Like nutrition labels that expose toxic junk foods, revenue yield maps expose toxic junk development policies
Every municipality in Oregon should be forced to make such maps and to make them available on websites so that every taxpayer can see the folly of auto-centered development schemes.
Below is an interview by a StrongTowns staffer and Gadia, who demonstrates that a small set of sharp young people could easily accomplish great things in terms of exposing absurd policies that allow bad development policy to predominate. Immediately below is a snapshot from the StrongTowns site, which lets you play with Gadia’s map. The interview contains links you can follow to find and explore the map.
Rachel Quednau, StrongTowns: Hi everyone and welcome to the Strong Towns podcast. Our guest today, whom I’ll bring on in just a moment, is Nitin Gadia. He created a fantastic mapping tool that examines whether property tax revenue is covering the cost of street maintenance for every property in his hometown of Ames Iowa.
Before we get started, I want to encourage you to visit our website where and you’ll find this map. Just go to strongtowns.org/podcast and you’ll see a link to this post about Nitin Gadia. If you can view it on a desktop or laptop computer versus a phone, that’s ideal because this map really gets into the details.
You can mouse over every property in this city and see what percentages of the street maintenance cost are covered by property tax. Spoiler alert, most of these are in the red. Actually the whole map is organized by color and you’ll see that a lot of it is in the red. A lot of the properties are not really covering their maintenance costs.
Next week, we’ll share more on our website about how Nitin created this map and also how you can go about making one for your own city. We’ll get right to the podcast now. Take a look at that map when you have a chance.
Rachel: Hi everyone, welcome to the Strong Towns podcast. This is Rachel Quednau, Communication Specialist for Strong Towns. I have on the line, our guest Nitin Gadia who created a really cool mapping tool and sent it our way a couple of weeks ago. We thought we’d bring him on here to talk about it and we’ll be sharing it on our website this week.
First of all, can you just tell me a little bit about your background? Welcome to the podcast.
Nitin Gadia: Thank you for having me. Some people occasionally ask me what my background is. I guess, I don’t know really how to answer that. I’m self‑taught. I work with an organization called MapStory, which is like a Wikipedia for mapping. That’s how I’d put it. I develop content for website. This is an example of something that I developed.
Rachel: You live in Ames, Iowa, right?
Nitin: Yeah, primarily.
Rachel: Can you walk me through this map? Like I said, we’ll post it on the website so that everyone can view it. This is an analysis of property taxes and costs of streets in Ames, Iowa.You ask the question here, “Are your taxes paying for the cost of your street?” Unsurprisingly, for our Strong Towns audience, most taxes are not paying for the cost of most streets. How did you create this map, and how did you get the idea for it?
Nitin: I got the idea from you guys partly. I was at a mapping conference and somebody told me about Strong Towns, somebody in Portland. I was at a mapping conference there and that got me interested. I’m very interested in city planning, so to speak, urban design in general. I looked up Strong Towns and Chuck Marohn. I read the articles on the Growth Ponzi Scheme, it really blew me away.
My dad had always said, growing up, “There’s no way we’re paying for these roads. We’re not going to be . . . ” He has this insight that very few people have. I finally was able to actually show that very discreetly. How much we’re paying for our roads, and how much it actually costs.
What I did for this map is . . . it’s a heat map, which means that every property is colored by the percentage of its actual cost. In the case of my parent’s property in Ames, they’re paying maybe 30 percent of the cost of the street. You can actually roll over the property and see that.
Rachel: How did you get the data to put this all together?
Nitin: I work with people at the City of Ames to get data. Ben McConville, he’s the GIS coordinator at the City of Ames, which basically means that he deals with mapping. I always just call him up and ask him for some data, and he sends it to me within a few minutes.
The other half of the data, I got from a civil engineer. I walked up to the public works desk in the City of Ames. The City of Ames is great, because it’s small enough that you can approach people directly. I asked him, “This is what I’m looking for, an average cost of what roads cost, how long it takes for them to be requiring resurfacing.” He gave me some average numbers.
A lot of people will jump up and down and scream and shout “the cost of roads varies a lot.” It really doesn’t vary that much. I really like to think of 80/20 rules. If 80 percent of the streets cost a certain amount of money, 20 percent of them don’t deviate that much. I went around online a little bit. It looked like his numbers were pretty accurate.
Rachel: The city was willing to give this information to you as publicly available. Did you tell them what you’re going to do with it?
Nitin: I’m trying to figure out how to approach city government. Recently, I asked for a budget of how much parking costs in Ames — a public parking budget. They refused to give it to me. It was really strange. The city accountant was basically like, “You don’t know how software works. We can’t just give you numbers.” It was very hard for me to believe.
I get data from all over the world. For MapStory, I did a nationwide assessment of parcel data, which means that I tried to get parcel data from every city in every state.
What I found is that whenever you want to get data from a city, you have to think about the right person to ask and ask that person. If you ask anybody higher up, they’re going to spin their wheels. They’re going to spend literally hours sometimes giving you nothing, and then complain that you’re wasting their time.
This information, I mean, that the civil engineer gave me, I’m guessing it took him under a half an hour to throw some numbers together and send them to me. Within 20 percent what they are, that’s all that I needed to know.
Rachel: Do you have plans to — have you shared this map with anyone in your area, or with the government, or are you still fine tuning it?
Nitin: I sent it to that civil engineer. That’s it. I did post it on my own Facebook page. I was wanting to prepare a little bit more before putting it out. Now that this podcast is happening . . . I have a mapping blog. I’m going to probably put some information about how I made this map.
Rachel: I’m sure people would be curious. Do you have a platform that you use, I’m assuming, to create this?
Nitin: Yeah. I used a regular mapping software. If you need a free software, there’s Quantum’s. It’s called QGIS. If you wanted to pay good money, there’s ArcMap, which is like Microsoft Word or Office of mapping software.
Rachel: Good to know. I’ll describe this really quick for people listening. Basically, this is a map of City of Ames. You’ve color-coded it so that the red dots and things on the red side of the color spectrum are properties that are covering very little of their street cost.
Then, when we get to green and blue, those are properties that are covering either 100 percent or even more than the cost of the street.
I’m surprised with this map is almost completely red. Do you think that would shock people?
Rachel: Do you think that people realize that?
Nitin: I was pretty shocked myself. I thought that this was a problem. I would’ve thought it was more of a problem out in the ‘burbs. It’s a problem everywhere, even in Ames.
Ames is lucky. We’re a small town, about 60,000 people. It has a campus. It’s one of the few cities in America that has a huge university and it’s an isolated town. It has the highest per capita college degrees in the world — top five.
It’s funny, I put this out and a lot of people might be like, “Oh well, those small town dumb Iowans don’t know what they’re doing,” but I can assure you, everybody in Ames is . . . The bus drivers are all getting their PhDs. It’s tough. Everybody’s pretty well educated. Nobody knows this is happening. I thought it was happening further out in the ‘burbs.
What I was going to say about Ames is that it’s a small town. I found in doing maps for that, after a city gets a certain size, its downtown gets gutted. Its older areas get destroyed. Des Moines, only an hour away from us, very few of its buildings downtown are intact, whereas in Ames, we have a huge main street. Literally 100 percent of the businesses are local in this. Pretty similar — maybe 50 percent — in our Campustown
Rachel: Are those buildings some of the original buildings in the downtown?
Nitin: Yeah, almost all of them.
Rachel: I was trying to figure out on this map — because I’ve never been to Ames — which part of it is the downtown. Most of it is pretty red. Do you see in the map that the downtown is more financially solvent with property taxes? Is that the case in this or not?
Nitin: I actually did a 3D map as well that shows each property based on the taxes per square foot. What that showed was that astronomically, the older parts of town — the downtown, Campustown, and there’s actually a new urbanist community in Ames. Those three communities are providing far more per value per square foot than any other part in Ames by orders of magnitude. The only parts that came out green were the downtown and Campustown. Ames is kind of two cities. There’s downtown and there’s Campustown. They started separate and they grew into each other.
Rachel: I’m looking here at the Main Street, and I’m noticing, like you said, a lot more of this is green and solvent. Also, the plots are a lot smaller. Small downtown businesses, I’m assuming?
Nitin: Yeah, they’re all attached buildings, just like in the good old days. They actually shared walls. I live on Main Street there as well. It’s amazing how many people, they’re surprised that I live downtown. There are so few apartments on the second floors because that’s just the policy that my city and every other city has engaged in – just basically letting their downtowns where people really want to live [be idle] . . . . Thousands of people in Ames want to live downtown, but there’s nowhere to live. There’s minimum parking requirements. There’s all sorts of issues that prevent people from even being financially able to repair their buildings and bring them up to par.
Rachel: I was definitely going to ask about the parking requirements. What are those like, if you’re familiar? What are they like in Ames?
Nitin: That’s something that I’m going to be trying to work towards reforming — help towards that. It’s nuts. In a town where 35,000 people are students, they require every property to have one parking spot per bed.
Rachel: Oh my gosh. That is really absurd.
Nitin: It’s bizarre. I’m trying to help turn our Campustown into a pedestrian area. It’s basically filled with parking. Constantly, half the businesses don’t think that there’s a problem with parking. The other half think that there’s a huge problem. It’s a constant issue in Ames.
Rachel: Do they think there’s a problem with not having enough parking?
Nitin: Yeah. But you know, it’s just a management problem. I’ve been following the work of Dr. Donald Shoup at UCLA. He shows how if you go around downtown in Campustown in Ames, there is a glut of parking. This is an incredible story.
In Campustown in Ames, a few years ago, they built what was called an Intermodal Facility. It’s kind of a parking garage. It was for our local buses Cyride. It would be like a center point. The shuttles that go to the airport, they all go through there. It’s this big parking garage. To this day, that parking garage, it doesn’t have signs. It doesn’t have signs that say, “Public Parking.”
This is a multimillion dollar facility that was paid for, lo and behold, by the federal government. The city tends to think that this is free, [but this is] liability that is enormous.
I asked the City of Ames, “Whose liability is this when repairs need to be done?” They literally don’t even know. They don’t even know whose liability it is. They haven’t worked out between Iowa State and the City of Ames who is going to pay for it.
Rachel: When was this built?
Nitin: A few years ago — maybe 2011, 2012. I’m not sure.
Rachel: They haven’t had to deal with it yet, but they will soon.
Nitin: It’s a part of the stimulus money. It’s a huge misapplication of resources by the federal government.
Rachel: Stimulus money for a parking garage? That’s depressing.
Nitin: In theory, it could’ve been good. It’s good to have parking garages rather than flat parking space. That could take cars off the streets and out of the parking lots. Then, we could grasp those parking lots. That would be much better.
Rachel: That’s true.
Nitin: In theory, it could’ve been good. It’s bizarre. It’s empty. It sat empty for years and years. The City of Ames even got approved signs to be put up. The city still hasn’t put signs that say, “Public Parking” and way finding signs. The whole thing is really difficult to use.
Nobody knows that it’s available to be used. You can go on the busiest day in Iowa — an Iowa vs. Iowa State game — and people are circling around looking for parking. That parking garage is empty because nobody knows that they can use it to park.
Rachel: What a waste.
Nitin: This is what the City of Ames is, and every city in America practically, is doing with our finances.
Rachel: So we talked about the downtown here. Do you have an edge district with big box stores and that type of thing? What does that look like on the map?
Nitin: It’s interesting. It turned out that those areas were super positive in many ways, which I was a little bit surprised about. However, there is an industrial park, which is a third of the square footage of Ames. That’s a mix, but it’s mostly negative.
Rachel: When you’re thinking about a large plot of land, it has far less streets occupying that area versus a really tightly built area. That might play in also. I don’t know.
Nitin: I’m sorry. Play into what?
Rachel: That might play into the fact that their ratio of taxes to street maintenance costs is higher because they don’t have to pay for so many streets to be maintained. Does that make sense?
Nitin: Yeah. That’s the thing.
Rachel: They had one huge street around their massive parking lot and store.
