Month: August 2016

Policy Picnic – September 21, 2016

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


Topic:  Measure 97 – A Hidden Sales Tax on Steroids

Description:

Measure 97 on Oregon’s November 2016 ballot would impose the biggest tax increase in Oregon history: a sales tax on steroids, hidden behind the facade of being a $3 billion annual Gross Receipts Tax on business. It will raise taxes by $600 per capita.

Contrary to claims that it is only a tax on big corporations, the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office found that it will act largely as a consumption tax on Oregonians, with lower-income households being hurt the most. Prior to receiving its ballot measure number, Measure 97 was known as Initiative Petition 28.

Steve Buckstein will explain what the measure really does and what it means for you, your family, or your business. Bring your friends and coworkers!

Admission is free, but reservations are required due to space limitations. You are welcome to bring your own lunch; light refreshments will be served.

Please click here to reserve your free tickets.

Cascade’s Policy Picnics are generously sponsored by Dumas Law Group, LLC.

Dumas Law Group
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Two-Thirds of Oregon Union Members Want to End the Unions’ “Forced-Rider” Problem

By Kathryn Hickok and Steve Buckstein

This month, National Employee Freedom Week (August 14-20, 2016) called attention to the rights of union members to opt out of union membership if they choose and to stop paying dues and fees to unions they do not support. National Employee Freedom Week has conducted surveys of union members and households. One of this year’s significant findings is that a strong majority of union members nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying union dues and fees, they should represent themselves in negotiations with employers.

Two-thirds (66.9%) of Oregon union members agree with this proposition. “Worker’s Choice” would end the so-called free-rider problem (really a forced-rider problem), which argues that labor laws require unions to continue representing workers even after they stop paying dues. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy explains: “Without requiring a complete overhaul of collective bargaining laws, [Worker’s Choice] can free unions from having to provide services to employees who do not support them, and allow individual employees to represent themselves and negotiate independently with their employers.”

Now we know that two-thirds of Oregon union members want workers to be able to represent themselves, and they don’t want to force unions to represent non-dues payers. It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end union compulsion in Oregon. Until that happens, Worker’s Choice should continue to be brought to the attention of union members and the public.


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

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Cascade Policy Institute Says NO to Measure 97

ELECTION RESULT: 59 percent of Oregon voters said NO to this sales tax on steroids. Only 41 percent voted to impose it on all of us.
Measure 97 on Oregon’s November 2016 ballot would impose the biggest tax increase in Oregon history: a sales tax on steroids, hidden behind the facade of being a $3 billion annual Gross Receipts Tax on business. It will raise taxes by $600 per capita.
Contrary to claims that it is only a tax on big corporations, the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office found that it will act largely as a consumption tax on Oregonians, with lower-income households being hurt the most. Prior to receiving its ballot measure number, Measure 97 was known as Initiative Petition 28.
Below are factual and opinion sites to understand what the measure is and why it is in effect a sales tax on steroids, hidden behind the facade of being a tax on business.

•  Text of Measure 97 (IP28)

•  No on Measure 97: Defeat the Tax on Oregon Sales

The official campaign to defeat Measure 97

•  Does Oregon Rank Dead Last in Corporate Taxes? NO

by Steve Buckstein, Cascade Policy Institute, October 2016

•  Improve Education Outcomes Through ESAs, Not Measure 97’s Hidden Sales Tax

by Steve Buckstein, Cascade Policy Institute, September 2016

•  Measure 97: A $30 Billion Gamble Oregon Voters Shouldn’t Make

by Steve Buckstein, Cascade Policy Institute, August 2016

•  Cascade Policy Institute Opposes Measure 97,
the “Sales Tax on Steroids”

Media Release, August 2016

•  Like a Sales Tax on Steroids

by Steve Buckstein, Cascade Policy Institute, July 2016

•  A Sales Tax by Any Other Name

by Steve Buckstein, Cascade Policy Institute, June 2016

•  Assaulting “Corporate Profits” Will Hit Average Oregonians

by Steve Buckstein, Cascade Policy Institute, October 2015

•  Shifting the Cost of Measure 97 Forward

The Tax Foundation, October 2016

•  Supporters of Measure 97 Mislead On Corporate Taxes

The Tax Foundation, September 2016

•  Gross Receipts Taxes: Lessons from Previous State Experiences

The Tax Foundation, August 2016

•  Oregon Initiative Petition 28: The Threat to Oregon’s Tax Climate

The Tax Foundation, April 2016

•  Oregon Legislative Revenue Office Report on IP 28

(now Measure 97)

•  Portland State University Report on IP 28

(now Measure 97)

•  Oregon Legislative Counsel Opinion Letter on Measure 97

Concluding that contrary to proponents’ claims, “the Legislative Assembly may appropriate revenues generated by the measure in any way it chooses.”

