Month: October 2020

It’s Creepy Season Metro’s Haunted Lands-cm

It’s Creepy Season: Metro’s Haunted Lands

By Helen Doran

Did you know that more than three-fourths of Metro’s park lands purchased with bonds since 1995 are hidden from the public? You might as well call Metro’s lands haunted.

Metro has no problems with this fact, no matter how shocking this number is to its residents. In fact, with its newest land acquisition — an 86-acre property in the Sandy River Basin — Metro makes it painstakingly clear that this land (along with its 1,400 acres already in the area) is not for human use.

What will the land accomplish for taxpayers? Unfortunately, the answer is a bundle of vague promises, none of which help the average Oregonian. For example, Metro promises that the land will “improve landscape connectivity and climate resilience” as well as “provide potential opportunities for native plant harvest by Indigenous communities.”

These promises have very little to do with Metro’s residents and everything to do with Metro’s mission creep. You might as well call it “nature creep” because the restoration and conservation work supposedly occurring on 88% of Metro’s properties has no end date. Even Metro’s promised Chehalem Ridge park, which has been undergoing supposed restoration for over a decade, will periodically close to visitors for restoration once finally opened. It’s time for Metro to stop investing in haunted lands and end its nature creep. Taxpayers should encourage Metro to use its 2019 bond money to build more parks that are useful to the public.

Helen Doran is a Program Assistant, External Affairs at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

Click here for PDF version

Read Blog Detail
$7 Billion for That-cm

$7 Billion for That?

Metro’s Transportation Tax Will Overspend on Underused Projects

By Rachel Dawson and Vlad Yurlov

What could you do with $7 billion? That’s the question on a lot of people’s minds as the Metro regional government pushes a permanent transportation tax this November. The tax will be paid by employers at workplaces with 26 or more workers, including nonprofit organizations. Metro, however, exempted itself and other local governments from paying the tax. Many of these projects will end up causing more problems in the future, creating congestion and redundancy and saddling us with more public debt.

The crown jewel of Metro’s transportation tax program is the Southwest Corridor light rail line extension, which is expected to cost $2.8 billion. This project encapsulates many of the problems in this measure. Southwest Corridor is an 11-mile extension of the MAX Green Line from Portland State University to the Bridgeport Village luxury mall. The draft environmental impact statement for the project concludes it will increase congestion at 46 intersections during the PM peak and 30 intersections during the AM, compared to only 36 and 14 intersections otherwise. Multiple I-5 ramps will see increases in congestion during both peak hours.

While some argue that light rail investments will get people out of their cars, much of light rail ridership comes from commuters who already ride public transit. Furthermore, light rail ridership has decreased by roughly 65% since the beginning of the pandemic, and many riders won’t return because CDC recommends that employees avoid transit. Roughly $2.8 billion will be spent on a rarely used facility that will worsen our region’s congestion.

Congestion Creators

Projects such as bus-only lanes will create bottlenecks and increase congestion on multiple corridors. Taking away a traffic lane before an intersection will force other vehicles to merge into a neighboring lane, increasing traffic and creating safety hazards. For example, Metro wants to implement at least one mile of bus-only lanes at various intersections along the Tualatin Valley Highway corridor. Portland’s proposed bus-only lanes are expected to increase delays for cars and trucks, divert traffic to nearby streets, and remove parking. Metro’s bus-only lanes are sure to produce similar congestion effects throughout the region.

Redundant Projects

While Portland certainly needs more bridges for cars and trucks, Metro’s bond measure will fund an unnecessary pedestrian bridge. The Trolley Trail Bridge is a $14.4 million project within the McLoughlin corridor. The bridge would cross the Clackamas River between Gladstone and Oregon City. The proposed bridge, however, is located right next to the recently renovated 82nd Drive Pedestrian Bridge. It takes less than 3 minutes for a cyclist to get from the proposed bridge’s end to the 82nd Drive Bridge and about 8 minutes for pedestrians. If local residents want to build a bridge next to an existing one, local jurisdictions should be the funding source. While it might be nice to have, this redundancy adds little value to the region.