Nitin: I’m doing another project where I’m trying to gather all the money that is being given by Campustown in Ames to the city, and all that they’re getting, meaning all that they’re generating in revenue, and taxes, and property taxes, and sales taxes.
The amount of money they’re getting to repair the infrastructure, maintain the infrastructure in Campustown, and police the area, and do all these different things. So far, what I’ve found, I’m guessing that — this is not an official number yet — Campustown is probably providing at least five times the amount that they’re getting from the City of Ames.
What’s funny is that the City of Ames is two separate areas. The city government exists in the downtown. The Campustown is like this peripheral part of town, which provides by far the most revenue to Ames in terms of the bang for buck.
It shows where our priorities are in cities. The areas that are really providing the most [tax revenue] are being not only neglected, they’re basically being treated like colonies. Their wealth is being extracted and spread out across town to all the places that people don’t care about — our strip malls.
Rachel: Do you have a fair amount of suburban type developments in your city?
Nitin: People would laugh when I say that I grew up in a suburb because Ames is the size of a typical suburb in a major metropolitan area. The area that I grew up in, it was a subdivision. I should say that’s a suburban type subdivision. It’s a middle, upper middle class, upper class, all big mansions type.
Nitin: Cul-de-sacs, exactly. Right next to it, in return for being able to build that — that’s from what I understand — they build a new urbanist community. They’re screwing it up quite a bit, actually. The book “Suburban Nation” mentions this development that they did, and what went wrong with it.
Rachel: It’s still around?
Nitin: Yeah. It’s thriving in my opinion. It’s a third main street area. It has very high property values. It’s full of businesses. Some of our best restaurants are there. It’s full of a mix of housing. It feels more like a neighborhood. They still screwed up a lot of things. They made this road that goes through the middle of it, it was two lanes. Then, they turned it into four lanes. It’s full of accidents. It guts the whole concept. In many ways, it’s very successful.
Rachel: You mentioned those mapping tools, but I know that you yourself have a background in mapping. How feasible do you think it would be for somebody — a layperson — to create this type of map for their city if they were able to access the data? Didn’t this take a lot of coding work?
Nitin: I am going to document how I did this. I could maybe make a short video about how I did it — just an overview. It did take a lot of manual labor. There are some cities that might have data that could be readily used.
To create this map, I had to find what was the frontage of each property, meaning, “What is the length of street in front of each house?” In order to do that, it took a lot of technical work and trial and error.
Rachel: I can see how that would take a long . . . .
Nitin: Some cities might have that kind of data on hand, like “What is the street frontage? What is the length?” They might actually have that in the data. You never know.
Rachel: What other kinds of maps have you created? I’m curious.
Nitin: I mainly make animated maps. They show change over time. I did one of Ames growing from the time it was founded. That’s a pilot project of what’s called “MapStory Local.” MapStory Local, the idea is that you can type in a year and you can see the way the world was then. Then, you can animate it back and forth.
Rachel: Cool. What kind of things do you look at in that? Is that a photograph? Is that the streets and the rivers and stuff like that? What is that showing?
Nitin: The buildings, roads, railroads, parcels, meaning properties. Usually I start with a date that the existing buildings were built, and then that gives you a close approximation, because America’s pretty young. Most cities, you can just pretty much animate 80 percent of it right away.
To go back further in time, you have to take old maps, and you have to spread them over. You have to draw over them in this digital surface. It’ll all be crowd-sourced, like Wikipedia. Everybody’ll be editing this global history. All the basic components will be done this year. It’ll be a pretty big deal — the website — if all goes well.
And other than cities, I also do biodiversity, genealogy — I just came back from a genealogy conference — and pretty much everything. I’m driving to developing content when MapStory gets going.
Rachel: I’ll have to keep track of that and keep checking in to see how that’s progressing. Do you have anything else that you want to add about this?
Nitin: I’m sure this will be written about when people go to the website. The way that I made this map is [this]: I started with what was in front of people’s properties. The thing is, is that there are a lot of shared costs — for example, intersections, that aren’t in front of anybody’s property, or streets that are a part of larger communities that connect properties. What I did was I have two things in the map. I have just what’s in front of people’s houses and properties, and I also added shared costs. That’s what took a lot of time.
Rachel: I can imagine.
Nitin: I took the costs. First, I did the circles. Then I did the intersections. Then, I did citywide shared costs.
Rachel: Does that last one, does that account for highways and other public roadways?
Nitin: No. I only focused on our local finances. This is something I should also mention. It’s interesting, a lot of people I talk to, even in the City of Ames, they think that our streets are paid for by the gas tax or something. That’s not true. 98 percent of our roads are local. They are all paid for by property taxes.
More specifically, they’re paid for by bonds, which are paid back by property taxes. I excluded anything that wasn’t local, which was only two percent of the roads, anyway.
Rachel: You can view, on this map, just the roads directly around a house? And also you can view it with the shared costs?
Nitin: Yes, in the upper right, there’s these buttons — front lane only or you can add the shared cost.
Rachel: There’s some land that’s blank — white on here. Was that the data you weren’t able to find it or are those parks?
Nitin: That’s all government property. The big white area in the middle, that’s Iowa State University. There’s a lot of government property in Ames.
Rachel: Yeah, I’ll say.
Nitin: That is interesting. You’re used to that living in Ames. More than half of Ames is Iowa State.
Rachel: Thank you so much for sharing this map, for creating this, and for talking to me today. I will put this on the website and links to your stuff. Thank you so much for participating. I’m excited to see what other work you create with your projects.
Nitin: It was a privilege. Thank you so much.
“Examining the CFPB’s Proposed Rulemaking on Arbitration: Is it in the Public Interest and for the Protection of Consumers?”
Testimony of F. Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director of Public Justice 1 before the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services
Hearing, May 18, 2016
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Proposed Rulemaking on Arbitration is unquestionably in the public interest and will serve to protect consumers.
Specifically, it will protect consumers from the use of forced arbitration clauses that ban them from filing or participating in class actions, a widespread practice that large banks, payday lenders and various sorts of predatory lenders have used to exempt themselves from most private enforcement of America’s consumer protection laws.
Exempting the financial industry from the normal legal system has had far- reaching – and disastrous – consequences. Predatory lending and dishonest lending practices have pushed millions of people right into desperation. Far too many Americans have been tricked into taking out loans that were far more expensive than they realized.
In recent years, for example, if a bank systematically cheated 10,000 customers in the same way, the bank could use its arbitration clause to stop those customers from going to court together. Each individual had to figure out the scam, figure out what their rights were and then spend time and money fighting the bank. In the incredibly inefficient system that banks foisted on their own customers, everyone was essentially on their own. In contrast, a class action could offer all 10,000 people a fair shot at justice.
The CFPB conducted an extensive empirical study of forced arbitration. Its results, reported to Congress in March of 2015, are entirely consistent with what most experts in consumer law would have predicted:
● The vast majority of credit card issuers, payday loan lenders, and other financial institutions require their consumers to submit any disputes that they might have – even if the bank has plainly broken the law – to a private arbitrator. The arbitrator is generally picked by a company that itself is picked by the bank. The arbitration system is largely secretive, and there is no meaningful judicial review of an arbitrator’s decision (even if she makes a glaring error of law or engages in “silly” fact-finding). These arbitration clauses overwhelmingly ban consumers from bringing or participating in class actions.
● Very few consumers understand the fine print disclosures about the forced arbitration clauses, which are written in dense legalese and slipped by consumers in ways that few if any of them would read.
● Incredibly few consumers ever actually take cases to arbitration, and very few of them recover much. The CFPB looked at every single arbitration conducted by the American Arbitration Association (by far the largest private arbitration company in the United States that handles consumer cases) over a period of three years in cases against lenders. In those three years, the TOTAL number of cases that consumers arbitrated against lenders was 411 per year. Out of hundreds of millions of arbitration clauses, and compared to the legal system, where more than 13 million consumers received recoveries in class actions. That is not a typo. Throughout, the entire United States, the total number of arbitrations against lenders each year was 411. Sec. 1, p. 11.
● Over those three years, and again for the entire United States, 32 (thirty two) consumers won recoveries from arbitrators in cases against lenders, where the arbitrators issued decisions. Sec. 1, p. 11. In those 32 cases, the consumers recovered 12 cents for every dollar of their legal claims. Sec. 5, p. 13.
● By contrast, in a study of 400 private lawsuits that were brought in court and litigated as class actions, more than 13 million customers received more than $2.7 billion in recoveries. Sec. 1, p. 16. The attorneys’ fees in those class actions amount to 16% of the gross relief received by the consumers. Sec. 8, pp. 23, 32-33.
● Banks that use forced arbitration clauses that banned class actions did NOT reduce the interest and fees they charged consumers. An empirical comparison of four of the largest credit card issuers in the United States (Bank of America, Chase, Capitol One and HSBC) that did not have forced arbitration clauses with class action bans for 3 ½ years (they stopped using them for this time period as part of a settlement of an antitrust case) with other banks that did have forced arbitration clauses shows that the lenders that used forced arbitration clauses with class action bans did not reduce their interest or fees at all. The claim that “consumers will benefit from lower costs if corporations can exempt themselves from the consumer protection laws with fine print contracts” is simply empirically false. It hasn’t happened, and it never did happen.
I. FEW CONSUMERS UNDERSTAND THE FORCED ARBITRATION CLAUSES IN THE FINE PRINT OF THEIR CONTRACTS
The supporters of forced arbitration and class action bans like to talk about this as a “voluntary choice” that consumers make. There is no polite way to say the truth here: these claims are a joke. Almost no consumers meaningfully “choose” to enter into arbitration clauses. These fine print legalese documents are slipped by consumers in ways that ensure they will never notice them.
The CFPB study concluded, based upon extensive empirical survey data, that “consumers are generally unaware of whether their credit card contracts include arbitration clauses. Consumers with such clauses in their agreements generally do not know whether they can sue in court or wrongly believe that they can do so.” Sec. 1, p. 11.
Moreover, when one compares what consumers think about their arbitration clauses with what the clauses actually say, it turns out that most consumers misunderstand them. “Consumer beliefs about credit card dispute resolution rights bear little to no relation to the dispute resolution provisions of their credit card contracts.
Most consumers whose agreements contain arbitration clauses wrongly believe that they can participate in class actions.” Id. For example, “Less than 7% of consumers whose credit card agreements included pre-dispute arbitration clauses stated that they could not sue their credit card issuers in court.” Sec. 3.1, p. 4.In one extensive empirical survey quoted by the CFPB at length, researchers at St. John’s law school found that even when consumers were pointed to the arbitration clause and asked to read it, only “approximately 13% understood that the contract they had just been shown prohibited them from participating in a class action lawsuit.”
The conclusions in the CFPB’s study are hardly surprising. Most people first learn that a company says they have lost the right to sue – and have “waived” their constitutional right to trial by jury and a day in court – only after a dispute arises. In most cases, an individual’s first awareness of an arbitration clause comes as a bitter surprise. We have spoken to literally hundreds of persons on this topic over the past few years, including homeowners, farm operators, consumer and civil rights attorneys, consumers, employees, journalists and arbitrators. Again and again in those conversations, we have heard from people – often very angry and very dissatisfied people – who were utterly unaware that they had been sent an arbitration clause, and who believed that they had never agreed to such a clause.
A wealth of scholarship supports the conclusions of the CFPB St. Johns studies. Another recent study conducted by Credit.com found that 66% of credit cardholders did not know what, if any, changes had been made to their credit card agreements. Eileen A.J. Connelly, Credit Card Holders Frequently Don’t Pay Attention to Changes Made to Accounts, Survey Finds, Star Trib. (Minneapolis), March 1, 2009. In at least one case, evidence showed that a bank knew only four percent of cardholders would read its bill stuffers. See Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Mandatory Arbitration: What Process Is Due?, 39 Harv. J. on Legis. 281, 296 (2002) (citing case); see also Shmuel I. Becher, Asymmetric Information in Consumer Contracts: The Challenge That Is Yet to Be Met, 45 Am. Bus. L.J. 723, 730-31 (2008) (“empirical evidence shows that most consumers do not read [standard form contracts]”); Amy J. Schmitz, Consideration of “Contracting Culture” in Enforcing Arbitration Provisions, 81 St. John’s L. Rev. 123, 160 (2007) (“consumers rarely read or understand” arbitration agreements); Debra Pogrund Stark & Jessica M. Choplin, A License to Deceive: Enforcing Contractual Myths Despite Consumer Psychological Realities, NYU J. Law & Business (2009), available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1340166 (discussing studies showing that consumers are unlikely to read standard-form contracts).