Willamette University Economics Professor and Cascade Policy Institute Academic Advisor Fred Thompson has written a series of informative blog posts related to IP28/Measure 97 on the Oregon Economics Blog:

Why Are State Corporate Income Taxes Disappearing?
Tax Mavens Talk About Disappearing State Corporate-Income-Tax Revenues; Oregon Did Something About It
Where, Oh Where, Has Oregon’s Corporate Tax Gone? Where, Oh Where, Can It Be?
Update on IP28
More Background on IP28 (Measure 97?)
Measure 97: Any Pinocchios Yet?
The LRO’S Research on Measure 97

 

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Measure 97: A $30 Billion Gamble Oregon Voters Shouldn’t Make

The massive gross receipts tax Measure 97 on Oregon’s November ballot (previously known as Initiative Petition 28) is guaranteed to suck more than three billion dollars a year out of the productive private sector and deposit them in state coffers. What isn’t guaranteed is how all this new government spending might impact the state economy.

While union proponents of this “sales tax on steroids” argue that putting more money into education and other public services will be good for the state, two reputable economic studies don’t show it.

A nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office report looks ahead five years and sees no positive economic effects showing up by then. While LRO economists may believe there will be positive effects later, that assumes the money will be spent effectively by a state that has a poor track record of doing so.

A Portland State University report, actually paid for by the measure’s public employee union proponents, looked ahead ten years and still found no positive economic effects showing up. Again, the PSU economists assume there will be positive effects eventually, but their model doesn’t show them.

So, we’re left with this inconvenient truth: If Measure 97 passes, taxpayers will send more than $30 billion to the state over the next ten years without any noticeable positive economic effects to show for it. That’s a $30 billion gamble that Oregon voters should turn down.

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Repeating Mistakes Is Not a Housing Strategy

The Portland City Council has approved a plan for the Housing Bureau to lease industrial land in North Portland for $10,000 per month, beginning October 7. The site is to be used for the construction of a large homeless shelter that potentially could serve up to 1,400 people. This idea, pushed by developer Homer Williams, was rushed through with virtually no due diligence.

Before additional money is spent, the City Council should carefully analyze what went wrong in two previous construction projects. First was the $58-million Wapato Jail built by Multnomah County in 2004, but never operated. With 525 beds in pristine condition, one would think there is potential for this site to temporarily house at least a few people now living under bridges.

Second, in 2011 Portland opened the $47 million Bud Clark Commons, which includes 130 studio apartments and extensive social services for low-income individuals. It was a nice idea, but the police have been called so often to the Commons that in December 2013, then-Chief Mike Reese told the Portland City Council that he was considering filing a chronic nuisance property complaint against the shelter.

Both structures were built with good intentions, but things did not go as planned. Let’s learn from the past before repeating mistakes in the future.

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Oregon Union Members Want the Option to Represent Themselves

National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW, August 14-20, 2016), aims to educate union members across the country about their rights to opt out of union membership and stop paying some or all of their dues and fees to unions they do not support. NEFW has conducted various surveys of union members and union households over the last several years. One of this year’s significant findings is that a strong majority of union members nationwide agree that if members opt out of paying all union dues and fees they should represent themselves in negotiations with their employer.

Over two-thirds of union members nationwide agree. By the same margin, 66.9% to 33.1%, Oregonian union members agree with this proposition. This would end the so-called free-rider problem unions hide behind (really a forced-rider problem), arguing that labor laws require them to continue representing workers even after they stop paying all dues and fees. Oregon labor law is similar to that of many states that don’t allow individual workers to represent themselves if a union has organized their workplace.