Lavish Costs

The Foster/172nd Roundabout included in the Clackamas to Columbia corridor is a clear example of lavish spending and inflated costs. The City of Gresham’s 2018 cost estimate for a roundabout or traffic signal at this intersection was $342,000 (or approximately $348,197 in 2019 dollars). Metro’s new cost estimate for this project is more than 18 times higher at $6.5 million in 2019 dollars. This drastic increase in price calls into question the validity of this corridor’s cost estimates. Since the City of Gresham’s Transportation System Plan had this roundabout in its 50-year construction forecast, it is not an urgent development. However, safety improvements could be installed here with a traffic light for under $200,000. This amount can fit within a local jurisdiction’s budget without a regional wage tax.

These four examples were selected from hundreds of problematic investments proposed in Metro’s 2020 transportation measure. Increased congestion, redundancy, and lavish spending are not what we should be funding. Portland’s business community has made it clear that the tax imposed by this measure would cost jobs in our region. During an economic recession we should be leaving money in the voters’ pockets. Although Metro pushes this measure as a regional effort, everyone’s tax burdens will fund projects that few people will use. Metro area residents should vote “NO” on Metro’s Measure 26-218 this November.

Rachel Dawson and Vlad Yurlov are policy analysts at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. They can be reached at rachel@cascadepolicy.org and vlad@cascadepolicy.org.

Click here for PDF version

Read Blog Detail
The Boardman Coal Plant Closed. Now What-cm

The Boardman Coal Plant Closed. Now What?

By Rachel Dawson

On Thursday, October 15, Portland General Electric pulled the plug on the Boardman Coal Plant, PGE’s largest power plant. Boardman had a nameplate capacity of 550 firm megawatts of power and was decommissioned 20 years prematurely.

While environmentalists celebrate the plant’s closure, utility executives are still trying to figure out how they will keep the lights on in our region.

That’s because the more coal plants our region removes from the grid, the more likely we are to experience future blackouts. Multiple studies from groups like the Northwest Power Pool, E3, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council all reached the same conclusion: Our region will have a shortage of power by the mid-2020s that could lead to blackouts and extreme price volatility.

Curious about what this would look like? Look no further than California. In August, the state experienced rolling blackouts as it leaned too heavily on imports and didn’t have enough of its own firm power.

Our utilities aren’t far behind. Large Northwest utilities plan on investing in wind, solar, batteries, and—like California—market purchases. To avoid California’s same fate, our utilities and officials need to acknowledge that an intermittent resource powered grid is not a reliable or an affordable grid. Instead of celebrating Boardman’s closure, they should invest in firm power sources like natural gas and clean nuclear power.

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

Click here for PDF version

Read Blog Detail
Cascade Policy Institute Responds to the Early Closure of the Boardman Coal Plant-cm

Cascade Policy Institute Responds to the Early Closure of the Boardman Coal Plant

October 19, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

Rachel Dawson

(503) 242-0900

rachel@cascadepolicy.org

PORTLAND, Ore. – At 11:56 am on Thursday, October 15, Portland General Electric (PGE) pulled the plug on the Boardman Coal Plant, PGE’s largest power plant. Boardman had a nameplate capacity of 550 firm megawatts of power and was decommissioned 20 years prematurely.

While environmentalists celebrate the plant’s closure, utility executives are still trying to figure out how they will keep the lights on in our region.

That’s because the more coal plants our region removes from the grid, the more likely we are to experience future blackouts. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council is tasked with running models to determine whether there is enough electricity supply to meet demand in the future during a “worst case scenario.” The Council considers the supply adequate if the Loss of Load Probability (LOLP) is 5% or less. In late 2019, the Council found the LOLP by 2026 to be 26%. This means that more than one out of every four simulations run by the Council shows the region facing a shortage of electricity.

To put that percentage into perspective, the LOLP during the 2001 energy crisis was predicted by the Council to be 24%. During this crisis, the Pacific Northwest experienced a prolonged drought that resulted in the loss of 4,000 megawatts of hydropower compared to the average year. To balance the grid, Bonneville Power Administration took back electricity previously sold to the aluminum industry, effectively putting 5,000 aluminum employees out of work.

Since natural gas emits 60% fewer emissions than coal, it would make sense to replace a firm baseload resource with another, cleaner firm resource. However, that’s not what PGE and PacifiCorp plan on doing. Both Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) plan on replacing lost coal plant megawatts with market purchases, wind, solar, and batteries.

