Author: Cascade Policy Institute

Banning Bacon Won’t Heal the Sick-cm

Banning Bacon Won’t Heal the Sick

By Vlad Yurlov

If you thought hospital food was bland now, get ready to hear this. The Oregon Legislature is considering a bill that bans hospitals from serving bacon and every other salted, smoked, or cured meat. Because House Bill 2348 also requires hospitals to make plant-based food available, proponents argue that this is simply about promoting good health. But who’s to say that a room full of legislators knows more than a hospital full of doctors?

Being stuck in a hospital bed is bad enough. Patients need to eat to keep up their strength. And comfort food is one secret that gets people eating and happy to be alive. So if the bedridden want bacon, give them bacon.

Politicians are ready to trade your range of choices for their own agendas, especially if they don’t have to eat the results. So let’s save the health food kick for home. If the “bacon ban” passes, buying comfort food from a hospital will only be harder for those that could really use some comfort.

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
Reduce Homelessness by Reusing the Expo Center-cm

Reduce Homelessness by Reusing the Expo Center

By Vlad Yurlov

Portland values its “green” projects; but local policymakers are attempting to address the region’s homelessness crisis by creating new facilities, rather than repurposing properties that already exist. Cascade Policy Institute has released a new report offering straightforward solutions to aid the unsheltered homeless by using public resources more effectively. Publicly owned and operated buildings should serve as emergency homeless shelters to eliminate the need for illegal camping. Homeless individuals need shelter, and vacant buildings like the Portland Expo Center have the space.

The Expo Center has never generated much revenue, and the property has capital needs that are not in its budget. This makes it a great candidate for Metro’s recent Supportive Housing Services funds, which could redevelop the Expo Center into a shelter. This 330,000-square-foot building sits on 53 acres of land. At 100 square feet per person, the exhibition space alone could shelter thousands of people. The kitchen, restaurant, meeting rooms, and other flexible space could provide the services emergency shelters need. Finally, the massive parking areas could serve as outdoor shelters for tents or vehicles.

To solve Oregon’s homelessness crisis, readily available public buildings, like the Expo Center, should be repurposed as shelter space. Using taxpayer-funded resources more efficiently would both provide emergency relief for the homeless and be a win for the local communities that have already paid for them.

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
Oregon Should Increase Parents’ Education Options to Help Every Child Succeed-cm

Oregon Should Increase Parents’ Education Options to Help Every Child Succeed

By Kathryn Hickok

January 24-30 is National School Choice Week, the world’s largest celebration of parental choice in education and the diversity of options available to help today’s students learn. Since 2011, National School Choice Week has affirmed that “every child deserves an effective, challenging, and motivating education.”

“School choice” means empowering parents to choose the education options that are best for their individual children’s needs, goals, talents, and circumstances. Traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private and parochial schools, and homeschooling are all paths to success for K-12 students. Empowering parents to choose among many options can unlock the unique potential of every child. More than half the states in the U.S. currently give families more flexibility to direct their children’s education through educational choice programs including scholarships, education tax credits, and Education Savings Accounts.

As Oregon works to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially urgent that policymakers recognize that each family needs to find the right fit for their student to learn effectively and safely. All options should be valued, and education policies should promote parents’ ability to choose among them to help their child succeed.

Kathryn Hickok is Executive Vice President at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization, and Director of Cascade’s Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon program. CSF-Oregon has provided private scholarships worth more than $3.3 million to lower-income Oregon children to help them attend tuition-based elementary schools since 1999

Click here for PDF version

Read Blog Detail
Oregon’s new cigarette taxes will hurt, not help, low-income residents-cm

Oregon’s new cigarette taxes will hurt, not help, low-income residents

By Rachel Dawson

Oregon couldn’t let a new year commence without the rollout of a new tax increase.

Voters passed Measure 108 last year which increases cigarette and cigar taxes and establishes a new tax on vaping products beginning January 1, 2021.

The measure was approved by 65% of voters, likely because it was painted as an effort to reduce smoking and help low-income Oregonians by directing 90% of funds to the Oregon Health Plan. However, once in practice these new changes will have unintended consequences.

First, the taxes are regressive and will hurt low-income Oregonians. A recent study found that “low socioeconomic status is generally associated with a high prevalence of cigarette smoking.” Smoking prevalence was 41% among men with incomes below the poverty level versus 24% for those with incomes at or above it. It’s absurd that the state is taxing some of the very same people these medical services are supposed to help.

Second, only 10% of raised funds will go to tobacco-use prevention and cessation. It’s clear the purpose of these taxes is to fill a budget hole, not to help tobacco users quit their addiction. The state has created a perverse incentive for itself–the more people smoke, the more money the state brings in. Additionally, e-cigarettes and vaping products, both safer alternatives to cigarettes, will now be taxed. One study found that for every 10% increase in e-cigarette prices, sales dropped by 26%, leading to an increase in traditional cigarette use.

If officials are truly committed to protecting public health by reducing cigarette use, they should allocate a higher percentage of the taxes’ revenue to smoking cessation and prevention programs.

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
Portland Has Highest Income Taxes in the U.S. Are We Getting Our Money’s Worth-cm

Portland Has Highest Income Taxes in the U.S.: Are We Getting Our Money’s Worth?

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

This year, Oregon passed a major milestone. In 2020, Portland became the city with the highest personal income taxes in the United States.

The news was delivered this week in testimony to the Oregon Legislature. The State Tax Research Institute reported that state and local income taxes in Portland total nearly 14% — a rate that’s higher than San Francisco or New York.

That means the average Portland resident must work almost two months just to pay their state and local taxes.

Are we getting our money’s worth? It sure doesn’t seem like it.

  • Do we have great schools? No. We have the fifth worst graduation rate in the country.
  • Do we have flourishing businesses? No. Over the past few years it seems more businesses are leaving than arriving.
  • A lot of our taxes go to the Oregon Health Plan. Do we have great health care? According to U.S. News and World Report, our state ranks near the bottom in adult and child wellness visits as well as child dental visits.

Now that we have record shattering tax rates, it’s time for us to ask: When will we get our money’s worth?

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

Click here for PDF version

Read Blog Detail
Avoidable Expenses for Affordable Housing-cm

Avoidable Expenses for Affordable Housing

By Vlad Yurlov

While many people in the Portland region value efficient governments, prevailing wage laws are rarely questioned. Prevailing wage laws drain tax-payer funded resources by increasing the labor costs of public construction projects such as affordable housing. These laws were originally enacted to shut out minorities from construction jobs in the 1930s. Portland and Metro are currently using more than $900 million in tax dollars to build affordable housing projects. Both jurisdictions are subject to prevailing wage laws that significantly decrease their efficiency.

Portland and Metro’s housing bonds are already spending roughly $300,000 per new unit, which is nearly double market-rate projects. The Bond Stakeholder Advisory Group of the Portland Housing Bureau found that “[p]revailing wage typically increases the labor costs in a project by approximately 12% to 18%.” This means fewer housing units can be built.

One of Portland’s recent projects avoided paying prevailing wages by limiting the number of project-based vouchers that their building contained. This clearly shows that prevailing wages inhibit the creation of affordable housing. To increase efficiency in affordable housing construction, Oregon must end prevailing wage laws.

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
$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