Now we know that two-thirds of Oregon union members want this to change. They want workers to be able to represent themselves, and they don’t want to force unions to represent these non-dues payers. You would think the unions would be all over this solution, known as Worker’s Choice; but they aren’t. Unions want to be forced to represent all workers because under current labor law, states like Oregon that are not Right to Work states require that non-union members still contribute the non-political portion of dues to their unions to cover bargaining and representation costs. The unions want the money, pure and simple.

A case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in January (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association) could have freed all public sector workers nationwide from paying compulsory union dues based on the argument that such compulsion violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association. Before the case could be decided, Justice Antonin Scalia died, leaving a four-four tie vote in the Court. This resulted in upholding a lower court decision denying ten California public school teachers their rights to be free of union compulsion.

This union compulsion brings to mind the well-known statement by Thomas Jefferson,

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

That is what the Court left in place, the right of public sector unions to compel workers to fund the propagation of ideas they disbelieve. An Oregon initiative measure that would have allowed public sector workers to opt out of all union dues and represent themselves did receive a ballot title this year, but did not collect signatures to be placed on the November ballot. Backers were hoping that the national Friedrichs case would have made their effort unnecessary, but for various reasons they were unable to mount a successful campaign.

It remains for future court decisions, or other political efforts, to end this union compulsion in Oregon and nationwide. Until that happens, National Employee Freedom Week will continue to bring this injustice to the attention of union members and the public.

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“The Best Earthly Inheritance” Our Founders Bequeathed

Every July much is said about the blessings of liberty, the meaning of the American Experiment, and the price of freedom. But this year we also mark the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and, on August 10, of the arrival of the news of this world-altering decision in London.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have advised his fellow patriots of the potential consequences of challenging the British Empire and its king: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” While each of the 56 British subjects who affixed their names to the Declaration risked life, fortune, and sacred honor, none may have risked as much as the delegate from Maryland, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

At the time of the signing, Charles Carroll was the wealthiest man in the American colonies. The risk he took in siding with the cause of independence was acknowledged to be substantial, both in material terms and in his social standing as one of the most prominent citizens of Maryland. In his book, Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary, biographer Scott McDermott recounts that when John Hancock asked Carroll to sign―and Carroll responded, “Most willingly”―a bystander commented, “There go a few millions.”

And just to make sure that everyone, including King George III, knew which of Maryland’s many Charles Carrolls was the signer, he proudly added the words “of Carrollton” (his Frederick County estate). Thus, history remembers him as “Charles Carroll of Carrollton.”

Carroll is unique among the signers for more than just his wealth. He was, in fact, ineligible to vote or to hold public office when he was chosen by the Maryland Convention as a delegate to Congress to approve the Declaration on its behalf. Maryland’s early Toleration Act granting religious freedom had been overturned in 1692, so Catholics could not vote, hold public office, worship in public, or freely educate their children in their faith.

Carroll’s participation in the War of Independence was motivated by his firm belief in natural law and rights, government by consent of the citizens, and freedom of religion. The Catholic minority in the British American colonies recognized in the cause of liberty the path to equality under law.

Carroll strongly supported and collaborated with George Washington during the war, influenced the crafting of the Maryland and the U.S. Constitutions, and served as the first senator from the new state of Maryland. His public life was long, and he was a giant figure through the early decades of the 19th century. Looked up to as an elder statesman and symbol of national unity, at his death in 1832, the Baltimore American called him “the last of the Romans”―a reference to the classical prototype of the generation who built the new but maturing Republic.

Charles Carroll’s brief testament to the America he would leave behind was written on a parchment copy of the Declaration, dated July 4, 1826. He wrote in the style of a man educated in the 18th century, but behind the formality is a stark humility and a simple message intended for today:

“Grateful to Almighty God for the blessing which, through Jesus Christ our Lord, he has conferred upon my beloved country, in her emancipation, and upon myself, in permitting me, under circumstances of mercy,…to survive the fiftieth year of American Independence, and certifying by my present signature my approbation of the Declaration of Independence adopted by Congress…, and of which I am now the last surviving signer, I do hereby recommend to the present and future generations the principles of that important document as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them, and pray that the civil and religious liberties they have secured to my country may be perpetuated to the remotest posterity and extended to the whole family of man.”

