Month: September 2019


Portland’s Rising Bills are Purposeful Accidents

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

Portland City Council has just learned that what it thought was a $500 million water filtration plant will now be an $850 million project–and may go as high as $1.2 billion. The reason for the 70% spike: The water bureau did not include the cost of the pipes leading to and from the plant. Those forgotten pipes are going to add more than $130 a year to the average water bill.

Truth is, those pipes weren’t forgotten. They were omitted so the bureau could low-ball the cost of the project. This isn’t a first. The Portland Aerial Tram was three times over budget in part because the city “forgot” to include soft costs. If they included these costs, the eye-popping prices for the tram would have given even a spendthrift city council some pause. Portland Public Schools intentionally low-balled the cost of school construction so voters would approve a school bond measure.

These are not accidents or mistakes. This is intentional malfeasance by the bureaucracy. Our elected officials are so busy with photo ops and posturing that they forget their jobs are to scrutinize their staff and serve the people who put them in office. Voters can’t fire the bureaucrats, but we can fire the politicians who hired them.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Press Release: Cascade Policy Institute Urges a NO Vote on Measure 26-203


Media Contact:

John A. Charles, Jr.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D.


Cascade Policy Institute Urges a NO Vote on Measure 26-203

Voters should reject Metro’s tax increase and land grab

In approximately four weeks Portland area voters will receive their November ballots. One of the items is Measure 26-203: a $475 million bond measure by Metro, the regional government for the Portland area. Metro wants the money so it can buy more land for its so-called parks and nature program. Measure 26-203 will raise the region’s property taxes by about $60 million a year.

Cascade Policy Institute urges a vote NO on Measure 26-203. Voters have already approved two such measures—one for $135 million in 1995, and another for $227 million in 2006. Most of that money has been spent to buy up more than 14,000 acres of land. Yet, less than 12% of these lands are available for public use.

Metro has made it clear that many of the parcels purchased since 1995 will never be open for use. In fact, if you try to find a list of all properties bought by Metro with bond money, you won’t be able to. A Metro lawyer told Cascade staff in a meeting this summer that they don’t want the public to know where the park land is because they don’t want the public to visit it

Eric Fruits, Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, said, “Most of Metro’s nature properties are Oregon’s own Area 51—they’re owned by the government, they don’t show up on maps, and no one knows what’s going on there.”

In addition, more than two-thirds of the land bought with bond money is outside Metro’s jurisdiction, and nearly 80% is outside the Portland Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). That means most voters will never use Metro parks because they are so far away—even if the areas were open to the public. 

Measure 26-203 is on the ballot largely to ensure tax dollars keep flowing to Metro. The measure brings in so much money, the Metro Council can’t figure out how to spend it all. That’s why Metro has earmarked $50 million of the bond funds for “advancing large-scale community visions.” Metro itself says the earmark is “not well-defined” and a leader of 1,000 Friends of Oregon called it a “slush fund.”

For more information on Measure 26-203 and Metro’s parks program, contact Cascade Policy Institute at 503-242-0900.

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Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free market public policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. For more information, visit

Contact Eric Fruits or John Charles at 503-242-0900 or by email at or for more information or to schedule an interview.

Why Voters Should Vote NO on Measure 26-203

Here are the top five arguments against Measure 26-203:

  1. Metro already has more land than it can manage. The focus for the next decade should be on making current lands available for public use. Metro’s largest planned park—Chehalem Ridge near Gaston—has been in Metro ownership for nine years, and there is still no public access. Metro also owns about 1,400 acres in the Sandy River Gorge. These holdings are not shown on any of Metro’s parks and nature maps and Metro has no plans at all to make these properties available for swimming, boating, hiking, or family cookouts. Metro needs to turn these and other areas into parks its residents actually use before voters give Metro a blank check for $475 million.
  2. Last year Metro spent nearly 25% of all bond expenditures on “administration.” For the past five years, Metro has failed to meet its commitment to keep administrative costs below 10%.
  3. Metro claims that it has to buy up more land to save it from development, but most properties purchased to date were never threatened because they are outside the UGB. There is no imminent threat of sensitive lands being “paved over” – precisely because the UGB prohibits development and Metro has no plans to expand the UGB to these areas.
  4. Metro is the only parks manager in the entire tri-county region that won’t allow dogs, even if leashed. For many park users, especially women, that means they won’t use Metro parks at all, because they don’t feel safe walking alone. Metro’s no dog policy is a frequent complaint at community meetings about Metro’s parks program.
  5. The primary reason for the bond measure is to prevent property tax rates from dropping. At a Metro Council retreat in July 2017, Metro’s Chief Operating Officer explained, “Debt service on the 2006 bonds is expiring. If we wait past 2020 for another bond measure, the current tax rate of 19 cents per thousand of assessed value would drop to zero, and then we would have to admit that our bond measure raises taxes.” 

