Year: 2015

Living an “Examined” 2016

Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” 2016 begins with national discussions about federal spending, taxes, unemployment, the economy, turmoil overseas, and tragedy at home―things over which most individual Americans have little or no control. But if we review our own lives carefully, much of what we find most personally significant is within our power to change for the better this New Year.

A palliative caregiver writing for AARP says her patients taught her five basic insights about living well. As they near death, she explains, people wish they had discerned their true calling and followed it, rather than other people’s desires and expectations. They wish they had simplified their lifestyle to spend more time with spouses and children and less on a work “treadmill” to pay for things they didn’t value in the end. They wish they had summoned the courage to express difficult emotions, to grow through resolving difficulties, and to become less mediocre. They wish they had stayed close to friends because “[i]t all comes down to love and relationships in the end.” Finally, they wish they had broken stale habits that curtailed personal growth and stifled laughter and joy.

An examined life is indeed worth the effort and is possible regardless of circumstances beyond our control. If we reflect deeply on our values, choices, and who we are called to be, we can live with purpose, integrity, and authenticity, regardless of the myriad problems in the world that cause us worry or sorrow.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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The Time is Right for School Choice

By John A. Charles, Jr.

In early December, President Obama signed a bill that dismantles most of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the signature education legacy of former President George W. Bush.

According to the New York Times, the reform law will “restore authority for school performance and accountability to local districts and states after a lengthy period of aggressive federal involvement.”

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Education Committee, stated that the repeal of NCLB “will unleash a flood of excitement and innovation and student achievement that we haven’t seen in a long time.”

Ironically, in 1991, when he was secretary of education under President Bush, Alexander flew out to Oregon to pay tribute to the passage of the Oregon Education Act for the 21st Century (OEA-21). The OEA-21 was the legacy of then-House Speaker Vera Katz, who described it as “revolutionary” and “necessary to the economic prosperity of the state.”

OEA-21 established the infamous CIM/CAM student progress standards that came to be hated by just about every teacher, student, and parent in Oregon. CIM/CAM requirements were euthanized by the Oregon legislature in 2007.

With the demise of two prominent education reform programs, there’s a lesson here for Oregon policymakers: Having the federal government micromanage K-12 education is a bad idea, but top-down planning by the state isn’t much better. Parents are the ones who need to be in charge of the decision making.

A new program enacted by Nevada last June is exactly what Oregon needs. The Nevada legislature approved a law establishing Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) for all public school students, beginning January 1, 2016. ESAs are private accounts, managed by the state for parents, which allow students to create their own individualized educational programs.

When an ESA is established, 90 percent of the state funds that would have been spent on a student in a generic public school are placed in the ESA, where the money is drawn down in debit-card fashion by parents for various educational expenses, including private school tuition, online learning, tutors, or textbooks.

For 2016, a Nevada ESA will be worth about $5,100 for each student, or $5,700 for low-income students who will receive 100 percent of the state allocation. Therefore, every public school student will have the financial means to walk out of an underperforming school and pursue alternatives. This will immediately change the balance of power between parents and school administrators, creating an incentive for every public school to treat students as customers, not conscripts.

Most importantly, if ESA funds are not fully utilized by the end of the school year, the residual amount stays in the account, available for future use. This eliminates the dysfunctional “use it or lose it” imperative associated with most government programs.

Since 93 percent of all Nevada students are in public schools, they will immediately qualify for an ESA. Private school students can become eligible if they return to a public school for at least 100 consecutive days. All students entering kindergarten will be eligible and will never have to requalify, which means the Nevada program will have universal coverage for all students by 2027 at the latest.

On November 17, the Oregon Senate Education Committee held an informational hearing on the Nevada ESA program. Nevada Senator Scott Hammond participated via speakerphone. He provided an overview of the ESA law and answered questions from Oregon senators.

Education Committee Chair Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) has not publicly said whether he will pursue similar legislation for Oregon, but the November hearing was a positive step forward. If there is legislative interest, we can use the 2016 interim as an opportunity to observe the Nevada rollout, learn from their experience, and craft a similar (or better) program for Oregon.

Now that Congress has helped clear the way by repealing the most onerous provisions of NCLB, this would be an excellent time to move beyond Utopian central-planning schemes and restore “consumer sovereignty” in learning with Educational Savings Accounts.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in the December 2015 edition of the newsletter, “Oregon Transformation: Ideas for Growth and Change.”

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The Truth About Santa Claus

Do you believe in Santa Claus? Many think they are too old to believe in Santa Claus, but they have unwittingly come believe in another one—a figurative Santa Claus that goes by the name of “welfare state” or “big government.”

But Santa would be insulted by the comparison.

The real Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop who used his inheritance to anonymously alleviate the suffering of others, particularly children and poor women. This reputation led to his being associated with giving surprise gifts at Christmas.

The mystique of Santa Claus is about giving, not entitlement. Santa Claus is about the magic of the serendipitous, the unexpected miracle, the abundance of goodness unleashed in the world when we choose generosity and compassion over selfishness.

Santa isn’t about getting; he’s about giving. When as family members, neighbors, and citizens, we give a hand to those around us, we’ll be less tempted to expect government to be the first, best, or only solution to society’s problems. And we’ll be less likely to think only about what we can get—from our family, our neighbors, or the state.

Merry Christmas!

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

 

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Freedom in Film: Nicky’s Family (2011)

As the world approaches 2016, we reflect on what transpired in 2015 and what lies ahead in the New Year. The terrorism we saw recently in Paris and San Bernardino was terrible; but 6,000 people are alive today who witnessed those events through the eyes of 669 relatives who would have perished in the Nazi Holocaust if it hadn’t been for one man—a man who passed away July 1 at the age of 106.

In 1938, 29-year-old British stockbroker Nicholas Winton saw a tragedy unfolding, as Hitler’s army threatened to occupy Czechoslovakia and exterminate its Jewish population. His story and that of his “family” is portrayed in one of the most powerful documentary films I’ve ever seen.

Nicky’s Family [2011] is an emotional retelling of the remarkable efforts one man took to rescue 669 Czech children from near-certain death during World War II. Sir Nicholas Winton was a young English businessman when chance brought him to Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. He put aside his own pursuits and began organizing the many children of Jewish refugees who were trying to escape Nazi clutches. Once he had appointed himself the authority for such matters, Winton went to work arranging transport and placing these children in English homes.”

As the film’s director noted about Winton, “His exploits would have probably been forgotten if his wife, fifty years later, hadn’t found a suitcase in the attic, full of documents and transport plans. Today the story of this rescue is known all over the world. Dozens of Winton’s ‘children’ have been found and to this day his family has grown to almost 6,000 people, many of whom have gone on to achieve great things themselves.”

The film was produced in 2011 when Winton was 102. It features him and many of the children he saved, who are now in their seventies and eighties themselves. The most emotional scene to me is when Sir Winton (he was knighted by the Queen for his efforts) first met many of these now-grown children whom he hadn’t seen since 1939.

I found the most powerful statement he made in the film was when he related how, during his rescue operation, two British rabbis told him they objected to him placing some of his Czech Jewish children with English Christian families. Winton told them that he preferred Jewish children living in Christian families than dying with their families in what quickly became the Nazi Holocaust.

My friend Larry Reed, now President of the Foundation for Economic Education, first met and interviewed Nicholas Winton in 2006, and visited him regularly until last year. When I first heard Larry’s story about his friendship with Sir Nicholas, I thought how fortunate I was to be separated by just one degree from this hero of humanity.

Freedom and liberty are universal human aspirations, but they are continually under assault here and around the world. Nicholas Winton wouldn’t accept the fact that many countries closed their borders to helpless children trying to escape near-certain death at the hands of what can be seen today as 1930’s Nazi terrorists.

If you appreciate inspiring stories about real-world heroes, you won’t find a better one than Nicky’s Family. Watch the movie trailer here; then you can buy the 96-minute DVD or stream it at Netflix and Amazon.

As you celebrate this New Year, realize that more than 6,000 people are celebrating it with you thanks to Nicky Winton.

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

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Freedom in Film: Becket (1964)

Film and stage legend Peter O’Toole died December 14, 2013, at age 81. Best known for his epic Lawrence of Arabia, O’Toole is also remembered for his dramatization of King Henry II in Becket (1964), for which he received one of his eight Academy Award nominations. What makes Becket particularly special is the dynamic, intense interaction of two larger-than-life Hollywood personalities, with Richard Burton arguably giving one of his best performances in the title role.

Becket concerns the complicated relationship between King Henry and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is also the King’s best friend. Henry nominates Thomas Becket for England’s highest ecclesiastical position because he believes Thomas will always side with the King in disputes between the increasingly autocratic power of the State and the independence of the Church. What Henry cannot foresee is that Becket will take his ordination seriously and use his office to defend the legal rights of the Church and promote the civil rights of minorities. Like Sir Thomas More centuries later (whose life and fate resemble Thomas Becket’s), Becket becomes “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

American viewers today may experience Becket primarily as a story about the separation of Church and State in a context far removed from the modern world. Yet, in a broader and subtler sense, the film strongly highlights the reasons why we need separation of powers among branches of government.

The power struggle between Henry and Becket takes place in the 12th century, before the adoption of the Magna Carta. At that time, there were few checks on the power of the monarch, and tensions between the King and the barons ran deep. While the King needed a quorum of nobles and knights to support his decisions, few ambitious people dared to take the losing side. The only sector of society which the King could not completely influence was the Church. With its legal structure, rights of “sanctuary” (where accused persons could take refuge while seeking to prove their innocence), and authority figures capable of negotiating with heads of state on behalf of minorities, the Church of the Middle Ages was the only consistent counterbalance to the monarch.

The adoption of the Magna Carta in 1215 was an important milestone in the evolution of English constitutional law. It limited the power of the monarch, guaranteed various rights and liberties to “freemen,” and set the stage for the eventual development of modern parliamentary government in the English-speaking world. When the U.S. Constitution was adopted more than 550 years later, the Founding Fathers recognized the crucial importance of checks and balances. No one person or group of people should be allowed to concentrate all the powers of law, taxation, administration of justice, and war (not to mention religion) in their own hands. The framers of the Constitution created three distinct branches of government so that no one could become an autocrat like Henry, and the U.S. government would not devolve into a brawl among factions.

The Saxon Thomas Becket’s courage in standing up to a Norman King of England, and his tragic betrayal, have been so deeply imprinted upon the English imagination that the events of the night of December 29, 1170 have been memorialized famously from Chaucer, to T.S. Eliot, to O’Toole and Burton’s Becket. If you are looking for an unusual film for Christmas week, look no further than Becket, and watch it in honor of valor and freedom on December 29.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

(A version of this article was originally published December 17, 2013.)

 

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Give Every Oregon Employer a Personalized Minimum Wage

Union-backed and activist groups are trying to put measures on the November 2016 ballot to raise Oregon’s minimum wage from the current $9.25 to either $13.50 or $15, and to allow local governments such as the city of Portland to go above whatever the statewide minimum ends up being.

State Senator Michael Dembrow (D) thinks he can improve minimum wage policy by recognizing that different regions of that state have different costs of living and employment climates. He’s trying to craft a bill for the February 2016 legislative session that would set three different minimum wage rates: one for the Portland Metro region, one for the Willamette Valley, and one for everywhere else.

Assuming the Senator is on to something (a dubious assumption at best), why stop at three rates? Clearly, every employer has somewhat different circumstances, so why not set a different rate for each of them? Dembrow could give each employer a hearing lasting as long as the legislature gives the public to testify on bills—three minutes—to explain their particular circumstances. He then could assign them their own personalized minimum wage rates. Assuming about 100,000 employers in the state, working eight hours every business day with no breaks, the Senator could have the perfect minimum wage bill crafted in only two and a half years. Voilà, problem solved! Or is it?

Of course, in reality, Dembrow and the activists are trying to solve a problem through government that is better left to free people in a free society. Minimum wage laws are nothing more than price controls that end up hurting the very people they purport to help: often young, less educated, and less experienced workers who will find it harder to get or keep a job when the government prices their labor above what a business can economically justify.

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

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Uber and Portland: “The Future and Its Enemies” Clash in the Rose City

The Portland City Council has voted 3-2 to let ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft operate permanently in the city. The normally “progressive” council members’ split decision revealed a conflict of visions that does not fall along ideological lines as much as it falls along lines revealing how they view the future.

Author Virginia Postrel wrote a book in 1998 that virtually foresaw the conflict Portlanders and others around the world are wrestling with in the new sharing/app economy – an economy that didn’t even exist until 2008. In The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress, Postrel argued that the opposing world views of “stasis” and “dynamism” are replacing “left” and “right” as we struggle to define our cultural and political debate in the twenty-first century.

Many large cities, including Portland, have regulated the taxicab industry for over 100 years. Regulating prices and limiting the number of taxis on the road has resulted in a small group of crony capitalist companies benefitting at the expense of their passengers, and often at the expense of their own drivers.

It got so bad in Portland, that for over twenty years beginning in 1976 not one new taxi company was allowed to enter the market. And regulators wouldn’t even let one new cab on the streets unless an owner could prove the demand existed for that vehicle; something that was almost impossible to do even as the city’s population grew.

In 1998, Cascade Policy Institute helped a group of Ethiopian immigrants win approval from the city to start Green Cab, the first new Portland cab company allowed in more than two decades. Regulators agreed, not because the proposal made sense (which it did), but likely because they knew that the libertarian public interest law firm Institute for Justice would go to federal court to protect the economic liberty rights of those wanting to earn an honest living by providing transportation services to consumers.

Once smartphone apps emerged in 2008, the “stasis” of the transportation marketplace began giving way to the “dynamic” future that Uber pioneered in 2010. Thanks to the mobile devices most of us now carry in our pockets, the future of transportation and many other fields are quickly changing for the better…at least in the minds of the dynamists.

Once Uber entered Portland without city approval on December 5, 2014 and thousands of Portlanders put the app on their smartphones, city officials may have realized that most of these folks were also voters. They struck a temporary deal with Uber and agreed to develop new rules that would let it operate permanently in the city.

Even the city commissioner once seen as Uber’s biggest foe, Steve Novick, now says he never understood why the city should have a limited-entry system in which a small number of taxi companies were given a sharply restricted number of permits to operate cabs. He says the taxi companies had a sense of “entitlement” after being treated like a city utility for the past century. After being given authority for taxi regulation by the Mayor, Novick ended the strict limits on taxi permits, and the city increased the number of permits by 64 percent.

Novick set up a Task Force to suggest rules for both taxi companies and ridesharing firms like Uber. Traditional taxi drivers quickly became disappointed that “The Future” wasn’t going to include protections for them and strict limits on their new competitors. On December 2, 2015 Novick joined two other commissioners in voting Yes for dynamism, while two voted to keep the stasis that is quickly becoming transportation’s past.

The foremost opponent of the plan to let Uber operate permanently was commissioner Amanda Fritz. She prepared and read a ten-minute statement before voting No. She delineated several issues she believed were unfair to existing taxi companies and that could be harmful to Portlanders, including relatively low insurance limits for ridesharing drivers when passengers aren’t in their cars. One part of her statement clearly puts her on the side of “stasis” and denies the liberating power that the free market and technology provide for drivers and passengers alike:

“New taxi companies will no longer be scrutinized by the grueling public vetting and approval by City Council in an open public hearing. I feel so sad for my friends in Union Cab, supported by the Communication Workers of America Local 7901. You worked so hard to win approval. You offer dozens of immigrant families not only a chance at the American Dream, but an opportunity to belong to an American union, part of the united American Federation of Labor movement. You achieved the dream, in winning approval of your franchise. And now the majority of Council is telling you you’re an expendable casualty in the free market – the free market that is grinding the working class and the middle class into the servants of the billionaire corporations.”

Contrary to Fritz’s charges, the free market is liberating people worldwide from grinding poverty. In Portland it is allowing several thousand people to work for themselves as full- or part-time Uber and Lyft drivers. It is giving passengers new, cheaper, and quicker options to travel around the city.

The free market and technology are combining to help mold a dynamic future. Those trying to stop this future, including city commissioners who voted against it, are clinging to a stasis that cannot and should not prevail. “The Future and Its Enemies” is playing out right now in the City of Roses. Thankfully, The Future is winning.

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

 

Steve was interviewed about this topic on KUIK’s The Jayne Carroll Show on Wednesday, December 9, 2015. You can listen to his interview here.

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New Transportation Funding Bill: Going Nowhere FAST

Last week Congress passed H.R. 22, a five-year transportation funding bill known as Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST.

Under the terms of FAST, the federal Highway Trust Fund will take in about $208 billion in federal gas taxes, while sending $280 billion back to the states by 2020. The $70 billion deficit will be made up from income taxes.

Essentially, this is the same thing Congress has been doing for decades. Since 1993 we’ve paid a federal gas tax of $18.4 cents/gallon; the money flows to Washington; then it gets sent back to the states after a chunk of it has been diverted into a wasteful transit account.

There is no policy rationale for this circular travel of dollars. Most auto, transit, and truck trips are local. Therefore, the operational money should be collected locally as well.

What Congress should have done is repeal the federal gas tax and shut down the federal transportation agencies.

The FAST Act was an expensive band-aid for a problem that needs a new approach. We have the technology to collect mileage-based user fees from motorists, truck operators, and transit customers. We should use that technology to pay for the roads and transit facilities that consumers are willing to pay for, and stop waiting to be saved by a federal transportation Santa Claus.

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

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Freedom in Fiction: The Groves of Academe

By Gilion Dumas

Student sit-ins, “safe spaces” (otherwise known as idea-free zones), demands for high-profile faculty resignations….  Think things are out of control on college campuses today? You might enjoy Mary McCarthy’s 1951 academic satire The Groves of Academe, reviewed here by Cascade board member Gilion Dumas.

White Russians, communists, atheists, Catholics, progressives, classicists, English professors, and visiting poets all roam the halls of Jocelyn College and the pages of Mary McCarthy’s 1951 campus novel classic, The Groves of Academe. Jocelyn is an experimental liberal arts college somewhere in New England and prides itself on the academic freedom enjoyed by its professors and students. But when Henry Mulcahy gets a letter from the college president informing him that his contract will not be renewed in the fall, he tries to twist the college’s liberal Zeitgeist to his own advantage.

Mulcahy starts the rumor that he was let go because he was a member of the Communist Party. In the era of McCarthy hearings and Hollywood blacklists, Mulcahy perversely figures that his fellow academics in the English department would rally to support him in his hour of prosecution, championing his cause for political freedom.

What follows is a series of closed-door conspiracies, petty intrigues, and shuffling alliances, as the English department debates Mulcahy’s future and tries to persuade the president to keep him on. Meanwhile, Jocelyn hosts its first-ever poetry conference, introducing a dozen new characters and opportunity for greater mischief.

Freedom is the underlying theme to all threads of the story. Debates rage (in the civilized, over-intellectual tones of college professors) around the idea of freedom: freedom in academics, politics, sex, ideology, religion, poetry, movement, and expression. Specific discussions address whether, in a supposed bastion of academic freedom, a card-carrying Communist can be intellectually free or must take orders from the Party? Are Catholics in the same position, bound by the dictates of Rome? Are the students of Jocelyn really academically free to choose their fields of study, as advertised, if the professors, anxious to reduce their own workload, steer the students towards a select syllabus? Are the students, in fact, better off with a little intellectual steering?

Often, McCarthy raises the idea of personal freedom more subtly, in the choices the characters make or descriptions of college life. For instance, the new-found freedom enjoyed by college students sparkles in this gem, describing the professor who always volunteered to chaperone student trips abroad in exchange for free travel:

Whenever, during the summer, he took a party of students abroad under his genial wing, catastrophic event attended him. As he sat sipping his vermouth and introducing himself to tourists at the Flore or the Deux Magots, the boys and girls under his guidance were being robbed, eloping to Italy, losing their passports, slipping off to Monte Carlo, seeking out an abortionist, deciding to turn queer, cabling the decision to their parents, while he took out his watch and wondered why they were late in meeting him for the expedition to Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

With that kind of wit and insight, the story plays out like the best drawing room drama. It is sneakily funny, both as subtle and biting as a gin gimlet. For example, McCarthy deftly captures the character of the college president:

Like all such official types, he specialized in being his own antithesis: strong but understanding, boisterous but grave, pragmatic but speculative when need be. The necessity of encompassing such opposites had left him with a little wobble of uncertainty in the center of his personality, which made other people…feel embarrassed by him.

