Blizzard of lies
The folks on the editorial board over at The O keep me amused. Today they have this to say about the Portland police bureau's recordkeeping problems:
At City Hall, officials are poised to make Portland a national leader in cutting-edge wireless Internet networking. A sophisticated city-backed project called Unwire Portland aims to make high-speed wi-fi access available all over town.Very perceptive comments. I liked them even better than when I wrote them here on Monday. I should send them a bill! As the kids say when they're caught in plagiarism, "Great minds think alike."
Two blocks away, though, city police rely on technology right out of TV's old "Dragnet" show. The digital age may have begun in the previous century, but the Portland Police Bureau's criminal record-keeping is still being done essentially by hand....
Your basic last-century system, in other words. Such traditionalism might seem quaint in a Norman Rockwell sense, something akin to Portland's mounted patrols. Trouble is, the archaic record system is hurting crime-fighting in the city....
Portland's Pony-Express-style record collection no doubt helps explain some of the Police Bureau's problems....
Not always, though. The editorial in Sunday's O about the "OHSU" aerial tram was full of baloney. I'm not a big one on "fisking," but a response is in order for several highly misleading points made in the editorial.
In three years, as The Oregonian's Fred Leeson reported recently, estimates of the tram's price have nearly tripled, going from $15.5 million to $45 million. Such a breathtaking increase undermines public confidence. However, it's reassuring to know that the proportion of the cost, borne by the public, hasn't grown. Currently, the public's share of the tab is less than 10 percent.I guess the taxpayers of Oregon aren't "the public." Isn't OHSU a state university that receives a subsidy every year from the state government? Doesn't much of the rest of its funding come from the federal government? How many nontax dollars are in that tram budget? Precious few.
No money from the city's general fund -- used to support police, fire and other city services -- is going into the tram. The public's contribution will come from urban renewal dollars, flowing from the taxable value created by the South Waterfront development.Two reactions here: (1) not true, and (2) irrelevant. First "no money from the general fund... is going into the tram." The city may be doing the accounting that way, but any property tax revenue being spent on this project takes money away from programs like fire, police, and other city services. Under Measures 49 and 50, there's an absolute maximum amount that property owners in Portland can be required to pay in property taxes every year. If it weren't for that legal limit, property taxes would be much higher. And so every property tax dollar spent on one thing means a dollar less is available to spend on something else. All the accounting smoke and mirrors that the city uses can't obscure that fact from most thoughtful observers, although apparently it's good enough to fake out the O.
Second, whether you call it "urban renewal dollars" or not, it's still property taxes. As I've noted here many times, 19 cents of every dollar I pay to the City of Portland in property taxes goes to "urban renewal." I do not live, nor have I ever lived, in an urban renewal district. You can call it anything you want, folks -- all of us who live in the city are paying for the tram, out of property taxes. The label they put on it at City Hall is meaningless, except to folks like the editors of the O.
The public's benefit from the tram is not confined to riding on it, of course. OHSU, with 11,400 employees, is one of the state's largest employers. By linking OHSU to the South Waterfront, the tram has triggered a $2 billion redevelopment of a rusted-out river front that will soon be an extension of downtown Portland.Even if you accept this rosy picture, it all could have been done without an aerial tram. For $45 million, you could have bought a fleet of 450 stretch limos to chaffeur anyone who needs a ride up and down the hill on a moment's notice. And so far, very little of what's being built down there has anything to do with OHSU. To me, this looks like it's more about the Homer Williams condos than anything else.
Soon, the tram will be a trophy for OHSU, a tourist destination and a true transportation link.
Yes, and the O says it will be "snazzy," too -- a sure sign that it's a complete and total waste of money.
Finally, the editorial fails to call out the cost overrun on the tram for what it is -- clear evidence that the proponents of the project simply lied with their initial cost estimates. It's no surprise. In fact, scientific studies have shown that developers and transportation officials all over the U.S., and the world, routinely lie when pitching "infrastructure" projects to the dupes who pay for them.
But don't expect the O ever to say something like that about fellow members of the Arlington Club set. That's just not the way we do things in Portland.