II. INCREDIBLY FEW CONSUMERS EVER GO TO ARBITRATION
The CFPB’s study,2 as shown above, demonstrates that only a tiny number of consumers ever go forward with claims against lenders in arbitration. The numbers are almost unbelievably small – slightly over 400 cases of any sort brought anywhere in the U.S. each year against lenders and, over a three year period, only 32 consumers actually winning awards in arbitration.
This is consistent with Public Justice’s experience: Very few consumers have any interest in bringing cases in arbitration. There are a number of factors that we see again and again:
● The arbitration system is foreign and confusing to consumers. Most consumers don’t know what the word means, or wrongly assume they can still go to court.
● The rules of the arbitration providers are lengthy, hard to find, and often it’s not clear which set of rules apply. The American Arbitration Association has many different sets of rules, and cases are often litigated for some time as to which set of rules will govern in a given case.)
● Consumers often must pay up front expenses that exceed what they’d have to pay in a court. It is not at all uncommon for corporations to refuse to pay their share of arbitrators’ fees (even when their customer contracts promise that they will pay most of the costs of arbitration), so when consumers do go to arbitration there are often extensive delays while the arbitration company collects fees from the company.
● There are a number of examples of arbitrators requiring consumers to pay enormous “loser pays” awards (meaning that even if a consumer brought a well-grounded case and they end up losing before the private corporate arbitrator, they are forced to pay the corporation’s attorneys’ fees, in some cases amounting to several hundred thousand dollars), which makes consumers reluctant to go to arbitration.
● Most private consumer lawyers are very reluctant, or completely unwilling, to represent clients in a system that they believe is rigged against consumers. Unlike the banking industry lawyers, consumer lawyers generally only get paid if they win cases. Many of them have a reasonable, earned distrust of forced arbitration, and extensive surveys of consumer lawyers consistently show that most will walk away from a case rather than go to arbitration.
The CFPB study’s findings that very, very few consumers go to arbitration are not even slightly surprising to experienced consumer lawyers. Let me start with an example. I represented a client who was cheated by a bank in a case, but because the U.S. Supreme Court changed the law governing forced arbitration clauses fairly dramatically while the case was pending, our client ended up receiving nothing and none of the other consumers who were cheated in the same way received anything.
In Homa v. American Express, our client, Mr. Homa, agreed to purchase a credit card based on the company’s offer of a specific set of conditions and terms. In fact, however, he discovered that the terms that were advertised were far better than what a cardholder could ever receive and that the credit card company was misleading people about the true cost of its loans (by exaggerating the size of the rebates the cardholders were supposed to receive).
Mr. Homa, who is far better at numbers than the average consumer, figured out the scam – that his rebate was much lower than he had been promised — and tried to get his money back. The company rebuffed him at every turn, telling him he had miscalculated the rates and that he was not entitled to his money. He finally went to a lawyer, who told him that, while he had a valid claim, the damages in his case were so small that it did not make financial sense to pursue his claim on an individual basis. After realizing that the company had likely cheated many consumers in this bait and switch scheme, Mr. Homa sought to hold the company liable for its unfair and deceptive lending practice by filing a class action complaint in federal court.
Because the amount of individual damages was so small and the nature of the claims was so complex, no one could actually obtain a remedy on an individual basis. The company nevertheless sought to force Mr. Homa into arbitration on an individual basis, but this effort was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which found that the American Express arbitration clause’s ban on class actions was “unconscionable.” In other words, because the ban on class actions would gut the state of New Jersey’s consumer protection laws, and give the bank a ‘get of jail free’ card, the court struck down the arbitration clause as unenforceable.
Then the U.S. Supreme Court intervened, with its notorious decision in Concepcion v. AT&T Mobility, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011).3 In this 5-4 decision, Justice Scalia invented a new rule of federal law that wiped away state contract laws that refused to enforce contracts that undermined consumer protection or civil rights laws. After Concepcion, the district court was provided with a powerful evidentiary record that proved no consumer could effectively vindicate his or her statutory rights relating to the claims at issue in the case under American Express’s arbitration clause, including expert testimony, testimony from Mr. Homa, and records of the paltry number of arbitrations pursued. This evidence, as well as the plaintiff’s briefs, is available at our website, www.publicjustice.net, on the page dedicated to the Homa case. American Express did not bother to challenge the evidentiary record, taking the position that these facts did not matter, after Conception. Notwithstanding this evidence, the district court dismissed the case and enforced the arbitration clause without comment.
On a final appeal to the Third Circuit, the Court of Appeals accepted the factual record showing that American Express’s ban on class actions would gut Mr. Homa’s case: “We accept this characterization, for the record demonstrates that the significant cost of arbitrating Homa’s claim and the likelihood that there would be a limited recovery even if his arbitration was successful makes it unlikely that an attorney would take his case. Furthermore, in view of the complexity of the issues pertaining to the merits of Homa’s claim, it would be very difficult for him to prosecute the case without the aid of an attorney whether in a judicial proceeding or in arbitration.”
Notwithstanding these facts, in light of the Concepcion case, the Third Circuit said that American Express’s arbitration clause should be enforced even though the arbitration offered only an “illusory remedy”: “Even if Homa cannot effectively prosecute his claim in an individual arbitration that procedure is his only remedy, illusory or not. Though some persons might regard our result as unfair, [the Federal Arbitration Act] requires that we reach it.” 494 Fed. Appx. 191 (2012).
Similarly, I was co-counsel in a class action that was litigated in Maryland state court, Wells v. Chevy Chase Bank. The credit card issuer had promised in promotional materials and in its contract that it would “never” raise its interest rates above 24%, and then it did raise its interest rates (as well as add a number of other charges) for a number of people. It was a classic bait-and-switch. The case was settled for $16.1 million (as well as actions taken to remove improper negative information from class members’ credit records), and checks were mailed to more than 200,000 class members. (Compare this, again, to the 411 people who take cases to arbitration each year against lenders throughout the entire United States.)
During the challenge to the arbitration clause in the Wells case, however, evidence was put before the trial court that if the arbitration clause had been enforced, no consumers would have been able to pursue their claims on an individual basis. This evidence was never challenged or refuted by the defendant, who argued that this did not matter. Our clients had approached a number of lawyers without finding any willing to handle the case, and the case was only filed shortly before the limitations period ended. This was an important case that needed to be brought, and which resolved very favorably for the consumers, but if the arbitration clause had been enforced, no consumers would have received any recovery.
As one further example, I was co-counsel in five cases brought against payday lenders in North Carolina state court. While payday lending is legal in many states, it was not in North Carolina. The judge divided the five cases into two groups, to better manage them. The first three cases were litigated and resolved before the Concepcion decision. We settled those cases for $45 million, and sent checks to more than 200,000 class members. The second two cases were thrown out because of the payday lenders’ class action bans, and so far as I know, not a single one of the consumers pursued their claims in arbitration and recovered anything. The contrast is striking:
200,000 consumers who retained their constitutional rights to go to court recovered $45 million and received checks, and tens of thousands of consumers who were subject to forced arbitration clauses with class action bans received nothing.
III. CLASS ACTIONS HAVE BROUGHT ENORMOUS BENEFITS TO CONSUMERS.
As set forth above, the CFPB studied more than 400 private class actions over a period of several years. It found that these class actions delivered very substantial benefits to more than 13 million Americans. Consumers received direct payments for cash (refunds of overcharges, for example); credits to their accounts; the elimination of illegal or inflated debts; and the removal of false information from their credit records.
Despite the widespread use of forced arbitration clauses, the consumers who WERE able to go forward in court were able to receive substantial recoveries.
The Bureau also compared, side-by-side, banks that were all engaged in the same illegal practice – manipulating the order in which checks were paid out, so as to dramatically increase the number of hefty late fees that were levied on consumers.
Banks which either did not have arbitration clauses with class action bans or which were not able to enforce them in court for various reasons were forced to (a) compensate their customers for the illegal practice and refund hundreds of millions of dollars; and (b) change their illegal practice. Banks who did have arbitration clauses that banned class actions did not pay out anything (unless some of the 32 Americans who recovered monies in forced arbitration over three years might have gotten back money for this particular practice), and continued the illegal practice.
My own experience is consistent with the Bureau’s conclusions. As set forth in the previous section, I have personally been counsel in a number of cases (I gave four examples, but I could have given many more) where hundreds of thousands of consumers recovered substantial sums, and had incorrect information removed from their credit records.
It is also important to note that the Bureau’s conclusion that attorneys’ fees were modest compared to the magnitude of the consumers’ recovery has been supported by substantial academic scholarship. Consider this study by a law professor who had been a clerk for Justice Scalia: Fitzpatrick, Brian T., An Empirical Study of Class Action Settlements and Their Fee Awards (July 7, 2010). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 7, 2010; CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper; Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 10-10; Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 10-06. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1442108 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1442108 (“Although there have been prior empirical studies of federal class action settlements, these studies have either been confined to securities cases or have been based on samples of cases that were not intended to be representative of the whole (such as those settlements approved in published opinions).
By contrast, in this article, I attempt to study every federal class action settlement from the years 2006 and 2007. As far as I am aware, this study is the first attempt to collect a complete set of federal class action settlements for any given year. I find that district court judges approved 688 class action settlements over this two-year period, involving nearly $33 billion. Of this $33 billion, roughly $5 billion was awarded to class action lawyers, or about 15 percent of the total.”)
IV. IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER A KEY POINT OF HISTORY: THE COMPANY THAT WAS THE LARGEST PRIVATE ARBITRATION PROVIDER IN THE U.S. FOR ABOUT 10 YEARS WAS SHUT DOWN FOR CORRUPT AND ILLEGAL BEHAVIOR
The Committee should look back at history of the late (but not lamented) National Arbitration Forum (NAF). This testimony will cite to a wealth of information that demonstrates the following propositions: (a) for about a decade, NAF was by far the largest provider of arbitration services to lenders for consumer arbitration; (b) NAF’s operations were outrageously unfair to consumers, and favorable to lenders, to a degree where words such as “corrupt” are entirely fair characterizations; (c) the overwhelming majority of courts took no action with respect to the NAF, as courts were reluctant or unwilling to probe into the fairness of a major arbitrator who was used by many corporations, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s rush to favor mandatory arbitration; and (d) the exact same factors that gave rise to the NAF – corporate desire for immunity from consumer protection law; a desire to win all or nearly all of the cases that were brought by consumers; a willingness by some actors to do ANYTHING to favor corporations if this would bring them substantial income; and the unwillingness of courts to meaningfully police arbitration – could easily give rise to a very similar actor down the road.
Simply put, there is no reason whatsoever that such an entity could not arise again, cloak itself in respectability (as the NAF did by spending a ton of money on articles and studies praising itself, hiring former judges and prominent political figures, energetically litigating to block any discovery into its operations and to get secrecy orders covering any documents that did become public, etc.), and operate in a similarly unfair situation for an indefinite period. Indeed, if the Minnesota Attorney General had not happened to discover that the NAF had crossed the most blatant line of inappropriate conduct – taking tens of millions of dollars for shares of a wholly owned corporation from entities who were currently litigating tens of thousands of cases in front of NAF – the NAF might well still be cheating consumers and operating as a semi-secret arm of the bank-defense community.
Various lovers of mandatory arbitration like to say things along the lines of “the NAF is gone, the entities left are all much better, no one should think about that period any more; nothing to see here, move on.” I suggest that the reality is more complex than that, and pose the question: “How can mandatory arbitration by lenders be fair when by far the largest provider of arbitration services for a decade operated in a dishonest and lawless manner, nothing happened, and there is nothing to stop this from happening again?”
