By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
Does Metro’s appetite for more money ever end? Last November, Metro raised property taxes by $475 million for parks and nature. Now, with Measure 26-210, Metro wants another $2.5 billion for housing services. In November, Metro will have a third ballot measure, asking for an additional $3.8 billion to expand light rail. That’s nearly $6.8 billion in new taxes for Metro—in one year alone.
COVID-19 has crushed the economy. Our region is in a recession. Businesses are closing, and many of them will never reopen. Even so, Metro’s charging full speed ahead with Measure 26-210. Many small and medium sized business owners will be taxed twice by Metro’s measure. First on their business income, then on their personal income. It’s bad policy coupled with terrible timing.
In its rush to get Measure 26-210 to the ballot, Metro has left many unanswered questions. Who’s going to collect the taxes? How will collections be enforced? Who gets the money? How many people get off the streets and into housing? When will the camps go away? How do we measure success? No one knows.
Metro claims the measure is designed to provide “homeless services.” To most people, this means helping the people sleeping on the streets, in parks, or in cars. But if Measure 26-210 passes, those people will only receive a small fraction of the money.
Close to 40% of the assessed tax will go toward collection costs, administration, and overhead. Setting up two complex tax schemes is going to cost millions of dollars. Then, there are the costs of collecting the taxes. After that, there’s Metro’s overhead. Metro then passes the money to counties, who have their own overhead. The counties then pass the money to nonprofit service providers who also have their own overhead. Every time the money passes, the pot shrinks.
Based on Metro staff calculations, about 45% of the money raised will be spent on rent assistance for households who are facing “severe rent burden,” rather than those who are actually homeless. The measure itself makes clear that tax revenues will be used for “affordable housing and rental assistance,” “eviction prevention,” “landlord tenant education,” “legal services,” and “fair housing advocacy.”
According to Metro staff, only 15% of the tax money is earmarked for support services for unsheltered individuals and families.
Metro’s original mission was land use and transportation planning. Measure 26-210 expands Metro’s mission to include homeless and housing services. At a February work session, Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen declared, “it’s clear to me that Metro does not have the expertise or experience, let alone the capacity, to actually administer, to provide these services.”
Metro is already overwhelmed trying to manage its park and natural areas, the Oregon Zoo, the Convention Center, the Expo Center, and serving as the landlord for Portland area arts organizations. Adding another massive program to Metro’s expanding portfolio is more likely to lead to failure than success.
The region has had a homeless problem for more than 30 years. In 1986, Portland mayor Bud Clark made national news with his homeless plan: reach out to those who want help, be firm with those who don’t, and create an environment in which residents can feel safe and businesses can flourish. It was never fully implemented.
People have had enough of the homeless crisis. They don’t want camps in their neighborhoods, needles in their parks, or more crime. Rather than an expensive program of rental vouchers and “wraparound” services, the region needs more emergency shelters to transition the unsheltered into temporary housing and off streets.
Measure 26-210 doesn’t have a plan for action. It’s just a framework to create a plan. If it passes, the only thing we know for sure is that families and businesses will face a hefty new tax burden, with no clear idea of where the money will be spent or who will be helped. That’s a risk we can’t afford to take.
Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute and an adjunct professor at Portland State University, where he teaches courses in urban economics and regulation. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Think renewable energy is infallible? Michael Moore’s film “Planet of the Humans” says to think again
By Rachel Dawson
Despite the claims of environmentalists promoting wind and solar energy, there is no perfect energy source. Each alternative has its own unique benefits and costs.
So, it was certainly no surprise when a recent Michael Moore film criticizing renewable energy made headlines and caused panic in liberal circles. In his Earth Day film, Planet of the Humans, staunch environmentalist Moore discovered that renewable energy was not as infallible as he had been led to believe.
It is, he says, a “documentary that dares to say what no one else will this Earth Day…we are following leaders who have taken us down the wrong road.”
Through the film, Director Jeff Gibbs discovers, among other things, that:
- Solar panels are created using coal and other rare earth minerals, leading to excessive mining in Third World countries and human rights issues.
- Solar energy is intermittent, and many “green” events claiming to run on solar panels often must be backed up by reliable diesel generators when the sun stops shining.
- “Renewable” biomass involves burning wood, emitting large amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere and leading to deforestation.
- Electric vehicles are powered by the same resources that power the regional grid. Thus, EVs are powered primarily by fossil fuels.
- Companies claiming to use 100% renewable energy are always hooked up to the electrical grid to ensure they have access to reliable power when the renewable sources fail to generate sufficient power.
- Weather dependent, intermittent energy resources must be backed up by firm power such as nuclear, coal, hydropower, or natural gas at all times. Gibbs and Moore show that greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the Sierra Club began its “Beyond Coal” campaign. These retired coal plants are often being replaced by an even greater quantity of natural gas.
- The renewable energy industry is just as susceptible to the incentive of increasing profits as the “money-hungry” fossil fuel industry that environmentalists criticize.
Environmentalists have decried Planet of the Humans and petitioned for it to be permanently removed from online film platforms. Because of this, it is currently available only on YouTube. But calls for censorship do little to refute the movie’s critiques of renewable energy and instead support Moore’s thesis that people with a stake in renewable resources are pressuring the United States to invest in an industry that is not as clean as it has been reported to be.
Similar to the renewable energy industry the film examines, Planet of the Humans has faults of its own that are important to recognize. For example, the movie refers to outdated solar panels that have an 8% annual capacity factor and last only 10 years. However, some solar panels today can last up to 20 years and have a capacity factor of 10-25%.
Of course, these numbers are still well below those of traditional non-renewable sources. Natural gas has an annual capacity factor of 60%, and a thermal power plant typically has a 50-year lifespan. The average age of hydroelectric facilities currently operating in the U.S. is 64 years, demonstrating their ability to last more than three times as long as the typical solar power farm.
This film demonstrates the importance of thinking critically about all energy resources. Michael Moore does not place fossil fuels on a pedestal, but rather admits that all energy resources have an impact on our planet.
It is vital that the sources we use to power our grid are affordable and reliable. Solar and wind power don’t do our communities any good if they can’t keep the lights on. This is especially true now in Oregon when officials are forecasting a 33% probability of blackouts in 2024 due to the early closure of our region’s reliable coal plants. To avoid a repeat of the 2001 energy crisis, we should replace our energy resources with firm, reliable power.
Oregon’s current requirement that large utilities procure at least 50% of their electricity from wind, solar, and biomass by 2040 can’t and won’t happen with current technology, because intermittency is fundamentally incompatible with grid operation. Legislators should face reality right now and end that requirement before the blackouts hit.
If they won’t repeal this mandate, they should at least define hydropower as “renewable.” Since hydroelectric dams provide 45% of Oregon’s electricity, that simple change would make it possible for Oregon to comply with the 50% mandate. They also should legalize nuclear power, which was outlawed by Oregon voters in 1980.
Like Moore and Gibbs, we must scrutinize the decisions being made by utilities and state regulators to ensure we have enough electric power when we need it. Otherwise, we may be at risk of spending hours in the dark.
Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.
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