’s most stable educational measurement―the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)―it appears that any early gains are lost by the time they reach the finish line: 17-year-old students have not improved since the U.S. Department of Education first started measuring their math and reading performance with the NAEP in the 1970s.

Likewise, international evidence confirms that spending is a poor predictor of educational outcomes. While the U.S. is among the top for per pupil spending, we place in the middle of the pack of developed nations. Decade after decade, our leaders promise better outcomes with “better oversight” and “increased accountability.” But the accountability they speak of does little to empower teachers or administrators to harness their own unique talents and passions, nor does it empower parents and students to find the educational program that would best help them thrive. Bottom-up, market-oriented reforms already have proven successful in places like Florida, New York City and Milwaukee.

Rather than hyping the same empty promises that require better “oversight” by bureaucrats, many states are now catching on and creating more educational opportunities with public charter schools (choice schools), open enrollment policies, opportunity scholarships and education savings accounts. Groups like Oregon’s Stand For Children now recognize that increased funding is not a silver bullet; rather, smarter spending is necessary. Movies like Waiting for “Superman” and The Cartel highlight true success stories around the nation. Perhaps Oregon, too, will join the new wave of effective education reform.

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BPA Fact Sheet

Despite considerable fears raised by activist groups and the press, the science does not warrant regulations on Bisphenol-A (BPA). Instead, it shows that human exposure is too low to have any measurable impact even for infants and children. As a result, regulatory measures to ban BPA could have unintended, adverse health and safety consequences.

Second, the consumer market is already adjusting to meet the demands of overly concerned Oregonians. Numerous manufacturers produce BPA-free beverage containers and major retailers are asking for alternatives to meet consumer demand. This should make one wonder why legislation is even needed to address BPA worries.

Cascade Policy Institute has put together this concise fact sheet to address the myths and misconceptions associated with BPA.

Click here to download the facts on BPA.

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Karla talks Attack of the 50ft Environmentalist on I Spy on Salem

On the June 4, 2011 episode of I Spy on Salem, Karla joins the show to examine Oregon’s lack of timber harvesting.  You can listen to her appearance on the right.  Below is the information from the show:

Listen to Karla Kay Edwards, Rural Policy and Land Use for Cascade Policy Institute, and Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manager for Associated Oregon Loggers discuss (what we titled our show) The Attack of the 50-foot Environmentalist. Find out what’s really going on with environmental groups, the industry it’s become, and if logging can be revived.

I Spy on Salem is aired from 11:00 to noon on KYKN 1430 in Salem.  If you’re outside of the Salem listening area you can listen live at www.kykn.com.  Busy Saturday, not a problem because after the show is aired we upload it to our webpagewww.ispyonsalem.com so you can listen at your convenience.

 

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$11,540 per student in 2009-2010: Are we getting our money’s worth?

According to the National Education Association, the national teachers union, Oregon spent an average of $10,476 per enrolled student in the 2009-2010 school year. Add in reported debt service spending, and that figure leaps even higher to $11,540 per student.

Are we getting our money’s worth? Nationwide, spending has more than doubled since 1970, but improved outcomes have not followed. While fourth and eighth graders are doing slightly better on the nation’s most stable educational measurement―the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)―any early gains are lost by the time they reach the finish line: 17-year-old students have not improved since the U.S. Department of Education first started measuring their math and reading performance in the 1970s.

Likewise, international evidence confirms that spending is a poor predictor of educational outcomes. While the U.S. is among the top spenders for education, we place in the middle of the pack of developed nations for performance.

Decade after decade, our leaders promise better outcomes if we just spend more and incorporate “better oversight” and “increased accountability.” It hasn’t worked. It’s time we turn the system on its head and empower teachers and administrators at the ground level to use their talents―and parents and students to find the educational program that will best help them thrive.

 

 

 

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Can the Bureaucratic Knot Be Untangled?