As we celebrate many historic anniversaries of our freedom this year, and the legacy of each of America’s founders, let us also “remember Carroll’s sacred trust…and all [who slumber] with the just.”

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"The Best Earthly Inheritance” Our Founders Bequeathed

Every July much is said about the blessings of liberty, the meaning of the American Experiment, and the price of freedom. But this year we also mark the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and, on August 10, of the arrival of the news of this world-altering decision in London.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have advised his fellow patriots of the potential consequences of challenging the British Empire and its king: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” While each of the 56 British subjects who affixed their names to the Declaration risked life, fortune, and sacred honor, none may have risked as much as the delegate from Maryland, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

At the time of the signing, Charles Carroll was the wealthiest man in the American colonies. The risk he took in siding with the cause of independence was acknowledged to be substantial, both in material terms and in his social standing as one of the most prominent citizens of Maryland. In his book, Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary, biographer Scott McDermott recounts that when John Hancock asked Carroll to sign―and Carroll responded, “Most willingly”―a bystander commented, “There go a few millions.”

And just to make sure that everyone, including King George III, knew which of Maryland’s many Charles Carrolls was the signer, he proudly added the words “of Carrollton” (his Frederick County estate). Thus, history remembers him as “Charles Carroll of Carrollton.”

Carroll is unique among the signers for more than just his wealth. He was, in fact, ineligible to vote or to hold public office when he was chosen by the Maryland Convention as a delegate to Congress to approve the Declaration on its behalf. Maryland’s early Toleration Act granting religious freedom had been overturned in 1692, so Catholics could not vote, hold public office, worship in public, or freely educate their children in their faith.

Carroll’s participation in the War of Independence was motivated by his firm belief in natural law and rights, government by consent of the citizens, and freedom of religion. The Catholic minority in the British American colonies recognized in the cause of liberty the path to equality under law.

Carroll strongly supported and collaborated with George Washington during the war, influenced the crafting of the Maryland and the U.S. Constitutions, and served as the first senator from the new state of Maryland. His public life was long, and he was a giant figure through the early decades of the 19th century. Looked up to as an elder statesman and symbol of national unity, at his death in 1832, the Baltimore American called him “the last of the Romans”―a reference to the classical prototype of the generation who built the new but maturing Republic.

Charles Carroll’s brief testament to the America he would leave behind was written on a parchment copy of the Declaration, dated July 4, 1826. He wrote in the style of a man educated in the 18th century, but behind the formality is a stark humility and a simple message intended for today:

“Grateful to Almighty God for the blessing which, through Jesus Christ our Lord, he has conferred upon my beloved country, in her emancipation, and upon myself, in permitting me, under circumstances of mercy,…to survive the fiftieth year of American Independence, and certifying by my present signature my approbation of the Declaration of Independence adopted by Congress…, and of which I am now the last surviving signer, I do hereby recommend to the present and future generations the principles of that important document as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them, and pray that the civil and religious liberties they have secured to my country may be perpetuated to the remotest posterity and extended to the whole family of man.”

As we celebrate many historic anniversaries of our freedom this year, and the legacy of each of America’s founders, let us also “remember Carroll’s sacred trust…and all [who slumber] with the just.”

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Oregonians Should Oppose Measure 97’s Regressive Taxation

The biggest proposed tax increase in Oregon history now has a measure number. Measure 97 on this November’s ballot would create a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on C corporations with Oregon sales above $25 million.

Contrary to union claims, Measure 97 will not simply tax big out-of-state corporations. As the non-partisan Legislative Revenue Office Report has found, it will act primarily as a consumption tax on Oregonians. The estimated cost of this tax is $600 per year per person, with lower-income households being hurt the most. It is an eight-times-larger tax increase than Measures 66 and 67, which voters approved six years ago.

“Corporate taxes” are really paid by individuals, including consumers in the form of higher prices, employees in the form of lower compensation, and owners in the form of lower profits. The union backers of Measure 97 know this but claim that it will simply make corporations “pay their fair share.” This tactic is not only misleading, but if successful will harm every Oregon taxpayer.