While other utilities have succumbed to criticisms of any and all fossil fuels, the Benton Public Utility District released a report calling out its peers for engaging in virtue signaling and not taking steps to protect the electrical grid. Benton says what others are afraid to: Investing only in wind, solar, and batteries won’t work. For example, Benton found that wind output during the coldest night will only reach around 7%, which won’t provide sufficient electricity when people need to heat their homes. Instead, Benton PUD recommends using natural gas as a transition fuel to nuclear power.

The recent California blackouts should prompt officials to hit pause on their plans to overhaul the electrical grid with intermittent wind and solar resources. Officials charged with managing the California grid admitted the blackouts were due to poor planning. California leaned too heavily on imports and didn’t have enough of its own firm power. Between 2014 and 2018, California reduced natural gas consumption by 21% while increasing renewable energy capacity by 54%. When the sun went down and the wind stopped blowing during the August heatwave, it was clear the ever-decreasing portfolio of firm power wouldn’t make the cut.


Cascade Policy Institute policy analyst Rachel Dawson says, “As more Oregonians work and learn online, it’s critical we take actions that avoid devastating blackouts. Officials know we have a problem; and utilities know that with current technology, intermittent resources alone can’t solve it. Now is the time for them to reverse course and protect the reliability and affordability of the grid.”

To avoid California’s fate, Oregon utilities and officials need to acknowledge that an intermittent resource powered grid is not a reliable or an affordable grid. Instead of celebrating Boardman’s closure, they should take a page from Benton PUD’s book and invest in natural gas and nuclear power.


Contact Rachel Dawson by email at rachel@cascadepolicy.org for more information or to schedule an interview. 

About Cascade Policy Institute: 

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 cascadepolicy.org.

###

Read Blog Detail
Poll Shows Support for Parents to Use State Education Funding for School Choice-cm

Poll Shows Support for Parents to Use State Education Funding for School Choice

By Kathryn Hickok

A RealClear Opinion poll released at the end of September revealed that parents with children in school increasingly—and overwhelmingly—favor the concept of school choice. More than 2,000 registered voters were asked this question: 

“Recent federal legislation gave governors new funding they can use for K-12 education. Some governors have let families control the funds for the purchase of education technology and materials, private school tuition, and home education. Would you support or oppose your governor sending the funding directly to families and allowing them to choose how to use those funds to support their child’s education?”

Seventy-eight percent of public school parents and 79% of non-public school parents supported that statement.

As families today struggle with school situations that aren’t meeting their children’s learning needs, options have suddenly become necessary for many parents, especially low-income and single parents. If their zoned public schools aren’t working for their children or families, Oregon parents should get a kind of “money-back guarantee” that will enable them to make other arrangements. One simple way to do this would be an Education Savings Account program, like those already operating in other states. ESA programs give parents control of a portion of their state’s allocated education funding, which they can use to pay for out-of-pocket education expenses.

An ESA program would be a lifeline for Oregon families whose kids are not being served well by their zoned public schools. The purpose of education funding should be educating students, and all parents should be empowered to obtain a quality education for their kids.

: Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Click here for PDF version

Read Blog Detail
Press Release METRO GOVERNMENT’S INAPPROPRIATE USE OF TAX DOLLARS TO PROMOTE NEW PAYROLL TAX TO VOTERS-cm

Press Release: METRO GOVERNMENT’S INAPPROPRIATE USE OF TAX DOLLARS TO PROMOTE NEW PAYROLL TAX TO VOTERS

Cascade Policy Institute urges Metro Auditor and the Oregon Secretary of State to immediately investigate Metro’s likely abuse of power.

October 12, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
(503) 242-0900
eric@cascadepolicy.org

PORTLAND, Ore. – Last week, thousands of Oregon residents received a multi-color postcard from Metro urging them to vote on the regional government’s payroll tax, Measure 26-218 (Exhibit 1). The expensive mailing was sent far and wide, with even some Bend residents finding Metro’s postcard dropped in their mailboxes.

The postcards were designed and mailed using tax dollars, and Metro made no effort to disguise their support for the payroll tax. In large type, Metro’s mailer promotes the ballot title number, uses the “Get Moving 2020” slogan from campaign proponents, and has a multi-color map similar to the map shown in TV ads in favor of the tax.