Several well-written articles recently have called for Oregon to once again capitalize on our amazing renewable natural resources. Oregon State Senator David Nelson wrote in an Oregonian editorial, “This state has every natural advantage over its neighboring competitors, and a pioneering and ingenious people who know how to work hard and capitalize on opportunity.” But the likelihood of Oregon ever being able to once again use our natural resources as an economic competitive advantage is dependent on our ability to untangle the bureaucratic and legal knots present at every level of government. This will have to be done before we lose our remaining infrastructure and practical experience necessary to once again make them an economic stalwart in our state. With such a matted mess, how and where do we begin?

The snarl of bureaucratic strings is the result of 50 years of methodical actions by environmentalists to tie up any opportunities to create an economic foundation based on renewable resources. Year after year we have watched as new environmental regulations have been implemented at both the federal and the state levels. These strings have been knitted into a paralyzing process that essentially makes it impossible to craft management decisions affecting our public lands. This inevitably forces critical management decisions to be made by the judicial system which can look only at the individual legal knot that has been challenged, not at the impact to renewable resources as a whole. It is this purposely created bureaucratic knot that is strangling our resources and our rural communities.

With more than 60% of Oregon’s forestland owned by the federal government, the first step to unraveling this knot must be to prevent more land from being acquired by federal government agencies, including so-called “gifts.” If federal agencies wish to exchange or acquire additional lands, they should be required to identify equal acreage within Oregon to be liquidated. Consolidation of federal lands should only be allowed to move forward if the counties involved agree to the land exchange. Gifts of land to the federal government also should be handled in much the same manner. The first step to accomplishing this would be for the Oregon legislature to amend ORS 272.040 and ORS 272.050, so that forestland acquired by the federal government must receive both state and county government approval.

Focus must be placed on what seems to be the never-ending federal planning conundrum. The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management now appear to have more staff dedicated to forest planning than they have active foresters. This cultural shift from active forest management to paper pushing is disheartening when you observe the dismal condition many of our federal forests are in. There was slight optimism within the forest industry and rural communities before the New Federal Planning rule was released in February 2011, but the new rule as proposed simply replaces one top-heavy bureaucratic process with another of equal complexity. A streamlined system must be put into place so that active management can restore forest health and fire resiliency of our federal forests before we reach the point of no return. This cannot be achieved with passive management and a few scattered thinning projects. Robust active forest management plans can create the healthy forest ecosystem we all envision.

Our federal forests cannot afford to be caught in regulatory and bureaucratic purgatory any longer. The legal and political wrangling with forest plans―like the on again, off again Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR)―move us no closer to accomplishing either side’s objectives. Solutions lie within a combination of all the sciences: environmental, political and social. And most importantly, deference must be given to our state and local communities to develop plans that can truly begin to untangle the bureaucratic mess the federal government has made of our federal forests.

In 1929 Herbert Hoover said: “Our western states have long since passed from their swaddling clothes and are today more competent to manage much more of these affairs than is the Federal Government. Moreover, we must seek every opportunity to retard the expansion of Federal bureaucracy and to place our communities in control of their own destinies….The Federal Government is incapable of adequate administration of matters which require so large a matter of local understanding.”

If only the federal government had heeded that message when it was delivered, perhaps our federal forests would be in better shape today. It was good advice then and is good advice now. We must demand the opportunity to control our federal forests locally, before the massive bureaucratic knot can never be untangled.

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Lazy Fair Picnic

The annual Picnic Lalapalooza of the Executive Club, Taxpayer Association of Oregon, and the Cascade Policy Institute.

“The must-be-there picnic for brilliant conversation, companionship and laughter with fellow lovers of liberty!”

