Monday, May 06, 2013

GOING AGAINST THE GREEN - THE ENVIRONMENTAL CURMUDGEON PONDERS METRO BALLOT MEASURE 26-152

I like Metro (the Metropolitan Service District). I like open and green spaces, fish and wildlife, parks for everyone, natural restored organic sustainable places in my natureshed.  But I might vote no on Metro Measure 26-152.

The Oregonian editorial today recommends a no vote because of some unresolved questions and timing issues. I don't always agree with the Oregonian editorial board, but this ballot measure has been nagging at me, and the editorial peaked my interest, so I dug around a bit. 

I read the entire text in the Voters' Pamphlet for Measure 26-152. I went to the Metro web site and read more, including some background reports. I googled (yes, using google, not bing or yahoo) "no on measure 26-152" and managed to find maybe 3 coherent items. 

OK, first off, the measure title falls into one of my pet peeve categories: using buzz words to get a favorable reaction. The measure title: "LOCAL OPTION LEVY: IMPROVE NATURAL AREAS, WATER QUALITY FOR FISH." Wow, three buzz words/terms in one concise title: natural, water quality, fish; impressive. And in fact, water quality and salmon (another PNW buzz word) are prominent in the text. 

By itself, this choice of buzz words isn't such a big deal, but hear me out a bit more.

Here is a pie chart from the Metro web site that shows how the bond money will be spent:

Notice anything? Where do the terms "restore, natural, wildlife, fish and water quality" appear? The right half of the pie, "Restoring natural areas for wildlife, fish and water quality" representing 40-50% of the money. 

The remaining 50-60% of the bond money will be for other things, including 20-30% for regional park operations (places like Blue Lake Park and Oxbow Park). 

So, in fact, only half or less of the bond measure is for "improve natural areas, water quality for fish;" the majority is for operational expenses for other programs ("improving public access to natural areas" is kind-of "improve natural areas" but is a bit misleading). (1)

Why not put forward a bond measure for half of the $53,300,000 (53.3 Million) to fund habitat enhancement and protection projects (the real goal of "restoration") and save everyone some tax payments; or, give the measure a name that actually represents what it is, an operating budget for Metro parks and natural areas?   

I think this is deceptive on the part of Metro.

There are two other items that disturb me about this bond measure: (1) deception regarding the information presented by Metro and supporters about the last natural areas levy, and (2) tax compression.  As Krugman says: let me explain.

(1) Metro and it's supporters on this measure tell us that the last two times we the voters approved bond measures on this natural area stuff, it was ONLY for purchasing property, not maintaining or improving it. Voters approved bond measures for Metro related to natural areas in 1995 and 2006 totaling $363 Million. Here is the first sentence in the Voters' Pamphlet summary for the 2006 measure:  Protects specific natural areas, lands near rivers and streams, wildlife and trail corridors through land acquisition and restoration (underline added). And here is the second bullet in the summary of what the bond measure will do: Protect and restore watersheds for improved water quality (underline added). OK, "restore" is a verb, it means that Metro (or someone) will take actions to restore (improve, enhance, whatever) the land and the watersheds. So Metro and it's supporters are not being factual, the previous bond measure was to restore lands as well as purchase them. 

(2) What the hell is tax compression? This is what I asked myself when I read the Oregonian editorial. So, from the State of Oregon web site: 

TAX LIMITATION (COMPRESSION)
The Oregon Constitution also sets limits on the amount of property taxes that can be collected from each property tax account. These limits are often called the "Measure 5 limits." To figure these limits, taxes are divided into categories described in the constitution. The categories are: education and general government. Some taxes, usually for general obligation bonds, are not subject to limitation. The limits are $5 per $1,000 of real market value (RMV) for education taxes and $10 per $1,000 of RMV for general government taxes. 
  
If taxes in either category exceed the limit for that property, the taxes are reduced or "compressed" until the limit is reached. Local option taxes are compressed first. If the local option tax is compressed to zero, and the limit still hasn't been reached, the other taxes in the category are proportionally reduced. 
  
Please note that these limits are based on the RMV of the property, not the taxable assessed value.

There is some concern that passage of the Metro Measure could result in some municipalities in the Metro region having to cut budgets from other programs, based on the State mandated tax limitation rules. In fact last November, 19 suburban mayors in the Metro region signed a letter to Metro asking it to delay a decision on placing the bond measure on the 2013 ballot until serious concerns were examined. 

There is a green juggernaut in the Portland metropolitan area, and you're either on the bus drinking the lime koolaid, or your not relevant. I generally don't ride that bus.

So now, gentle reader, scroll to my opening paragraph to remind yourself about what I like - I am not anti-environment, anti-natural areas, not etc. (I like cute little pussy cats. I like cotton candy on a summer day at the county fair. I like toast and jam.) 

But I might vote no on Measure 26-152 because of the serious issues discussed above. 

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Endnotes:
(1) I recently applied for a Community Project Grant, but was denied. This is a good program, I think, and I'm not against the program. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree, voted no for the same reasons.

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