Consumers will see price increases that in many cases will be much more than the stated 2.5 percent rate, without having any idea that the cause is Measure 97. As such, Measure 97 is the epitome of a regressive tax, and Oregonians should oppose it.

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Cascade Policy Institute Opposes Measure 97, the “Sales Tax on Steroids”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Media Contact:

Steve Buckstein
steven@cascadepolicy.org

503-242-0900

PORTLAND, Ore. – Cascade Policy Institute’s Board of Directors has voted to oppose Measure 97, the 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on C corporations with Oregon sales above $25 million. It would be the biggest tax increase in Oregon history.

Contrary to union claims, Measure 97 will not simply tax big out-of-state corporations. As the non-partisan Legislative Revenue Office Report has found, it will act primarily as a consumption tax on Oregonians. The estimated cost of this tax is $600 per year for every man, woman, and child, with lower-income households being hurt the most.

As the national Tax Foundation has noted, by seeking to raise more than $6 billion per biennium, Measure 97 will increase total state taxes by approximately 25 percent. It is an eight-times-larger tax increase than Measures 66 and 67, the tax increase measures that were on the 2010 ballot.

Following the Cascade Board vote, Cascade’s President and CEO John A. Charles, Jr. released this statement:

“All corporate taxes are paid by individuals, including consumers in the form of higher prices, employees in the form of lower compensation, and/or owners in the form of lower profits. The union backers of Measure 97 know this, but cynically claim that it will simply make corporations ‘pay their fair share.’ This tactic is not only misleading, but if successful will harm every Oregon taxpayer.”

“As the two most reputable studies (LRO and PSU) on the effects of Measure 97 to date conclude, it will act largely as a consumption tax on Oregonians. As the former State Economist and chief author of the PSU study noted in March, it will be ‘like a sales tax on steroids.’ That is because Measure 97 will tax multiple transactions from production, through processing, through distribution, through the ultimate retail sale.”

“Measure 97 is especially punitive because unlike retail sales taxes that often exempt necessities such as food, medicine, and housing, Measure 97 will tax everything. Consumers will see price increases that in many cases will be much more than the stated 2.5 percent rate, without having any idea that the cause is Measure 97.”

Two recent Cascade publications on the ballot initiative that is now Measure 97:
Like a Sales Tax on Steroids
A Sales Tax by Any Other Name

About Cascade Policy Institute:

Founded in 1991, 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. For more information, visit cascadepolicy.org. 

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Hillsboro Entrepreneur Manuel Castañeda Joins Cascade Policy Institute Board of Directors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
John A. Charles, Jr.

503-242-0900

john@cascadepolicy.org

Portland, OR – Manuel Castañeda is the newest board member of Cascade Policy Institute. Castañeda is CEO of PLI Systems, a Hillsboro-based company specializing in soil stabilization projects. The Cascade Board of Directors elected Castañeda on July 29.

CastañedManuelCastanedaa founded his firm, now known as PLI Systems, Inc., in 1986 after coming to America from Mexico where he grew up poor in a small village. Once here, he purchased a lawnmower and a pickup truck and began his entrepreneurial journey to achieve the American Dream. In 2003, he started PLI Systems to handle the increasing number of soil stabilization projects the company was receiving. PLI is now is a full-service landscape, design, building, and maintenance company.

Castañeda joins eight current Cascade board members, including Chairman William B. Conerly, Ph.D., Michael L. Barton, Ph.D., Pamela Morris, Larry W. Dennis, Sr., Gilion Dumas, Jon Egge, William Udy, and John A. Charles, Jr.

Cascade Board Chairman Bill Conerly stated, “Cascade Policy Institute is dedicated to promoting individual liberty and economic opportunity; Manuel Castañeda is the embodiment of those values. He came to America with nothing, built a successful business, and raised a family. He is an active volunteer in the community and a long-time supporter of Cascade. We are honored to have him join the Board.”

About Cascade Policy Institute:

Founded in 1991, 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. For more information, visit cascadepolicy.org.