Before it was shut down by a law enforcement action brought by the Minnesota Attorney General, however, very few courts ever struck down NAF arbitration clauses on the basis of bias, and the organization operated on a large scale for about a decade after the first evidence emerged that its neutrality was questionable. It took the discovery that NAF had a substantial undisclosed conflict of interest before it was shut down. On July 14, 2009, the Attorney General of Minnesota sued the NAF and its corporate affiliates for consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and false advertising based on the NAF’s undisclosed financial relationship with one of the country’s largest debt collection law firms. See Compl. at ¶ 5, State v. Nat’l Arbitration Forum, Inc. (Minn. Dist. Ct. July 14, 2009). Within days, the NAF announced that it would cease conducting consumer arbitrations. See Robin Sidel and Amol Sharma, Credit-Card Disputes Tossed Into Disarray, Wall Street Journal (July 21, 2009).
Although the NAF did not initially acknowledge any wrongdoing after the Minnesota action was filed, a year and a half later the company did admit that the key allegations in the Minnesota complaint were true:
On April 6, 2011 the NAF executed a settlement agreement in which it formally stipulated that effective June 27, 2007 it became a holding company, transferred its operations to two subsidiaries and sold a 40% ownership interest in one of the subsidiaries to participants in the consumer debt collection industry for $42 million. Torrence v. Nationwide Budget Finance, No. 05-0047, 2012 WL 335947 at ¶ 30 (N.C. Super. Ct. Jan. 25, 2012).
NAF aggressively marketed itself to credit card companies and debt collectors.4 While it NAF trumpeted itself to the public as fair and neutral, “[b]ehind closed doors, NAF sells itself to lenders as an effective tool for collecting debts.”5 In its solicitations and advertising, NAF “has overtly suggested to lenders that NAF arbitration will provide them with a favorable result.”6 BusinessWeek described a September, 2007, PowerPoint presentation aimed at creditors—and labeled “confidential”—that promises “marked increase in recovery rates over existing collection methods.”7 The presentation also “boasts that creditors may request procedural maneuvers that can tilt arbitration in their favor. ‘Stays and dismissals of action requests available without fee when requested by Claimant—allows claimant to control process and timeline.’” Speaking on condition of anonymity, an NAF arbitrator told BusinessWeek that these tactics allow creditors to file actions even if they are not prepared, in that “[i]f there is no response [from the debtor], you’re golden. If you get a problematic [debtor], then you can request a stay or dismissal.”8
BusinessWeek also highlighted another disturbing NAF marketing tactic: NAF “tries to drum up business with the aid of law firms that represent creditors.” Neither AAA nor JAMS cooperate with debt-collection law firms in such a manner.9
NAF had an arsenal of other ways of letting potential clients know that NAF can immunize them against liability. One NAF advertisement depicted NAF as “the alternative to the million-dollar lawsuit.”10 Additionally, NAF sent marketing letters to potential clients in which it “tout[s] arbitration as a way of eliminating class action lawsuits, where thousands of small claims may be combined . . . .”11 NAF’s marketing letters also urged potential clients to contact NAF to see “how arbitration will make a positive impact on the bottom line” and told corporate lawyers that “[t]here is no reason for your clients to be exposed to the costs and risks of the jury system.”12
The NAF also manipulated who was selected to be arbitrators, so that favored clients got better results. The Center for Responsible Lending analyzed this data and reached two conclusions:
(a) companies that arbitrate more cases before certain arbitrators consistently got better results from those arbitrators, and
(b) individual arbitrators who favored creditors over consumers got more cases in the future.13
Similarly, the Christian Science Monitor analyzed one year of data and found that NAF’s ten most frequently used arbitrators—who were assigned by NAF to decide nearly three out of every five cases—ruled for the consumer only 1.6% of the time. In contrast, arbitrators who decided three or fewer cases during that year found in favor of the consumer 38% of the time.14 Likewise, Public Citizen’s analysis found that one particular arbitrator, Joseph Nardulli, handled 1,332 arbitrations and ruled for the corporate claimant 97% of the time. On a single day—January 12, 2007 — Nardulli signed 68 arbitration decisions, giving debt holders and debt buyers every cent of the nearly $1 million that they demanded. 15
If Nardulli worked a ten-hour day on January 12, 2007, he would have averaged one decision every 8.8 minutes. Busy arbitrators like Nardulli are well-compensated for workdays like this one—as one former NAF arbitrator noted, “I could sit on my back porch and do six or seven of these cases a week and make $150 a pop without raising a sweat, and that would be a very substantial supplement to my income. . . . I’d give the [credit-card companies] everything they wanted and more just to keep the business coming.”16
NAF also blackballed arbitrators who dared to rule in favor of consumers.
Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet went public with her concerns that, after she awarded a consumer $48,000 in damages, NAF removed her from 11 other cases, all of which involved the same credit card company, on the credit card company’s objection.
As Bartholet described her experience to BusinessWeek, “NAF ran a process that systematically serviced the interests of credit card companies.”17 Bartholet told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that “[t]here’s something fundamentally wrong when one side has all the information to knock off the person who has ever ruled against it, and the little guy on the other side doesn’t have that information. . . .That’s systemic bias.”18
Another deeply troubling element of Bartholet’s experience comes from how NAF explained Bartholet’s removal from her cases to the parties in those cases. NAF sent letters to the parties stating that “due to a scheduling conflict, the Arbitrator previously appointed is not available to arbitrate the above case.” When Bartholet asked the NAF case administrator about the letters, the administrator “agreed that [Bartholet] was likely being removed simply because of [her] one ruling against the credit card company.”
NAF’s legal counsel did not deny this explanation.19
Similarly, former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely stopped receiving NAF assignments after he published an article accusing the firm of favoring creditors. In that article, Justice Neely lamented that NAF “looks like a collection agency” that depends on “banks and other professional litigants” for its revenue; he described NAF as a “system set up to squeeze small sums of money out of desperately poor people.”20
As one final note, in testimony that I submitted to the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in July 22, 2009, I set forth extensive evidence of how the NAF regularly entered awards against people who had been the victims of identity theft, who had been sued on debts that were far past the statute of limitations, and other abuses.
The supporters of forced arbitration have never yet offered a convincing explanation for why the Congress, the CFPB or policymakers should just ignore the fact that for nearly a decade, the company that handled more consumer arbitrations than any other provider operated in a flagrantly biased, pro-bank manner.
The CFPB is living up to its name. The Bureau really IS protecting consumers.
The banking industry’s attacks on the CFPB’s proposed rule should be seen for what they are: an effort to let the banks and payday lenders just exempt themselves from laws that they don’t feel like following.
1 Public Justice pursues high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability, and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses. I oversee Public Justice’s docket of consumer, environmental and civil rights cases. I have argued or co-argued and won more than 30 reported decisions from federal and state courts across the nation, including cases in six of the federal Circuit Courts of Appeal and at least one victory in nine different state high courts. I was named the “Vern Countryman” Award winner in 2006 by the National Consumer Law Center, which “honors the accomplishments of an exceptional consumer attorney who, through the practice of consumer law, has contributed significantly to the well being of vulnerable consumers.” In 2013, I received the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition’s “Legal Champion” award. In 2010, I received the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau’s “Champion of Justice” Award. In the late 1980s, I was Chief Nominations Counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. I graduated from Harvard Law School in 1986, and Georgetown University in 1983. For more than 15 years, Public Justice has operated a special project devoted to fighting abuses of mandatory arbitration. We have represented consumers in a large number of cases challenging abuses of forced arbitration clauses, in state and federal courts, for more 15 years. While arbitration clauses are widely enforceable as a matter of federal law, we have successfully represented consumers in cases where corporations added outrageous terms to their arbitration clauses (such as requiring consumers with small claims to travel across the country), or corporations have attempted to enforce arbitration clauses against consumers who never agreed to them, and similar abuses.
2 After roughly a year of collecting data and comments, the Bureau released a preliminary report in late 2013. It then spent another year and a half gathering more data, analyzing primary documents from hundreds of court cases and arbitration records, soliciting further comments, and conducting extensive interviews with consumers and industry representatives before publishing its final report in March 2015. The final report provides an extensive and exhaustive analysis of the prevalence of arbitration clauses in consumer financial contracts, their effects on consumer protection, and the relative merits of arbitration and court litigation as means of protecting consumers’ interests. The final report ran nearly 800 pages long, and has been rightly called the most comprehensive study of this issue to date. The industry claims that the agency needs to engage in further study are like those from people who say that we need more evidence to tell us cigarette smoking is bad for children. The industry claims that it didn’t have enough input into the study are almost bizarre – bank CEOs, CFOs and bank lobbyists, lawyers and advocates have held literally hundreds of meetings with the CFPB over a period of nearly four years where they have had every opportunity (and have regularly exercised that opportunity) to voice their views about why forced arbitration is supposedly good for consumers.
3 Justice Ginsburg recently gave a speech where she compared the Court’s decision in Concepcion with the infamous Lochner-era decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court back in the early part of the 20th Century, when the Court would strike down laws such as minimum wage and child labor laws as an infringement of freedom of contract.
4 See Caroline E. Mayer, Win Some, Lose Rarely? Arbitration Forum’s Rulings Called One-Sided, Wash. Post, Mar. 1, 2000, at E1 (“[A]rbitration industry experts say [that] the forum’s business involves more corporate-consumer disputes, in large part because of the company’s aggressive marketing.”).
5 Robert Berner & Brian Grow, Banks v. Consumers (Guess Who Wins), BusinessWeek, June 5, 2008. See also Sean Reilly, Supreme Court Looks at Arbitration in Alabama Case This Week, Mobile Reg., Oct. 1, 2000, at A1 (“In marketing letters to potential business clients, [NAF’s] executives have touted arbitration as a way of eliminating class action lawsuits, where thousands of small claims may be combined.”); Sarah Ovaska, 3 Cases Cite Payday Lending: Consumer Groups Say Arbitration Clauses Deny People Recourse to Courts, News & Observer, Jan. 7, 2007 (“[NAF], which in 2006 resolved $3 billion worth of claims involving debts and other disputes, has been singled out by consumer advocates, who criticize it for advertising its services to businesses.”).
6 Ken Ward, Jr., State Court Urged to Toss One-Sided Loan Arbitration, Charleston Gazette & Daily Mail, Apr. 4, 2002, at 5A.
7 Robert Berner & Brian Grow, Banks v. Consumers (Guess Who Wins), BusinessWeek, June 5, 2008.
10 Nadia Oehlsen, Mandatory Arbitration on Trial, Credit Card Mgmt., Jan. 1, 2006, at 38
11 Sean Reilly, Supreme Court Looks at Arbitration in Alabama Case This Week, Mobile Reg., Oct. 1, 2000, at A1.
12 See Caroline E. Mayer, Win Some, Lose Rarely? Arbitration Forum’s Rulings Called One-Sided, Wash. Post, Mar. 1, 2000, at E1.
13 Joshua M. Frank, Center for Responsible Lending, Stacked Deck: A Statistical Analysis of Forced Arbitration (2009), http://www.responsiblelending.org/credit-cards/research- analysis/stacked_deck.pdf.
14 Simone Baribeau, Consumer Advocates Slam Credit-Card Arbitration, Christian Sci. Monitor, July 16, 2007.
15 Public Citizen, The Arbitration Trap: How Credit Card Companies Ensnare Consumers 17 (2007), http://www.citizen.org/documents/ArbitrationTrap.pdf.
16 Chris Serres, Arbitrary Concern: Is the National Arbitration Forum a Fair and Impartial Arbiter of Dispute Resolutions? Star Trib. (Minneapolis), May 11, 2008, at 1D.
17 Robert Berner & Brian Grow, Banks v. Consumers (Guess Who Wins), BusinessWeek, June 5, 2008.
18 Chris Serres, Arbitrary Concern: Is the National Arbitration Forum a Fair and Impartial Arbiter of Dispute Resolutions? Star Trib. (Minneapolis), May 11, 2008, at 1D.