$20.00 adults –  $25.00 after August 8th – $10.00 Children under 12

We will be serving BBQ chicken, Beef, smoked pulled pork, baked beans, potato salad,
corn on the cob, coleslaw, pasta salad,  dessert, beer, wine, soft drinks and water

Go to Area 2, the Big a Frame covered area
http://www.co.clackamas.or.us/parks/images/ef02sm.jpg

Send a check, and note on the names of those in your party payable to:
ARTICLE IV, Inc.
P.O. BOX 61, Gresham, OR  97030

RSVP as soon as possible for the best price”


Directions to Eagle Fern Park
Eagle Fern Park is located approximately 3 miles north of Estacada,
Take Interstate 205 to Exit 12 Clackamas/Estacada,
Turn Right onto Hwy. 212/224. Proceed 3.2 miles to the Hwy. 212/224 junction
Turn right onto Hwy. 224, follow signs to Estacada.
Proceed 10.4 miles and Turn Left onto Wildcat Mountain Rd. (sign reads Dover District/Eagle Fern Park.)
Go 2.0 miles to Eagle Fern Park Rd;
Turn Right. The park is located 2.3 miles on the right-hand side of the road.
Go to Area 2- the big A-Frame.

To register, please send in a slip with

1. Your name

2.  The names of everyone you are paying for

3.  Your address and your phone number

4.  A check

Mail all information to:
ARTICLE IV, Inc.
P.O. BOX 61, Gresham OR, 97030

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Comments to the TriMet Board Regarding Proposed TriMet Fare Increase

The following comments were submitted to the TriMet board June 3, 2011.


Members of the TriMet Board:

I am writing to comment on the proposed passenger fare increases. For over 25 years I have consistently supported (or not opposed) TriMet fare increases because of my belief that TriMet services are generally under-priced. I support the user-pays concept in transportation finance and believe that passenger fares should eventually cover 80-90% of operating costs for TriMet.

However, my reaction to the current TriMet proposal is more nuanced, as follows:

1.      No general fare increases should be approved until the board abolishes the “free-rail zone.” The current policy of charging all bus passengers for all trips but giving away large numbers of expensive rail trips is intellectually indefensible. The original rationale for creating “fareless square” has long since become obsolete; let’s acknowledge that and move on.

2.      The long-standing tradition of giving large senior discounts also needs to be re-considered. Charging more for a youth ticket than for a senior ticket is exactly backwards from a demographic standpoint. The average student has minimal net worth and low monthly income, if any. Also, youth riders are likely accruing substantial debt due to the cost of education.  In contrast, seniors are likely to have the highest net worth of their lives, with a 45-year working career behind them. They are likely to own their own homes outright and have little debt.

Thus, a more appropriate policy would be to reduce the price of a standard youth ticket to $1 and raise the price of a senior ticket to at least $1.50, if not $2.00. Another option would be to abolish “honored citizen” fares entirely, while allowing for discounted monthly passes based on means-testing. I suggest that the Board direct the staff to analyze current ridership data to determine what the revenue effects would be of altering the prices for these two categories as suggested here.

3.      The high cost of WES needs to be better reflected in the price of the tickets. Charging a retail rate of $2.35 for a trip that costs, on average, $16-$19, is nonsensical.  I suggest that the minimum single-trip fare for WES be raised to at least $3.  In addition, the train staff should be instructed to actually check fares, which they currently do not. I have used WES at least 100 times and have only been checked for a fare once.

4.      I support the proposed increase in LIFT fares, and I would support continued increases up to the maximum allowed under the ADA. This is a premium service that is obviously under-priced.

5.       Over the past decade passenger fares have been raised at a rate 35%-42% higher than inflation, yet the agency asserts this has not been enough. In addition, the agency has been granted two payroll tax rate increases by the state legislature, one of which has been implemented since 2005. In absolute terms, TriMet’s various sources of revenue – operating and capital grants, passenger fares, and payroll taxes – have grown at rates far in excess of inflation, as noted below.