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Oregon Land Board Low-Balls Elliott Timber with Fixed-Price “Bidding”

Last week the Oregon Department of State Lands announced the “fair market value” of 82,450 acres of Common School Trust Lands within the Elliott State Forest as $220.8 million. The number was picked by Roger Lord of the consulting firm Mason, Bruce & Girard after analyzing three different professional appraisals. Proceeds from the land transfer will go to the Common School Fund and be invested for the long-term benefit of public school students.

At a public meeting held in Salem, the Director of the Department, Jim Paul, reiterated that anyone hoping to acquire the 82,450 acres must offer exactly $220.8 million. Any offer above that will be considered “outside the protocol” and deemed “non-responsive.” This announcement was the latest step in the Land Board’s plan to dispose of the Elliott property in a non-competitive bid process.

The Land Board has invented a “fair market” value of the Elliott timberland without allowing a market to actually function. The price investors are willing to pay might be higher than $220.8 million, or even multiples of that number. Unfortunately, we’ll never know because the Land Board is refusing to take competitive bids. Clearly, this is a breach of fiduciary trust. Public school students, teachers, and parents deserve to get top dollar in this once-in-a-lifetime sale of a public asset.

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Portland Schools Need Radical Change, Not Just a New Superintendent

Portland school superintendent Carole Smith abruptly resigned in July, after nine years on the job. She was originally planning to retire next June, but the release of an independent investigation into the district’s inept handling of contaminated drinking water caused her to speed up her departure.

The school board immediately announced a national search for a successor, and the rest of the story is predictable. After months of searching, finalists will be scrutinized in a detailed public vetting, and someone will be signed to an expensive contract. The new leader will enjoy a short honeymoon and then gradually sink into the bureaucratic quagmire of school politics.

Amidst never-ending arguments about school transfers, graduation rates, and a myriad of other issues, buyer’s remorse will set in. Eventually the superintendent will resign and the process will begin anew.

This is the way we’ve been doing things for decades, usually with disappointing results. We could take a different path. But first we have to admit that if system results are disappointing, we need to change the system, not the people.

Large urban school districts are inherently dysfunctional. Teaching is a distributed service; the learning takes place student by student, classroom by classroom. When measured in terms of students, teachers, money, and facilities, there are millions of moving parts. The notion that a single bureaucrat in the central office can design the optimal system to satisfy all customers is a fantasy.

The system itself needs radical change, and the single most important reform Portland could pursue would be to redesign how the money flows.

Right now, tax dollars go to the district, regardless of results. Students are assigned to schools like factory widgets and few families have other options. The suppliers of service have all the leverage, while consumers have almost none.

A better option would be for the district to seek legislative approval of Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs). The ESA concept is simple: Parents who are dissatisfied with the government school assigned to them can opt to have most or all of the per-student money that would have gone to that school for their children deposited instead in personal accounts managed by the state treasurer. The funds in each account become property of the family and may be used for a variety of educational services, including private education, home schools, online learning, and tutoring.

Ideally, any money left over at the end of a school year would remain in the account, available for future use. This would encourage wise stewardship of those funds. If the account still had money at the time the student graduated from high school, it could be used for college tuition or technical training.

Distributing school funding through consumers rather than providers would instantly change the balance of power. High-cost union contracts would have to change. Parents would need to be satisfied. And market discipline would replace ineffective top-down management.

Most parents would probably not use ESAs. It’s likely they are satisfied with their neighborhood school and wouldn’t want the hassle of shopping around. But the mere fact that they could use an ESA would create incentives for teachers and administrators to behave differently. When suppliers of a service know that 100 percent of their customers have the means to shop elsewhere, they focus on satisfying those customers.

Carole Smith was neither the worst nor the best Portland school superintendent in recent memory; she was just part of the conveyor belt of socialism that defines generic government education. Stopping the conveyor belt would be a good first step toward liberating students and improving educational achievement in Portland.


This article originally appeared in the July 2016 edition of the newsletter, Oregon Transformation: Ideas for Growth and Change.

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Freedom in Fiction: Ida Elisabeth

Ida Elisabeth had every reason to leave her husband. He was foolish, immature, irresponsible, and unable to change. She couldn’t respect him. She had never really loved him. When he had an affair with another woman, it was her chance to leave and take the children―and no one blamed her.