19 Courting Big Business: The Supreme Court’s Recent Decisions on Corporate Misconduct and Laws Regulating Corporations, 110th Cong. (2008) (statement of Elizabeth Bartholet), available at http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/testimony.cfm?id=3485&wit_id=7313.
20 Robert Berner & Brian Grow, Banks v. Consumers (Guess Who Wins), BusinessWeek, June 5, 2008.
Claims that program must cut benefits is attempt to undermine it by destroying its popular support
Hill has since applied his knack for original thinking to other issues, and his latest book is a timely look at Social Security system. Since Reagan, the war cry of the Very Serious People is that the US must have “entitlement reform” because . . . well, because all the Very Serious People say that we must! Their silent caveat is “because we refuse to cut the Pentagon and we have no intention of giving back any of the tax-cuts we stole since the Reagan years.”
As Beacon Press (publisher of The Pentagon Papers) notes, Hill has made a habit of being ahead of the curve: Steven Hill is a Senior Fellow with the New America Foundation and a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He is the author of six books, including Raw Deal: How the “Uber Economy” and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers, which was selected by The Globalist as one of the Top Ten Books of 2015. His op-ed’s, articles and media interviews have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Politico, CNN, C-SPAN, BBC, Financial Times, Guardian, Bloomberg News, Fox News,National Public Radio, The Nation, Salon, Slate, Observer, Fast Company, Business Insider, HuffingtonPost, Le Monde, Die Zeit, Al Jazeera and many others. His other books include Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age and 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy. He is a co-founder of FairVote/Center for Voting and Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @StevenHill1776 and visit his website.
The US retirement system, with all its components parts including Social Security at its core, has been the yellow brick road leading to a pot of gold at the end of most workers’ careers. Social Security has demonstrated its value decade after decade, and it has been one of the most successful government programs of all time. And yet it is threatened now more than ever by leading politicians, business leaders, and media pundits who insist, despite all the facts to the contrary, that Social Security benefits are no longer affordable and must be cut. To the extent that there is another “side” of this debate over whether to cut Social Security, it comes mainly from those who are on the defensive, fighting merely to maintain Social Security as it is, or those who propose incremental reforms to preserve the status quo—even though the status quo is increasingly inadequate. Neither “side” of this debate is addressing the reality of America’s retirement crisis.
As we will see, although two of the three legs of the “retirement stool” have been sawed back to nubs, the only bipartisan proposal currently under consideration calls for cuts to the last remaining leg—Social Security. Each partisan side of the aisle has its own preferred way of doing that, but don’t be fooled: they amount to the same thing. They will make cuts in the ever-popular program that has long been one of the glues of our society, a sacred trust between generations and a testament to American family values. Even President Barack Obama at times has proposed his own type of cuts. Both sides are presenting the same basic face, which is biased toward the affluent and skewed toward private savings, rather than doubling down on the type of “wage insurance” that has been so successful—Social Security.
Naturally, the entitlement busters don’t always announce their scheming plans. Instead, they have been waging a stealth campaign, and so far, it’s working. They have plans to cut Social Security benefits, privatize our contributions, increase the retirement age, minimize the cost-of-living increase, and turn the whole thing over to Wall Street managers who will reap a fortune in charging fees and premiums to oversee this transformation. We saw how well that worked out with the hedge fund–stoked home mortgage crisis that collapsed the global economy in 2008. Not enough people sounded the alarm on that one until it was too late. This time, we have to expose the banksters and make the politicians listen. We need a “people’s plan” for fixing the retirement mess that the bipartisan consensus has dropped into our laps.
Imagine if the front page of every newspaper, or if the lead story on every media news show, blared a headline that shouted “Washington and Wall Street Conspiring to Gut America’s Retirement—and Only ‘We, the People,’ Can Stop Them.” Would Americans stand on the sidelines and let that happen? Would they tune out with their favorite TV shows and Twitter celebrities? Or like Paul Revere and the Minutemen, would they answer the call? I believe Americans would respond with pitchforks and torchlight parades, marching to dump the tea into the harbor.
But most Americans don’t realize what is happening, or what is at stake. The current crisis provides a crucial opportunity to rethink the system as a whole, and to redesign this “third rail” of politics for the challenges of the twenty-first century.
In this book, I will show not only how to expand Social Security but also how to pay for it, and why that would be good for America’s retirees, good for America’s businesses, and good for our nation’s continued standing in the world as a beacon of hope and prosperity. My proposed plan for Social Security Plus—including a doubling of the individual payout—would form the core of a new kind of deal for American workers. There hasn’t been a serious call for Social Security expansion in a couple of decades, yet recently more political leaders and media pundits have raised this possibility. In a relatively short period of time, Social Security expansion is being discussed by more and more people as a serious solution to America’s retirement crisis. The political needle has moved, and a moment may be arriving that will reset this landscape.
This book provides a blueprint for how to move forward.
Simply by making our retirement system more fair, we will vastly improve everyday Americans’ lives, including the younger generations, and preserve the power of hope in our nation’s dream.
By making it more innovative, we will design a retirement system that has the ability to preserve Main Street’s crucial place in the emerging high-tech, new economy.
And by making it more stable, we will put the national economy on a more solid footing, preserving the robust middle-class society that made the United States a great magnet for the world.
More fair, more innovative, and more stable…and better adapted to the realities of today’s new economy. Social Security Plus will contribute to a solid foundation from which to build a strong and vibrant twenty-first-century economy.
Vision Panel members
Gregg Kantor, Co-Chair, NW Natural Gas, President & CEO
Tammy Baney, Co-Chair, Deschutes County Commissioner
Rep. Cliff Bentz, Oregon State Representative
Sen. Lee Beyer, Oregon State Senator
Martin Callery, Former COO, Port of Coos Bay
Larry Campbell, Former Oregon House Speaker*
Gary Cardwell, NW Container Services
Theresa Carr, CH2M Hill
Jill Eiland, Intel
Aron Faegre, Faegre & Associates
Stuart Foster, Foster Denman, LLP
Mark Frohnmayer, Arcimoto, Inc.
Mark Gardiner, State Aviation Board
David Hauser, Eugene Chamber
Brad Hicks, Medford/Jackson Chamber
Sen. Betsy Johnson, Oregon State Senator
John Lattimer, Marion County
Roger Lee, EDCO
Rep. Caddy McKeown, Oregon State Representative
Tim McLain, Former OSP Superintendent*
John Mohlis, Oregon Building and Construction Trades Council
Michael Montero, Montero & Associates, LLC
Susan Morgan, Douglas County Commissioner
Dennis Mulvihill, Dennis Mulvihill Consulting
Jerry Norquist, Cycle Oregon
Sean O’Hollaren, Nike*
Susie Papé, The Papé Group
Steve Phillips, Phillips Candies*
Dan Pippenger, Port of Portland
Tom Potiowsky, PSU, Northwest Economic Research Center
Annette Price, Pacific Power
Craig Reeder, Hale Companies
Dave Robertson, PGE
Bruce Starr, Former Oregon State Senator
Joanne Verger, Former Oregon State Senator
Bruce Warner, TriMet
Sen. Jackie Winters, Oregon State Senator
Rollie Wisbrock, Oregon State Treasury, Retired
*Former Vision Panel members
Oregon is a state blessed with incomparable natural beauty and a strong economy prized for its agriculture commodities, forest products, and its technology goods and services. Its people are also renowned for their civic engagement and innovation in public policy. This is a place where people from all parts of the country want to live, and where Oregonians want to stay. We are here to raise families, do business, enjoy our golden years, and take part in our shared high quality of life.
We are also fortunate to have a robust multimodal transportation system. It has served us well and has been a comparative advantage for our heavily trade-dependent economy. Significant investments by past Legislatures and Congresses in both preservation and strategic multimodal capacity expansion have left Oregon with a transportation system that better moves people and goods across all modes.
But Oregon’s population is straining our heavily subscribed and ever-aging transportation system. Rapid growth could challenge our ability to remain economically competitive, hinder our ability to meet long-range greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, and make it harder to simply get to work.
Oregon is also facing a vulnerability not shared by other parts of the country. The expected Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami will cause long-lasting damage to this state if we are unable to make key upgrades to vulnerable parts of our transportation infrastructure.
But knowing all of these challenges makes our task clearer. Oregonians from all corners of the state were asked to share their priorities for improving our state’s transportation system and to shore up growing vulnerabilities. This report provides a distillation of that input and prioritized findings from the panel itself.
Oregon benefits greatly from residents who care deeply about this special place and who are willing to participate and make this state even better. While the landscapes, and even the time zones, differ in our vast state, this report finds we have much in common in relation to our transportation system — we share in our desire to make this great state better, and we understand the importance of being one Oregon.
Oregon’s Transportation: A History
Oregon’s transportation history is more than a recitation on concrete, steel, and iron. It is central to its people and what makes Oregon a special place. From anthropologist Luther Cressman’s 1938 unearthing of seventy pairs of 10,000 year-old sandals, to Bill Bowerman’s relentless pursuit of the perfect running shoe which led to an athletic empire, the movement of people and products has been key to our state’s legacy.
For generations, Oregonians have traveled by foot, canoe, and horse to fish, farm, and explore these great lands. The sternwheeler, steamship, and locomotive followed, transforming not only our landscape but the relative sense of distance between far-away families and communities. More recently, paved roads, cars, and freight trucks brought us even closer together and products from afar closer to home.
Today, we are on the precipice of technological changes in transportation that will likely radically alter our daily lives. Yet at the same time, we are rediscovering the value of older technologies — either on two wheels or steel wheels – and how they can better serve the needs of our modern day lives.
Oregonians have a longstanding passion for quality transportation. A “good roads” movement at the turn of the 20th Century helped to “Get Oregon out of the Mud” led by the Legislature and the State Highway Commission. Oregon has also welcomed innovators, like Samuel Lancaster, to design and build the region’s first paved highway through the Gorge. And Conde McCullough designed many of Oregon’s iconic bridges built with economy in mind and to “harmonize” with the state’s natural beauty.
The legacy of past investments and drive toward innovation has helped build a transportation system that has served as an inspiration across the country. It has given Oregonians much to be proud of, and is the foundation for future achievement. However, this foundation is deteriorating from age, heavy use, and lack of investment in maintenance, enhancement, and transportation options.
In order to create the system that will best serve our future needs, one that allows for the efficient movement of people and products in an environmentally responsible way, we must be cognizant of current challenges in today’s transportation system and we must be willing to act.
2050 Projected Population: 5,588,500
2030 Projected Population: 4,768,000
2010 Population: 3, 837,300
1990 Population: 2,860,375
1970 Population: 2,103,151
1950 Population: 1,521,341
1930 Population: 953,786
1910 Population: 672,765
1890 Population: 317,704
1850 Population: 12,093
The panel believes that the findings outlined in this report w a lasting and positive impact on the fabric of Oregon’s econ and security, as well as the vibrancy of our communities. We are also greatly encouraged that, from across Oregon, there is support for our shared transportation system and clear focus on the need to maintain the system we have today, address con meet seismic needs, and make appropriate investments in transit.
We also appreciate that Oregon policymakers are deeply devoted to addressing the challenging issues facing our state today. It hope this report’s findings, along with the priorities identified the regions, offer a path for immediate, mid-term, and long investments in our shared transportation system.
One Oregon 2045: A vision
In 2045, Oregon will have a transportation system that is in a state of good repair, largely resilient to major natural disasters, financially stable, and meets the needs of its people and its economy.
This system will support healthy and livable Oregon communities with improved access to safe and reliable transportation options, reducing reliance on a single mode. This multimodal transportation system will enhance mobility, whether Oregonians choose to travel by car, train, bus, boat, airplane, bicycle, or by foot
Oregon will have a safe, reliable, and efficient multimodal freight network that supports Oregon’s businesses and enhances Oregonians’ quality of life. This freight network will include a marine, aviation, rail, and roadway system that meets distinct regional needs, supports urban and rural economies, and allows Oregon’s businesses to efficiently access regional, national, and international markets.
