By John A. Charles, Jr.
In 2016 Val Hoyle, then a legislator from Eugene, introduced a bill to guarantee postage-paid envelopes for Oregon’s vote-by-mail system. She argued that having to find and apply a stamp was a barrier to voter participation, especially to young people.
That idea was widely ridiculed, and the bill died.
Unfortunately, the political culture has changed. In March the Oregon legislature quietly passed SB 861, which requires the state to pay for ballot envelopes that can be returned by business reply mail. It will go into effect on or after January 1, 2020.
Implementation will cost an estimated $1.6 million to the state General Fund for the first 18 months. There will be an additional cost to Counties of $84,000 to destroy obsolete ballot return envelopes.
Is Oregon really so wealthy that we should spend $1.6 million just to ensure that voters don’t have to find a first class stamp? I don’t think so. Instead of treating postage as a voting barrier, perhaps we should treat it as an entrance exam.
The test would be simple: If you can’t figure out how to use stamps, or you are incapable of hand-delivering your ballot to the county elections office, you are not qualified to vote.
We might get better results.
John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.
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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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By John A. Charles, Jr.
In November the regional government, Metro, released the results of a new public opinion poll of 800 registered voters living in the tri-county region.
One of the questions was, “In a few words of your own, what is the most important change that could be made to improve the quality of life in the Portland region?”
The top three responses were: dealing with the homeless/poverty (25%); affordable housing (17%); and traffic congestion (14%).
Environmental issues tied for last place (2%), and global warming did not even make the list.
This is roughly the opposite of what we frequently hear from many of the political talking heads. Listening to them, one would think that environmental Armageddon is upon us, especially because Donald Trump is President.
For instance, the top legislative priority for Senator Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, is a bill he hopes to pass in early 2018 that would create a $700 million/year tax on carbon dioxide by establishing a convoluted industrial regulatory program. The ambient environment would not be improved one bit by this tax, but all of our basic necessities—food, clothing, shelter, and energy—would become more expensive.
Sen. Dembrow’s biggest supporter on this issue is Governor Kate Brown, who recently flew to Bonn, Germany to hobnob with celebrities at a United Nations conference on global warming. The two of them are convinced that if they can make energy more expensive, we’ll all use less of it and the world will be saved from “global warming.”
Most voters intuitively know that this is a scam. The term “global warming” doesn’t even have a useful definition. Voters know that the pain-versus-gain equation of global warming taxes is heavily one-sided: the “benefits” of reducing fossil fuel use are highly speculative (and may not exist at all); long-term (potentially thousands of years away); and global in nature. Yet the costs will be known, immediate, and local.
As the Metro poll shows, there is very little grassroots support for this kind of punishment.
It’s not surprising that homelessness, housing, and traffic congestion rank as the top three issues in the Metro poll because these are problems most of us confront daily. They are also things we can take action on.
Unfortunately, government itself has caused much of the mess, so voters will need to think carefully before signing on to more tax-and-spend programs. Almost every time regulators intervene in real estate markets, the result is some combination of less housing production and higher housing prices.
Take the most obvious intervention: urban growth boundaries. Since 1980, the population of the Portland metro region has increased by about 78%, but the available land supply for housing has only gone up by 10%. Making buildable land artificially scarce and thus more expensive is not a winning strategy if you’re trying to provide more housing.
But lack of land is just the start. After you add in ubiquitous farm and forestland zoning, extortionist system development charges, tree protection ordinances, inclusionary zoning requirements, prevailing wage rules on public housing projects, and numerous other interventions, the result is that we have a serious shortage of housing.
Even the government is trapped in government regulation. Last spring the Portland City Council approved spending $3.7 million to purchase a strip club on SE Powell Boulevard near Cleveland High School. The City plans to tear down the building and build 200 to 300 units of low-income public housing on the 50,000-square-foot property. City officials have admitted that it will take two years just to obtain the necessary permits for the redevelopment.
If it takes this long to get the permits for one of Mayor Ted Wheeler’s top priorities, imagine the delays facing a private sector developer.
The housing woes in such cities as Portland, San Francisco, New York, and Seattle are mostly self-inflicted. Housing supply is lagging demand because we’ve created so many barriers to housing construction. Removing those barriers should be a top priority for the state legislature when it convenes in February.
Global warming legislation does not even deserve a hearing.
John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. A version of this article was published by the Pamplin Media Group and appeared in The Portland Tribune.
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