    Press Coverage of Metro’s Parks and Nature Program

    Nick Budnick, “Green Acres,” Willamette Week, February 2, 2000.

    “But a five-week WW review, including dozens of interviews and stacks of real-estate files, found an agency so anxious to secure land that it has streamlined fiscal controls, creating a process that allows even overpriced land to look like a good deal. In 16 out of 32 real-estate acquisitions reviewed by WW, the land values determined by Metro appear inflated, and the combined cost to taxpayers could easily run in the millions.”

    Body Politic,” Willamette Week, October 18, 2006.

    “Conceptually, who could argue with the desire to have Metro, the regional government, buy land for green spaces? We do, for the following reasons. First of all, there are several money measures on the ballot deserving your support, and this is the least pressing among them. Second, critics have pointed to the fact that part of the land Metro seeks to buy is so far outside the urban growth boundary that it’s not only beyond Metro’s jurisdiction but is unnecessary, at least for the next several decades. Others have pointed out that some of the targeted land is farmland, which would be taken out of cultivation.”

    Nicholas Deshais, “Field of Schemes,” Willamette Week, March 27, 2007.

    “The plan would try to return the park’s entire 25 acres back to nature. That includes removing most artificial structures, non-native plants and anything else that smacks of humanity, such as the two baseball fields used by Lakeside Little League. Eventually, the city wants to see a wetland prairie instead of a pitcher’s mound. … ‘The fact that the ball fields are there is an accident of history,’ said Mike Houck, director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute and a member of the master plan’s advisory committee. ‘You wouldn’t put a ball field in the middle of Oaks Bottom.’”

    Tim Curran, “Headwaters work gives neighbors headaches,” Mid-County Memo, October 29, 2011.

    “Steve Lynch, who has lived next to the property for 12 years, said his experience with city and Metro officials has been frustrating. ‘They’ve done the most possible damage in the least amount of time I’ve ever seen any neighbor do,’ Lynch said.  ‘They will look you right in the eye and tell you what you want to hear, and tomorrow the trucks are in. I’m not going to be nice anymore.’”

    Nigel Jaquiss, “Mayors Urge Metro to Delay Planned May Bond Measure,” Willamette Week, December 6, 2012. Quoting letter from mayors.

    “In addition to concerns regarding compression, the plan for the remaining natural area’s bond purchases and impacts on long term maintenance needs are still unclear to our group. Without further information and clarity regarding the plan for past voters’approved investments, it is hard for us to see the value in asking voters for additional resources.”

    Dana Tims, “Metro’s bargain land becomes a burden to restore, maintain,” Oregonian, April 13, 2013.

    “‘We were rejecting more real estate deals than any private development team in the city,’ Metro Council President Tom Hughes said. ‘The ones we accepted let us stretch those bond dollars a lot further than we thought we could.’ All that stretching, however, came at a cost. Since the bond money can only be used to buy land, Metro’s been stockpiling acreage for years with scant means of maintaining or restoring it.”

    Rob Manning, “Metro Has The Land, But Needs Money To Make It Parks,” OPB, May 15, 2013.

    “Thousands of people drive past these creeks every day – on Highway 213. But the forest along the creeks can be hard to get to. There are no signs. You have to know the way in – past power lines and thickets of scotch broom and blackberry bushes. Metro land manager, Dan Moeller says the gate in is narrow – on purpose. ‘To manage what’s able to get in and out of here, we had to create some fencing, and we actually had to design this little post system to stop shopping carts from coming into this site.’ Moeller says the gate keeps shopping carts out — but it also blocks kids’ strollers and visitors in wheelchairs. Officials say homeless camps crop up often.”

    Peter Wong, “Metro Council seeks extension of park levy,” Portland Tribune, July 5, 2016.

    “Metro Councilor Bob Stacey said the North Tualatin Mountains plan, which the council approved April 21, calls for opening only about 25 percent of its 1,400 acres to trails for walking, cycling and horseback riding and putting most of the rest off-limits.”

    Howl, no: Metro seeks more money for anti-dog park network,” Oregonian, July 5, 2016.

    “It may surprise many people in the Portland area to know that Metro is, among other things, the owner of vast swaths of park land. Its holdings, at about 17,000 acres, were amassed largely as a result of two voter-approved funding measures totaling more than $363 million. Metro officials swept up this property for a number of conservation-related purposes, from preserving wildlife habitat to improving water quality. But that’s not all. Improving access to people — who are, after all, paying for all of this — was a goal as well.”

    Voters should say no to Metro’s bid to renew parks levy,” Oregonian, October 19, 2016.