Oregon’s transportation system will have met its greenhouse gas reduction targets through strategic investments in lower carbon transportation options, such as alternative fuel vehicles and other technology innovations that also enhance safety and efficiency.
The state’s transportation assets will be under appropriate jurisdictional control, and jurisdictions responsible for these assets will be accountable and garner a high level of public trust.
Oregonians have invested billions of dollars in the transportation system we enjoy today. But we no longer raise enough revenue to maintain this system, let alone enhance capacity. Transportation maintenance challenges are particularly acute for cities and counties across Oregon. These assets are too important to the state’s economic vitality to let them deteriorate due to under-investment. The panel recommends:
Transportation system maintenance: Oregon’s top transportation investment priority must be to preserve and maintain existing transportation assets across all modes.
Congestion on Portland metro highways is impacting economic competitiveness for the entire state. At the same time, other state highways were not designed or built to adequately move today’s volumes of freight traffic. To help the movement of people and freight, structural improvements are needed on roadway pinch points. The panel recommends:
Invest in bottleneck elimination: Improve capacity and throughput of existing roadway bottlenecks on the highest priority corridors of statewide significance (I-5, I-205, etc.).
Invest in freight network alternatives: Invest in improved capacity and efficiency of rural highway corridors (Highway 97, etc.) that create freight network alternatives.
Transportation demand management strategies: Invest in transportation options and demand management strategies such as transit, rideshare, biking and walking, and employer incentives. Additionally, invest in freight enhancements (such as truck rest areas and port drop sites) that reduce roadway trucking demand during peak hours of congestion.
For many Oregonians — particularly students, seniors, and people with disabilities — transit is critical to meet their daily needs. For others, transit has become increasingly important just to get around in congested communities.
The 2013 Values & Beliefs Survey found that a majority of Oregonians support investment in public transportation. While transit is becoming more popular in urban and rural communities alike, strategies to deploy transit will likely look different across the state. The panel recommends:
Reduce gaps in transit service: Transit investments don’t always align with existing needs within communities or between communities. Future investments must aim to close both state and local gaps in service and enhance intercity transit connections to meet workforce and equity needs and help achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Maximize transit funds: Transit districts often leave federal funds “on the table” because they do not have adequate resources to provide a “local match.” New state and local investments in transit should maximize the potential for federal matching funds, as well as enhance the reliability and efficiency of transit services.
Increase flexibility of K-12 student transportation services: Redefine student transportation to ensure that communities are meeting the changing needs of students across the state. Increase flexibility and improve efficiency in how school districts are able to spend transportation revenue, such as transit district partnerships.
BIKE AND PEDESTRIAN INVESTMENTS
Walking and biking is increasingly important for Oregonians living in rural and urban communities. In the last decade alone, walking increased by 25 percent and biking doubled. But surveys have shown that more Oregonians interested in biking and walking won’t take the trip because they feel the existing infrastructure in their communities is unsafe. Oregon is also an increasingly popular destination for bicycle tourists interested in experiencing our state’s beauty. Bicycle tourism has become an important economic driver for communities from the Oregon Coast to Hells Canyon. The panel recommends:
Reduce fatalities and injuries: Oregon must continue to prioritize and invest in bold efforts to dramatically reduce crashes that disproportionately cause fatalities and injuries for people walking and biking. Programs such as Safe Routes to School and investments in sidewalks and separated facilities are essential tools to reduce roadway conflicts and protect vulnerable users. New bicycle and pedestrian investments should also aim to maximize the potential for federal matching funds.
Support economic opportunities for tourism/tours: In order to support recreational tourism, connections on bikeways, shoulders, and sidewalks should be completed to improve safety and close gaps. Consideration is also needed to educate visitors on how to best share narrow rural roadways, especially during harvest season.
INTERMODAL FREIGHT INFRASTRUCTURE
Oregon is fortunate to be a heavily trade-dependent state. But many producers cannot avoid moving goods through already congested corridors, which creates delays and adds expense, and they do not have adequate alternatives on the non-roadway system. Investments in alternative freight hubs and transload facilities in less congested areas could help keep Oregon moving. The panel recommends:
Intermodal freight facilities: Identify and invest in intermodal facilities and freight connectors (e.g., transload facilities, port drop sites, inland ports, etc.) that reduce highway demand for freight.
Create a permanent ConnectOregon fund:
A permanent ConnectOregon fund for non-highway transportation assets would help the state coordinate and support strategic investments.
Develop a statewide marine plan: Integrate and better link Oregon’s ports and marine transportation system through a system plan and investment strategy. This plan could better tie the marine system with the Freight Plan and other transportation modal plans; help determine statewide funding priorities that impact the marine system (e.g., road, rail, and waterway system improvements); address marine land use issues; and help organize shipper alternatives (e.g., barging of containers along the Columbia River).
In recent years, geologists have developed a greater understanding of the risks posed to the Pacific Northwest from a Cascadia Subduction Zone event. They see a significant risk Oregon will experience a 9.0 earthquake in the next 50 years. To be prepared, Oregon must have a resilient transportation network to increase survivability, provide critical evacuation lifelines, and support long-term economic recovery. The panel recommends:
Invest in seismic resiliency: Additional resources must be secured to adequately shore up seismic resiliency. This includes consideration in future state transportation investments and ongoing advocacy at the federal level for designations and funds to support this effort.
Increase coordination with West Coast states: Strengthen coordination of planning efforts with California and Washington, and identify immediate investment needs for high priority transportation assets including I-5 and Highway 97 corridor improvements.
Non-highway inventory assessments: Seismic planning for non-highway modes (e.g., aviation, marine, rail) to date has been piecemeal and inadequate. Tools should be provided for these transportation entities to perform thorough inventories and assess seismic vulnerabilities.
Local seismic needs assessments: Many of Oregon’s local jurisdictions have not conducted assessments of transportation vulnerabilities and priorities because they do not have the necessary resources. Adequate resources should be dedicated to perform these assessments; and local transportation agencies should have the tools necessary to respond to a disaster.
As the population of Oregon has grown and cities have expanded, many of what were once rural highways now function more like city streets. At the same time, many local roads now operate as de facto highways. Transferring roadways between appropriate jurisdictions has been prohibitive mostly due to cost. However, getting the right jurisdiction to own and manage these roadways is important to better serve the traveling public and achieve development goals within communities. The panel recommends:
Enact a jurisdictional transfer program: Implement a pilot program that includes up to five priority transfers where there is broad state and community support and dedicate revenue to achieve these transfers.
Establish jurisdictional transfer working group: Create a working group that refines criteria for future transfers and streamlines the process.
We live in a time of rapid technological change that is impacting the way we get around and experience the world in real-time. Connected and automated vehicles, as well as car sharing and other new vehicle technologies, are altering the way we think about cars and car ownership. At the same time, unmanned aerial and terrestrial systems may change the way goods move from the storefront to home. Where this transformation is going isn’t entirely clear. It should not be the role of government to pick technology winners or losers. Instead, government should support an environment that fosters innovation while safeguarding the public interest. The panel recommends:
Expand innovation partnerships: Establish partnerships with companies and other states with the objective of making Oregon a key testbed for the development and deployment of innovative transportation technologies (e.g., connected and automated vehicles, electric vehicles, drones).
Appoint a transportation innovation officer: Appoint a transportation innovation officer within the Governor’s Office to drive interagency coordination in support of transportation innovation.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation system continues to be a priority for Oregonians. In addition, federal agencies are now beginning to consider establishing new performance measures for emissions on the transportation system. Implementing other panel findings, such as investments in transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure, and embracing alternative fuel vehicles, will lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions from our transportation system. The panel recommends:
Track carbon reduction impacts: To ensure policy efforts are making a difference in reducing emissions, and to prepare for potential new federal requirements, the state should consider creating an office that draws upon independent and private sector expertise to begin tracking and reporting on Oregon’s carbon reduction progress. The office should regularly report to the Governor’s Office and Legislature on progress made to meet the state’s carbon emission reduction goals.
LAND USE AND TRANSPORTATION
Oregon’s roads, bridges, paths, and rail lines are all part of an integrated transportation and land use system. New investments in our transportation system must be reinforced by effective statewide land use and housing policies that do not exacerbate the congestion and mobility challenges we face as a state. The panel recommends:
Land use and transportation policy assessment: A joint effort should be made by the Oregon Transportation Commission and the Land Conservation and Development Commission to ensure that our land use and transportation policies are well aligned and meet the needs of Oregon’s growing population.
Between January and March of 2016, the Transportation Vision Panel held a series of eleven Regional Forums across the state.
These forums provided an opportunity to hear from community members about what is important for their region’s transportation connections to the rest of the state, and how the transportation system impacts local economies. The forums also helped assess the strengths and weaknesses of each region’s transportation system.
While each region has its own distinct characteristics and priorities, what surprised the panel were the number of common threads shared across Oregon’s regions. From the Oregon Coast to Hells Canyon, and from large cities to small towns, three key themes were heard consistently as major concerns affecting Oregon’s transportation system:
Concern for the survivability from a major Cascadia Subduction Zone event is not limited to Oregon’s coastal communities. It is a powerful and real-time worry for people living east of the Cascades who are keenly aware they will be the staging ground for the recovery efforts to assist coastal and valley communities. Today, Oregonians are asking important questions: Do we have adequate infrastructure to survive and respond to this event? Can Central and Eastern Oregon support large populations of evacuees? What are the steps we need to take today in order to be best prepared?
Congestion in the Portland metro area is having a major impact on the economic vitality of all regions. It not only creates challenges for commuters and businesses in the metro area, it is also making it difficult for producers across the state to move their goods into and through Portland in a predictable, reliable, and timely fashion.
In all eleven forum meetings, transit was identified as a top priority to get people around locally and to connect to communities across the region. Transit is seen as an essential tool to help workers, students, seniors, and people with disabilities move around. Forum participants also said transit is important to support tourist economies, attract a diverse and talented workforce and reduce carbon emissions.
Investing in Transportation
For decades, investments in transportation were grounded by the principle of ‘the user pays’ and supported by robust trust funds that both built and maintained transportation assets. In recent years, the revenue raised to support trust funds is no longer sufficient. The reasons for the shortfall vary. Even so, the need for adequate resources to maintain and improve a multimodal transportation system remains.
The panel’s approach took this into account and considered the state’s short-term and long-term needs across modes, while remaining agnostic about solutions and valuing creativity alongside stability.
Oregon’s transportation system is essential for the growth of Oregon’s economy, and must also be a system that is safe, sustainable, and serves the needs of local communities. The panel has identified the following key challenges for funding Oregon’s transportation system.
Deferred maintenance of the transportation system drastically increases costs: State and local transportation agencies are forced to defer routine maintenance of their roads and bridges due to revenue shortfalls. This deferral sharply increases costs as roadways fail and must undergo more costly reconstruction.
Oregon lacks many of the funding sources available to other states for transportation: Underfunding of the transportation system is not a challenge that is unique to Oregon. However, Oregon’s lack of a sales tax and limitations in its property tax system create additional constraints on options available to make robust transportation investments in roadways and transit systems.
Local governments face major transportation costs and are limited in their capacity to raise local revenue: Just like at the state level, Oregon’s cities and counties fall significantly short of the resources they need to maintain and improve local transportation systems. The lack of a sales tax and property tax restrictions have forced local governments to take creative approaches in raising transportation funding—or, as is the case in many communities, go without resources needed to meet basic needs.
Non-highway investments are limited due to constitutional restrictions on revenue and a lack of sustainable funding sources: Relatively few revenue sources are available to finance non-highway transportation needs such as rail, aviation, marine, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
Existing transportation revenue sources are eroded by inflation: Revenue from the fuel tax and vehicle user fees that are the foundation of the Oregon State Highway Fund does not increase over time in the same way as property, income, or sales taxes. Episodic increases in fuel tax rates and vehicle user fees have been and will continue to be eroded by inflation.
