Public Policymakers Lack Sound Research (Oregonian Op-Ed)

February 2, 2017
Authors: Jennifer Shuch and Greg Frick
Publishers: Oregonian and OregonLive

The City of Portland and the State of Oregon have a lot to be proud of: Oregon is at the top of the list for in-migration, Fast Company recently ranked Portland a top city for job seekers and innovative environmental policies have garnered international attention. Still, many Oregonians are left behind. An article in last year’s The Atlantic brought national attention Oregon’s dismal record of racial segregation. Housing prices across the state are rising at unprecedented rates, far outpacing wage gains, particularly for minorities and single-parent households. Rates of child hunger are incredibly high. High school graduation rates are at rock bottom. Oregon and Portland are at a crossroads: if thoughtful solutions are found, we will continue to raise our stature on the national and international stage. Otherwise, we risk setting ourselves up for a study in governmental failure.

If Oregon is 50th in the nation for corporate tax rates, we have 49 case studies in front of us to learn from. Leaders have an obligation to dig into available data and conduct a detailed cost-benefit analysis. Which states continue to attract businesses despite higher tax rates for corporations? What can we learn from them? Measure 97 sought to provide much needed funding for schools by raising Oregon’s comparatively low corporate tax rate but relied on an untried, untested measure of collecting taxes that raised many questions.

Now, Oregon lawmakers are considering overturning our ban on rent control while tenant groups lobby the Portland city council for a rent freeze. There is no denying that the concept of rent control sounds great. Unfortunately, all reputable economists agree rent control has never been successful. In Boston, rent control was tried and later repealed. More recently, an extremely nuanced version was attempted in Berlin where studies found it benefited upper middle-class renters most. In San Francisco and New York, rent control has contributed to skyrocketing rents.

No one denies renters in Oregon are struggling. It is the responsibility of lawmakers to find the best solution – one benefiting renters of today and in the future. Voters depend on lawmakers to do thorough cost-benefit analyses and to research the best possible policies – not band-aid solutions.

Recently, members of the Portland City Council do not seem to be aware of the full extent of ordinances they are voting on. A stated goal of the 2035 Comprehensive Plan was to increase housing density in transit corridors. Part of Northwest Portland – arguably one of the most walkable and transit-oriented parts of the city — has just been downzoned under pressure from neighborhood groups. Is this how leaders demonstrate our commitment to increasing housing supply and advocating multi-modal transit? Why do neighborhood groups’ concerns outweigh plans for more desperately needed housing?

Decades of policies enacted without thorough cost-benefit analysis has led to a lack of confidence in our politicians. Voters must be told how data-based analyses, recommendations from experts and case studies have convinced them that a given policy is the best solution, not just the easiest, fastest, or most progressive sounding. The future of Oregon depends on it.

About the authors: Greg Frick is a partner and Jennifer Shuch is a research analyst at HFO Investment Real Estate. They may be reached at (503) 241-5541.