McCarthy is credited with inventing the “academic novel” with The Groves of Academe. This is satire at its best, finding absurdity in the minutia that drive the characters rather than clownish humor in exaggeration. As Commentary Magazine wrote when Groves was first published, McCarthy annoyed the politically correct before the term was even invented: “There is a particular kind of ‘right-thinking’ mind that is reduced to a frantic rage not only by what she says, but by her tone, her metaphorical habits, the very shape of her sentences.” Many have followed McCarthy’s campus novel template, but no one has exceeded her achievement.

Gilion Dumas is on the board of Cascade Policy Institute. She practices law at her own firm, the Dumas Law Group, in Portland. When not practicing law, she blogs at Rose City Reader. (A version of this article was originally published August 10, 2013.)

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The Futility of Public Hearings

Over the past four years, TriMet and Metro have been planning something called the SW Corridor Project. Metro describes it as a multi-modal project featuring new transit capacity, local street improvements, and enhancements to trails, sidewalks, and bike lanes. The project will begin at Portland State, travel along Barbur Boulevard, and terminate somewhere near Tualatin.

The exact nature of the transit element has never been disclosed; ostensibly, the choice is between light rail and bus-rapid transit. The Project Steering Committee insists that final decisions on the technology, route, terminus, and financial plan are still open for discussion, with some preliminary decisions scheduled for 2016.

Curiously, however, at the November 11 TriMet Board of Directors planning retreat, the Board was informed (at 3:17:05) by project staff that opening day for the project has already been set: September 12, 2025.

How is it that TriMet already knows the exact day that operations will commence, if it doesn’t even know any of the particulars – including a proposed, $250 million tunnel to PCC-Sylvania that would only be built if light rail is chosen?

Apparently, all decisions have actually been made, and future public hearings will be just as fake as the past ones.

All aboard for light rail to Bridgeport Village. Only 3,581 days till the opening ceremony!

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

 

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Freedom in Film: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014)

When the first film of the Hunger Games series premiered, Cascade’s Sarah Wolf wrote about the themes of human freedom found in the popular novels by Suzanne Collins.

“In a society where rules and oppression define the lives of its citizens,” she wrote, “the fictional Katniss shows that freedom is not completely lost, despite the external constraints on her freedom. She still has the will to make choices based on what she believes to be right and wrong, often in defiance of the expectations of her government.

“Even in the darkest of circumstances, personal choice and liberty can prevail if only we don’t cave in to the immoral expectations of our leaders and peers. Good can overcome evil, one small act at a time.”

If you missed it, you can read Sarah’s review here.

The Acton Institute’s Dylan Pahman has written an insightful take on the third Hunger Games movie, which opened in theaters earlier this month.

“While some would criticize the series for lack of depth, ‘Mockingjay, Part 1,’ offers more than just a shallow cast of good guys vs. bad guys, acting as a window into the messy realities of tyranny, class, and freedom,” he says.

Pahman points out the role that beauty can play in defending freedom. In the movie, the fashionable Effie Trinket says “she has been ‘condemned to this life of jumpsuits’—skewering the conformist dress of the militaristic District 13.” Does Effie sense the connection between the loss of expression of beauty through dress with the denial of the intrinsic worth of each human being under an authoritarian system that squelches personal expression and human difference?

Consider the themes of tyranny and class dynamics in The Hunger Games, a subject that I reflected on last year with reference to ‘Catching Fire.’ In ‘Mockingjay,’ which like past films in the series does an excellent job of bringing these themes more to the forefront than their source material, we see again a clear rejection of ‘us vs. them,’ class warfare dynamics in favor of greater nuance and complexity.

Which brings me to Effie Trinket (played by Elizabeth Banks). Effie epitomizes the shallow lifestyles of Capitol denizens…..[However], another side of Effie comes to the fore. Plutarch scolds her that the revolution is happening and there is no going back to the extravagant life she once had, calling her, ‘replaceable,’ just like everyone else. But Effie counters that certainly Katniss, who the rebellion so wants to be their mockingjay, is not replaceable, and neither is she. Her self-worth may be inflated, but she also hints at the error of Plutarch’s way of thinking: no person is replaceable, an inherent dignity violated year after year by the Hunger Games themselves….

Commenting on France under Napoleon III, Lord Acton once said, ‘The victims of the imperial despotism are for the most part its instruments.’ Panem has far more victims than the willing instruments of the Capitol, but nevertheless ‘Mockingjay’ shows that even the Effies of the world, the symbols of self-serving tyranny, may themselves be tyrannized and worthy, too, of liberation. If we can look more than skin deep (past, no doubt, copious layers of concealer), we might see even those we believe to be shallow or adversarial to possess the irreplaceable dignity of the image of God.

You can read the rest of Pahman’s thoughts on Mockingjay here. Hopefully, you will find food for discussion about the story’s themes of freedom and human dignity to share with moviegoers you know this holiday season.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

(A version of this article was originally published December 12, 2014.)

 

 

 

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This Thanksgiving, Are You Part of the One Percent?

You may not have learned this in school, but prior to the 1623 Thanksgiving celebration in the Plymouth colony it had the equivalent of a modern-day socialist economy. Land and crops were held in common; and food was distributed based on need, not on production. Able young men were often unwilling to work hard for the benefit of other men’s families.

After several disastrous harvests, each household was given its own plot of land. They could keep what they produced, or trade their crops for things they needed. Private property and a free market economy resulted in a truly bountiful harvest in 1623 and beyond.

Today, most Americans are actually rich, thanks in large part to retaining those private property and free market traditions. Perhaps not rich in relation to other Americans, but rich in relation to people around the world.

If your family earns more than $32,400 per year, you are in the top one percent of all income earners worldwide. Recently, half of all American families earned more than $51,939, and the average family earned $72,641. Even the lowest family income group by race, African Americans, had a median income over $33,000. Looked at this way, most Americans are part of the world’s one percent.

Things are far from perfect, but most of us have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

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

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Freedom in Film and Fiction: A Cascade Series

Since 2013, “Freedom in Film and Fiction” has been an occasional series of book and film reviews housed on Cascade’s blog Cascade Insider. We’re moving this series to Cascade’s main website. Join us as we explore themes of freedom and timeless truths in literature and art.

(originally published February 27, 2013)

Great truths come to life through great stories. Some of the best arguments in favor of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity are found in works of literature and art. A good plot will stay with you when you’ve forgotten a good essay; a vibrant scene will convince when arguments fail.

So, please join us periodically for an exploration of themes of freedom and timeless truths from works of art you already may know―and some you may have missed. And if you have suggestions for reviews, please e-mail me.

Let’s begin with a recent Cascade guest review of the novel voted “the greatest book of the 20th century.” An epic story by a perceptive critic of the modern world, J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings illustrates the battle between overweening power and personal freedom. Totalitarianism depersonalizes the individual, undermines self-government, and corrupts community and civilization, destroying life, beauty, and virtue in its path:

“Perhaps the most profound insight of [The Lord of the Rings] is that self-government requires governance of self. Freedom is not license. To be free you must exercise control over your own will, which often means doing what you would rather not and expressing your individuality in solidarity….” read more

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Educational Savings Accounts: The “Smartphones” of Parental Choice

Yesterday the Senate Interim Education Committee of the Oregon Legislature held an informational hearing on Educational Savings Accounts, or ESAs. The focus of the hearing was the recently passed ESA legislation from Nevada, which will make 93% of Nevada students eligible for ESAs in 2016 and all students eligible by 2027 (at the latest).

Educational Saving Accounts allow public school students to take money the state would spend on them and put it on a restricted use debit card. Parents can spend this money on a wide variety of approved educational options, such as private school, individual tutoring, and distance learning. Any money not used is rolled over for parents to spend in the future.

State Senator Scott Hammond of Nevada, an architect of the Nevada law, addressed the Committee via speakerphone. During his introduction of Sen. Hammond, Steve Buckstein of Cascade Policy Institute referred to earlier school-choice ideas such as tax credits and vouchers as “the rotary-dial telephones of the school choice movement.” He encouraged the Oregon Legislature to consider legislation modeled on the Nevada law—which to continue the analogy is like a smartphone with unlimited apps.

The hearing set the stage for Oregon ESA legislation to be introduced in a future session. ESAs would give families who can’t afford to pay taxes for the public school system, plus tuition for private options, real opportunities to meet their kids’ individual needs, learning styles, and interests.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland program at Cascade Policy Institute. CSF-Portland is a partner program of the New York-based Children’s Scholarship Fund.

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That “old technocratic central planning impulse” is alive and well in Oregon

One of the most memorable and talked about lines from the November 10th Republican presidential debate came from Senator Marco Rubio, who said, “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”

The fact-checkers quickly came up with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to counter his earnings claim; but the larger question might be whether the president, or any level of government in America, should use the power of the state, and taxpayer money, to choose one career path over any other for students in a free society.

In Oregon you can find lots of politicians who are sure that our state education system needs to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM for short. Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian wants to return shop classes to high schools. In 2013 the Legislature created the Oregon STEM Investment Council (under John Kitzhaber’s Oregon Education Investment Council, which no longer exists).

To encourage certain students to pursue technical or vocational careers is one thing. But pretending that the state knows what is best for all students and that it should set goals for college participation (such as Oregon’s 40-40-20 goal) and STEM education is another. As former Reason magazine editor and author Virginia Postrel noted a few years ago,

“The argument that public policy should herd students into Stem fields is as wrong-headed as the notion that industrial policy should drive investment into manufacturing or ‘green’ industries. It’s just the old technocratic central planning impulse in a new guise. It misses the complexity and diversity of occupations in a modern economy, forgets the dispersed knowledge of aptitudes, preferences and job requirements that makes labor markets work, and ignores the profound uncertainty about what skills will be valuable not just next year but decades in the future.”

Those in and around Oregon government and educational arenas seem to always be concerned about attracting good manufacturing and “green” jobs to the state. But, as Postrel says, much of this talk is “just the old technocratic central planning impulse in a new guise.”

So, for sure, let students with an aptitude and interest in technical and vocational careers know about the opportunities and earning potential they offer, but don’t ask the state to pick winners and losers between STEM and other educational pursuits. And don’t let the state tell us how many students need to complete four-year degrees, versus two-year degrees, versus simply graduating from high school. Those are decisions best left up to students and their parents.

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

 

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Oregon Scraping Bottom in State Integrity Rankings

This week the Center for Public Integrity released a report grading the 50 states on governance. The metrics used to measure integrity included the categories of “Public Access to Information,” “Lobbying Disclosure,” and “Ethics Agency Enforcement.”

Oregon was ranked 44th among the states, with a grade of “F.”

Oregon’s poor ranking was not a surprise given the nationwide coverage of the Kitzhaber-Hayes influence-peddling scandal. By any standard, the behavior of our former governor was unacceptable.

But this was only the headliner issue. Beneath the surface are many less-glamorous problems that will be difficult to address. For instance, there is virtually no meaningful oversight of state expenditures. Legislators spend tax money to promote their own agendas, and the budgeting process is deliberately opaque in order to keep citizens in the dark.

Also, the law allowing us access to public records is constantly abused. Agencies frequently play games of “20 questions” in order drag out the process; and when they do offer up the requested documents, they impose massive fees that most citizens cannot afford.

Unfortunately, no amount of “oversight” will solve the problem. Government is unable to police itself. Once a taxpayer sends money to the state, it’s too late.

The best solution is to dramatically prune the weed patch of regulations and programs. A smaller government, focusing on a few core functions, will have more integrity than a larger one.

 

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Policy Picnic – November 18, 2015


Please join us for our monthly Policy Picnic led by Cascade Founder and Senior Policy Analyst Steve Buckstein


Topic: “Right to Work” Reaches the Supreme Court  

Description: The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association this fall. Will the Court side for teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, or for the powerful union that wants to collect dues against her will? If the Court rules for Rebecca, what does that mean for forced unionization across the country? Steve Buckstein will tell us.

“We’re asking that teachers be able to decide for ourselves, without fear or coercion, whether or not to join or fund a union. It’s that simple.”

–Rebecca Friedrichs

There is no charge for this event, but reservations are required as space is limited.  To reserve your free tickets, click here.

Admission is free. Please feel free to bring your own lunch.
Coffee and cookies will be served. 
 
Sponsored by:
Dumas Law Group
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Get Oregon out of the Liquor Business

There are still eighteen so-called “control states” in America that exert substantial control over the sale of liquor. Oregon is one of them, virtually monopolizing its warehousing, distribution, and sale through the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). You would think that independent-minded Oregonians would have rebelled against such control by now. Next year, they might.

The grocery industry now plans to place a measure on the 2016 General Election ballot that would allow consumers to buy hard liquor in the same private grocery stores where they can already conveniently purchase beer and wine.

While there is likely to be a lively debate over the pros and cons of making it easier, and possibly cheaper, for adults to purchase the alcohol of their choice, this debate should be about more than how one type of consumer product is sold.

It should also be about the role of government in a free society. In that context, we should remember that government in America was instituted to protect our lives, liberty, and property. Oregon state government was not meant to provide our jobs through picking winners and losers in the marketplace, our entertainment through the Oregon Lottery, or our alcohol through the OLCC.

Next November we can hopefully do something about that last item—getting state government out of the liquor business.

 

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Assaulting “Corporate Profits” Will Hit Average Oregonians

A union-backed group is planning to put an initiative on Oregon’s 2016 General Election ballot that would result in the largest tax increase in Oregon history. Designed to tax sales of large corporations doing business in Oregon, Initiative Petition 28 may raise more than $5 billion every biennium, increasing Oregon’s General Fund budget by twenty-six percent.

Voters should realize that this proposal is not simply a way to capture revenue from big business. Actually, it’s a way to hide the fact that most of this new state revenue will come out of the pockets of average Oregon consumers and workers. That’s because neither large nor small corporations have a magic pot of money from which they can painlessly bestow more to government. All corporate money ultimately belongs to some individuals, and it is generated by selling goods and services to other individuals.

The tax measure in question basically will impose a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on most corporate sales above $25 million in the state, on top of other business taxes. While that can be seen as just two-and-one-half cents on every dollar of sales, what percentage of corporate profits does 2.5 percent represent?

A 2013 national poll found that Americans believe the average company makes a 36% profit on sales after taxes. The actual median and mean profit margins of 212 industries nationwide are 6.5% and 7.5% respectively.

So, imposing a 2.5 percent tax on gross sales actually represents at least one-third of the average company’s profit margin. It’s closer to 80 percent of the profit margin of that big company some Portlanders love to hate—Walmart—which only earns about 3.1% on every dollar of sales.

Thinking that corporations will take such huge financial hits without passing most or all of them on to workers and consumers is a little like believing that shooting a loose cannon on a dark night will somehow hit the target.

Proponents of this huge tax increase know full-well that they won’t be blamed when consumer costs rise and workers see pay and/or benefits restricted. The tax will be hidden from them. They’ll blame those evil businesses that they think are gouging them, without looking into the real culprits.

If the proponents were honest, they’d propose taxing consumers or workers directly to raise the extra money they want to fill government coffers. But that wouldn’t poll well, so it’s not likely to happen.

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

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Portland Worries About Homelessness, While Metro Makes Housing Less Affordable

The Portland City Council has decided to allocate $20 million to solve a perceived crisis with “homelessness” and another $67 million to subsidize “affordable housing.”

As usual with Portland spending, these numbers were pulled out of thin air; they have no connection to an actual strategy. If the Council had done some thinking, it might have realized that Portland’s housing crisis is the result of many factors, including ongoing government policies that are making things worse.

First and foremost is excessive government regulation. Any private investor trying to build more housing faces a gauntlet of barriers, including planning requirements, inspections, density mandates, parking restrictions, environmental overlays, and punitive fees. Many of these interventions serve no purpose other than to ensure that top-down mandates of planners replace market preferences. All of them impose delays and add costs to construction.

To make matters worse, Metro is recommending that no new land be added to the regional Urban Growth Boundary. When this recommendation is finalized next month, it will ensure that the already-high price of buildable land continues to increase.

Government is not the sole cause of the housing crisis; poor decision-making also causes many individuals to become homeless. But deliberately creating a shortage of buildable land through government regulation guarantees that the affordable housing crisis will get worse.

 

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The Jayne Carroll Show Interviews Jared Meyer on Washington’s Betrayal of America’s Young People

Guest host Aaron Stevens interviewed the Manhattan Institute’s Jared Meyer on The Jayne Carroll Show (1360 AM KUIK) on October 21. In this 8-minute interview, Jared talks about how entitlement programs and the Affordable Care Act disadvantage young people to benefit those with much higher net worth. If you missed Jared’s fantastic presentation at Ernesto’s Italian Restaurant on Thursday night, you can hear his radio discussion with Aaron here.

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How Washington Is Disinheriting American Kids

By Jared Meyer and Kathryn Hickok

Is Washington, D.C. disinheriting America’s kids? You bet. Achieving the American Dream will be more difficult for the next generation because policies and programs created by politicians and bureaucrats in Washington restrict economic opportunity for the young.

The expansion of entitlement benefits and government services places a major future financial burden on the young. The federal government’s $18 trillion debt is only the tip of the iceberg. Unfunded liabilities driven by Social Security and Medicare push the total federal fiscal shortfall to more than $200 trillion.

The Affordable Care Act has raised health insurance premiums for younger adults. While people under 30 only spend an average of $600 a year on health care, young people cannot pay less than one-third of what older people pay.

And these are only two examples of the financial burden our government is placing on the next generation.

Many think a larger government, and higher taxes to pay for it, would benefit young people. This isn’t true. The key to restoring Millennials’ lost economic opportunity is for government to get out of people’s way.

Washington is robbing America’s young. Our country is facing a crisis, and change is essential for young people to achieve the kind of future their parents and grandparents worked hard to build. Otherwise, the bill will eventually come due, and the next generation will pick up the tab.

Jared Meyer is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and the coauthor with Diana Furchtgott-Roth of Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young (Encounter Books, May 2015). Cascade Policy Institute will host Meyer to speak on this topic in Portland on October 22, 2015. Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director at Cascade Policy Institute.

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Washington’s War on Millennials

By Jared Meyer

Tens of millions of Americans are between the ages of 18 and 30, and achieving success will be more difficult for these so-called Millennials than it was for young people in the past. This is because politicians and bureaucrats in Washington have put in place policies that restrict economic opportunity for the young.

It does not have to be this way.

Washington’s expansion of entitlement benefits and other government services places a major future financial burden on the young—one that many did not even vote for. The federal government has a debt of $18 trillion, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Unfunded liabilities driven by Social Security and Medicare push the total federal fiscal shortfall to more than $200 trillion.

As if this were not enough, the Affordable Care Act has raised health insurance premiums for the young in an effort to pay for older Americans’ health care. Now, even though people under 30 only spend an average of $600 a year on health care, young people cannot pay less than one-third of what older people pay.

In elementary and secondary school, ineffective teachers are protected from being fired. This serves the interests of older teachers and their unions, but it harms those who would benefit from high-quality teachers. Common-sense reforms to improve education outcomes such as vouchers and charter schools are consistently opposed by teachers unions.

In their college years, young people are encouraged to attend a university even though four in ten college freshmen fail to graduate within six years. The current system of excessive federal student aid raises the cost of college tuition, which forces students to take on mountains of debt.

As if this were not enough, after high school or college graduation, Washington and state governments prevent young people from entering the job market. Occupational licensing requirements are meant to protect public safety, but often they mostly protect established businesses and workers. This comes at the expense of everyday consumers, entrepreneurs, and young workers, as unnecessary licensing makes many promising career paths too prohibitively expensive or time-consuming to enter.