Vehicle fuel efficiency and alternative fuels reduce revenue for trust funds: As vehicles become more fuel efficient, alternative fuel vehicles gain market share, and many Oregonians seek alternatives to driving, transportation revenue from fuel taxes will continue to shrink.
Oregon should not rely solely on federal revenue to enhance its transportation system: Today, nearly all of the state’s new construction is funded through federal dollars. While the federal government recently passed a five-year transportation reauthorization bill (FAST- ACT, P.L. 114-94) stabilizing investments to states, it failed to address the future insolvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund. Federal funds will always be essential to Oregon. States across the country are increasingly coming up with their own plans for raising revenue to close the gap.
A call to action
State policymakers should take immediate action to increase the investment necessary to maintain and enhance Oregon’s transportation system.
While there are a number of financing options available to fund transportation, the panel identified a set of principles that new investments should be built upon.
The panel felt that investment decisions should be made with efficiency, economy and effectiveness in mind.
Efficiency: Does the funding mechanism achieve the most from available resources?
Economy: Does the funding mechanism maximize resources at minimal cost?
Effectiveness: Does the funding mechanism achieve the desired result?
As policymakers consider options for funding transportation, it is critical that these options be effective in achieving the desired result. Investments should aim to provide adequate, sustainable, and long- term solutions, rather than temporary infusions of revenue.
- Address immediate funding crisis
- Uphold a user-pays principle
- Provide predictable and stable revenue
- Make multimodal investments
- Make long-term investments in community and economy
- Address challenges of inflation
- Incentivize efficient use of the system
- Limit administrative costs and ensure capacity to deliver
- Be responsive to fuel efficiency and the need to reduce carbon emissions
- Improve equity
Financing transportation in Oregon: A menu of options
The panel explored a “menu of options” to finance Oregon’s transportation system built upon the transportation investment principles. This menu incorporates near- term, mid-term, and long-term options for consideration by policymakers.
In the near term, Oregon can stem the immediate transportation funding crisis by passing a transportation funding package. A number of funding options are available, including the traditional suite of user taxes and fee increases, as well as creating new fees where appropriate to ensure equitable contributions by transportation system users. Local governments can also be given greater ability to raise money for their transportation needs. Providing additional funding for non-highway modes is also critical.
In the mid term and long term, new revenue options to supplement traditional user fees should be explored to stabilize state funds and provide funding for all modes of transportation. As Oregon looks to future funding options, it should explore modifications to the state constitutional dedication that limits Oregon’s ability to invest in non-highway transportation modes.
The menu of options considered by the panel is articulated in greater detail in Appendix A
The “Oregon Transparency” website – lies, damn lies, and statistics
Last week, OregonPEN published the first in what will be a series on Oregon’s “dead reckoning” ability — how well public agencies perform in terms of having a clear and accurate sense of their own performance at any given time. As any sailor knows, dead reckoning can be a life-saver, or a deceiver that guides you onto the rocks and disaster. The difference arises mainly from two things:
1) How carefully the navigator trying to steer a course behaves in terms of keeping track of the heading and progress actually made, without regard to hopes and wishes; and
2) Whether the navigator overcomes human nature and honestly incorporates the signs that internal problems and external forces are producing travel in directions other than the desired course.
Whether Oregon public agencies are any good at planning for the future is difficult to know; however, it seems likely that agencies that do a good job knowing what their past progress has been are the ones in the best position to plan for the future. So in this issue, OregonPEN visits a website that provides links to some of the Oregon state agency “annual progress reports” submitted to the Legislative Fiscal Office, just to get a rough sense of whether agencies take the reporting obligation seriously and try to make it useful for themselves and the public.
What stands out when sampling this site and the agency self-evaluation reports?
First, the progress report format seems designed to defeat or at least seriously deter transparency. Individually prepared reports that do not use a common set of agency metrics prevents comparison of agencies, despite the principle of “transparency” that is supposed to animate the whole effort. Worse, the progress reports themselves are scans of static paper reports containing inconsistent low-resolution black and white graphics, so that there are no live links and no connections to the underlying data. In other words, although these reports are prepared using digital tools that make it possible to provide inexpensive, real-time, vivid updates of all the key metrics, Oregon has instead chosen to force the data out of the digital realm and onto paper so that it is an information dead-end. Anyone trying to use these reports to assess agency performance against other Oregon agencies faces a hopeless task.
Second, even the ordering of the reports works against real transparency, because the reports are presented in the least useful order possible, alphabetically. This trivial point is actually not so trivial, because the way the agency progress reports are presented has a good deal to do with how likely they are to be viewed and considered, and how easy is it for an Oregonian to turn the data into usable knowledge.
The Accountancy Board is not ranked first in terms of importance to understanding what state government is doing. Absent a better plan, the agencies reports should appear according to budget size, or budget categories, with the major agencies grouped as one category, minor agencies another, professional licensing boards in another. The object should be to group like with like, to promote comparisons and , present the reports according to agency importance – how much that agency affects the people of Oregon. While this can be difficult to know (the DMV might be the agency with the greatest amount of contact with Oregonians), agency budget provides a reasonable index for ranking agency importance.
Another problem with the presentation is that the agency listing approach provides no warning about gaps. No matter how long they were given, few Oregonians looking at the Oregon Transparency website are likely to note that the Oregon State Bar, the organization responsible for licensing and regulating attorneys, is nowhere to be found there. Are reports from other important state entities missing?
Third, Oregon allows all agencies to create or propose their own performance metrics. That sounds reasonable until you seek to compare two agencies that serve similar functions, such as the Board of Accountancy, the Board of Dentistry, the Licensed Professions Counselors & Therapists Board, the Licensed Social Workers Board, the Medical Board, the Board of Medical Imagine, and so on down the professions. While the professional licensing boards are superficially diverse, they are essentially all the same – each one is the body that is supposed to oversee and implement the regulations that the state has deemed necessary to apply to members of that profession for the benefit of the public. A real transparency effort would require all similar agencies to use a “Common Core” of performance measures, supplemented by any agency-specific measures that are appropriate because they add value in terms of helping Oregonians understand what they are getting in return for the resources spent on that particular agency.
Fourth, related to the problem of allowing agencies to define their own performance measures, it is impossible to summarize the data using a common measure. That means that Oregonians have no simple way to judge performance of one agency against another, even when there are similar metrics being used that could be made comparable with some effort. Compare that to the way that the federal Department of Transportation auto mileage regulations create a common standard of comparison (mpg, or miles per gallon rating) for city and highway driving. Even though personal vehicles range from enormous SUVs and big pickup trucks to tiny two-seaters, every gas vehicle completes a standardized testing regime and is assigned a city and a highway mpg rating figure. Even if these DOT ratings are off in an absolute sense, because the tests don’t reflect real-world driving conditions, they are still valuable because a would be car-buyer can still rely on the ratings to rank the different cars being considered, since every car completes the same testing.
This same issue creates another problem, namely that of “standardless standards.” Without a common basis for comparison between agencies, it is impossible to assess which agency or board sets the standard to which the rest should aspire. Without common measures, there can be no cross-agency benchmarking. Without benchmarks, agency performance measures and goals reflect agency culture, morale, and history instead of realistically attainable results.
Wherever there are agencies and boards with common functions within Oregon, the performance measures should not just be comparable, they should also be compared, and all the agencies should be ranked against each other, measure by measure, and the best performing agencies on any given measure should be studied to determine what they are doing that the rest are not.
Where there are truly no in-state agencies with a similar function to compare against, each agency should be responsible for identifying out-of-state agencies to benchmark against.
Probably the most important problem with the Transparency website is the “streetlight problem.” The streetlight problem is named for the old joke about the drunk who gets kicked out of the bar and finds that he has lost his keys, but only looks for them under a streetlight where visibility is good. In this electronic world, it is relatively easy to get good visibility for a number of activities that are easily tracked and measured. What is important, on the other hand, is how well an agency’s chosen performance measures actually reflect something important about the agency’s product rather than its inputs, its ends rather than its means.
What separates dead reckoning from simply robotic recording of course and speed changes is that the navigator is continuously assessing how well reality compares to the idealized (estimated) track that would be traveled if the engine speeds ordered and the course headings chosen did not have to operate against hidden factors such as tides, currents, compass errors and wind. It is tempting for any agency to dispense with this assessment part, and to simply measure inputs and activities – investigations opened, investigations closed, delays, etc. – without ever bothering to look at whether the problems that caused the agency to be formed in the first place are being addressed or not.
Another way to describe the streetlight problem is the old saying that “When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it can be pretty hard to remember that you were actually sent there to drain the swamp.” Report after report on the Oregon Transparency website shows this perfectly: each report presents a handful of “key performance indicators,” or KPIs, that refer only to easily-measured busyness or internal agency activity, with no reference to any real-world outcome that would be meaningful in terms of the agency’s purpose.
In medical research, this is the “intermediate endpoints” problem, where researchers fail to remember that the goal is health or longevity, not some intermediate measure such as lower cholesterol. In the last fifty years, American medicine became fanatical in pursuit of lower cholesterol scores, and drug sales soared, even as heart disease and other chronic diseases soared apace.
For real transparency, the “key performance indicators” need to really be about performance in draining the swamp that the agency was created to drain, with a focus on results in the real world, outside the boundary of the given agency. And the measures actually need to be “key,” and not just easily keyed into a computer. That means selecting important endpoints about things that actually matter to regular Oregonians (health, crime, environmental quality, etc.) instead of the barrage of intermediate agency-centered midpoints such as how fast the agency responds to inquiries, issues permits, or conducts investigations.
A maxim of quality management is that “a crude measure of something important is better than a precise measure of something that’s not.” The Oregon Transparency progress reports are filled with precise measures of nothing important, mostly about agency internal process instead of about real world outcomes that affect Oregon, and all are presented in a way that masks and conceals deficiencies instead of providing actual transparency so that problems can be identified and addressed.
Many of the Oregon Transparency reports illustrate many of the shortcomings noted above, as well as others not mentioned. However, one agency report in particular exemplifies the problems with the entire project.
The progress report from the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission could be an “anti-Transparency” award winner, as it stands head and shoulders above the rest in displaying a commitment to obscure and excuse performance rather than to present it fairly. Not only are all four TSPC metrics all intermediate process/busy-ness rather than important outcomes in terms of the agency’s stated mission, the text accompanying the report flatly attempts to contradict the data in the report.
In any public agency, if the key performance indicators are actually important at all, then poor results cannot be ignored or minimized. In its claims that the agency is actually performing well, the TSPC report asks the reader, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own lying eyes?”
TEACHER STANDARDS and PRACTICES COMMISSION
Annual Performance Progress Report (APPR) for Fiscal Year (2014-2015)
Original Submission Date: 2015 Finalize Date: 12/15/2015
KPM # 2014-2015 Approved Key Performance Measures (KPMs)
1 – PHONE/EMAIL CUSTOMER SERVICE – Percent of phone calls and email responded to within 3 days.
2 – APPLICANT CUSTOMER SERVICE – Percent of completed applications processed in 20 days.
3 – INVESTIGATION SPEED – Percent of investigated cases resolved in 180 days (unless pending in another forum).
6 – CUSTOMER SERVICE – Percent of customers rating their satisfaction with the agency’s customer service as “good” or “excellent”: overall customer service, timeliness, accuracy, helpfulness, expertise and availability of information.
[The report omits any mention of KPMs 4 and 5. – Ed.]
I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Agency Mission: To establish, uphold and enforce professional standards of excellence and communicate those standards to the public and educators for the benefit of Oregon’s students.
Contact: Vickie Chamberlain
Contact Phone: 503-378-6813
1. SCOPE OF REPORT
Licensure and discipline functions are the agency services covered by the key performance measures. Program approval functions are not covered by the key performance measures, although reports of program site visits are public documents and available upon request.