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sigrid Undset placed Ida Elisabeth in her own contemporary 1930s Norway, a period of escalating social change prior to the Second World War. People spoke skeptically of the beliefs and assumptions of previous generations, doubting that conventional ethics would outlast their lifetime. Socialist-type welfare policies were becoming popular in noncommunist Western countries. Democratic governments, responding to the demands of the electorate, promised citizens more and more―and supplanted many social roles formerly played by spouses, families, local communities, and private charities. The modern world was unfolding―uneasily.

In a key conversation, Ida’s older mentor muses about the rise of the modern welfare state and Norway’s path to unsustainable public debt:

“…[T]he qualities which put a man in power and those which make him feel responsibility are not necessarily associated, nor do they necessarily exclude each other,” [he said.] “…We had an institution here in Norway in the saga times which was called debt-servitude. When a man had incurred more debts than he was able to pay, he could hand over his children to his creditors, and they had to work as thralls until they had earned enough to cover their father’s indebtedness. I don’t believe children are told anything about this debt-servitude in the schools nowadays. But they’re destined to experience it.”

Ida Elisabeth nodded: “They won’t have a good time, those who come after us.”

“No. And…[w]ill those who come after us be content to bear all the burdens which we still feel it our duty to shoulder? To help all that neither can nor will help themselves?…Especially when the young are aware that the old have taken upon themselves to determine, that they should come into the world, and when they should come, and how many should be put into the world to take over the burdens when they themselves are no longer able to bear them.”

In Ida’s time, the modern welfare state was already detaching individuals from reliance on those around them. While the state-run systems―“almshouses,” etc.—seemed streamlined, efficient, and economical ways of relieving people of the need to personally care for others, the underlying philosophy of utility was already becoming disturbing.

Ida’s friend wonders what will obligate future generations to honor the debts of their forebears, if people no longer believe that other human beings―just like themselves―possess innate and inalienable value? In the modern world, no one needs to be bothered with others any more than they think is reasonable, children come into the world solely at the convenience of adults, and family bonds may be broken at will. Who will decide what price is too high to meet the needs of the elderly, the sick and disabled, and those who cannot “pull their full weight” in society? (By the end of the decade in which Ida Elisabeth was published, these questions had begun to bear bitter fruit in Germany. In the novel, these musings were still largely theoretical.)

As the novel plays out, “big government” (or the welfare state) appears to be a symptom (or symbol) of another, more subtle disease: the human decision to put one’s own needs and desires ahead of the call to serve others, relinquishing individual responsibility to a nameless, faceless state. The genius of Ida Elisabeth is the connection made on the level of the heart between decisions made within personal relationships and a philosophy of self-centeredness that paves the way for far-reaching social change and loss of respect for human beings.

But the novel isn’t about government. It’s a love story of a mother and her children, her husband, and the man “who should have been.” When Ida Elisabeth falls in love with a man who shares her wishes and desires, she is forced to confront a struggle of conscience that is hard for the postmodern reader to accept. Ida tries to reconcile her mind and conscience with cutting herself off forever from family members from whom it once seemed right to separate.

While she is not a religious person and does not base her decisions on what is left of Norway’s conventional morality, Ida cannot fully agree with her secular friends that it is best to abandon those who couldn’t possibly make her feel fulfilled. “We at any rate can’t watch people drowning because they can’t swim, and not care,” she says. Her fundamental choice is between a “happy ending” and the needs of her family. Her choice determines their futures, her character, and her understanding of the meaning of life.

One of the lessons Sigrid Undset teaches so adeptly in her fiction is the step-by-step nature of discernment: Decisions made today may need to be adjusted tomorrow, because mercy has claims as well as justice. Undset deprives the reader of an easy ending because real life is often difficult. Happiness does not always appear in the form for which we wish. Deep human longings, passions, hopes, and personal needs may clash with what we know in our hearts must be done. The mysteries of life can’t be shoehorned into simplistic answers to complex problems. Codependence is not a virtue; “tough love” is a necessary, difficult road. But once Ida Elisabeth decides not to abandon the source of her sorrows to the public almshouse (so to speak), the way begins to become clear―a road of thorns for her at first, but a path of light, understanding, reconciliation, and peace.

Ida Elisabeth is a novel to be pondered with an open mind and heart―and more than a few good tears.

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