Minimum wage laws, though they may seem well intentioned, make it more difficult for young and low-skilled workers to acquire valuable experience. Again, the government is telling young people that they are not free to work. Destructive labor-market laws need to be scaled back so that the first step on the career ladder can again be within reach.

Some think that if government were larger and gave more handouts, and taxes were raised to pay for these programs, then young people would do better. However, this would only make matters worse. Government tends to pick winners and losers, and the politically unorganized young are ineffective at lobbying for their interests. The key to restoring Millennials’ lost economic opportunity is for government to get out of their way.

Washington is robbing America’s young. Our country is facing a crisis, and change is essential for young people to achieve the future they deserve.

Jared Meyer is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and the coauthor with Diana Furchtgott-Roth of Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young (Encounter Books, May 2015). Cascade Policy Institute will host Meyer to speak on this topic in Portland on Thursday evening, October 22. This article was originally published by The Salem Statesman Journal.

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How Would You Spend $100 Million?

How would you spend $100 million? If you’re Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the most successful social network on the planet, you spend it trying to improve one of the most unsuccessful public school districts in America: the one in Newark, New Jersey.

In 2010 Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark Public School System on condition that then-Mayor Corey Booker, a Democrat, and Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, directed how the money was spent. Booker was a school choice supporter, and Christie took on the powerful teachers unions.

Five years later, Zuckerberg’s money has apparently been spent on consultants and teacher compensation, with little to show in the way of better educational outcomes. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed explained how this was just one more failed top-down reform attempt by private and non-profit donors working with government education systems.

Booker and Christie were unable to fundamentally change the top-down school system that put bureaucrats and unions, rather than parents, in control.

It’s amazing what lessons can be (re)learned when you spend $100 million dollars in ways guaranteed not to improve education. Hopefully, all of us will learn from this failure that you can’t reform the public school system just by giving it more money. Next time, give the money to the parents to spend on the schools and educational resources of their choice.

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Is TriMet Better Off Than Greece?

Syndicated financial writer Malcolm Berko recently advised a small investor to stay away from Greek bonds or securities. He wrote, “Greece has morphed into a bureaucratic five-star welfare state; but in reality, Greece is a one-star economy. The pensions and entitlements consume 52 percent of government income.”

Well, TriMet’s most recent audited financial statement was released in September, and last year TriMet’s “income” – money earned from customers buying rides, advertising, or services – totaled $153.4 million. The cost of fringe benefits such as pensions and health insurance equaled $166.8 million, or 109% of income.

But the actual problem at TriMet is far worse, because most of the obligations for pensions and other benefits don’t show up as current-year expenses. They appear in financial statements as accrued liabilities that have to be paid off sometime in the future.

Taking into account all liabilities for fringe benefits, TriMet has $711 million in health care obligations, $18 million in pension liabilities for management, and $159 million in pension costs for the union. This sums to $888 million in actuarial accrued unfunded liabilities, or 579% of operating income.

Greece is an international financial disaster; but compared with TriMet, it’s a model of fiscal restraint.

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Scaling Down: The Power of One

Is it truly possibly for one person to make a positive difference in education in America? Darla Romfo has a good answer to this question. She is president of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which has helped more than 145,000 low-income children nationwide to attend private grade schools. She wrote:

“[Children’s Scholarship Fund founder] John [Walton] once told me…that giving the scholarships and meeting the kids and their parents grounded the whole effort of trying to reform the larger system. He knew no matter what happened with those efforts, he was having a direct impact on the lives of kids today….

“[A] caring adult who really invests in an authentic relationship with a child will bring enormous benefits to the child, to say nothing of the rewards to the adult….

“We can’t stop trying to get education right in America, but maybe we will get further faster if every adult who can gets involved in the life of a child who has a couple of strikes against them. Whether it is through a mentoring program, a scholarship program, a school-based program, or some other means, it could make the ultimate difference in a child’s life, and you don’t have to be up to speed on the latest education reform idea to do it and make it work.”

For more information about how you can help the Children’s Scholarship Fund make a difference today, visit scholarshipfund.org.

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Transit Policy: Kryptonite for Business Leaders

By John A. Charles, Jr.

During September, the Portland regional transit monopoly, TriMet, voted to raise the payroll tax rate by 1/10th of a percent, beginning January 2016. The rate increase will be phased in over a ten-year period, as required by the state legislature.

Politically, the only reason TriMet was able to do this was that none of the major business associations objected. The question is, “why?”

A number of issues should have raised red flags for business representatives. First, the payroll tax pays for more than half the cost of all transit operations. That ratio seems far out of balance. The primary beneficiaries of transit are transit riders, yet they only pay about 24% of operations cost. It would seem far more equitable to insist that passenger fares pay for at least 50% of the operational cost.

Second, there is no reason for businesses to pay more if TriMet is unwilling to impose discipline on the expenditure side. The transit district has failed miserably to do this for decades. TriMet has approved so many lucrative labor contracts that the total cost of benefits now routinely exceeds the cost of wages. In FY 2014, the ratio was $1.49 in benefits for every $1.00 in wages; in FY 2015, it was $1.19. It’s hard to imagine any private sector company paying that much in total benefits.

And third, TriMet has repeatedly broken promises about how it would spend new payroll tax money. In 2003, when the Legislature approved an earlier tax rate increase, TriMet promised that every penny of new tax revenue would be used for “new service.” Yet over the subsequent decade of tax rate increases – 2004-2014 – TriMet’s total annual operational revenue increased by 80%, while miles of actual transit service declined by nearly 14%, as shown below: 

TriMet Financial Resource Trends

 (000s) 

  2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 % change
Passenger fares $ 55,665 $ 68,464 $ 80,818 $ 93,729 $ 102,240 $ 114,618 +106%
Tax revenue $ 155,705 $ 192,450 $ 215,133 $ 208,933 $ 248,384 $ 275,357 +77%
Total op. resources $ 290,513 $ 342,274 $ 404,481 $ 433,609 $ 488,360 $ 522,155 +80%

  

Annual Fixed Route Revenue Service Trends 

  2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 % chng.
Hours of service 1,698,492 1,653,180 1,712,724 1,682,180 1,561,242 1,608,090 -5.3%
Miles of  service 27,548,927 26,830,124 26,448,873 25,781,480 23,625,960 23,763,420 -13.7%

TriMet claims that service actually increased during this period because several new rail lines were built, and rail cars are bigger than buses. But that is a fallacy. Most transit vehicles are under-utilized most of the time, so seating “capacity” is rarely important.

When bus service was cut throughout the 525-square mile district by 14% over the past decade, the thousands of riders who were inconvenienced were not made better off just because a few new trains were operating in narrow corridors somewhere else. They were made worse off, and may have stopped riding transit altogether as a result.

In fact, transit has lost market share over the past 17 years despite (or because of) the rail building boom. According to the Annual Community Surveys conducted by the Portland Auditor, the transit share of commute travel was 12% in 1997, when TriMet had only one light rail line. By 2014, it had dropped to 11%.

 

Travel Mode Share for Weekday Commuting

Portland citywide, 1997-2014 

Mode 1997 2000 2004 2008 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
               

 

 
SOV 71% 69% 72% 65% 62% 63% 61% 64% 63%
Carpool 9% 9% 8% 8% 7% 6% 6% 6% 6%
Transit 12% 14% 13% 15% 12% 12% 12% 10% 11%
Bike 3% 3% 4% 8% 7% 7% 7% 7% 8%
Walk 5% 5% 3% 4% 6% 6% 7% 7% 8%
Other n/a n/a n/a n/a 7% 6% 6% 6% 6%

             Source: Portland Auditor

Transit policy tends to make otherwise rational business leaders do silly things. Instead of defending themselves and demanding that public transit districts operate more efficiently, they feel obliged to “take one (more) for the team.” But this simply enables the dysfunctional behavior by transit districts to continue.

The fact is, public sector monopolies and their unionized employees will take every dollar available for themselves as long as someone keeps putting new dollars on the table.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in the September 2015 edition of the newsletter, “Oregon Transformation: Ideas for Growth and Change.”

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TeachersPayTeachers Creates Learning Entrepreneurs

The debate over the sharing economy often revolves around the well-known players such as the room rental company Airbnb and the ridesharing company Uber. These firms have harnessed the liberating power of technology to unleash billions of dollars of so-called dead capital, while turning millions of people around the world into entrepreneurs, serving their fellow man and making a profit at the same time.

As the sharing revolution evolves and matures, it promises not only to improve the lives of countless individuals, but it may also help to revolutionize a critical part of our lives that for too long has been dominated by status quo lobbies such as teachers unions and the governments they influence—education.

Education is critical to human progress, but for too long it has largely been provided outside the market framework that makes everything better in our world.

Now, thanks to a small company called Teacher Synergy, Inc., and its online marketplace TeachersPayTeachers.com, educators are beginning to directly benefit from a free market in their intellectual property (IP). On the site they can buy and sell their own original lesson plans and related educational resources that up until now have benefitted their own students, but nobody else’s.

In the words of Jason Bedrick, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom:

“Words like ‘market’ and ‘competition’ or—worst of all—‘profit are considered dirty words in some circles, particularly in education. Perhaps that’s why some people prefer the more anodyne (if less accurate) term ‘sharing economy to describe how online platforms and apps are enabling people to monetize resources they own by connecting them directly with potential buyers.”

TeachersPayTeachers recognizes that not all teachers are the same. Some teachers are better than others at creating lesson plans that engage students and help them learn. So, for example, a teacher who is great at teaching math may not be so great at teaching geography. Why not let the good math teacher profit by selling his or her lesson plans to other teachers while she, perhaps, buys geography lesson plans from teachers who excel in that discipline?

Since its founding in 2006 by a New York City public school teacher, TeachersPayTeachers has allowed more than 10,000 teachers to earn $175 million from its 3.4 million active teacher members. Some teachers have earned over $100,000 selling lesson plans for just a few dollars apiece to thousands of their colleagues all over the nation, and even in other countries.

So, if teachers buying and selling lesson plans can benefit both teachers and students, who could be opposed? Well, just like existing taxicab monopolies opposed ride sharing firms like Uber for obvious reasons, those who currently control public school districts might feel threatened by teachers acting more like entrepreneurs and realizing the benefits of markets and capitalism.

Some districts claim that any intellectual property created by their teachers belongs to the district, even if created on the teachers’ own time. TeachersPayTeachers addresses this issue and concludes that teachers often do own their own IP in lesson plans. Even the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, has stated that “staff should own the copyright to the materials they create for use in the classroom.”

Jason Bedrick concludes that “[t]eachers tend to be less enthusiastic about market-based reforms to education, but perhaps some experience with the ‘sharing economy’ will show them how the best teachers stand to benefit greatly from Uber-ized education.”

While the best teachers will benefit greatly from Uber-ized education, other teachers can benefit also, and many students will benefit as their teachers have access to better teaching tools. Big picture, Uber-ized education can help create a diverse marketplace of educational options that will turn not only teachers, but students, into capitalist entrepreneurs. It can’t happen too soon.

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

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Mysteries of Tilikum Crossing

Portland’s newest bridge over the Willamette River, Tilikum Crossing, has a few puzzling design features. Apparently, a barrier down the middle of the bridge means that a stalled light rail train or bus would shut down transportation until it was removed, because no vehicle could go around it.

If the bridge is only open to trains, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians, what useful purpose does the barrier serve? (Other than potential MAX and TriMet bus line rush hour chaos, that is.)

And that’s not all….

Syndicated radio host Lars Larson interviewed Cascade’s John Charles on Monday. Click on the Listen link to hear John reveal his observations from Portland’s South Waterfront during Tilikum Crossing’s opening week.

You might be surprised by what he saw bicyclists doing on SW Moody Avenue.

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The Minimum Wage Conversation Never Ends

Oregon and some other states mandate that their minimum wage increase every year with the Consumer Price Index. Based on that formula, last Wednesday it was announced that Oregon’s minimum wage, the second highest in the country at $9.25 an hour, will stay unchanged in 2016.

That same evening during the Republican presidential debate, one candidate called for both a higher national minimum wage and for indexing it to inflation. He argued that this would mean “we never have to have this conversation again in the history of America.”

Well, if Oregon is any example, that’s not exactly true. Oregon began indexing its minimum wage in 2002. Yet, earlier this year, there were no fewer than twelve legislative bills introduced to raise the rate to as high as $15 per hour. Activists promised that if the legislature didn’t act, they would put a measure on the 2016 General Election ballot.

So clearly, putting minimum wage increases on autopilot won’t take this conversation off the table. Until legislators and voters understand that income cannot be generated by state mandate, minimum wage increases will continue to hurt the very workers they’re meant to help: the young, the less educated, and the less skilled. They are the ones who often can’t produce enough value for employers at higher wage rates to justify gaining or keeping a job.

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Policy Picnic – October 28, 2015


Please join us for our monthly Policy Picnic led by Cascade President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr.


Topic: Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail: Comparing Promises with Reality 

Description: TriMet’s newest MAX line opened on September 12. At $210 million per mile, this was the most expensive light rail line in Portland history. Now that it’s open, is it making the traveling public better off?

In this seminar, we revisit the Utopian predictions made by transit planners in 2008, and measure those against the early performance of the line.

There is no charge for this event, but reservations are required as space is limited.  To reserve your free tickets, click here.

Admission is free. Please feel free to bring your own lunch.
Coffee and cookies will be served. 
 
Sponsored by:
Dumas Law Group
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Freedom: Will Its Defenders Triumph?


It’s time for Freedom Seminar 2015!

Freedom: Will Its Defenders Triumph?


Join lovers of liberty from around the state for this special annual event featuring noted speakers

James Bovard and Dan Alban

 

James Bovard is the author of ten books, including Public Policy Hooligan, Attention Deficit Democracy, and Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and many other publications. He is a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a contributing editor for American Conservative magazine and The Freeman, and a regular contributor to the Future of Freedom’s Freedom Daily.

The Wall Street Journal called Bovard “the roving inspector general of the modern state,” the New York Times tagged him “an anti-czar Czar,” and Washington Post columnist George Will called him a “one-man truth squad.”

His writings have been publicly denounced by the chief of the FBI, the chief of the TSA, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the Postmaster General, the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Washington Post, among others.

 

Dan-AlbanDan Alban serves as an attorney with the Institute for Justice. He litigates cutting-edge constitutional cases protecting free speech, property rights, economic liberty and other individual liberties in both federal and state courts.

Before joining IJ, Dan practiced employment law in the Tysons Corner office of Littler Mendelson P.C., with a focus on employment litigation in both federal courts and Virginia state court.   Prior to that, he served as a law clerk for Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  Dan started his legal career in private practice at Wiley Rein LLP in Washington, DC, working primarily in telecommunications litigation and mass media regulatory law.

Dan received his law degree cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2006, where he was an Executive Editor of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy.  From 2000 to 2003, Dan worked at the Institute for Humane Studies in Arlington, Virginia.  In 2000, Dan earned his undergraduate degree in Political Rhetoric from Berry College in Rome, Georgia.  Dan originally hails from Nampa, Idaho.

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Tilikum Crossing: More Punishment for Motorists

The new bridge over the Willamette River, TriMet’s Tilikum Crossing, opened for business on Saturday. With beautiful weather and parties at every stop of the Orange MAX line, a good time was had by the thousands of sightseers.

Unfortunately, now that we’ve returned to gray skies and normal weekday travel, it’s clear that the bridge created both winners and losers. The big winners are light rail passengers and bicyclists. The scenic bikeway has already proven immensely popular with local cyclists, who are crossing at a rate 10 times higher than the rate previously observed on the nearby Ross Island Bridge.

The big losers are motorists. The Tilikum Crossing is closed to autos and trucks. In addition, the new traffic signal at the west end of the bridge creates a major bottleneck on SW Moody Avenue, the busiest road within the district.

At both morning and afternoon peak-periods, Moody Avenue traffic is shut down 60% of the time in order to accommodate light rail, the streetcar, and buses leaving or entering the bridge. This gums up all north-south travel, including most of the same bike riders cruising over from east Portland, who must cross Moody Avenue as they exit the bridge.

Moody Avenue motorists have no choice but to wait through red lights that sometime exceed three minutes; but pedestrians and cyclists are rebelling by the hundreds. After losing patience, they simply cross the rail tracks illegally.

In most normal cities, a new bridge makes everyone better off. But in Portland, a bridge simply becomes one more weapon in the political war on mobility.

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Event Video – Ending the Public Employee Union Stranglehold on State Politics

The Executive Club and Cascade Policy Institute were pleased to welcome David Nott, president of Reason Foundation, at the Executive Club’s September 2, 2015 dinner event. Introduction by Cascade founder Steve Buckstein.

David Nott is president of Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. The foundation also publishes the award-winning and critically acclaimed national magazine, Reason. Reason Foundation hosts the annual Reason Media Awards featuring the Bastiat Prize. David created Reason.tv and the Drew Carey Project to produce and distribute internet video journalism, whose home page has reached over 200 million hits since its launch as well as the Reason.com news, which receives over 3 million hits a month. He is executive producer of the Reason Foundation 2013 film, “America’s Longest War: A Film About Drug Prohibition.”

David is an engineer by training. He received his Bachelor of Arts and Sciences with Distinction, in economics and engineering, from Stanford University. He has three children and resides in El Segundo.

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A Visitor’s Guide to an Alien Planet: Washington, D.C.

The Executive Club and Cascade Policy Institute are pleased to welcome political journalist John Fund, at the Executive Club’s October 7th dinner event.

John Fund

John Fund has reported from Washington for 30 years. He believes it is best understood as an “alien planet,” where the conventional laws of economics, common sense, propriety, and good taste are frequently suspended. He will give us a tour of Washington from as insider’s eye, including a keen look at the current presidential field.

Formerly a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, John Fund is currently the national-affairs columnist for National Review Online and a senior editor at The American Spectator. He has been a guest speaker for Cascade Policy Institute and the Executive Club in the past, and it is a delight to have him back in Portland.

Date: Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Time: Buffet dinner begins at 6:30pm. The regular program starts at 7:00 pm.

Location: Portland Airport Shilo Inn, 11707 NE Airport Way, Portland, OR 97220

This event is free to attend. If you would like to purchase the dinner buffet, you are welcome to do so for $20 at the door.

Reservations for this joint Executive Club/Cascade event are appreciated but not required. We hope to see you on October 7!

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Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young

Cascade Policy Institute

presents

Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young

Jared Meyer

Jared Meyer

 

Fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

Author of Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young

 

For Millennials, achieving success will be more difficult than it was for young Americans in the past. This is because Washington made decisions that render their lives more difficult than those of their parents or grandparents. Too many public primary and secondary schools are failing their students, college graduates are saddled with heavy debt burdens, and labor market restrictions keep young Americans from building their careers. Meanwhile, Washington expects Millennials to pay higher taxes for government entitlement and health care programs that benefit middle-aged and older Americans, most of whom have better jobs and more assets. It is time to address the crisis facing America’s young. The future of America can be saved, but only if Washington’s betrayal comes to an end.

This special event is a critical talk for Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and the Greatest Generation. Jared Meyer is a fantastic, engaging young speaker. His presentation is designed to bring all the generations together to promote a path to preserving our American way of life for years to come. Bring your kids; bring your grandkids; young adults, bring your grandparents!

Jared Meyer is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. His research interests include microeconomic theory and the economic effects of government regulations. Meyer is the coauthor along with Diana Furchtgott-Roth of Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young (Encounter Books, May 2015). His research has been published in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! Finance, RealClearPolitics, City Journal, and New York Post. Meyer has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including the BBC World Service, NPR, Fox News, and CSPAN. He received a B.S. in finance and a minor in the philosophy of law from St. John’s University in New York. Follow him on Twitter @JaredMeyer10.

 

$25 ticket price includes a delicious Italian Buffet:

salad, two pasta choices, entree, bread, coffee, tea or soda

No-host bar (cash only)

Event Sponsors

Cascade Policy Institute

***

Cascade Policy Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Donations are tax deductible and accepted with gratitude.