Approximately 70% of the mailer’s text presents positive messages about the measure, including a listing of the projects Metro anticipates funding, describing input from the community and “leaders” in creating the measure, and identifying oversight provisions if the measure passes.

Less than one-quarter of the postcard’s text mentions the primary purpose of Measure 26-218—to impose a payroll tax on 70% of the region’s workers. The payroll tax is the only reason for the ballot measure. Metro already has the authority to fund transportation projects, but needs voter approval for a payroll tax.

Rather than encouraging recipients to “get both sides” of the arguments for and against Measure 26-218, the mailer directs recipients to Metro’s own webpage for more information (oregonmetro.gov/transportation). This link immediately redirects the visitor to another page titled “Proposed Measure 26-218: ‘Get Moving 2020’” (https://www.oregonmetro.gov/public-projects/get-moving-2020Exhibit 2).

Oregon’s election finance law limits the political activities of public employees while on the job during working hours. Restrictions also prohibit the solicitation of public employees for political activity.

ORS 260.432(2) provides, “No public employee shall . . . promote . . . the adoption of a measure . . . while on the job during working hours.”

ORS 260.432(1) provides, “No person shall attempt to, or actually, coerce, command or require a public employee to influence or give . . . service or other thing of value to promote . . .  the adoption of a measure  . . . .” 

Metro’s mailer does more than encourage individuals to return their ballots. The mailer does not encourage recipients to vote for federal, state, or local candidates. Recipients are not urged to vote for any other state or local measures. Instead, Metro exhorts recipients to vote on a single issue: Measure 26-218, “Get Moving 2020.”

Metro used public employees’ time and the public’s money to create and send the postcards. In addition to the money spent on postage, public employee time was likely used to draft and edit the language of the postcards and design the layout. The out-of-region addresses suggest Metro used public money to purchase a politically targeted mailing list from a third party.

Cascade Policy Institute demands that Metro immediately stop production on any additional promotional mail pieces and asks that Metro’s independently elected auditor and the Oregon Secretary of State to immediately investigate whether Metro’s mailers are an inappropriate or illegal use of tax dollars to encourage voter approval of Measure 26-218.

Under ORS 294.100, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, as well as any other councilors or Metro staff, may be personally liable for reimbursing Metro taxpayers for the decision to create and mail the brochures [emphasis added]:

(1) It is unlawful for any public official to expend any moneys in excess of the amounts provided by law, or for any other or different purpose than provided by law.

(2) Any public official who expends any public moneys in excess of the amounts or for any other or different purpose than authorized by law shall be civilly liable for the return of the money by suit of the district attorney of the district in which the offense is committed, or at the suit of any taxpayer of such district, if the expenditure constitutes malfeasance in office or willful or wanton neglect of duty.

Eric Fruits, Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, concludes, “This taxpayer expenditure clearly crosses the line into using public dollars to advocate for the passage of this payroll tax measure. That is wrong and should stop. Metro’s auditor and the Oregon Secretary of State should immediately investigate this likely abuse of power.”

###

Contact Dr. Eric Fruits by email at eric@cascadepolicy.org for more information or to schedule an interview.

 About Cascade Policy Institute:

 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 cascadepolicy.org.

###
Read Blog Detail
Government Alone Can’t Solve Homelessness-cm

Government Alone Can’t Solve Homelessness

By Vlad Yurlov

On October 2, Helping Hands unveiled its latest transitional housing facility. After Wapato Jail collected dust for 14 years, Jordan Schnitzer bought the facility to create a homeless shelter. Allen Evans, someone who spent years battling homelessness, was eventually tapped to lead the effort. During months-long negotiations and media coverage, many public officials denounced the plan to house homeless people in what they still thought of as a jail. If a deal had not been made, the whole building would have been demolished.

All of their concerns were addressed by Helping Hands, the data-driven nonprofit organization that is now set to offer transitional housing to the homeless population. Under the leadership of Allen Evans, Helping Hands worked with many organizations to supply the Bybee Lakes Hope Center with education, internet access, and transportation.

