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Posts published in August 2011

Free market sustainability

Put the phrases "free market", "less regulation" and "environmental sustainability" together in the same concept ... well, it's not that they can't work together, but you don't see it a lot. But here's a case that can easily bridge the divide.

It comes from the Sightline Institute at Seattle, with the unlikely subject of taxis. Taxi cabs, it turns out, are a "sustainable" type of business, partly because they provide the means for people to use cars and other vehicles less. "Plentiful, affordable taxis facilitate greener urban travel. They help families shed second cars, ride transit more often, and walk to work on could-be-rainy days. They fill gaps in transit systems and provide a fallback in case of unexpected events," Sightline said.


It turns out out too that Seattle and Portland are, relative among the nation's larger metro areas (with large taxi fleets), over-regulating them - diminishing their numbers and use, increasing the cost of using them, and harming sustainability.

More specifically:

In the Northwest’s largest cities, however, local ordinances enforced by taxi boards suppress the entry of new cabs onto the streets. They impose arcane and ultimately farcical management principles reminiscent of Soviet planning. Imagine teams of pizza regulators pawing through discarded receipts and pizza boxes to determine whether demand for pizza delivery markets are “oversaturated,” and you won’t be far from the truth. Restricting taxicab licenses undermines passengers’ mobility, local economies, and—by encouraging driving—our natural heritage; uncapping cabs would allow market competition to bolster all three.

As shown in the figure above, at present, the Northwest’s largest cities have fewer cabs per capita, and higher fares, than many US cities. Seattle’s 1.4 cabs per 1,000 residents is twice Portland’s 0.7, and well above Vancouver’s 1 cab per 1,000. But all our cities lag. Washington, DC, has more than 12 cabs per 1,000 residents; Las Vegas has almost 6; and San Francisco has 2. Meanwhile, the cost of a typical, five-mile trip is $16.50 in Portland, $17.25 in Seattle, and $21.57 in Vancouver. Washington, DC’s typical fare is just $11.50.

Consider the efforts of Portland’s Transportation Board of Review, which has the power to issue new taxi licenses but is also charged by city law with monitoring “market saturation factors.” It is supposed to avoid market oversaturation, something every other market—from pizza delivery to home remodeling—manages to do just fine on its own, without benefit of a board. In Portland, the rules actually require applicants to prove that a new taxi license is needed. Imagine if Pizza Hut had to demonstrate to the Pizza Delivery Board that it needs another driver for the Super Bowl.

That's not an argument that holds up on every regulated business, the markets-are-flawless crowd notwithstanding. But Sightline makes a good case for it in the case of taxis. And it'd be interesting to see counterpart studies elsewhere.

OR CD 1: An election, and a campaign shape

The Oregon 1st congressional district now has a vacancy, with the resignation last night of Representative David Wu. It also has a pair of elections coming up - Governor John Kitzhaber has set November 8 for the primary and January 31 for the general, to fill the seat. (Meaning that the 1st won't have a representative in Congress for six months, though constituent services will continue.)

And, as if today, it has a dramatically reshaped set of campaigns for the seat.

Up to today, our presumption has been that the first major candidate in had a clear front-runner status. That would be Democratic state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who entered in April, amassed a large number of solid endorsements (suggestive of strong organization ties) and by the end of June had raised a solid $195,197. A second candidate, state Representative Brad Witt, apparently was well behind, but gathering up such support as remained out there.

Suzanne Bonamici

This didn't seem to leave a lot of space for state Senator Suzanne Bonamici, from the Beaverton area - but that assumption was wrong. She said she had raised (some of it in pledges) $240,000 in the week before her announcement of candidacy today - enough to raise eyebrows in Washington, an amount sure to generate still more. (What does that suggest about what she'll raise in the next month or so? She could have both primary and general paid for before long.) And she unveiled a list of endorsers comparable to Avakian's, including former Governor Barbara Roberts and Attorney General John Kroger.

She has, in short, closed the gap with Avakian on her announcement day. This has abruptly turned into an extremely competitive primary race.

Then there's the Republican field, empty of more that possibilities until today.

Rob Cornilles

The announcement today by Beaverton businessman Rob Cornilles, who lost the run for this seat in 2010, gives Republicans a good get. His loss was in no way on account of personal or campaign inadequacies; he campaigned skillfully, and and his organization was genuinely impressive. He is endorsed by a bunch of Republicans already, including former Governor Vic Atiyeh. He will be able to hit the ground hard, and he may not have to worry about major primary competitors. (That last could remain uncertain for a while.)