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Policy Picnic – September 16, 2015


Please join us for our monthly Policy Picnic led by Cascade guest speaker Herb Grey


Topic: The Regulatory State: The Revival of Absolutism

Description: 

Today our lives are increasingly regulated by decisions of unelected bureaucrats at all levels of government, from simple zoning and land use decisions to IRS audits to judicial pronouncements imposing monetary sanctions and other conditions ordaining how we conduct business (and with whom).

Is this a necessity required by the complexities of modern life, or merely the raw exercise of government power as old as kings and queens? What do the United States and state constitutions say about it? Should we as citizens continue to tolerate it? What, if anything, should we do to limit or stop it?

Herb Grey is a Beaverton attorney with almost 35 years of civil practice experience handling a variety of cases, including constitutional and civil rights litigation in state and federal courts, as well as practicing before administrative agencies. He is a member of the Oregon State Bar and is admitted to practice in all Oregon state courts and before the U.S. District Court in Oregon, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

Herb is an allied attorney affiliated with Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian public interest law firm, and a long-time member of the Christian Legal Society. Herb is currently serving as lead counsel defending Aaron and Melissa Klein, dba Sweet Cakes by Melissa, in a high-profile freedom of conscience case investigated, charged, prosecuted, and decided by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and Commissioner Brad Avakian, now on appeal.

There is no charge for this event, but reservations are required as space is limited.

Admission is free. Please feel free to bring your own lunch.
Coffee and cookies will be served. 
 
Sponsored by:
Dumas Law Group
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What Gets Kids “Ready for College and Life?”

Students across Oregon are back in school. Have you ever thought about how important it is where a child goes to school? After their family, the greatest influence on children as they grow up is usually their school.

Private scholarship programs like the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland help elementary children from lower-income families choose the school that is right for them. CSF-Portland has helped nearly 700 Oregon kids get a “hand up” in private, parochial, and home school educational settings.

Studies of similar scholarship programs around the country show the difference educational opportunity makes in children’s lives, including raising their chances of high school graduation. By choosing the right school for their child and paying part of the tuition themselves, parents are empowered to hold schools accountable. When parents actively invest in their children’s education, students are highly motivated to succeed.

A young man who attended private schools in Portland thanks to the Children’s Scholarship Fund wrote at graduation, “I have learned that nothing’s going to be handed to you and that you’ll succeed through hard work….[Private school] was challenging, but it has gotten me ready for college and life.”

A quality elementary education is a simple step that puts kids with limited choices on a path to success that can change the rest of their lives. To see how you can help a child reach his or her potential through this program, visit cascadepolicy.org.

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Oregon Leads the Nation in Passenger Rail Subsidies

By John A. Charles, Jr.

In the waning days of the 2015 legislative session, a much publicized group of eight legislators conducted extensive negotiations with the Governor’s office over a “transportation package” that would have raised fuel taxes, created a new transit tax, repealed most of the “low-carbon fuels standard” enacted earlier in the session, and paid for various highway improvement projects. That package failed, leaving many observers with the impression that Oregon is “underinvesting” in transportation.

But not every mode suffered. For the few riders of ODOT’s Portland-Eugene passenger rail line, the bank vault was open. The legislature approved $18 million in subsidies for the 2015-17 biennium, including $10.4 million in scarce General Fund dollars.

While this may not sound like a lot in the big picture, it’s quite generous given the minimal use of this line. For the most recent year, the line generated a mere $180,000 in passenger fares, but racked up operating expenses of $7,875,409. This worked out to an operating subsidy of $65.70/ride.

However, the reality is actually much worse. Upon vigorous questioning by Ways and Means Subcommittee Co-Chair Betsy Johnson, ODOT admitted that the “all-in” subsidy was closer to $120/ride.

Was this embarrassing to rail advocates? Hardly. When the multi-billion ODOT budget was up for its single public hearing, there were 21 witnesses who testified—and 20 of them spoke for the sole purpose of defending the rail subsidy. This author was the only witness to suggest euthanizing passenger rail.

The problem is that two decades ago, Amtrak began off-loading most short-line runs to states. ODOT and its legislative overseers foolishly agreed to accept this responsibility, and taxpayers have spent more than $300 million since 1994 propping up the line. Bureaucrats and single-issue advocates know that once you let the “camel’s nose under the tent,” the rest of the camel will soon follow—and then it will be too late to cut the program.

So even though the ODOT rail administrator was the subject of withering criticism by various members of the Ways and Means subcommittee during budget hearing, in the end he was still standing—and walking away with the full appropriation.

Coincidentally, as the ODOT budget was being considered, the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution released a new paper showing the extent of passenger rail operating subsidies across the nation. In every case, transit districts lost money last year, but the losses were relatively modest on a per-boarding basis. The biggest loser, the Hampton Roads Transit system of Virginia, had subsidies of $6.63 per ride.

For whatever reason, Brookings ignored the Portland-Eugene line, as well as the TriMet commuter rail line running from Beaverton to Wilsonville, which has operating subsidies of roughly $12/ride. Cascade Policy Institute took the Brookings data and created a new chart showing that Oregon was at the top of the leaderboard in the category of “most wasteful transit lines,” and shared this with various legislators. Predictably, it had no effect.

Oregon surface transportation infrastructure continues to deteriorate; but for the privileged few who take the rail line from Eugene to Portland, life is good.


John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. This article originally appeared in the August 2015 edition of the newsletter, “Oregon Transformation: Ideas for Growth and Change.”

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New Orleans’ Miracle School District

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the southeastern United States, displacing more than 372,000 school-aged children. Today, New Orleans’ school population has returned to more than two-thirds its pre-storm level, but a lot has changed for the better in the public school district.

Before Katrina, a Louisiana state legislator called New Orleans “one of the worst-run public school systems in America.” Almost two-thirds of students attended a “failing school.” After Katrina, the state legislature transferred more than 100 low-performing Orleans Parish schools to the Recovery School District. Now, the district has 57 charter schools operating under nonprofit charter management organizations.

According to The Washington Examiner, barely more than half of New Orleans public school students graduated before Katrina. Today, almost all New Orleans students attend charter schools. In the 2013-14 school year, three out of four students graduated on time, and fewer than seven percent attend a “failing school.”

This amazing turnaround is due to the hard work of teachers, administrators, local and state leaders, and parents who rebuilt New Orleans’ public school system from the ground-up, with the vision and determination to create “an all-choice school district with high-quality schools.” The unprecedented success of New Orleans’ Recovery School District serves as a model for education reform efforts across the country. Parental choice, flexibility for educators, and innovation in management really can achieve the impossible.

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Event Video – Mark Skousen’s View of What Leads to Economic Growth May Surprise You

Cascade Policy Institute presents Professor Mark Skousen, named “one of the top 20 most influential living economists,” as he reveals “What Hidden Forces Lead to Economic Growth and a Higher Standard of Living?” and “Why are some countries rich and others poor?”

This lunch event in Portland on August 14, 2015 was introduced by Steve Buckstein, senior policy analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute.

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Most Teachers Oppose Mandatory Union Fees

A national education journal, EducationNext, has just released results of its annual poll asking a number of education-related questions. One question has particular relevance now because this happens to be National Employee Freedom Week, a nationwide campaign offering an unparalleled focus on the freedoms union employees have to opt out of union membership.

The EducationNext poll asked people in general, parents, and teachers, among other demographic groups, how they feel about mandatory union fees. Here is the exact question asked in the poll:

Some say that all teachers should have to contribute to the union because they all get the pay and benefits the union negotiates with the school board. Others say teachers should have the freedom to choose whether or not to pay the union. Do you support or oppose requiring all teachers to pay these fees even if they do not join the union?

Only 34 percent of the general public supports such mandatory union fees, while 43 percent oppose them.

Only 31 percent of parents support such fees, while 47 percent oppose them.

Most surprising of all, only 38 percent of public school teachers support mandatory union fees, while 50 percent oppose them. As a Reason.com “Hit & Run” blog post notes, “It’s not just non-unionized teachers who think this; unionized teachers made up almost half the sample, and only 52 percent of them said agency fees should be mandatory.”

One public school teacher who opposes mandatory fees could be instrumental in seeing them banned not only for all teachers, but for all public employees across America. California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs has filed a lawsuit against the California Teachers Association, arguing that mandatory fees violate her Constitutional First Amendment rights of free speech and free association. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear her case, with a decision likely by next June.

While the Court ruled in 1988 that no one must join a union or pay the political portion of union dues, many workers are still required to pay so-called “fair share” non-political union fees for services such as collective bargaining. Now the Court will take up the argument that at least in the public employment setting, all union activities can legitimately be considered political.

Rebecca Friedrichs says, “It’s time to set aside this union name calling and all this fear mongering and let’s put America and her children first, and let’s put the rights of individuals above the rights of these powerful unions.”

It is clearly time to put individual rights above those of the powerful unions, and now we know that even most teachers agree.

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Employee Freedom Respects Workers’ Choice

Why might workers like the opportunity to opt out of union membership? Some believe they can make better use of their own money rather than giving it to a union. Others “vote with their feet” against what they perceive to be poor union service or negotiating results. Still others leave because they oppose their unions’ political positions. They simply don’t want to support any organization that doesn’t share their political beliefs.

Many scientific surveys have been conducted to see how the public and members of union households feel about these issues. A survey conducted for this year’s National Employee Freedom Week asked members of union households this question:

“Are you aware that you can opt-out of union membership and of paying a portion of your union dues without losing your job or any other penalty?”

Surprisingly, over 27 percent of Oregon union household members surveyed answered No. This implies that over 65,000 of Oregon’s some 243,000 union members don’t realize that membership and some dues are optional.

The right to work without third-party interference is more than an economic issue; it is a profoundly moral one as well. In America, no one should be compelled to join a union or to pay union dues in order to hold a job. For more information about how employee choice can benefit Oregon workers, visit oregonemployeechoice.com.

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Put Individual Rights Above Those of Powerful Unions

By the time the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case next June, Rebecca Friedrichs may be the most well-known public school teacher in America—and the most controversial. She is asking the Court to uphold the Constitutional First Amendment free speech and free association rights of all California public school teachers, and by extension all public sector workers across America, against the demands of unions that now require even non-members to pay “agency fees” or “fair share dues.”

The Friedrichs case is just the latest to come before the Supreme Court pitting individual workers against the powerful unions that seek to take their money without their consent. In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), public sector unions were allowed to impose fees on all workers for collective bargaining purposes. Then, in Communication Workers of America v. Beck (1988), the Court found that unions could not compel fees for political purposes that workers opposed. Finally, just last year in Harris v. Quinn, the Court went further and ruled that at least some workers could opt out of both the political and bargaining portions of public sector union dues. This set the stage for freeing all public sector workers from any forced union dues, which is what the Friedrichs decision hopefully will accomplish.

In Oregon, there also may be a citizen’s initiative on the ballot next November granting freedom from all union dues for public employees. Public employees are the focus of this initiative, and the Friedrichs case, because it has become clear that all public sector union activities are political, including the inherently political act of collective bargaining with public bodies. Union arguments that they should collect fees from all workers because they represent them all increasingly ring hollow because unions lobby to represent everyone. They could just as well lobby to only represent those who voluntarily agree to pay them.

Several scientific surveys have been conducted to see how the public and members of union households feel about these issues. The 2013 survey found that more than 30 percent of Oregon union households would opt out of union membership if they could do so without penalty. Last year, more than 80 percent of all Oregonians surveyed agreed that employees should be able choose whether or not to join a union or pay union dues. This year’s survey again asked members of union households the following question:

“Are you aware that you can opt-out of union membership and of paying a portion of your union dues without losing your job or any other penalty?”

Surprisingly, over 27 percent of Oregon union household members surveyed answered No. This implies that over 65,000 of Oregon’s some 243,000 union members don’t realize that membership and some dues are optional. This is even more surprising given that their so-called “Beck rights” granted by the Supreme Court in 1988 are named after Harry Beck who is now retired in Oregon and still advocating for worker freedom.

These surveys were conducted for National Employee Freedom Week, which this year runs from August 16th through the 22nd.

Rebecca Friedrichs is taking her case to the Supreme Court because, in her own words, “It’s time to set aside this union name calling and all this fear mongering and let’s put America and her children first, and let’s put the rights of individuals above the rights of these powerful unions.”

“Put[ting] the rights of individuals above the rights of these powerful unions” is something every Oregonian should support.

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Taxpayers Ultimately Get the Bill for Oregon’s Medicaid Expansion

By Thomas Tullis

Thirty states have already undertaken the Medicaid expansion encouraged by the Affordable Care Act. In Oregon, more than one in 4 people are now enrolled in Medicaid. Enrollment is nearly twice as high as originally thought, and now lawmakers are looking at a half-billion-dollar state deficit after grossly miscalculating the projection.

In an attempt to reconcile the $300 million Cover Oregon fiasco, the Kitzhaber administration had centered in on fast-track Medicaid enrollment. Oregonians were incentivized and encouraged to sign up for Medicaid, with ObamaCare extending the eligibility requirements to adults earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level.

With the expansion’s 76% increase in monthly enrollment, Oregon’s growth is second only to Kentucky. While many states have not expanded and have seen little to no growth in enrollment, Oregon boasts some of the highest percentages of average annual growth in Medicaid spending over the last few years.

As the federal government will soon require Oregon and other states to be responsible for part of Medicaid costs, lawmakers are already talking about increasing the nearly two-billion-dollar bipartisan hospital tax that Governor Kate Brown signed in March.

Health insurance policy is in desperate need of market-based reforms. A competitive free market can ensure quality and affordability. Government handouts and regulations simply drive up costs that in this case will be borne by taxpayers.

Thomas Tullis is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. He is a student at the University of Oregon, where he is studying Journalism and Political Science.

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Ending the Public Employee Union Stranglehold on State Politics

The Executive Club and Cascade Policy Institute are pleased to welcome David Nott, president of Reason Foundation, at the Executive Club’s September dinner event.

Date: Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Time: Buffet dinner begins at 6:30pm. The regular program starts at 7:00 pm.

Location: Portland Airport Shilo Inn, 11707 NE Airport Way, Portland, OR 97220

This event is free to attend. If you would like to purchase the dinner buffet, you are welcome to do so for $20 at the door.

About David Nott:

David Nott is president of Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. The foundation also publishes the award-winning and critically acclaimed national magazine, Reason. Reason Foundation hosts the annual Reason Media Awards featuring the Bastiat Prize. David created Reason.tv and the Drew Carey Project to produce and distribute internet video journalism, whose home page has reached over 200 million hits since its launch as well as the Reason.com news, which receives over 3 million hits a month. He is executive producer of the Reason Foundation 2013 film, “America’s Longest War: a Film About Drug Prohibition.”

David is an engineer by training. He received his Bachelor of Arts and Sciences with Distinction, in economics and engineering, from Stanford University. He has three children and resides in El Segundo.

Reservations for this joint Executive Club/Cascade event are appreciated but not required. We hope to see you on September 2!

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

 

By Anna Mae Kersey

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

 

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


 

Average Annual Return on Investment

State Trust Lands vs. Federal Management

2009-2013

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

 

 

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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The Extinction of Public Transit

By Emma Newman

Uber and Lyft have recently gained over 50 percent of the taxi market in Portland. This is especially notable as Portland was initially hostile to ridesharing companies, to the point of filing a lawsuit against Uber late last year. This industry takeover is just one example of how private market innovation has upended government-regulated transit.

At a recent Metro hearing on the SW Corridor project, one of the main arguments for pursuing a costly light rail tunnel requiring the destruction of several homes was that ten years of disruption is worth 100 years of use. But considering the speed at which the transportation industry is changing, is long-term use of public transit infrastructure likely?

Public transit is rarely anyone’s first choice due to inconvenience, time cost, and lack of reliability—problems that personal vehicles rarely face. Overcoming these factors has made ridesharing companies more popular than traditional taxicabs.

The fact that private market solutions will increasingly outcompete public transit is evident not only with companies like Uber and Lyft, but with future technologies as well. Google’s driverless car being used on a wide scale may seem to be far into the future; but if costly transit projects are being justified by decades of potential future use, transit planners need to consider what the future of transit may actually look like.

Emma Newman is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. She is a student at George Fox University, where she is studying Economics and Computer Science.

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What They Say vs. What They Do: How PCC Students Really Get to School

By Anna Mae Kersey, Emma Newman, and Thomas Tullis

TriMet is considering the construction of a light rail line from Portland State University to Tualatin, at a cost of roughly $2 billion.

One routing option still on the table is to run the train down Barbur Boulevard, then build a tunnel to the Sylvania campus of Portland Community College. The tunnel would add $244 million in capital cost. It also would require moving several dozen homes and take at least two years to build.

To put this in perspective, for the price tag of the proposed tunnel, one could purchase approximately 23,094 Teslas, build 41 aerial trams like the one at OHSU, buy two brand-new cars per PCC-Sylvania student, or pay for 117,200,000 Uber rides from the PCC Sylvania campus to downtown Portland.

Such a hefty sum might be justified if there were a need for “high-capacity” transit at PCC-Sylvania, but such a need does not exist.

According to survey data released by PCC, 58 percent of Sylvania students drive to class, while 32 percent take shuttles or buses. However, travel surveys are notoriously unreliable, in large part because people tend to underreport their reliance on auto travel.

To correct for this, Cascade Policy Institute collected field data by going to PCC-Sylvania and counting every trip to and from the campus, at various times and on various days. The field observations tell a different story. Roughly 84 percent of students drove and only 15 percent took TriMet or the PCC shuttles during our observations, which covered nearly 7,000 trips.

During final exams week, when students really had to be in class, the split was even more skewed: 89% traveled via private automobile.

The difference between what students said in a survey and how they actually traveled is significant because it shows that college students are much less willing to forego cars and take transit than is commonly thought. For TriMet, this means the proposed light rail line likely will not have the increase in ridership that planners assume.

We can also learn from experience elsewhere, because one other PCC campus has been directly served by light rail for the past five years. The PCC Willow Creek campus is a single building located directly next to a light rail station on the west side. This is unlike the spread-out PCC Sylvania campus, where students would still have to walk a significant distance from the proposed light rail station to get to their classes.

Despite the convenience of light rail stopping right at the front door, at Willow Creek the field observations showed that 80 percent of students drove, 14 percent took light rail, and 5 percent took the bus. This is only a slight decrease in automobile use compared with Sylvania. Is it really worth spending $244 million to service a suburban college campus with light rail for this tiny difference?

Driving is the preferred method of travel for the majority of college commuters because it offers versatility that caters to their complicated schedules both in and out of the classroom. It seems that the complexities of student lives and lack of demand for transit are being overlooked in this decision.

PCC-Sylvania is already served by a rich mixture of college shuttles and TriMet buses. Those options are currently underutilized. Thus, there is no reason to spend $244 million and disrupt the serenity of this neighborhood to build a light rail tunnel.

Anna Mae Kersey, Emma Newman, and Thomas Tullis are research associates at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.

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Restore the Trust in State Trust Lands

By Anna Mae Kersey

When Oregon joined the Union, the U.S. Congress granted it control of State Trust Lands, public lands managed by the state to support public education in perpetuity through the Common School Fund.

Currently, 96 percent of Oregon’s remaining State Trust Lands show no signs of generating revenue within five to ten years. The primary reason for this is restrictions placed on the Elliott State Forest, transforming these lands from profit producing assets into deficit inducing liabilities.

The Common School Fund itself, which is invested by the State Treasurer and the Oregon Investment Council, consistently exceeds performance expectations. Over a three-year period ending in 2014, it earned a 13.25 percent average return on investment as opposed to the 0.1 percent earned by the State Trust Lands.

There can be no public trust in an agreement where one side fails to deliver. As such, there can be no trust in Oregon’s State Trust Lands. In the upcoming August State Land Board meeting, it is imperative that board members look to the past to prepare for the future.

There is already a precedent of transferring lands to private ownership in order to maintain the state’s fiduciary responsibility to the fund. The board needs to sell lands that are costing the fund and future generations, so that the trust in State Trust Lands can be restored.