    “Most of [Metro’s] efforts are large and expensive, such as committing $60 million in bonding capacity to an otherwise private hotel project at the Oregon Convention Center, which it also oversees. Pockets of rancor about the agency’s reach and influence nest in some suburban and rural venues, where folks have argued Metro has grown too large and operates without sufficient accountability.”

    Rachel Monahan, “Portland Begs for Bond Money to Finish Park Work It Started,” Willamette Week, June 5, 2019.

    “Behind closed doors, the city of Portland has been lobbying for more money—because the last Metro parks bond, in 2006, helped buy properties for Portland, but City Hall lacks the money to finish restoring or improving them.”

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The MAX Yellow Line: A Look Back After 15 Years

By Rachel Dawson

TriMet’s MAX Yellow Line first opened 15 years ago in May 2004. The Yellow Line’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) made a myriad of predictions for the year 2020, which makes now the perfect time to reflect on what officials promised and what taxpayers and transit riders have since received.

Yellow Line History

The Yellow Line originated in 1988 as a 21-mile project connecting Vancouver, Washington with Downtown Portland and Clackamas Town Center. This plan was scrapped after Clark County voters defeated a proposal to raise $236.5 million in 1995 and Oregon voters turned down a $475 million regional ballot measure in 1998.

Not to be deterred by a lack of voter support, officials developed a shorter alternative in 1999 that would run from the Expo Center to Downtown Portland along Interstate Avenue. This alternative cost $350 million, 74% of which came from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

The construction of the new alternative was not put to a public vote. Portland officials instead expanded an urban renewal district to include the Interstate Avenue Corridor. Doing so allowed them to appropriate $30 million in tax increment funds to finance the rail that otherwise would have gone to other tax-collecting jurisdictions, including Multnomah County. The county commissioners opposed expansion of the urban renewal district, but the Portland City Council approved it anyway.

Looking back after fifteen years, we find that key promises made in the FEIS were never kept:

1.  Frequency of Service

What We Were Promised: TriMet promised FTA in their Full-Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) that peak-hour trains would arrive every ten minutes and off-peak trains every 15 minutes. The promised service according to the FEIS was supposed to reach eight trains during peak hours in 2020.

What We Received: Instead of having 10-15-minute headways between trains, the Yellow Line runs every 15 minutes during peak-periods and every 30 minutes during other parts of the day.

2.  Travel Times

What We Were Promised: TriMet predicted travel times to be 24 minutes from Downtown Portland to the Expo Center and 19 minutes from Downtown Portland to N Lombard.[1] Light rail speeds were projected to reach 15.3 miles per hour (mph), and bus speeds were projected to be 13.2 mph in 2005.[2]

What We Received: Actual travel times are slower than predicted. It takes 35 minutes to take light rail from Downtown Portland to the Expo Center and 28 minutes from Downtown Portland to N Lombard, even though light rail has its own exclusive right of way. Actual travel times are 45.8% greater to the Expo Center and 47.4% greater to N Lombard. Actual light rail speeds in the corridor only hit 14.1 mph in 2005 while bus speeds averaged 16.1 mph—significantly faster than predicted.

3.  High ridership

What We Were Promised: The FEIS forecasted ridership in the corridor to dramatically increase with the building of the Yellow Line. By 2020 the line’s ridership was expected to have 18,100 average weekday riders.

What We Received: At no point since the Yellow Line opened has ridership met projected levels. In April 2019 ridership only reached 13,270, 26.7% less than projected. This number will not meet 2020 projected levels based upon the negative trend observed over the past three years. From March 2016 to March 2019 ridership levels decreased by 3.6%.

Lower than promised ridership isn’t unique to the Yellow Line; every TriMet rail forecast has been wrong, and always wrong on the high side.

Light Rail Is Not Superior to Bus Transit

The Yellow Line was expected to provide superior service compared to the no-build bus alternative. This forecast hasn’t panned out. The Yellow Line replaced Line #5, which if it were still operating, would have seven-minute headways between Vancouver and Downtown Portland. C-Tran express service was forecasted to have three-minute headways.[3]

Light rail does not reach any more people or businesses than Line #5 did. In fact, Line #5 had more stops along Interstate Avenue, meaning some riders now have a longer walking commute to the MAX stations.

TriMet bus service from Vancouver to Downtown Portland continues to be an option even after the Yellow Line’s construction. Line #6 was changed to pick up the link between Jantzen Beach and the Yellow Line’s Delta Park stop that Line #5 had previously serviced. It then continues down MLK Boulevard to the Portland City Center.

In Spring 2019, Line #6 saw 665 average weekday on/offs at Jantzen Beach and only 190 total on/offs at Delta Park. This means that the vast majority of Vancouver commuters on Line #6 opt to stay on the bus to Portland instead of transferring to the Yellow Line.