For now, the 1st is turned into a place where no one in politics can lightly afford a misstep.

Not far from a settlement?


In the category of things - like the debt ceiling settlement - that can be interpreted in various ways, include the Tuesday ruling by U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland on salmon recovery and the steps needed to ensure it.

The terms "Redden" and "salmon" have been tied together tightly for a long time, back to the 70s when he was Oregon attorney general and since 2000 as a judge. There's been a reliable pattern ever since: Federal agencies and a number of other regional issues (often including state governments and various other organizations) submit salmon recovery plans, and Redden declares them inadequate. This has been particularly irritating to people who defend the four lower Snake River dams in southeast Washington, which have been targeted as major blocks on salmon runs.

Redden is no less a salmon defender today than he ever was, but a clean reading of his new ruling, the latest in a series - while not bringing an end to the case, as some people had hoped - does seem to point the way to a direct conclusion without massive regional uproar.

The plan seemed to give a general approval to much of the federal plan. He says up front that "Federal Defendants have failed, however, to identify specific mitigation plans to be implemented beyond 2013. Because the 2008/2010 BiOp's [biological opinion] no jeopardy conclusion is based on unidentified habitat mitigation measures, NOAA Fisheries' opinion that FCRPS operations after 2013 will not jeopardize listed species is arbitrary and capricious."

Otherwise, he seemed to continue along the lines of his earlier rulings - in terms of their substance. But the sense of the decision seemed to indicate a sharp narrowing of subjects under serious dispute. As an indicator, Redden seemed to leave much of the proposal in place through 2013.

The end could be near.

ID redistricting: What they have in common

The most remarkable thing about both the Republican and Democratic Idaho legislative redistricting plans is this: Both of them are willing to throw a lot of current legislators overboard, and by no means just those of the opposing party.

By that, you have to mean - since every Idahoan, and every legislator, will continue to live in a district - that a number of districts will have as residents more legislators than there will be seats to accommodate them. The Republican plan would put 41 legislators (of 105 total) in districts with too many fellow incumbents and not enough seats; the Democratic would do that to 32. In the Republican plan, 32 Republicans would be be put in that position, and in the Democratic, six Democrats. (There are, remember, a lot more Republicans than Democrats in the Idaho Legislature.)

Compare that to past Idaho redistricting efforts, when the number of bumped legislators could usually be counted on your fingers. Or to the new Oregon redistricting plan, that created this kind of discomfort for no legislators at all.

The Idaho commission appears to have taken seriously the injunction to not use redistricting to protect legislators.

Beyond that, a few other notes about the two proposals.

The Republican plan (L34) has some real aesthetic appeal. Often, Idaho has had legislative districts stretching north to south from north-central Idaho - from the edge of Shoshone County - all the way to the outskirts of Boise. The Republican plan, remarkably given the light population in the region, avoids that, and to a greater degree than at present keeps the state's natural regions intact.

There are two major exceptions. The smaller is the union of Elmore County east through Gooding County to Twin Falls County. That one looks odd on the map, and seems counter-intuitive given Elmore's usual identification with southwest Idaho rather than the Magic Valley. But Elmore is really a transitional county, on the margins of the Magic Valley. And most of the population of those three counties runs near Interstate 84, which would pass right through the heart of the district. It would be a new kind of creation as a district, but there's some real logic to it.

More debatable is the realignment of the central Idaho mountain counties, breaking Custer, Butte, Clark and Lemhi from their traditional tie to Jefferson County. Instead, they would be united with Blaine, Camas and Lincoln. You can see some Republican appeal here: This realignment would end the solidly Democratic Blaine-centered district, turning it possibly competitive or possibly to a Republican lean. The sheer immense size of the district, though - running over remote mountains and obscure highways from not far from Yellowstone to not far from Boise - might work against it. It would unite two distant parts of two distinct Idaho regions, the northern Magic Valley and the northeastern East Idaho.