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

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“Oregon Promise” Is Bad Policy

By Thomas Tullis

On July 17, Governor Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 81, the “Oregon Promise” legislation that allocates $10 million to a “free” community college tuition program for Oregon students.

As a current undergraduate at University of Oregon, I understand the importance of education and the problem of exponentially rising tuition costs. With college tuition increasing ten-fold over the last three decades, Oregon lawmakers likely have good intentions in implementing State Senator Mark Hass’s “Oregon Promise” idea. Good intentions, however, are not enough to make it good policy. Unfortunately, Oregon Promise will do little to solve the problem of tuition affordability. Rather, “free” tuition will actually hurt the cause because government subsidies are a major factor in the high cost of college tuition.

“Free” tuition is a “band-aid policy” because it ignores the real problem of rising costs of higher education. A basic understanding of economics leads to the conclusion that state-funded education encourages schools to raise tuition because they are guaranteed demand. Government subsidies (tax credits, loans, and grants) ensure that colleges can raise tuition and increase their spending, rather than cut costs. Even the government recognizes these unintended consequences: A recent Federal Reserve study showed that government grants and loans have caused a 65% increase in tuition. Oregon Promise won’t make college more affordable; instead, it will allow colleges to increase tuition.

Essentially, “free” education actually ends up costing more. It just doesn’t affect the student’s price directly. Tuition costs don’t go down; instead, the cost is diverted from the student to the taxpayers. Under the Oregon Promise law, it very well may be that Oregon college graduates who already have a burden of student debt will absorb the cost of the new “free” tuition.

As outlined in a recent article in The Oregonian, the legislation has already been criticized for its “last dollar” award calculation structure, by which low-income students eligible for other forms of aid could receive less Promise funding than higher-income students without as much aid. With a tuition rise inevitable, due to the guaranteed demand that these programs provide, those who are denied Oregon Promise money could end up paying even more in tuition.

The policy is negligent in other ways, also. While the opportunity to attend college is important, there are other routes to success for those who don’t fit into the traditional model of classroom higher education. College is not the only way for recent high school graduates to invest in their futures and acquire education and skills. The new Oregon policy encourages and supports only one method of education, while ignoring the importance and value of trade school, apprenticeships, and other paths to a career.

The Oregonian quotes national expert Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, a Wisconsin-Madison professor of educational policy studies and sociology, as claiming that “Oregon’s ahead of the whole rest of the country here, at No. 2” [with a free tuition program]. What she doesn’t recognize is that the only education statistic in which Oregon leads the nation is our #1 lowest high school graduation rate. The real solution to tuition affordability would be to free the education market from further government intrusion. Rather than conjuring up a government-funded 13th and 14th grade, Oregon needs to first look closely at our failing K-12 system. Lawmakers should focus on allowing a free market to exist for education providers at all levels, so they can compete on quality and price. A free market in education would help students be better prepared for college—and be able to afford it, too.

Thomas Tullis is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. He is a student at the University of Oregon, where he is studying Journalism and Political Science.

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Press Release: Cascade Policy Institute Urges TriMet to Cancel Proposed Tax Increase

July 23, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

John A. Charles, Jr.

503-242-0900

john@cascadepolicy.org

Cascade Policy Institute Urges TriMet to Cancel Proposed Tax Increase

PORTLAND, Ore. – At Wednesday’s TriMet board meeting, Cascade Policy Institute President John A. Charles, Jr. presented a detailed critique of TriMet’s proposed tax increase, and urged the Board to cancel public hearings on the tax proposal set for August and September.

Over the past several months, TriMet has been quietly meeting with business associations and large employers in efforts to gain political support to raise the rate of the regional payroll tax it imposes on most employers within the transit district. The current rate is 0.7237 percent. The proposal is to raise it by 1/10th of a percent, phased in over a ten-year period.

TriMet expects to have the first reading of the proposal on August 12, and a Board vote is scheduled for September 23. If approved, the rate increase will go into effect on January 1, 2016.

In his testimony, Charles pointed out that the last time TriMet increased the tax rate – the period of 2005-2014 – total operating revenues for TriMet increased by 80%, but actual service declined by nearly 14%. This was contrary to promises made by TriMet management in 2003 when the legislature authorized the tax rate increase.

Charles also reiterated that TriMet’s cost of employee benefits is unsustainable, with the cost of benefits equaling 149% of the cost of wages in 2014.

In addition to financial issues, the effectiveness of TriMet service is declining. According to TriMet records, ridership in 2014 was lower than it was in 2007, despite an increase in regional population. TriMet’s market share is also dropping. Portland commuters used transit for 12% of trips in 1997; in 2014, that number had dropped to 11%.

According to Charles, “TriMet thinks that the most recent labor agreement solves its employee compensation problem. It doesn’t. Until the cost of benefits drops below the cost of wages, TriMet has no moral authority to impose higher tax rates on local employers.”

The full critique of TriMet’s proposal can be viewed here.

Cascade Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research and educational organization that focuses on state and local issues in Oregon. Cascade’s mission is to develop and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity.

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Economist Mark Skousen Reveals the "Hidden Forces" Leading to Economic Growth and a Higher Standard of Living

Cascade Policy Institute
presents

Professor Mark Skousen

named “one of the top 20 most influential living economists

as he reveals

What Hidden Forces Lead to Economic Growth
and a Higher Standard of Living?

and

Why are some countries rich and others poor?

 

Friday, August 14, 2015
11:30am – 1:00pm

Ernesto’s Italian Restaurant

8544 SW Apple Way (just off Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy)
Portland, OR 97225 (directions)

Full Lunch Buffet and beverage

$18 complete cost including gratuity

Reservations and pre-payment required by August 12th

 

Mark Skousen grew up in Portland and is returning to talk with us before attending his 50th high school reunion at Sunset High School in Beaverton. His view of what leads to economic growth may surprise you—and dramatically alter your perception of how the world works. You can watch his 2005 talk for Cascade, “1776…The Triumph of an Idea,” here.

He earned his Ph.D. in economics from George Washington University and has taught economics and finance at five colleges and universities, including Columbia Business School and Columbia University. Currently, he is a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University in California. For the past 35 years, he has been editor of the award-winning investment newsletter “Forecasts & Strategies.”

Dr. Skousen has the unique distinction of having worked as an analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, as President of the non-profit Foundation for Economic Education, and for several for-profit companies. As a former columnist for Forbes magazine, he interviewed some of the world’s top political and business leaders, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Presidents Clinton and Bush. He has authored over 25 books on economics and finance; and as a sixth-generation direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin, he finished Franklin’s Autobiography in 2006 with The Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin.

Mark Skousen may be best known currently for being the producer of the “the world’s largest gathering of free minds,” FreedomFest, held every July in Las Vegas. 2,500 people attended this year to watch columnist Paul Krugman debate Stephen Moore, the keynote speaker at Cascade Policy Institute’s 20th Anniversary dinner cruise in 2011.

Mark Skousen’s websites are: www.mskousen.com; www.markskousen.com; www.freedomfest.com.

Click here for the event flyer!

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Will “Free” Tuition Make College Cost More?

By Thomas Tullis

On July 17, Governor Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 81, the “Oregon Promise” legislation that allocates $10 million to a “free” community college tuition program for Oregon students. With college tuition having increased ten-fold over the last three decades, Oregon lawmakers clearly have good intentions, but that doesn’t make the Oregon Promise legislation good policy. Unfortunately, Oregon Promise will do little to solve the problem of tuition affordability. In the long run, it could actually cause education costs for students to increase because government-subsidized tuition is a major reason why tuition costs are so high in the first place.

Essentially, “free” education actually ends up costing more. It doesn’t just affect the student directly. Tuition costs don’t go down; instead, it only diverts the cost from the student to the taxpayers. Rather than making college more affordable, Oregon Promise will encourage colleges to increase tuition. Government loans and grants enable a guaranteed demand for services that ensures colleges can raise tuition and increase their spending. The government even admits to these unintended consequences with a recent Federal Reserve study that showed that government grants and loans have caused a 65% increase in tuition.

With Oregon boasting the lowest high school graduation rates in the country, lawmakers should focus on allowing a free market to exist for education providers to compete on quality and price. The real solution to tuition affordability would be freeing the education market from government intrusion.

Thomas Tullis is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. He is a student at the University of Oregon, where he is studying Journalism and Political Science.

 

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Portland Rideshare Drivers Praise “The Land of Opportunity”

Call it the smartphone/mobile app economy. Call it the Free World of Ridesharing. Call it the future. Whatever you call it, Uber, Lyft, and a host of smaller innovative companies are quickly transforming the century-long, highly government-regulated transportation market in Portland and around the world. And this is just a subset of a much broader technology-enabled transformation process that paints a vivid picture of what economist Joseph Schumpeter called the essential fact of capitalism: “creative destruction.”

By far the largest of the new ridesharing companies, Uber entered the Portland market uninvited in December 2014 and then stepped back to allow the city government time to revamp its antiquated taxi regulations. In April, the city enacted a four-month pilot program that basically let Uber and its smaller rival Lyft enter the Portland market and removed many regulations from the existing taxi companies.

Now, half-way through the pilot period, the City Council received an interim report on the program’s initial results and held a public hearing on July 15. Nearly 70 taxi and ridesharing drivers were given two minutes each to either praise their newfound opportunities to make a living, or bemoan the cuts in their incomes due to competition they felt was unfair.

While the interim report was full of statistics, it was the driver testimony that really personalized the issues before the Council. Time after time, rideshare drivers explained how upset their passengers had become with traditional taxi service, because of either long wait times or poor service.

Once seen as ridesharing’s staunchest opponent on the Council, Commissioner Steve Novick noted that he thought the report showed that “the experiment was working pretty well for consumers,” but that he wanted to hear more about the impact on drivers. He specifically asked drivers to say whether they preferred to be treated as employees subject to minimum wage law, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance—or do they prefer to be treated as independent contractors?

Novick’s question to drivers was in the context of a recent decision by the California Bureau of Labor that one specific Uber driver should be considered an employee even though ridesharing companies treat all their drivers as independent contractors who are able to set their own hours, use their own vehicles, etc. Uber has appealed the ruling, and has already prevailed in at least five other states in keeping its definition of drivers as independent contractors.

The way Novick phrased his question, it seemed he was hoping to hear many drivers testify that, sure, they would prefer all the guarantees and benefits afforded to employees over being independent contractors. Not one driver gave him that response. Time after time, rideshare drivers made obviously heartfelt statements about how thankful they were for the flexibility that being an independent contractor afforded them and their families.

Some drivers were caregivers for family members and so needed to be home when required. Others had been laid off elsewhere and appreciated the flexibility of driving while having time to seek other employment. Some had other jobs and used driving for Uber and/or Lyft as a way to generate extra income to pay their mortgages and other bills.

One woman told the Council how driving for Uber let her get off food stamps and become more independent. More than one noted that they had been entrepreneurs who had fallen on hard financial times and saw driving as simply one more entrepreneurial activity affording them much needed income.

One driver urged the Council to continue allowing ridesharing, noting that “this is the land of opportunity.” Another said, “I don’t work for Uber. I work for myself!” Still another noted, “We must all adapt to the world around us….Dinosaurs did not adapt!”

When one traditional taxi driver told Novick that he, too, preferred to be an independent contractor because of the flexible hours, the Commissioner told him that employees could be offered flexible hours also. Even with that information, the driver said he would be neutral as to his employee status. Not one driver at the hearing said they clearly preferred employee status over working for themselves as independent contractors.

There surely are individuals who prefer the benefits and safeguards afforded to formal employees. But obviously, many recognize and value the opportunities and the freedom of being independent contractors, now better enabled by smartphone technology. Let’s hope that Portland City Commissioners and Oregon’s Labor Commissioner all recognize these preferences and are willing to protect them. Otherwise, we risk going backward to the government-protected monopoly taxi industry that stopped working for many passengers long ago.

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Nevada’s Education Innovation

By Emma Newman

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Oregon’s 2013 graduation rate is the worst of all 49 states which reported data. Nevada, which held Oregon’s position at the bottom in 2012, has decided to do something truly bold and create a system that allows for unprecedented levels of accountability, opportunity, and individualization in education.

Next January, Nevada will start the most inclusive educational savings account program in the nation. Educational saving accounts, or ESAs, allow public school students to take 90 percent of the money the state would spend on them and put it on a restricted use debit card. Parents can spend this money on a wide variety of approved educational options, such as private school, individual tutoring, and distance learning. Any money not used is rolled over for parents to spend in the future.

By allowing parents to choose where they send their child to school, schools become more accountable. Families who currently can’t afford to pay taxes for the public school system plus tuition for private options will now have real opportunities to meet their kids’ individual needs, learning styles, and interests.

While Oregon responded to having the worst graduation rate in the nation by giving its failed Oregon Education Investment Board a new name, Nevada responded with innovation.

Emma Newman is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. She is a student at George Fox University, where she is studying Economics and Computer Science.

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“Right to Try” Is a Good First Step, Should Be Expanded

By Anna Mae Kersey

Oregon House Bill 2300 gives terminally ill patients access to potentially life-saving drugs or investigational products not yet approved by the FDA that they might otherwise die waiting for.

While the necessity of such a bill is largely uncontroversial, and since last year more than 20 states have passed similar legislation, restrictions are included in Oregon’s law that severely limit the types of terminally ill patients who would be eligible for this kind of treatment.

As passed unanimously by both the House and the Senate, HB 2300 leaves out children with fatal illnesses and patients in the early stages of cancer or progressive neurodegenerative diseases like ALS, and instead holds them subject to the same restrictions as those seeking “Death with Dignity” or assisted suicide. These patients, who have the possibility of living long and fulfilling lives during which their illnesses might be contained, if not eliminated, are denied this prospect, along with the fundamental human right to care for themselves.

HB 2300 is a good start in the direction of increasing medical autonomy for the terminally ill in Oregon. However, in future legislative sessions the law needs to be expanded so that terminally ill patients seeking to exercise their “Right to Try” are not subject to the same constraints as those seeking the “Right to Die.”

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

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Taking Leave of Sickness

By Maxford Nelsen

A version of this article by Freedom Foundation labor policy analyst Maxford Nelsen originally appeared in The American Spectator on July 1, 2015.

Oregon’s Legislature just passed a law requiring employers with 10 or more employees to offer five days of paid sick leave to their employees per year, making Oregon the fourth state to adopt sick leave mandates for employers, following Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts. Oregon employers with fewer than 10 employees must offer five days of unpaid sick leave per year.* At the federal level, President Obama called for a national paid sick leave law in his 2015 State of the Union address.

But while labor activists treat paid sick leave like a proxy war against Wall Street, the casualties are all on Main Street. In practice, paid sick leave mandates like Oregon’s fall short of supporters’ expectations and are startlingly ineffective at achieving their basic goal of keeping sick employees from coming to work.

Only about 10 studies have attempted to measure the impact of existing paid sick leave regulations, which took off after San Francisco adopted a sick leave ordinance in 2006. A Freedom Foundation report, which was informally reviewed by academic and professional economists, evaluated the existing research and came to some surprising conclusions.

First, while supporters argue that public health demands mandating paid sick leave, workers come to work sick just as often with a mandatory paid sick leave policy as they do without one. Of the five studies to examine the effect of mandatory paid sick leave laws on workplace illness, four found no reduction. One study for the Seattle City Auditor noted that the lack of any decline in workplace illness “seemingly contradicts the intent of the [Seattle] ordinance.”

Second, mandatory paid sick leave laws do nothing to reduce turnover. One methodologically questionable study of Connecticut’s paid sick leave law by a pro-sick leave advocacy group reported a slight decrease in turnover, while a more credible study of Seattle’s paid sick leave ordinance by the University of Washington reported effectively no changes in turnover.

The result should not come as a surprise. As one small business owner in San Francisco—who offered paid sick leave—explained, “Since the new ordinance, employees will have the same benefit no matter where they work. There’s less of an incentive to stay and work for me.”

Third, consumers, workers, and employers are all negatively affected by mandatory paid sick leave policies. Employer surveys indicate that affected businesses frequently respond to paid sick leave laws by increasing prices, decreasing employee benefits and hours, and limiting expansion. Even after taking steps to offset the additional expenses, many businesses report reduced profitability.

Fourth, studies tend to exaggerate employer support for mandatory paid sick leave laws. All four of the studies that asked employers whether they supported the mandate found a majority of employers were supportive. In each case, however, a majority of employers were already mostly or completely in compliance with the law and had to make few changes in response, with the rate ranging from 50 to 89 percent.

While it is hardly surprising that unaffected businesses support a mandate that places additional costs on their competitors, most businesses that had to create new or modify existing policies appear to be opposed to paid sick leave mandates. Many of these businesses also report significant difficulty implementing the mandates.

Lastly, some paid sick leave laws are designed to promote union organizing. Paid sick leave statutes in at least San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Oregon’s new law contain provisions that allow labor unions to waive sick leave requirements in collective bargaining.

Such statutes allow unions to approach non-union employers and offer to waive the sick leave requirements in exchange for the employer’s cooperation in unionizing employees. Studies of San Francisco and Seattle’s sick leave ordinances indicate the waivers are frequently used.

But if paid sick leave is a basic workers’ right, as labor activists contend, why should union workers be the only ones exempt?

Overall, the evidence indicates that requiring employers to provide paid sick leave benefits produces few appreciable benefits and even raises costs.

Oregon’s course may be set, but it’s not too late for other states and the federal government to take heed of the evidence and approach paid sick leave mandates with a healthy dose of skepticism.

* “Employers with Portland operations and who employ at least six employees anywhere in the state will similarly be required to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave benefits. Employers with fewer than 10 Oregon-based employees, and fewer than six employees, if operating in Portland, must provide up to 40 hours of unpaid sick leave per year.” Source:  http://www.natlawreview.com/article/oregon-enacts-paid-sick-leave

Maxford Nelsen is Labor Policy Analyst at the Freedom Foundation in Washington State and a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market research organization. A version of this article originally appeared in The American Spectator on July 1, 2015.

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Press Release – Oregon Right to Try Bill Unanimously Passes the House and Senate

July 6, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

Steve Buckstein

503-242-0900

steven@cascadepolicy.org

Oregon Right to Try Bill Unanimously Passes the House and Senate

PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon’s Right to Try bill, HB 2300 B, passed 29-0 in the Senate and was re-passed with some restrictive amendments in the House by 60-0 last week. It now goes to Governor Kate Brown’s desk for her signature. The law will give some terminally ill Oregonians the Right to Try experimental drugs and devices not yet approved by the FDA.

Cascade Policy Institute founder Steve Buckstein noted, “The final bill is more restrictive than similar statutes in 21 other states (with its 18-year-old minimum age limit and its six-months to expected death definition of terminal illness), but it’s a good start and hopefully can be expanded in the future to cover children and people who have terminal illnesses such as ALS where patients may live for a number of years.”

Buckstein thanked House Health Care Committee Chair Mitch Greenlick (D), committee member and work group leader Knute Buehler, MD (R), and Senate Health Care Committee Chair Laurie Monnes Anderson (D) for all their hard work on the bill. He noted that these three legislators started working on this legislation before the session even started, and stuck with it all the way to final unanimous passage in both houses.

Buckstein also thanked the Goldwater Institute of Arizona for pioneering the Right to Try concept around the country and for its help in Oregon. He also thanked Diego Morris, the Arizona teenager who had to move to London for treatment approved in Europe but not in the United States when he contracted terminal osteo sarcoma at age eleven. The treatment was successful and Diego is now cancer free. Diego and his mother Paulina visited the Oregon Capitol in February to make their case for allowing terminally ill Oregonians the right to try experimental drugs. When asked by a reporter what he would say to critics of the Oregon Right to Try bill, he looked up at her and said, “Wait until they find themselves in my situation, and then ask them.”