TriMet Financial Resources, 2004-2012[1]

(millions)

 

FY 04/05 FY 08/09 FY 09/10 FY 10/11 (est) FY 11/12 (budget) % Change 04/05-11/12
Passenger Fares $   59.49 $   90.10 $   93.73 $   97.97 $103.80 74.5%
Payroll tax revenue $171.23 $209.10 $207.10 $217.20 229.10 33.8%
Total operating res. $308.77 397.24 $423.50 $424.20 $443.21 43.6%
Total resources $493.72 $888.35 $809.75 $763.66 $1,004.44 103.44%

 

1.        TriMet budget documents, various years.

Clearly TriMet does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. The agency needs to impose fiscal discipline before asking riders or taxpayers for more money through generalized fare increases.

To summarize, I support the concept of user fees in transportation, and targeted fare increases would be appropriate for seniors, the LIFT program, downtown rail passengers, and WES riders. But TriMet’s approach to fare policy over the past decade has lacked creativity, and there has been virtually no cost containment for either employee compensation or capitol construction. It is time for the TriMet board to address these issues.

Sincerely,

John A. Charles, Jr.
President & CEO
Cascade Policy Institute

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Stop Self-Service Electric Car Charging

A specter is haunting Oregon. One of two states that prohibit self-serve gasoline, Oregon is now caving in to the electric vehicle lobby by allowing owners to plug their cars into commercial charging stations all by themselves. They can even plug into personal charging stations and their own wall plugs at home. All this activity is taking place away from the protective eyes of our friendly, helpful state safety regulators.

 

Don’t these rogue individualist electric car owners know that they’re likely to electrocute themselves? What training do they have to safely charge anything? None. What about the innocent children and inquisitive neighbors who might be leaning against their cars when the power surges and turns their sleek metal machines into death traps? Don’t they know that it rains in Oregon, and rain and electricity don’t mix well at all?

 

NO. Not in Oregon. Oregon is for dreamers, not electric charging schemers. This travesty must not stand.

 

The Electric Vehicle Safety/Plug Jockey Jobs Act has just been introduced in Salem to require all commercial charging stations to be manned (or womaned) by state certified plug jockeys who must earn the state minimum wage.

 

The legislation further requires that if you want to charge your electric car at home, you must make an appointment at least 48 hours in advance with a state certified plug jockey who will arrive at your home within a specified four-hour window to plug in and charge your vehicle. He/she must stay at your home until the car is fully charged (which will average four to eighteen hours). Offering milk and cookies to the plug jockey is encouraged, but shall remain voluntary during a trial period. Once the car is fully charged, your plug jockey will unplug the vehicle and leave your home. You will be billed for his/her time to the nearest minute. To ensure tax compliance, these charging bills cannot be paid in cash to the plug jockey. Payments may be mailed to the State Department of Anachronistic Regulations, or may be deposited in special Plug Jockey Drop Boxes strategically placed throughout the state.

 

Oregonians know that they’ll set themselves on fire if they pump their own gasoline, and they know that low-skilled minimum wage workers will lose their jobs and form roving bands of disgruntled youth if we were ever to repeal our self-service gas ban. They now must recognize similar dangers associated with allowing the elite electric car owners among us to charge their own vehicles. We must stop this madness before it spreads to the general gasoline-car-owning population.

 

Call your state legislator now. Demand that they protect us against ourselves and create some unneeded jobs by voting for the Electric Vehicle Safety/Plug Jockey Jobs Act. Remember, it’s for the children.


In addition to being a founder and Senior Policy Analyst, Steve Buckstein occasionally serves as Cascade Policy Institute’s Satirist-in-residence.

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Testimony in Favor of HB 3477: Privatizing State Parks Operations

At the May 24th House General Government and Consumer Protection Committee, Karla Kay Edwards testified in favor of HB 3477. HB 3477 would create a pilot program to contract with private companies to perform State Park operations and maintenance.

Click here to listen to her testimony. Karla Kay Edwards’ testimony begins at 1:36.

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