Given the Yellow Line’s history, we can expect the prospective SW Corridor light rail project to increase traffic, have fewer trains than promised, and have lower ridership than predicted. If ridership levels are 26.7% below forecast 15 years into service, why should the SW Corridor ridership estimate of 43,000 daily boardings be taken seriously? The FTA should not offer TriMet additional light rail funding in the future if TriMet is unable to honor its past promises.

TriMet may argue that service levels are below EIS forecasted levels due to a lack of funds. However, TriMet’s revenue increase in recent years tells otherwise. Between 1998 and 2018, passenger fares increased by 116% and tax revenue increased by 64%. TriMet’s payroll tax has been increasing since 2005 and will continue to go up every year until 2024. There is no issue with revenue; rather, the issue lies with light rail.

Moving forward, Metro and TriMet should focus on creating a more reliable bus network that runs on an already built road system. Doing so will benefit riders and taxpayers alike.


[1] Federal Transportation Authority, Interstate MAX Before and After Study, 2005, 2-5.

[2] Id, 2-10.

[3] North Corridor Instate MAX Light Rail Project, Final Environmental Impact Statement Executive Summary, October 1999, S-17.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Cascade Policy Institute Presents a Special Event with Economist Stephen Moore

Join Cascade Policy Institute for a conversation with economist Stephen Moore. This special event will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Portland-Lake Oswego, Sunday, September 22, at 7 pm.

Steve Moore co-founded and served as president of the Club for Growth from 1999 to 2004, is a former member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board, and is an economic advisor to President Donald Trump. As Distinguished Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, Moore focuses on advancing public policies that increase the rate of economic growth to help the United States retain its position as the global economic superpower. He also works on budget, fiscal, and monetary policy and showcases states that get fiscal houses in order.

With Arthur B. Laffer, Moore is the author of Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy.

Dessert and coffee will be served. Tickets are $25 per person and must be purchased in advance.

Reservations and pre-payment are required by September 20.

For more information about the event and to purchase tickets, click here or call Janet Van Gilder at (503) 242-0900.

Don’t miss this special opportunity to see Steve Moore in Portland!

Sunday, September 22, 2019
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Crowne Plaza Hotel Portland-Lake Oswego
14811 Kruse Oaks Drive (just off I-5 and 217)
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

Founded in 1991, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free-market public policy research center. Cascade’s mission is to explore and promote public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity. For more information, visit


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Better Buses May Be the Transit Solution the SW Corridor Needs

By Rachel Dawson

TriMet may have found a better alternative to the proposed SW Corridor light rail project without realizing it.

TriMet is planning a 15-mile-long transit project on Division Street that will run 60-foot buses from downtown Portland to Gresham. The project is estimated to cost $150 million and will include expanded bus stations that offer protection from the weather and signal priority for buses to cut down on travel times by 20%. Each bus is equipped with three doors and can hold 60% more passengers than the typical TriMet bus.

TriMet discarded the idea of continuing buses along the proposed SW Corridor route in favor of light rail despite decreasing transit ridership and increasing light rail costs. Instead of spending nearly $3 billion on a new light rail line, TriMet could mimic the Division Transit Project and run high capacity buses along the route with upgraded stations for just 5% of light rail’s cost. Running buses on an already built system will save hundreds of residents and employees from being displaced. TriMet can also decrease bus emissions by trading diesel for renewable or compressed natural gas for a cleaner ride.

It’s time for TriMet to stop making excuses for light rail and do what is best for both taxpayers and commuters in Portland.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Portland’s Temporary Gas Tax Should Stay Just That

By Rachel Dawson

Portland’s temporary gas tax should stay just that: temporary.

Portland voters approved the 10 cent per gallon gas tax three years ago to fund a road repair and traffic safety program. Since its implementation, the program has failed to live up to all expectations.

Gasoline-using vehicles pay for 100% of the tax but only receive a little over half the benefits. Only 56% of tax revenues go to street maintenance projects, while 44% is spent on pedestrian and bicycle safety.

The program is also poorly managed. A 2019 audit on the tax found that program oversight has been ineffective, many projects have not been completed on time, revenue goals have not been met, and completed projects have cost $900,000 more than what was told to voters.

City staff admitted that project schedules were not realistic and took longer to begin “because the scopes of individual projects were not yet well-defined.” This lackadaisical approach to project planning would never fly in the private sector, so why is the city getting a pass?

Portland commissioner Chloe Eudaly will send the expiring gas tax back to voters in May 2020. The region needs better roads, not another poorly managed tax. For these reasons, Portlanders should vote “no” on extending the gas tax in 2020.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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