Buckstein concluded, “This truly bipartisan effort resulted in a bill that could literally mean the difference between life and death for some terminally ill Oregonians. I’m proud of the work Cascade Policy Institute did to promote the Right to Try concept and bill in Oregon, and look forward to Governor Brown signing the bill so it can take effect at the beginning of 2016.”

Cascade Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research and educational organization that focuses on state and local issues in Oregon. Cascade’s mission is to develop and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity.

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The Crisis of Common Sense

I’ve taken two tours of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Though it was full of vivid history about the signers of the Declaration, it was nearly silent about one relatively unsung hero of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, but it was his friend Thomas Paine who stirred the new nation to action.

Most literate Americans read Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, in the months before our country declared its independence from his native England on July 4, 1776. Later that year after the war for independence started, Paine published The Crisis, which began, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

In Common Sense, Paine wrote, “Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” He argued for free trade and individual liberty with phrases that captured the imagination of his adopted countrymen.

Paine and Jefferson realized that government and society are not synonymous. They argued that government’s purpose is to protect the inalienable rights of the individuals that make up society. They understood that any right granted by government must be paid for by diminishing someone else’s right to life, liberty, or property. What would they think of today’s politicians in Washington, D.C. and Salem, Oregon who propose law after law ordaining right after right?

In the introduction to Common Sense, Paine wrote, “[A] long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”

Paine and Jefferson didn’t wait for time to convert people. We at Cascade Policy Institute aren’t waiting either; we’re providing the Intellectual Ammunition today’s freedom fighters need to win new battles for liberty.

Many Americans believe modern society requires more government control; we believe just the opposite. Free individuals are perfectly able to run their own lives today, just as they were in 1776. Paine and Jefferson would be dismayed at the size of modern governments, and so are we.

Read Common Sense and The Crisis this Independence Day, remember what the holiday is really all about, and do what you can to reinvigorate the ideals Jefferson and Paine proclaimed.

(This Cascade Commentary is adapted from Steve Buckstein’s President’s Corner column in the Summer 2001 Cascade Update newsletter.)

 

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How the State of Oregon Gambles Away Its Lottery Proceeds

By Thomas Tullis

When Oregon politicians pretend to be experts on venture capital investing, it ends up costing the state millions of dollars in education money.

This is exactly what is going on with the Oregon Growth Board, a project of the Oregon Business Development Department. Tasked with generating a return on investment by financing venture capital funds in Oregon, the Board receives 10% of state lottery profits that are supposed to be apportioned to a state education endowment fund. Unfortunately for students, the Oregon Growth Account boasts a measly 1.5% return on investment over a 15-year period.

In order to justify these dismal returns, the Board claims that venture capital funds tend to lose money in the early years but then make it up as new companies mature. They also admit that they’re recovering from $22 million in losses suffered when the dot-com bubble burst 15 years ago.

State legislators don’t recognize the irony of using profits from the Oregon Lottery to gamble in high-risk investments to benefit an education stability fund. Perhaps the Oregon Growth Board would have a more reasonable ROI if they just flew to Vegas and put our education money all on red.

Thomas Tullis is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. He is a student at the University of Oregon, where he is studying Journalism and Political Science.

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Press Release – Statement on the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Decision

June 25, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

Steve Buckstein

503-242-0900

steven@cascadepolicy.org

Cascade Policy Institute Statement on Today’s Supreme Court King v. Burwell Decision: More Oregonians will lose rather than win

PORTLAND, Ore. – The U.S. Supreme Court decision today in the King v. Burwell case is a sad reminder that the President of the United States and his Administration can arbitrarily interpret laws passed by Congress to suit their own purposes.

In this case, the Affordable Care Act clearly states multiple times in its text that federal subsidies to offset insurance premiums can only be granted to individuals purchasing policies through an exchange “established by the state.” When most states failed to establish such exchanges, the IRS arbitrarily decided to grant subsidies to individuals who purchased insurance through the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, as well. By a six to three vote, the Court told us that the President and his Administration need not follow the language of the law because in the Court’s opinion that could cause harm to the intent of the law which was to make insurance more affordable.

How this decision will affect Oregon is fairly clear. Oregon originally set up its own state-established exchange, Cover Oregon. But when that $305 million project failed to sign up one person for insurance on its flawed website, the Cover Oregon board voted to scrap the exchange and migrate Oregonians over to the federal exchange, healthcare.gov. Board members didn’t seem to care how this decision might impact subsidies for Oregonians, and after the fact said they were relying on federal assurances that they considered this arrangement a “supported state based marketplace”—meaning that it would still qualify for subsidies even if the Court were to rule opposite of how it ruled today.

What is clear now is that today’s decision could actually harm more Americans, and more Oregonians, than it helps. According to a March 3rd press release by Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute and Cascade Policy Institute’s Steve Buckstein, “If subsides are denied under a King ruling, Oregon will join the majority of states in reaping benefits.” Now that the King ruling has found for the government, the Cato Institute believes that “approximately 157,000 [Oregon] individuals likely will continue to be subject to the law’s individual mandate requirement,” and 890,000 working Oregonians “also will continue to be subject to the employer mandates that are putting downward pressure on our economy.” These negative results stem from the ACA’s provisions that as long as subsidies make insurance somehow “affordable,” then the act’s mandates to purchase it remain in place.

Cascade Senior Policy Analyst Steve Buckstein says, “Today’s Court decision does not end the discussion about who should control your health care and who should decide what, if any, insurance you must purchase at what price; but it does push that discussion farther into the future. It unfortunately postpones our ability to move toward a more individual, patient-centered health care and health insurance world. Oregonians who watched their state government bungle an expansive insurance exchange project using other people’s money should be a big part of this discussion.”

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Does PCC-Sylvania Need a Light Rail Tunnel?

By Emma Newman

Metro and TriMet are jointly considering an expansion of the light rail system to PCC-Sylvania in SW Portland, by building a tunnel to the campus from Barbur Boulevard. The tunneling would have a significant impact on the surrounding neighborhood, forcing many homeowners to move away while still requiring PCC students to make a long walk to their classes.

Currently, 84 percent of PCC students drive to school, even with the campus being served by both shuttles and busses. If this tunnel plan is chosen, Oregon taxpayers will be saddled with paying half of the two billion dollar cost.

When asked at what point the costs of building new transit outweigh the benefits, a Metro spokesperson responded that “transportation planning is more an art than a science.”

An alternative plan under consideration is a rapid bus line which would also service PCC-Sylvania. While this would be about half the cost and much less inconvenient than digging a rail tunnel, it still would be a response to a need that doesn’t exist.

Despite the low ridership of current transit options, transportation officials continue to follow the mantra of “if you build it they will come,” rather than follow the laws of supply and demand.

Emma Newman is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank. She is a student at George Fox University, where she is studying Economics and Computer Science.

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Oregon’s Proposed Sick Leave Law Doesn’t Fit All

By Anna Mae Kersey

Senate Bill 454, which mandates that employers implement paid sick leave for employees, may leave small business owners and the agriculture industry in the dust.

SB 454 states, “Employers that employ at least 10 employees working anywhere in this state shall implement a sick time policy that allows an employee to earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year.” Employers with fewer than 10 employees must provide the same amount of sick time, but it can be unpaid.

For big businesses and corporations, this mandate might not pose a problem; many larger companies already offer competitive benefits packages that include paid sick leave and vacation time.

For small businesses and the agriculture industry, however, 40 hours of paid sick time per year translate into five days during which the employer will not only be short an employee, but will still be compensating that employee for his or her time.

According to the Associated Oregon Industries, 88,000 business owners in Oregon employ fewer than 50 people. Although the Senate had the opportunity to accommodate those industries, that motion failed. By forcing business owners to take a uniform approach, instead of one tailored specifically to best suit both the employer and the employee, this bill could have real economic consequences.

These business owners will now likely have to cut costs by downsizing their companies, lowering wages, and increasing prices in order to offset the mandate’s impact.

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

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Press Release – Should Charities Be Required to Disclose the Names of Donors?

June 12, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

John A. Charles, Jr.

503-242-0900

john@cascadepolicy.org

Should Charities Be Required to Disclose the Names of Donors?

PORTLAND, Ore. – Cascade Policy Institute hosted a debate on the topic of donor privacy versus donor disclosure at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland June 1. The event was prompted by a growing number of legislative proposals in other states to regulate charitable giving the same as political giving, which requires disclosure of the names, addresses, and employers of contributors.

More than 100 attendees were treated to an engaging discussion between James Huffman, Dean Emeritus of the Lewis & Clark Law School, and Dan Meek, a public interest attorney and Co-chair of the Independent Party of Oregon. The debate was moderated by Nigel Jaquiss, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with Willamette Week.

Complete video of the event is available online at cascadepolicy.org.

Attendees were surveyed by email after the debate. Of 83 attendees with email addresses, 30 people responded to the survey.

When asked, “On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 favoring total donor privacy in charitable giving and 5 favoring complete public disclosure, how would you rank your personal values?”, 33% favored total donor privacy. 27% favored total disclosure.

70% of survey respondents said they would not “support state legislation to require that all nonprofit charitable organizations disclose the names, addresses, and amount of donation for all contributors in the previous year.” 20% said they would support such legislation, and 10% were unsure.

Of those who responded, 37% said the debate persuaded them to reconsider their assumptions about donor privacy.

According to Cascade Policy CEO John A. Charles, Jr., “Donor privacy is important because excessive public disclosure requirements can be used to intimidate people who wish to anonymously support certain charitable causes. This debate shone much-needed light on all aspects of the issue. Most importantly, a third of respondents indicated that the speakers made them reconsider their views. This is the sign of a successful public discussion.”

The donor privacy debate was sponsored by Cascade Policy Institute and the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation. Roggendorf Law LLC and The Federalist Society Portland Lawyers Chapter also cosponsored.

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Minimum Wage Follies

Fourteen bills have been introduced in the Oregon legislature to raise Oregon’s already high minimum wage or let localities do so. Apparently, some legislators believe that political laws can override the laws of economics.

In this case, the law of supply and demand tells us that raising the price of labor will lead employers to demand less of it. Those hurt will likely be less skilled, younger, and less educated workers who will find it harder to find jobs or will be let go from jobs they did have at lower wages.

Not exactly the outcome proponents foretell, but they may be OK with it because those harmed by their policy aren’t likely to blame them. They’re more likely to blame the employers who let them go or don’t hire them in the first place.

Proponents know that they have little to lose and much to gain politically by telling workers that they deserve to be paid more, and that it’s only greedy business owners standing between them and the higher wages they desire.

If legislators don’t commit the folly of increasing the minimum wage this year, a union backed group has filed an initiative to raise it from the current $9.25 up to $15 per hour. That will give voters the opportunity next year to commit the folly themselves.

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Event Video – Do Citizens Have a Right to Privacy in Charitable Giving?

Cascade Policy Institute hosted a debate on the topic of donor privacy versus donor disclosure at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland on June 1, 2015.

Attendees were treated to an engaging discussion between James Huffman, Dean Emeritus of the Lewis & Clark Law School, and Dan Meek, a public interest attorney and Co-chair of the Independent Party of Oregon. The debate was moderated by Nigel Jaquiss, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with Willamette Week.

The debaters masterfully covered many sides of this complex issue, and the audience asked probing questions. The debate was sponsored by Cascade Policy Institute and the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation. Roggendorf Law LLC and The Federalist Society Portland Lawyers Chapter also cosponsored.

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Don’t Steal the Kicker

Would you like to pay $284 less in Oregon personal income tax next year? That’s what the average taxpayer may save if Oregon’s constitutional kicker law is allowed to take effect.

The kicker law requires that if actual state revenue for a biennium exceeds the official economic forecast by two percent or more, the entire surplus is returned to those taxpayers who earned it. It now appears that the state will collect $473 million more than projected and thus have to give all that money back to taxpayers, in the form of a 6.7% credit on their tax bill.

Well, not if State Representative Tobias Read of Beaverton has anything to say about it. He’s introduced House Bill 3555 that would suspend the kicker and send all that money to schools and the state’s rainy day fund. The bill requires a two-thirds super majority vote in both houses of the legislature, something that hopefully will be very hard to do.

Read says that his bill “gives us an opportunity to invest in the things that reflect our values as Oregonians….” Apparently, “our values” don’t include things like carrying out the intent of the voters when they put the kicker in the Oregon Constitution. “Our values” apparently also don’t include letting people keep as much of their own money as possible to spend on the things that they think will benefit their own families.

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Policy Picnic – June 24, 2015


Please join us for our monthly Policy Picnic led by Cascade Senior Policy Analyst and Founder Steve Buckstein


Topic: Will the Oregon legislature let terminally ill Oregonians try to save their own lives?

Description: Twenty-one states have now passed “Right to Try” laws allowing terminally ill individuals the right to try experimental drugs not yet approved by the FDA. The Oregon House passed such a bill by a 59-0 vote in April, but it’s stalled in the Senate. Who opposed it, and why?

There is no charge for this event, but reservations are required as space is limited.

Admission is free. Please feel free to bring your own lunch.
Coffee and cookies will be served. 
 
Sponsored by:
Dumas Law Group
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U.S. Sees Huge Growth in Homeschooling

What does it mean for parents and kids today?

The Center for Education Reform reports that since 2003, the number of homeschooled kids in the U.S. “has jumped nearly 62 percent with 1,773,000 students being educated in the comfort and flexibility of their own homes.” Cascade’s publications director Kathryn Hickok discussed this trend on KUIK’s The Jayne Carroll Show on May 27. Listen to Jayne and Kathryn talk about the increasing popularity of homeschooling and what resources are available to parents today!

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Is It Possible to Power an Export Facility Entirely by Renewable Energy?

The Portland Sustainability Commission recently recommended that the City Council approve a $500 million propane export facility proposed by Pembina Pipeline Corporation. However, as part of its approval, the Commission is requiring that 100% of the electricity used at the export facility be generated by Oregon renewable energy sources.

This is an impossible standard to meet. We know it’s impossible because Portland has already tried it. In 2001, the City Council publicly committed that by 2010 all electricity consumed by city bureaus would come from renewable energy sources. Yet, despite great efforts, Portland never came close to meeting the goal by 2010.

Notwithstanding this failure, in 2009 the City pledged to meet the 100% goal by 2012, with a new aspiration of supplying 15% of the total electricity load from self-generated green power. By the end of 2012, the City had only reached 9% self-generation, and total green power reached just 14% of all consumption.

If Portland has consistently failed to meet the 100% goal over a 14-year period, it should not impose the same requirement on a private facility.

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Tennessee Special Needs Kids Get Choices in Education

Tennessee just became the 28th state to enact a private school choice program, giving parents more options for their children’s education. Governor Bill Haslam signed the nation’s fourth Education Savings Account law on Monday.

Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi already allowed parents to have some control over the funding allocated for their kids’ education through Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). ESAs are a flexible way for parents to manage some of the money that otherwise would be used for their kids’ education in their zoned public school. ESAs allow parents to pay for different kinds of educational services that may be the best fit for their children, including tuition, online courses, tutoring, therapy, or other categories of expenses defined by law.

Now, Tennessee children with an Individualized Education Plan will be able to use state and local funds, plus special education funds to which they would be entitled, for the schools and services their parents judge will best meet their individual needs. This law empowers parents of children with autism and many other special needs to get the help they need to succeed in school.

Parents of children with special needs want less red tape and more options. ESAs empower families to find and pay for those options, providing winning solutions for children. Oregon children should be given this opportunity, too.

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June 1st Public Debate: Do Citizens in a Free Society Have a Right to Privacy in Charitable Giving?

Do you donate to any nonprofit organizations such as charities, churches, or think tanks? Would you rather not be subject to possible retribution for supporting what others might think are the “wrong ideas”? Then you won’t want to miss a free public debate on donor privacy the evening of Monday, June 1 in Portland.

As debates on controversial topics such as global warming and gay marriage heat up, there are calls to make organizations espousing views on such issues reveal not only the names of their donors, but their addresses, occupations, and employers, just like political candidate committees must do.

Such disclosures could deter some people from donating at all, thus stifling the free exchange of ideas that helps make our society strong.

Arguing in favor of donor privacy will be James Huffman, Dean Emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School. Jim was the 2010 Oregon Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Arguing for donor disclosure will be Dan Meek, a public interest attorney in Portland. Dan is Co-chair of the Independent Party of Oregon.

The debate will be moderated by Willamette Week’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Nigel Jaquiss.

Join us the evening of June 1 in Portland for this public debate asking whether citizens in a free society have a right to privacy in charitable giving.

Full details and free tickets are available at CascadePolicy.org.

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Event Video – Aging Roads? New Ideas!

Cascade welcomed transportation expert Adrian Moore, Ph.D., Vice President of Policy for Reason Foundation, at a special event at Multnomah Athletic Club on April 29, 2015. Adrian gave a lively, informative, and interactive presentation on a variety of transportation innovations and road financing options. The discussion ranged from topics such as driverless cars to wireless transponders. If you missed the event, you can watch it here. We hope to see you at Cascade’s next event!

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Do citizens in a free society have a right to privacy in charitable giving?

Cascade Policy Institute

presents

A Debate on Privacy in Charitable Giving

 featuring

 James Huffman, J.D.

and

Dan Meek, J.D.

 

“Do citizens in a free society have a right to privacy

with respect to their charitable giving?”

  

Is there a compelling public interest in knowing the sources of funding to nonprofit charitable institutions?

Should all such organizations be forced to reveal the names, address, and employers of their donors,

as is now required for most political giving?

 

Arguing in favor of donor privacy will be James Huffman, Dean Emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School. Arguing for public disclosure will be Dan Meek, a public interest attorney and Co-chair of the Independent Party of Oregon.  Moderating will be Nigel Jaquiss, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with Willamette Week. This debate is sponsored by the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.

 

Background: Contributions to candidates running for elective office must be disclosed to the public. The donor must reveal his or her name, address, occupation, and employer. These “donor transparency” requirements may deter some individuals from making political contributions if they anticipate the likelihood of retribution for backing the “wrong” candidate.

Contributions to nonprofit charitable organizations do not carry the same requirements. However, in recent years, pressure has been growing to require charitable organizations to reveal more information about their donors. For example, during February 2015, U.S. Representative Raul M. Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District who is the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, sent letters to the heads of seven universities requesting donor information related to professors at those institutions who had previously testified before Congress regarding global warming and related topics.

The universities, including MIT, Georgia Institute of Technology, and University of Alabama-Huntsville, were asked to turn over to Congress such information as the source of funding, amount of funding, and the reason for receiving the funding related to the named professors.

 

About James Huffman:

Jim Huffman is Dean Emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School and a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a graduate of Montana State University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the University of Chicago Law School. Over a forty-year career at Lewis & Clark, he taught many courses, including constitutional law and constitutional history. As the 2010 Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Oregon, Jim learned much about the legal and practical implications of campaign finance regulation.

 

About Dan Meek:

Dan Meek is a public interest attorney in Portland, Oregon. He is a graduate of Stanford law school and has served as counsel at the California Energy Commission and as staff director of two Congressional subcommittees. He has practiced law in Portland since 1987, representing electricity ratepayers, political parties, candidates, and nonprofit organizations. He is Co-chair of the Independent Party of Oregon, representing more than 5% of Oregon registered voters.

 

About Nigel Jaquiss:

Nigel Jaquiss has been a journalist with Willamette Week since 1997. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for his 2004 story exposing former Governor Neil Goldschmidt’s sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl while serving as Portland Mayor.

 

Dessert buffet

Complimentary coffee, tea, iced tea

No-host bar (cash only)

This event is free. RSVP by May 29.

 

***

Cascade Policy Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Donations are tax deductible and accepted with gratitude.

Cosponsors:

The Federalist Society Portland Lawyers’ Chapter

Roggendorf Law LLC

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Policy Picnic – May 20, 2015


Please join us for our monthly Policy Picnic led by Cascade board chair and economist Dr. Bill Conerly


Topic: Economic Inequality: Causes, Consequences, and Policy Implications

Description: Economic inequality has been the hottest topic in public policy in 2015. Please join us as Cascade board chair Dr. Bill Conerly discusses reasons for changes in inequality and possible policy responses to this controversial issue.