The Democratic plan also does something different with the central mountain region, and it seems even harder to defend. It retains the core of the current Blaine-centered district (probably continuing Democratic control there), but uniting in one district a string of counties running from the Wyoming/Montana border, through Salmon and Challis west to Mountain Home, Idaho City and Horseshoe Bend - literally a few miles north of Boise, close to southern Idaho's Oregon border. Representing it would be like representing a congressional district (like one of Idaho's). It also effectively continues in place the district that is now Idaho's most unfortunate, stretching from the southeast corner of the state though uninhabited territory up to Bonneville County.

And then there's the matter of District 2, which would run from west of Sandpoint through lightly-populated areas to south of Riggins. It too would be a monster to represent.

Do you get the sense that the commission is not quite done with their work yet?

Carlson: An indecent proposal?

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Let’s engage in one of those exercises where one speculates history taking a different course. Let’s imagine that for one day you could be any one of the 30 men who have been Idaho’s governor. Who would you choose and what would you do?

To no one’s surprise this scribe would choose four-term Governor Cecil D. Andrus.

What I would have done, though, may surprise. But it would have been in the best interests of the taxpayers, higher education and the city of Pocatello. The date of this action would have been sometime in the week following the November 1994 election of Phil Batt as my successor.

In utmost secrecy, I would have loaded the state plane with Governor-elect Batt, his defeated rival for the governorship, Attorney General Larry Echohawk, then Idaho House Speaker Mike Simpson, and then Senate President Jerry Twiggs, and flown to Salt Lake City.

There we would have met with the appropriate authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and negotiated the sale of Idaho State University to the Church.

Under this scenario, ISU would have become BYU-Idaho, and RicksCollege in Rexburg would have remained a two-year feeder college for BYU-Provo and BYU-Idaho.

About to leave me? Stop a minute and think about how much better the entities involved would have been. There would be no losers in this deal.

What we have today is a major state university in an under-funded higher education system with declining enrollment – a trend that will continue as the converted Ricks College continues to grow at the expense of ISU. BYU-Idaho already has exceeded ISU in enrollment.

At the beginning of 2011 at BYU-Idaho total enrollment (full-time and part-time students) was 14,100 students, up from the previous year’s total of 13,375. At ISU, it was 12,595 down from the previous year’s number of 14,209.

One could easily look over the horizon 15 years ago and see this coming. Ricks was undergoing phenomenal growth as many LDS “returned missionaries” were either starting or resuming their education following conclusion of their two-year callings. It is no coincidence that the Rexburg Journal and Standard contained an unusually high number of engagement notices and marriage announcements.

Some contend many college-bound Mormon young women being more intent on obtaining their “MRS” instead of their “BS” degree in a culture that encourages young women to find eligible husbands among the ranks of those having returned from missions. Regardless, Ricks was clearly growing by leaps and bounds.

In the meantime, on the other side of Idaho, Boise State was rapidly expanding, as well. With the University of Idaho ensconced as the state’s leading research university and “flagship” school of the system, internecine fighting for state dollars was on the rise.

Despite a supposed unified State Board of Education overseeing all of Idaho’s universities and colleges, the political realities were clear. Boise State inevitably would receive more and more of the state allocation and it would come at the expense primarily of ISU as the legislative supporters of the booming Treasure Valley and the established north Idaho took care of the “home” schools first.

For its part Boise State, embarked on a path of cultivating athletic success rather than scholastic excellence (“A football team in search of a university,” as one colleague put it), and has been rewarded with far more alumni donations and private corporate contributions than ISU could ever hope to match.

Assume LDS Church authorities in Salt Lake would have seen the logic in having an already built up institution negating plans to expand in a smaller almost out-of-the-way community. What would they have paid for ISU? Probably in the range of $100 million at the time.

How much further Idaho would be ahead today, as well as the renamed ISU and Pocatello itself, if that had occurred? As the Church’s primary higher education institution in Idaho, ISU would be more financially secure, larger and off the taxpayers’ back. Even President Arthur C. Vailas’ dream of having a medical school would be more achievable.

There would be more state dollars to divide among the remaining institutions. And there would have been $100 million to put into the State Building Fund, earmarked for future higher education needs.

Such an unprecedented move would have had some difficult hurdles to overcome, not the least of which would be legalities involving contracts negotiated between a public institution and its various employees being turned over to a private entity. All would have been surmountable.

All, that is, except the political realities. Somewhere, someone would have filed a lawsuit and another perfectly rational idea in the public interest would have foundered on the altar of one group’s self-interest. Sound familiar?