At the grand opening, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler admitted, “Government couldn’t do it alone.” Even when a solution was presented, the government didn’t back the shelter for months. The philanthropic community and private businesses banded together to solve a problem in an innovative way without the need for public money. To solve homelessness, Portland should embrace public-private partnerships that are led by people who know how to get things done.

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

Click here for PDF version

Read Blog Detail
Reject Ordinance 20-1449-cm

Press Release: Eric Fruits, Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, urges Metro Council to reject Ordinance 20-1449

October 4, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
(503) 242-0900
eric@cascadepolicy.org

PORTLAND, Ore. – On Thursday, October 1, Cascade Policy Institute’s Vice President of Research, Dr. Eric Fruits, testified before the Metro Council, urging them to reject Ordinance 20-1449. The ordinance would authorize the sale of up to $28 million in revenue bonds. The funds would be used to implement, impose, and collect Metro’s new personal and business income taxes.

Fruits also pressed the Council to delay implementation of Metro’s Supportive Housing Services income taxes scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2021.

“Metro has completely misplaced its priorities,” Fruits says. “Instead of focusing on its core obligations, it has spent the last two years expanding its mission by chasing expensive new programs funded with new and increasing tax burdens on its constituents.

“The Council must step back from the messes it has made for itself and Metro as a whole. It should spend the next two years recovering from the pandemic’s financial hit and focusing on the organization’s mission, not its mission creep.”

Cascade Policy Institute’s Vice President of Research, Dr. Eric Fruits, testified before the Metro Council

Click here to read Eric Fruits’ full testimony.

###

Contact Dr. Eric Fruits by email at eric@cascadepolicy.org for more information or to schedule an interview.

About Cascade Policy Institute:

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 cascadepolicy.org.

###

Read Blog Detail
I was homescholled, here is why i support school choice-cm

I was homeschooled. Here is why I support school choice.

By Helen Doran

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents now find themselves adding the position of “teacher” to their LinkedIn profiles. According to a recent Gallup poll, 1 in 10 American families are now officially homeschooling. Many more are supplementing the school system’s online programs with additional learning in the home or with “pandemic pods.”

What has become abundantly clear through this unconventional year of education is that a “one size fits all” education cannot be the policy of the future. Parents have had a closeup view of the quality of their children’s education. Many now see the need for change. In fact, 44% of public school families are considering making changes to how their children learn this fall, according to a September poll by Heart + Mind Strategies.

My family is the perfect example of why choice is the best policy of the future, especially during this period of distance learning. My mother homeschooled four children for religious and quality reasons, two of us all the way through high school. Each of our K-12 educations looked dramatically different and utilized various online classes, tutors, and private education; but they led each of us on our own unique paths to success.

This flexibility allowed us to dive deeply into our interests and to structure our learning in a way that enabled each of us to thrive. However, my point is not to advertise the benefits of homeschooling, but rather, to emphasize the uniqueness of each child’s educational needs. This has been made painstakingly clear by distance learning. Some children are thriving at home with a break from traditional learning. But many are seeing their grades and well-being suffer dramatically by traditional schools’ attempts to teach virtually. In fact, 59% of teens think that online learning is worse than in-person.

My family was lucky. Our parents could afford the time and money to choose the type of education we each needed, whether that be online, one-on-one, or private. But many families are not so fortunate, which leads to the difficult conversation of inequity. A child’s unique needs should not be a discussion merely for those endowed with the necessary resources and flexibility to consider them. Shouldn’t every child be given the option to choose?

School choice is not a new idea. But as parents’ frustration mounts over the inability of public schools to educate effectively during COVID-19, the concept of giving parents a portion of their state’s per-student education funding so they can choose the resources that work best for them has increased in popularity. Opponents of parental choice argue that such legislation favors middle-class families and draws funding away from the public schools. But education choice laws can be designed to be fiscally neutral or even net positive for local school districts. If the amount of funding provided to a withdrawing student is less than what would have been spent to educate that student in the public system, both students and school districts can be made better off.

School choice frees students from being coveted dollar signs in the state budget and instead allows any kid the option to chase his or her dream education. Isn’t that what equity is about? Equal opportunity? Access to education should be equitable, flexible, and focused on supporting the student, not the system. School choice is the fastest, most efficient path to that goal.

Helen Doran is Program Assistant for External Affairs at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization.

Click here for PDF version

Read Blog Detail