Although Dr. Conerly is best known for his work applying economics to business challenges, he studied income distribution under the top professor in the field (Martin Bronfenbrenner of Duke University) and has written on inequality for Forbes.com.

This free, informal event promises to be a lively, interactive discussion about one of the most debated topics in policy–and politics–today. RSVP soon, as space is limited. 

Admission is free. Please feel free to bring your own lunch.
Coffee and cookies will be served. 
 
Sponsored by:
Dumas Law Group

 

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A Generational Mistake

The Oregon Supreme Court last week struck down key 2013 legislative reforms to the Oregon Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) that would have saved taxpayers billions of dollars.

The Court in effect added some $5 billion back to the unfunded liability of the PERS system, which will now stand at over $14 billion. If not offset by new taxes or spending reductions elsewhere, public bodies such as school districts and state agencies will have to allocate even more of their budgets to pay for worker retirement benefits.

Before most Oregonians understood that the state retirement system was headed for trouble, Cascade Policy Institute published a 2001 report which concluded that “PERS is almost guaranteed to fall into steep unfunded liabilities over and over again because of its design.”

This conclusion was seconded last week when EcoNorthwest economist John Tapogna noted that “Oregon made a generational mistake in public policy, and the Supreme Court has essentially ruled that we have to live with it.” He noted, “That puts Oregon in a challenging economic position for the next couple of decades.”

The best way to keep such generational mistakes from happening again is to limit the size and scope of government so that future politicians have less control over our lives. Let’s make the $14 billion PERS generational mistake our last.

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Time to “Uberize” the Transportation Economy

This week marks the beginning of a 120-day “pilot project” by the City of Portland to allow private car-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to legally compete with cab companies. Given the consumer demand for such services, there is little doubt that the Portland experiment will become permanent.

Cab services have long been heavily regulated. Detailed rules governed every facet of operation, including rates, dispatching, and―most importantly―the number of cabs allowed in the city. Although justified as “protecting the public interest,” the system was really designed to protect cab companies from new competition.

This model is now being swept aside by the dual forces of technological innovation and entrepreneurial success. Goodbye taxi cartel, hello freedom.

Unfortunately, the roads that we all use are still run as a government monopoly. As with the old taxi cartel, if state officials decide that no more highways will be built, consumers are stuck with a shortage of service. And in fact, that decision has already been made. The last new highway in the Portland region opened in 1982. There are no plans for a new one.

Ultimately, this model can’t work. As Portland grows, we will need new roads. Encouraging the road-building “Ubers” of the world to provide these services is the next logical step in the growth of the regional transport economy.

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Low-Income Scholarship Recipients “Highly Successful” in High School and Beyond

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice just released an exploratory study examining the graduates of the Children’s Scholarship Fund Baltimore. CSF Baltimore is a privately funded scholarship program helping low-income children in the Baltimore area to attend the tuition-based elementary schools of their parents’ or guardians’ choice. CSF Baltimore is a partner program of the New York-based Children’s Scholarship Fund.

According to the study:

“The study found that CSFB elementary scholarship recipients had indeed been highly successful in their post-elementary educational achievements. Nearly all CSFB alumni contacted had graduated from high school in four or fewer years after eighth grade―97 percent to be exact. This high percentage is nearly identical to tracking studies completed with Children’s Scholarship Fund programs in other metropolitan areas (Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Toledo). The percentage is much higher than the national high school graduation rate of 70 percent, and higher than the Baltimore City Public School (BCPS) graduation rate of 38 percent to 64 percent.”

Children’s Scholarship Fund partner programs empower students to overcome challenges through a strong foundation in their K-8 education. As these children grow up, studies show that the philanthropic investments made in their education―combined with the initiative, dedication, and involvement of parents and teachers―is paying off for tens of thousands of children who now have a better chance at success in high school, college, careers, and life.

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Alternative Paths to College Education: First Learn a Job

By William B. Conerly, Ph.D.

The old advice about college isn’t working anymore. College graduates (as well as “quituates”) face poor job prospects in many cases, as well as high student debt. A college degree is not the meal ticket it once was, especially unfortunate at the time when loans have to be paid off. Young men and women need to consider an alternate path.

I wrote an article for Forbes that got a great deal of attention: “The Six Courses That Will Make Any College Grad Employable.” That advice is still right for a student in college, but let’s address the younger person: Maybe you should not go to college right away.

University professor and social critic Camille Paglia made some very pointed comments about college in a recent Reason TV interview. (The entire interview is long and somewhat rambling, but Paglia makes strong points about the weakness of the current higher education model.) She said that young people need to learn how to make a living.

An alternative model is to get job skills first, then head to college for a broader perspective on the world through science, history, and literature. Here’s how that might work.

There are many jobs that pay decent money with just a little training. The health professions have many, such as phlebotomist (the person who draws blood for tests). Many computer-related jobs can be had with a year or two of applied schooling, or even disciplined self-study. Local community colleges have counselors who are familiar with training requirements for different jobs. The construction trades have apprenticeships with a three-to-five-year path of paid work plus free training, ending in journeyman certification in a trade. Instead of getting out of college with debt, the apprentice ends with no debt, work experience, and a job.

My parents feared that if I didn’t go to college straight from high school, I’d never go, or at least never finish. My father got two years of college under his belt before military service in World War II. When the war was over, he had a wife and family and never went back to school. He didn’t want that to happen to me or my siblings. However, back in the 1950s a college degree was a meal ticket. To acquire one, the student needed some combination of brains, ambition, and family connections, all relevant to career success. There were so few college grads that to have a degree was very distinctive. Today, degrees are much more common and thus mean much less.

Even the most talented high school students should consider going out on their own before heading to college. My parents ran into financial difficulties just as I was finishing high school, and I received no money from them. I probably had a better relationship with them than any of my classmates had with their parents. The difference was that I could do as I pleased, but I sought their counsel and advice. They acknowledged that they had no say-so, because they were not footing the bills. We got along quite well in my college years.

I was very motivated to study economics and make a career in the field, but many others go to college without such a clear goal. College is simply too expensive, though, for a find-yourself experience. You can find yourself with positive cash flow working a job.

After the young person has a starting job, it’s time to think about education. It’s not easy to work full time and go to school part-time, but plenty of people do it. Starting a family later in life helps. Learning a construction trade makes a lot of sense for an 18-year-old. Working in hard labor makes less sense 30 years later. Before the body objects to carrying heavy loads, it’s time to transition to carrying a clipboard. More schooling gets the tradesman into management, estimating, or sales.

“Follow your passion” is common advice, but often dangerous advice. If your passion is finance or computer programming, I heartily agree. One can make a good living while having fun. If, however, your passion is Roman history, it’s going to be very tough. The solution is to find a way to earn a living while keeping your passion as a hobby. I know people who work full time and paint in their spare time. One guy, whom I’ve written about regarding business models in art, is transitioning from art-as-a-hobby to art-as-a-profession. He is making the transition with both money in the bank and a good head for business, which help tremendously to succeed as an artist.

A technical writer I once worked with quit her corporate job to wait tables in a restaurant. I was mystified, but she explained that the job had been great for producing volumes of boring text, which helped her write clear prose. But it was time for her to pursue her passion of writing fiction, the next great American novel. She needed to make money, but have more time for her own writing. She also needed a job that was less intellectually challenging, so that she could go home to a pretty cerebral activity. Waiting tables fit the bill. It has a fairly high hourly rate, but bad hours and part-time work. Jobs like this work well for people trying to balance passion and money.

One final way to look at college uses an economist’s approach. Some purchases are consumer goods, motivated by pleasure. Think movies, party dresses, vacations. Other purchases are investment goods. For a company, this includes factory equipment, trucks, or office buildings. For a family, an investment might be a washing machine (avoiding putting quarters in a laundromat), a basic car (to get to work in), or a house (to avoid paying rent). Borrowing money for an investment can be okay, but borrowing for a pure consumption good is not smart. Now, what is college? A person majoring in engineering is buying an investment good. A person studying Russian literature is buying a consumption good. Borrowing for a pure consumption good does not make sense.

This advice is doubly important for the poorly performing student. College requires even more self-discipline than high school. Unless there is a major change, the poor high school student becomes not a college graduate but rather a flunktuate.

College is great for some people just out of high school, and great at a later time for others, and a very bad idea for yet others. Every high school student should consider work options before embarking on an expensive college experience.


 

William B. Conerly, Ph.D. is the principal of Conerly Consulting, an economic and financial consulting firm, and chairman of the board of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market research center. A version of this article was originally published on Forbes.com.

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Make Medical Providers Compete on Price as Well as Quality

By Roger Stark, MD, FACS

The method doctors and hospitals are paid for their work is undergoing gradual but relentless change. Providers traditionally have been compensated on a fee-for-service basis, where they receive a specific amount of money for a specific visit or medical procedure. This is how other highly trained professionals, like lawyers, dentists, auto mechanics, and architects are paid—they receive a fee for service rendered.

The main argument offered against allowing doctors to charge for their services is that it leads to overutilization and increases healthcare costs. Doctors are accused of ordering more visits, extra tests, and unnecessary operations simply to pad their incomes.

From an economic standpoint, the fundamental difference with health care is the third-party payer system in the United States. The overwhelming majority of health care in this country is paid for by employers or the government, with money channeled through heavily regulated insurance companies. In other economic activities, consumers pay directly for a product or service and consequently become savvy shoppers who can take advantage of marketplace competition. In health care, patients are largely barred from shopping and have become isolated from true costs they incur.

Third-party payers were disinterested until healthcare costs and utilization exploded. Now, the payers, and not patients or providers, are attempting to change the payment model by imposing wage and price controls on doctors and hospitals. Patients are not seeking these caps, they are cost-control efforts by the entities that have to pay the bills.

A second argument against doctor fees is it discourages the use of “integrated care,” by which patients are placed in some type of provider-group that controls all aspects of their care. These integrated groups have many different names, including medical homes and accountable care organizations (coordinated care organizations in Oregon). In reality, they are simply various forms of the health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

HMOs may or may not provide integrated care but, through force, they can hold down healthcare costs. HMOs decrease healthcare costs by using a gatekeeper system where clinical decisions are weighed against budgets. Various types of HMOs are strongly encouraged or outright mandated in the Affordable Care Act.

The idea of pay-for-performance is becoming popular with payers, regulators, and policymakers. The reason is that they, not patients or doctors, decide what “performance” means and how much the “pay” will be. Providers get paid a higher amount if they meet certain quality measures that are determined, in many cases, by non-clinician policymakers or other regulators.

Results with the pay-for-performance model over the past 15 years have been varied. There is no clear evidence its defined quality measures decrease patient complications, improve care, or predictably lower costs. It does increase the regulatory and compliance burden on providers, however. In reality, most hospitals have been improving quality measures and the patient experience without pay for performance.

What is a real and meaningful solution to the provider reimbursement problem?

First, solve the third-party payer problem by removing employers and the government as payers of most health care. Allow patients, working with their providers, to make their own medical decisions and control their own healthcare dollars. Change the tax code and allow individuals to take the same health insurance deduction employers now receive. Use government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid as safety-net plans for low-income people. Reform or repeal the vast new system of government controls imposed by the Affordable Care Act.

Second, allow more competition in the health insurance industry by eliminating many of the government benefit mandates. Let patients decide what insurance plans are best for them and allow them to purchase plans across state lines. Encourage the use of health-savings accounts and low-cost, high-deductible insurance plans.

Third, increase the use of high-risk pools for high-use and high-cost patients.

Fourth, pass meaningful tort reform so providers don’t feel the need to order extra tests out of fear of lawsuits.

Finally, encourage more price transparency in the system and allow providers to compete on price as well as quality, just as professionals do in other parts of our economy.

The most important person in the healthcare system is the patient, not cost-conscious employers or distant government bureaucrats. The patient, as a consumer of health care, should determine the value and quality of services received and how much doctors should be paid to provide them.


 

Dr. Roger Stark is a health care policy analyst at Washington Policy Center in Seattle, Washington and a retired physician. He is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center. A version of this article originally appeared in The Seattle Times.


 

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America’s 2015 Tax Bill? It’s 31% of the Work Year

Tax Freedom Day arrives this year on April 24, six days later than it was two years ago. Tax Freedom Day is a calendar-based measure of Americans’ cumulative tax bill. It is calculated as the day on which Americans have worked long enough to pay all their taxes. Americans will have worked 114 days to earn enough money to pay this year’s combined federal, state, and local taxes. These taxes include personal income taxes, payroll taxes, corporate income taxes, and property and sales taxes.

However, this is only what Americans actually pay, not what government spends. According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, “Since 2002, federal expenses have surpassed federal revenues, with the budget deficit exceeding $1 trillion annually from 2009 to 2012 and over $800 billion in 2013….If we include…annual federal borrowing, which represents future taxes owed, Tax Freedom Day would occur on May 8….”

Americans currently pay more in taxes ($4.85 trillion) than they do on food, clothing, and housing combined. The saying goes, you should “work to live, not live to work.” But the more government grows, the more Americans are working less to live and more to pay for runaway government spending. That leaves fewer resources to invest in the real engines of economic growth: private sector businesses that create jobs and produce goods and services for a market fueled by Americans’ hard-earned purchasing power.

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Oregon’s Minimum Wage Debate: Disadvantaged Youth Are Crucial Issue

The Oregon legislature is considering raising the minimum wage over the next few years from $9.25 per hour to as much as $15. What the minimum wage means for disadvantaged youth should be the central question of this controversial topic. Plenty of middle- and upper-class teenagers take their first jobs at the minimum wage, working part-time or summers. I don’t much care whether they make five dollars an hour or ten or fifteen. They’ll be fine.

There are also some older people working at low-skilled jobs. A higher minimum wage doesn’t really solve their problem, which is low skills. However, many people parlay on-the-job learning into higher-paying jobs. Combine that with some more education and these folks should be all right.

Disadvantaged teenagers and youth in their early 20’s concern me, however. For them, the minimum wage is a big issue.

When my own kids were going out to their first job interviews, their mother and I prepped them well. We both had experience in job interviews and we helped our kids succeed at theirs. Many disadvantaged youth lack parents with good work experience themselves, so they go into their first job interview with no coaching. Which kid do you figure gets the job? It’s usually not the teenager who stares at his shoes instead of the manager’s eyes, who stammers and is unsure of himself and is surprised by simple questions.

Put this into a business context. Suppose you are trying to sell a product that looks inferior on the outside. You are sure that your product’s functionality is as good as the better-looking competitors, but yours doesn’t present itself as well. What would you do?

A business manager’s first thought might be to cut the price. Other approaches are to offer free samples, introductory discounts, special coupons, and so forth. These marketing techniques could get buyers to try your product.

The disadvantaged youth is not allowed to do any of these things. The wage cannot be lower than the legal minimum, no unpaid work is tolerated by our laws, no discounting or trial offers are allowed. The kid who interviews poorly is in trouble.

This is the worst kind of trouble for both society and the young person. We need disadvantaged youth to get jobs and learn the soft skills every employer wants: following instructions, getting along with others, serving customers. The first job is vital for learning those skills. (I recall learning a lot in my first job: to get along with people I didn’t much like, to take direction from a boss I didn’t respect, and to accept that I had to do the worst tasks because I was the newest employee. These were all valuable lessons.)

To help disadvantaged youth, we need to let them compete. That means a low or zero minimum wage. Employers will provide more coaching and help for workers just starting out if that’s what it takes to get workers at a low wage. And that is exactly what will help disadvantaged youth in the long run.

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Government-Imposed Minimum Wage Increases Don’t Work for Oregon Small Businesses

The concept that everyone should earn at least some government-mandated minimum wage is politically very appealing. It’s almost the classic example of taking from the few and giving to the many. “The few” in this case are portrayed as rich businessmen who could never spend all the money they have, so what’s wrong with making them pay their workers a little more? Now, proponents of raising Oregon’s minimum wage are trying to convince us that somehow such policy is actually good for small business owners.

A recent report from the Oregon Center for Public Policy claims that a higher minimum wage works for small businesses by giving them “more of what they need most: customers with money.”

In reality, raising the minimum wage would only benefit small businesses if owners didn’t mind depleting their own savings or investment funds in order to support higher labor costs. Otherwise, they would have little choice but to raise prices, which would harm all their customers, especially those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

And, because minimum wage laws actually cut off those lower rungs on the economic ladder, younger, less educated, and less experienced workers will be even less likely to get or keep the very jobs they need to be customers in the first place. They may spend their unemployment checks, but those checks won’t go as far once prices are raised to cover the higher labor costs that a boost in the minimum wage imposes.

The argument that a higher minimum wage pumps more money into the economy assumes that the resulting pay increases are somehow “new money.” In reality, much if not all of that “new money” will be offset by a corresponding loss of savings or investment funds that otherwise would contribute to more economic growth and hiring more workers.

Just because low-wage workers are likely to quickly spend any wage increases doesn’t mean that on balance that’s good for small business. Taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean small business owners, and everyone else, should never save and invest for the future, but immediately spend every dollar they earn also. If this behavior really benefitted the economy, why are we seemingly so concerned about the dismal rate of saving and investing for retirement among Oregonians? Couldn’t small businesses benefit even more by encouraging everyone to spend all their income right now?

Another set of arguments for raising the minimum wage include the assumptions that higher wages “motivate employees to work harder;” “attract more capable and productive workers;” “lead to lower turnover, reducing the cost of hiring and training new workers;” and “enhance quality and customer service.”

While higher wages may lead to the benefits stated above, if business owners believe that is the case then they should be willing and eager to raise wages whenever possible. The fact that minimum wage proponents want to force business owners to reap these benefits weakens their case.

Finally, there is a real irony in the campaign to boost Oregon’s minimum wage. Minimum wage laws conspicuously leave out a class of individuals who don’t get a paycheck from someone else, but hopefully get one from themselves. Self-employed people, small business owners, and entrepreneurs trade a steady paycheck for the opportunity to be their own boss. They often risk everything―their homes, their savings, all their assets―to build a business that might someday earn them a much higher paycheck than they could ever earn working for someone else.

But, while building a business, many entrepreneurs actually earn less than the minimum wage. They may actually have negative earnings, dipping into savings or borrowing money to keep their doors open and pay their employees. And yet, if these risk-takers hire anyone to help them make their dreams come true, government says they must pay those workers at least $9.25 per hour in Oregon today, and perhaps as much as $15 per hour in the near future.

So, while business owners are free to do a lot of things, and take a lot of risks, one thing they cannot do is hire anybody for less than the minimum wage, even if they are earning less than that themselves. Of course, this may not be a winning argument politically.

It’s easier to demonize supposedly “rich” business owners than to tell workers and job seekers the uncomfortable truth that to be employed in a successful business they must produce as much or more value than they wish to be paid.

Proponents of raising the government-mandated minimum wage know that they have little to lose and much to gain politically by telling young, less educated, and less skilled workers that they deserve to be paid more, and it’s only greedy business owners standing between them and the higher wages they desire.

Let’s just hope that if another bump in Oregon’s minimum wage results in some workers losing their jobs and others not getting hired in the first place that they place the blame for their troubles where it belongs―not on employers, but on those who promised them higher wages but couldn’t deliver because economic reality stood in the way.

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Portland Set to Approve Public Shaming of Building Owners

For members of the Portland City Council, the end always justifies the means.

Their current obsession is energy use in commercial buildings. On April 15 the Council likely will approve a regulation to require the owners of such buildings to: (1) monitor energy consumption; (2) calculate an “energy use intensity” score; and (3) file annual reports with the city.

Advocates claim that this will be good for building owners. It will give them information they would never get without prodding by bureaucrats, and provide market recognition for high-performing buildings.

In fact, this is just an effort to shame building owners and tenants into adjusting their behavior to conform to the political edicts of City Hall. Commercial buildings consuming “too much” energy will receive a Scarlet Letter and be harassed by bureaucrats and activists into expensive energy conservation retrofits, many of which will make no financial sense.

Energy consumption is a private matter. The Portland City Council should stand down on this proposal and leave people alone.

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Aging Roads? New Ideas!

Cascade Policy Institute

presents

Aging Roads? New Ideas!

 Adrian Moore

featuring

Adrian Moore, Ph.D.

Vice President of Policy at Reason Foundation

The City of Portland is grappling with ways to pay for the rising costs of maintaining and building roads. The Oregon Department of Transportation is facing a similar problem with the state highway system. Adrian Moore is Vice President of the Reason Foundation and an international expert in transportation finance policy. His presentation will feature the latest innovations in highway, tunnel, bridge and road finance from around the world, with commentary about how these ideas might be applicable to Oregon.

About Adrian Moore:

Moore has testified before Congress and regularly advises federal, state and local officials on policy initiatives.  He is a member of the Transportation Research Board, and in 2006 he was appointed by Congress to serve on the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Finance Commission.  In 2009 he was appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to California’s Public Infrastructure Advisory Commission.

Mr. Moore is co-author of the book Curb Rights: A Foundation for Free Enterprise in Urban Transit, published in 1997 by the Brookings Institution Press, which was runner up for the Sir Antony Fisher International Memorial Award, and of Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century published in November 2008.  And he is author of dozens of policy studies and articles.  

Mr. Moore earned a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Irvine. He holds a Master’s in Economics from the University of California, Irvine and a Master’s in History from California State University, Chico.

Dessert buffet

Complimentary coffee, tea, iced tea

No-host bar (cash only) 

$15 advance payment (April 27th) — $20 after April 27th and at the door (if seating available)

***

Cascade Policy Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Donations are tax deductible and accepted with gratitude.


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Oregon Children Deserve the Right to Try

Oregon hopefully will join twelve states that have enacted Right to Try legislation, allowing terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs not yet approved by the FDA.

In several states, the face of Right to Try efforts was a child. Fourteen-year-old Diego Morris was honorary chairman of the Arizona campaign that saw 78 percent of voters approve Right to Try last November. Diagnosed with a deadly form of bone cancer when he was eleven, Diego and his family had to move to London for treatment with a drug approved there, but not in the United States. Now cancer free, Diego visited the Oregon Capitol in February to meet with legislators. When asked what he would say to opponents of Right to Try, Diego answered, “Wait until they find themselves in my situation, and then ask them.”

Five-year-old Jordan McLinn handed the pen to Indiana Governor Mike Pence when he signed that state’s Right to Try law last week. Jordan has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a terminal illness that without experimental treatment may kill him before he turns 20.

No doubt some Oregon children could benefit from the Right to Try. House Bill 2300 would give adults that right, but not children under age 15. Those who favor Right to Try might let their state legislators know that faced with a terminal illness, children should have the same Right to Try as adults do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simulated Prior Elliott Sale versus Actual Elliott Management

 

Simulation Simulated endowment in 2014

Simulated distribution over time period

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

Source: Oregon Department of State Lands, November 2014

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

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

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

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


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

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Looking at ObamaCare, Five Years On

By Sally C. Pipes

ObamaCare turned five years old March 23. But don’t break out the cake and candles. There’s not much to celebrate. When he signed his signature piece of legislation into law, President Obama guaranteed lower health costs, universal coverage, and higher-quality care. Five years later, the health law has failed to fulfill those promises.

“In the Obama administration,” candidate Obama boasted in 2008, “we’ll lower premiums by up to $2,500 for a typical family in a year.”

A recent report by HealthPocket, an online insurance marketplace, has revealed that premiums for individual Americans skyrocketed after ObamaCare became law.

Drug costs have jumped, too, despite promises to the contrary from the Obama administration. The majority of health plans offered on the exchanges have shifted costs for expensive medications onto patients, according to a study by Avalere Health. In 2015, more than 40 percent of all “silver” exchange plans―the most commonly purchased―charged patients 30 percent or more for specialty drugs. Only 27 percent of silver plans did so last year. Part of the problem is that the health law has quashed market competition.

The president promised in 2013 that “this law means more choice, more competition, lower costs for millions of Americans.” But that hasn’t turned out to be true. According to the Heritage Foundation, the number of insurers selling to individual consumers in the exchanges this year is 21.5 percent less than the number that were on the market in 2013―the year before the law took effect.

The Government Accountability Office reports that insurers have left the market in droves. In 2013, 1,232 carriers offered insurance coverage in the individual market. By 2015, that number had shrunk to 310.

With competition in the exchanges on the decline, quality is going down, too―just like President Obama said in 2013: “Without competition, the price of insurance goes up, and the quality goes down.”

Consumers who purchase insurance on the law’s exchanges have fewer options than they had pre-ObamaCare. The consulting firm McKinsey & Co. noted that roughly two-thirds of the hospital networks available on the exchanges were either “narrow” or “ultra-narrow.” That means that these insurance plans have refused to partner with at least 30 percent of the area’s hospitals. Other plans exclude more than 70 percent.

Patients may also have fewer doctors to pick from. More than 60 percent of doctors plan to retire earlier than anticipated―by 2016 or sooner, according to Deloitte. The Physicians Foundation reported in the fall that nearly half of all doctors―especially those with more experience―considered ObamaCare’s reforms a failure.

While more Americans may have insurance thanks to ObamaCare, they may not be able to find a doctor to see them. That’s a recipe for waiting lists and de facto rationed care.

Finally, five years on, President Obama’s declaration that he would not sign a plan that “adds one dime to our deficits―either now or in the future” looks more ridiculous than ever. In 2010, the Congressional Budget Office anticipated ObamaCare’s decade-long cost was $940 billion. This year, the CBO more than doubled that price tag, with a new estimate of $2 trillion.

The U.S. Supreme Court will rule this June on King v. Burwell, a case that threatens to negate the law’s subsidies. If the court rules against the administration, ObamaCare would unravel.

Obama has been proven wrong about what his health law would accomplish. Quality hasn’t improved, and costs continue to grow. That’s ObamaCare’s five-year legacy.


Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Taube Fellow in Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco. She is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute. A version of this article was originally published by The Orange County Register.

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Oregon Seniors Deserve Truth in Medicare Reform

By Steve Buckstein and Patrick M. Gleason

If Congress doesn’t act by the end of this month, when payment cuts to Medicare providers are scheduled to hit, there will be a major health care crisis. Topping the to-do list is addressing urgent problems with Medicare, the most costly federal program and the largest driver of national debt. Failure to act would have harsh ramifications for seniors and caregivers in Oregon.

The first step is to address accounting gimmicks that hide Medicare’s true cost and its effect on federal debt in the years ahead. The program operates under a phony spending baseline that conceals its true cost.

How did this come about? In 1997, Congress instituted a new spending formula, the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR). It would institute physician reimbursement rate cuts in order to ensure that Medicare spending did not exceed the rate of economic growth. Noble goal, except that’s not what happened.

In 2003, the first time Medicare cuts were scheduled to take place under SGR, lawmakers balked and delayed the scheduled reduction in physician payments. In the 11 years since, Congress has delayed these scheduled payment cuts a whopping 17 times. This maneuver is referred to as the “doc fix.”

The Congressional Budget Office is forced to operate under the assumption that Congress will comply with SGR, even though the last 11 years have shown that to be pure fantasy. CBO treats passage of a doc fix as a spending increase. But it’s not, in reality, because Congress always passes a temporary reprieve. The worst kept secret on Capitol Hill is that Congress will always, just in the nick of time, pass a doc fix to prevent these payment reductions.

Underscoring this fact, for the first time ever, even Medicare’s own actuaries admitted last year that scheduled SGR payment cuts never would occur. The solution is to end this game, start being honest with ourselves, pass a permanent doc fix, and move on to reforms necessary to ensure the nation’s fiscal health and Medicare’s sustainability.

For Oregon, failure to pass a permanent doc fix would reduce seniors’ access to care. Oregon has 16 practicing physicians per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries, which is below the national average. If Congress does not act, the result will be a 24 percent across-the-board pay cut for caregivers treating Medicare patients. With 46 percent of Oregon’s physicians over the age of 50, the age at which surveys show many physicians begin to consider cutting back on patient care, scheduled provider cuts would only exacerbate Oregon’s problems with access to care.

A temporary doc fix breeds corruption and legislative chicanery, producing a gold mine for lobbyists and political fundraisers. Worse, the constant need to pass an emergency, temporary doc fix distracts from much-needed Medicare reforms. If Congress continues to ignore the unsustainable trajectory of Medicare spending, the result will be harm to seniors and a federal budget drowning in red ink.

Fixing what’s wrong with Medicare is the top health and budgetary issue facing the country. As former Congressional Budget Director Doug Holtz-Eakin warns, “By 2020, as Baby Boomers continue to age into Medicare at the rate of more than 10,000 a day, Medicare’s cumulative $6.2 trillion in cash flow deficits will constitute 35 percent of the nation’s total debt accumulation.”

It’s time for members of Congress to stop kicking this can down the road, institute truth in accounting by passing a permanent doc fix, roll up their collective sleeves, and get to work on the real reforms that will save Medicare and put the nation on a sound fiscal path.


Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. Patrick Gleason is director of state affairs at Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, D.C. The Bend Bulletin newspaper op-ed version of this commentary was originally published on March 25, 2015 here: www.bendbulletin.com/opinion/3004859-151/letter-oregonians-deserve-medicare-reform.

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Human Achievement Hour 2015

This Saturday you’ll have the opportunity to vote with your light switches. Either turn your lights off from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm local time to “show your commitment to climate change action now” or turn your lights on to celebrate “human progress and our advancements in various fields of industry, including technology, medical, energy, and more.”

Turning your lights off makes you part of Earth Hour, a project of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Turning them on makes you a part of Human Achievement Hour 2015, a project of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

Since this isn’t a secret ballot, I’ll tell you that I’m voting for Human Achievement. As CEI notes, “Earth Hour does little to protect the environment” and “completely ignores how modern technology allows societies around the world to develop new and more sustainable practices that help humans be more eco-friendly and better conserve our natural resources.”

You don’t have to wait until Saturday to see what a large-scale expression of the “dark ages” versus human achievement looks like. Just check out any NASA nighttime photo of North and South Korea from space: “North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea….The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan.”

North Koreans may simply be celebrating Earth Hour every hour of every day, but somehow I doubt it.

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Mandating Common Core, High-Stakes Testing Drives Oregon Further into the "Bureaucratic Trap of Good Intentions"

The Oregon Department of Education currently requires Oregon school districts to align instruction and assessments with the Common Core State Standards. A bill now before the state legislature, HB 2835, would end this requirement, possibly helping to end the latest chapter in nearly forty years of national education reform failures and what I call Oregon’s decline into our own “bigger is better” top-down education reform trap.

I saw this decline begin here in 1991 when the legislature overwhelmingly enacted the Education Act for the Twenty-First Century. It was full of new committees, new high school CIM and CAM tests (which were eventually abandoned), and a promise from the legislature that it would produce “the best educated citizens in the nation by the year 2000.” So, how did that work out?

In 1999 the legislature created the Quality Education Commission, which led to adoption of the Quality Education Model. The Model proposed entirely theoretical prototype elementary, middle, and high schools that, again theoretically and with enough funding, would get 90% of our kids to state standards.

When these last two big reforms didn’t work, Governor John Kitzhaber proposed and the legislature created the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) in 2011 with the goal of unifying everything from early childhood through graduate school education. Of course, that goal can’t be accomplished without pushing power and control even farther away from the people who should matter most in education—parents, students, and teachers. This accelerated our decline into the “bigger is better” trap.

Why haven’t such revolutionary reform efforts in our K-12 education system achieved their goals? Because, according to the late John T. Wenders, Ph.D., they…

“…suck power upward and away from parents and students into top down, centralized and inflexible political arrangements, where unions and other special interests have more political clout. This causes accountability to decline and results in higher per pupil costs and lower educational results.”

I’m sure that now-former Governor Kitzhaber and the people he appointed to the OEIB are very smart. But no such group can hope to design a system that meets the needs of all Oregon children and their parents. Mandating Common Core State Standards and their accompanying high-stakes Smarter Balanced tests simply moves us even further down into the “bigger is better” education reform trap.

Yong Zhao, Ph.D. is the Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the University of Oregon’s College of Education. He gave an entertaining and provocative presentation to the Senate Education Committee on February 10, 2015 in which he set out some compelling reasons for us to reject both Common Core and high-stakes testing.

One of Dr. Zhao’s examples is very relevant when considering the benefits of passing HB 2835. He told the Committee that imposing any “common” educational requirements promotes conformity in our children, when we should be helping them foster their own creativity, diversity, and entrepreneurial inclinations.

He noted that when he was a child in his Chinese village, the Common Core was knowing how to ride a water buffalo. The most important and valued jobs in that time and place revolved around agriculture. He couldn’t drive a water buffalo very well, so as he put it, they encouraged him to leave and go to Oregon.

In a 1991 Wall Street Journal column, “Education by Committee in Oregon,” Cascade Policy Institute Academic Advisor, former public elementary school teacher, and assistant professor of education Richard Meinhard, Ph.D. explained why the “revolutionary” Oregon Education Act for the Twenty-First Century was no such thing:

“…[T]o be ‘revolutionary,’ educational change must be systemic. It must reform the system, not just add to it. Oregon’s educational reformers are unwittingly legitimizing the very system that needs reform. Well-meaning politicians have once again increased state control over education in order to mandate desirable goals. The Oregon plan provides the nation with an important lesson in reform: how easy it is to fall into the bureaucratic trap of good intentions.”

This 1991 critique could just as easily be said about the current “revolutionary” reforms of Common Core and Smarter Balanced high-stakes testing. It’s time to stop increasing state control over education and start moving accountability and control down toward parents, students, and teachers.

We can start crawling out of Oregon’s “bigger is better” trap by prohibiting the Department of Education from imposing any standardized curriculum and testing regime on school districts. This can start by approving HB 2835.

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TriMet’s Great Disappearing Act

During the 2003 session of the Oregon State Legislature, TriMet sought an increase in the regional payroll tax rate. In public testimony, TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen said, “TriMet’s proposed payroll tax increase will be used exclusively to provide new or enhanced transit service.”

The legislature approved TriMet’s request, and the payroll tax rate went up every January for ten straight years. By the end of 2014, TriMet had received $34.4 million in new payroll tax revenues attributable to rate increases. Yet during that same decade, the miles of transit service offered to patrons actually dropped by 14%, while the hours of service declined by 5%.

Like a magic show, TriMet tried to distract the audience by pointing to grand celebrations for the opening of the WES commuter rail line and the Green MAX line, both of which opened in 2009. But overall service levels were reduced five times in six years, the opposite of what was promised in 2003.

TriMet’s proposed budget for 2015-16 was released last week. It calls for “expanding service through the opening of the Portland-Milwaukie light rail line.” Once again, all the attention will be on new trains, while total service levels will still be far below the levels we had in 2003.

State legislators should be asking TriMet where all the money went. But sadly, no one in Salem cares about results.

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Is Your Five-Year-Old Ready for Full-Day Kindergarten?

The Oregon State Senate is considering a bill that would lower Oregon’s compulsory, full-time school age from seven to five. Senate Bill 321 was heard in the Education Committee on March 5.

Most children start at least a half-day Kindergarten as five-year-olds, but not every five-year-old is ready for full-time school. According to a recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics, about six percent of five-to-six-year-olds nationwide are not enrolled in school. These children may need a little more time to be ready for a formal classroom setting.

Children are unique, and maturing at different rates is normal. Temperament, emotional maturity, life experiences, and family situations also can affect a child’s classroom readiness. Parents are in a better position to determine a young child’s abilities than an arbitrary standard set by state law.

Some opponents of SB 321 point out that there would be no protections for children who are not ready for a traditional classroom at five years of age. Their parents currently have the option to let them grow up a little first. This bill removes parental discretion.

Forcing children to start school too early for them can have long-lasting consequences. They may view themselves as failures, think they don’t like school, or find themselves playing a demoralizing game of catch-up with their classroom peers.

Parents, rather than state legislators, should decide when their preschool-aged kids are ready for full-time school.

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Policy Picnic – March 18, 2015


Please join us for our monthly Policy Picnic led by Cascade board member & President of Turbo Leadership Systems Larry W. Dennis, Sr. & Cascade Publications Director Kathryn Hickok


Topic: 15 Leadership Principles and Ronald Reagan

Description:

Championing change is never easy. It requires vision, communication skills, and the courage to act as the fearful stand on the sidelines. By following Ronald Reagan’s example, you can change your world and inspire the next generation.

Please join Larry and Kathryn, author and co-author of the book, “15 Leadership Principles and Ronald Reagan”, as they discuss their book, Ronald Reagan and how you can become a better communicator and leader.

Copies of the book will be available for sale at the event.

Admission is free. Please feel free to bring your own lunch.
Coffee and cookies will be served. 
 
Sponsored by:
Dumas Law Group

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Should Compulsory Schooling Start at Age Five?

Every state in the union has what are known as compulsory school attendance laws. Oregon currently requires that virtually every child attend school from age seven to age 18. A bill before the State Senate, SB 321, would decrease the compulsory school age from seven down to five.

Before deciding whether this is a good idea, it may be time to reconsider why we compel parents to send their children to school at all. We might ask ourselves some hard questions, including:

  • How does compulsion further our interest in encouraging a passion for learning in our children?
  • In a free society, shouldn’t we be looking for ways to reduce compulsion, rather than to increase it?
  • If compelling seven-to-18-year-olds to attend school isn’t working very well, why compel five- and six-year-olds to attend also?”

Some of the written testimony from professional educators in favor of SB 321 assumes that the bill would reduce the “compulsory education” age. But we can’t really compel students to learn, so is the next best thing compelling them to sit in classroom seats?

Schooling may facilitate good education, but they are not always the same thing. As Harvard Professor Lant Pritchett says, “Good governments do schooling, but nearly all bad governments do it, too.” He is talking here about different national governments since his field is global development, but the thought applies to our state and local governments as well.

Pritchett goes on to say, “We know that if you impose a top-down educational system, often it breaks down—you get a bureaucracy that doesn’t work, and the outcomes get worse than if you allow local control.” If this is true in Oregon, then former Governor John Kitzhaber’s flawed Oregon Education Investment Board approach may be doing more harm than good.

More and more Oregon parents and teachers are standing up to oppose top-down approaches such as new high-stakes tests designed to measure how well public schools are teaching the controversial Common Core Standards.

The so-called Smarter-Balanced tests are on track to be given to students in grades three through eight and high school juniors to measure how well they’ve mastered reading, math, writing, listening, research, and thinking. Official estimates are that over 60 percent of students may fail the tests this spring.

Dr. Yong Zhao, Director of Global and Online Education at University of Oregon, is a critic of both high-stakes testing and the Common Core Standards themselves. He gave an entertaining 51-minute presentation to the Senate Education Committee on February 10.

While Dr. Zhao doesn’t have a formal position on whether Oregon’s compulsory school age should be lowered, he does make the points that we shouldn’t make kids ready for Kindergarten; we should make Kindergarten ready for kids, and creative kids aren’t Kindergarten-ready because they don’t conform. Lowering the compulsory school age to five may put more kids in Kindergarten seats, but it will do nothing to make Kindergarten ready to meet their individual needs.

Dr. Zhao’s presentation stood in stark contrast to that of Oregon “education czar” Nancy Golden who spoke before him at the hearing, and that of Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton who spoke after him. It should be noted that Golden and Saxton were handpicked by Governor Kitzhaber to help promote his top-down, birth-through-graduate school vision for education in Oregon.

Questioning the value of compulsory schooling is nothing new. Here is what a past president of the American Psychological Association, Knight Dunlap, said in his 1929 article, Is Compulsory Education Justified?:

“…education is a good thing for us, and so we wish to bestow its blessings on others. If they will not take it gladly, we will make them take it: for their own good…”

So, before we agree to reduce Oregon’s compulsory school age from seven down to five, let’s ask the hard questions about what our compulsory schooling system is really doing for, and to, the children it captures now.

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