2. THE OREGON CONTEXT
The Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission sets standards for, approves and reviews Oregon educator preparation programs including: teaching; administration; school counseling, school psychology and school social work. These standards are the context for Oregon college and university graduates’ professional educational licensure quality. The Commission issues licenses in all of the above-mentioned categories and also issues charter school registrations for charter school teachers and administrators and school nurse certifications. These Commission-issued licenses, registrations and certifications permit public school educators to work in their licensed field in Oregon public schools supported by public funds. Finally, the Commission serves as the professional practices board for public educator misconduct and has the authority to issue private letters of reproval, reprimands, place educators on probation, suspend or revoke educators’ licenses as a result of professional misconduct.
The Commission partners with: Chief Education Office, Oregon Department of Education; Oregon public higher education educator preparation programs (Western Oregon University; Oregon State University; University of Oregon; Portland State University; Eastern Oregon University; Southern Oregon University); private higher education educator preparation programs (Concordia University; Corban University; George Fox University; Lewis and Clark College; Linfield College; Marylhurst University; Multnomah University; Northwest Christian University; Pacific University; University of Portland; Warner Pacific College); Oregon Education Association, Confederation of Oregon School Administrators; Oregon School Personnel Association and the Oregon School Boards Association. Since 2013 three educator preparation programs have closed: Willamette University; University of Phoenix Oregon; Lesley University.
3. PERFORMANCE SUMMARY
The agency’s performance has increased on all KPM’s.
KPM #1 (speed returning email and phone calls): Our target is 60 percent of email and phone calls returned in 3 days or less. The agency improved from 35% in 2014 to 48 percent in 2015.
KPM #2 (speed issuing licenses): Performance in number of applications processed in 20 days improved from 14% in 2014 to 17 percent in 2015. The agency’s performance improved on
KPM #3 (speed from complaint to case completion 180 days): The agency climbed from 12% in 2014 to 21% in 2015.
KPM #4: The agency’s ratings of above average to excellent remained improved slightly from 28% in 2014 to 29% in 2015.
The agency’s challenges have been related to staffing levels and consistency. The agency turned over the Director of Licensure position two times since 2008 and lost the position entirely during the 2013 Legislative Session. We have combined these duties with the oversight of the Professional Practices unit in the office into the Director of Licensure and Professional Practices position. This position was hired in April 2014.Staffing in the agency has been reduced from a high of 26 (with two limited duration positions) to the current staffing of 19 FTE (throughout the 2013-2015 biennium). The agency’s electronic data system is dated and breaking down and the only system we have been able to use this past biennium. This breakdown slows down the processing of applications due to inability to filter out complete applications from incomplete applications causing duplication daily when reviewing new documentation and pending applications. We have been working with DAS egoverment and the NIC-USA vendor to implement an online application system. Phase One of this system is scheduled to go “live” the first month in 2016 with subsequent roll-outs of other pieces of the system throughout 2016.
5. RESOURCES AND EFFICIENCY
The agency’s actual expenditures in 2011-2013 were $4,945,000. The 2013-2015 Legislatively Adopted Budget approved $4,939,153 in agency expenditures slightly less than a flat-funded budget.The impact was as follows: 1. Staffing was reduced throughout the 2013-2015 Biennium. 2. Agency backlogs grew in application processing, email responses and complaint investigations. Efficiency: We were able to temporarily hire a former employee for nearly a year which resulted in having an knowledgeable and experienced customer service representative for nearly a year.
“We do not have actual data, but in reviewing results with many of our neighboring states (through informal conversations), it appears that even though we are not meeting our own expectations, in the educator licensure arena, Oregon’s office excels at customer service.”
1. OUR STRATEGY
Returning phone calls and email quickly allies [sic] licensee anxiety. It also facilitates the issuance of licenses if we are able to help the applicant make a better application. The slower we are at responding, the more people send duplicate email searching for answers (or they call). We publish statistics daily regarding numbers of calls answered as well as numbers of email pending and responded to by staff.
2. ABOUT THE TARGETS
An ideal target would be 100 percent in 48 hours. However, we do not have the staffing to manage this outcome. If any person is ill, we quickly become buried in the volume. A higher percentage represents a better response time to licensees.
3. HOW WE ARE DOING
We are not doing as well as we believe we could do in this area. [Communications are email and phone calls.]
The move to assigning staff as district liaisons has been a success, communications- wise, however, we are unable to electronically track the number of phone calls that agency staff receive related to customer service on their direct phone lines. Nor are we able to track the “turn-around” time for these calls. We started this program about mid-year 2010, and have continued it into the present. Due to budget reductions, we lost five positions in licensure related to lay offs and natural attrition. Positions were not filled to reduce agency overall expenditures. Finally, due to the small size of the staff, any turn over, illness or other legitimate absence sets us back very quickly. We currently have three full time staff assigned to answer phone calls, respond to email and serve walk-in customers. This is down from a high of six public service representatives in 2007-2009. Additionally, due to cuts in other areas of the office, employees staffing phone calls and email also have to assist with opening the mail (takes two people 1-2 hours daily); data input the mail; bar code and scan the mail as well as prepare the daily bank depositions from cash (checks and money orders) received each day in the mail. These “side duties” do not allow us to fully staff the phones on any given day. Once the online application system is launched, a significant amount of the paperwork handling as well as all of the money handling will arrive in the office electronically allowing us to redirect staffing resources directly to customer service. Once we are able to reduce the side duties, we can focus on building capacity to capture messages from licensees and return them as well as have more people answer the phones throughout the day.
4. HOW WE COMPARE
We do not have actual data, but in reviewing results with many of our neighboring states (through informal conversations), it appears that even though we are not meeting our own expectations, in the educator licensure arena, Oregon’s office excels at customer service.
5. FACTORS AFFECTING RESULTS
Factors affecting results:
1. Reduced staffing due to reduced revenue;
2. Staff turnover (6 different people have occupied the two public service positions since July 1, 2013). Turnover has resulted in delayed responses times as we hire and train new employees.
3. Bare-bones staffing results in further delays when there is illness in the office.
4. Increased volume in email due to long turn-around time to issue licenses.
5. The need to devote several hours daily to opening mail, data entering mail, manually recording money received, manually taking money to bank, scanning (imaging) documents received and associating these scanned documents to individual educators’ accounts prevents us from using these same people to answer phones and email.
6. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
1. Hire more staff.
2. Continue to monitor performance both good and bad.
3. Implement online application system as quickly as possible.
7. ABOUT THE DATA
The reporting cycle is the calendar year: July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 The data for email are reliable. We have accurate electronic tracking of all phone calls and email through our electronic filing system. However, as noted above, we have transferred some of the workload to direct-phone access rather than sole access through the agency’s main phone line and general email inbox. That workload is fully not trackable given our current configuration for electronically collecting data and lack of ability to replace our current electronic filing system
1. OUR STRATEGY
We have increased the number of license evaluators (people who issue the licenses) from three to five (effective May 1, 2011), but reduced staffing in other areas of the agency due to budgeting has affected this strategy.
2. ABOUT THE TARGETS
Originally, we developed the targets using anecdotal information. The data collected since 2006 represents actual numbers. We believed, based on the anecdotal data that we were ambitious about adopting targets believing it would drive us more quickly toward achieving them. The real data reveal that we were too cautious. The direction we want to achieve is a higher percentage.
3. HOW WE ARE DOING
Due to staffing trends in 2008 through 2010, the numbers of licenses issued dropped slightly resulting in a gradually building backlog. By reorganizing the that area of the agency, and increasing the number of people issuing licenses, we were able to reduce the backlog of unprocessed complete applications. However, due to severe budget reductions during the 2011-2013 biennium, staffing in the licensure area was reduced by one manager and two support positions.
Additionally, the reduced revenue was a result of reduced numbers of applications submitted resulting in an opportunity for staff to catch up . Processing was averaging 20 days or less from February 15, 2013 through June 15, 2013. By October 2013, it was 16 weeks, and by January 2014, it was over 20 weeks. Persons issuing licenses frequently have to backfill answering the phones, serving walk-in customers, opening the daily mail, assisting with inputting new applications, assisting with scanning documents received by the agency. Until we can totally reduce the backlog, we cannot gain on this target.
4. HOW WE COMPARE
Our customer service survey respondents tell us we are generally faster than California, Washington and Arizona when it comes to issuing licenses. We do not have data on how other state agencies fair [sic] in this area.
5. FACTORS AFFECTING RESULTS
1. Staffing reductions resulting in job rotations into areas outside of the general licensure area (opening mail, mail intake, deposit receipting, answering phones, serving walk-in customers, document scanning and review, etc.)
2. We went fully paperless in October 2012 which reduced the amount of time each months (several days of man-hours) handling paper licenses, letters, renewal notices and other correspondence.
3. Lack of ability to provide direct supervisory oversight of the licensure unit. (The Director of Licensure position was eliminated in the 2013-2015 LAB.)
6. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
1. We have increased the number of people issuing licenses from two in 2010 to five in 2011 and 2012.During the 2015-2017 biennium, we will have 5.5 FTE issuing licenses.
2. Continue strong staffing in positions that issue licenses;
3. Continue implementation of a new online application system. This will reduce the amount of paper handling; mail that needs to be opened, money data entry and manual transfer to bank, and allow for greater focus on issuing licenses and customer service.
7. ABOUT THE DATA
Data cycle: July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.Strengths of the data:
1. Collected from electronic data base. Reliability: We compare the figures collected at year end to the ongoing figures collected monthly and reported to the Commission at each meeting.
1. OUR STRATEGY
Our strategy to achieve this goal is to tackle the work based on urgency of the facts presented in the complaints. We work closely with the Department of Justice on discipline cases to accomplish this goal.
2. ABOUT THE TARGETS
Discipline cases should be processed as quickly as possible. Investigating a higher number of complaints in 180 days would be a sign of expeditious action. Higher is better.
3. HOW WE ARE DOING
In 2003, the rate of resolving cases was nearly 60%.
A lower than expected performance in 2007 resulted from staff turnover and a vacancy in the full time investigator position for nearly three months. The results in 2008 reflect the addition of 3.0 FTE investigators (limited duration) to the staff.
The results in 2009 reflect 4 FTE investigators and 2 FTE support staff. Three of these six FTE are currently Limited Duration positions.
Due to the increased staffing, our performance increased sharply from 48% in 2008 to 63% in 2012. Performance this year (2011-2012) dropped to 43%.
The Commission’s workload has high and has been as follows (number of cases considered (investigations reviewed and final order entered):
The number of complaints received annually continues to remain high with 291 cases of alleged misconduct in 2012, 260 cases in 2013, and 259 cases in 2014. This compares to 135 cases reported in 2004.
4. HOW WE COMPARE
No data at this time. It is difficult to find agencies with similar staffing; similar procedures and similar numbers of investigations.
5. FACTORS AFFECTING RESULTS
1. Staff turnover resulting in needing to train new investigators. (One investigator resigned following a marriage out of state, and another investigator was deployed to Afghanistan soon after he was hired (has not yet returned).
2. Staffing with temporary employee.
6. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
Continue to focus on serious cases and delay negotiations for settlement until after the commission considers the evidence.
7. ABOUT THE DATA
Data reported is from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014.
Strengths of data include:
1. Have been collecting this data since 1997.
Weaknesses of the data:
1. Does not reflect the variability of staffing, case complexity, and other measures that would impact results.
Reliability: Data has been compiled and collected by one person over the past 12 years.
According to the agency itself, even cherry picking the positive data is not enough to bring the overall satisfaction of customers (teachers) out of the range of abysmal; nonetheless, TSPC determines that the data is good because it “gives general perception of agency’s above average performance.”
1. OUR STRATEGY
Our strategy is to improve our customer service, thereby improving the results. In October 2008, we added a comment box to our customer service survey. The results were much more valuable than the Lickert [sic – Likert] scale rating system.
2. ABOUT THE TARGETS
Based on the low performance of 2006, the targets were set high to encourage improvement in the evaluation of our performance.
3. HOW WE ARE DOING
We expect to improve these rating with additional staffing and a new online application system that will be implemented throughout the 2015-2017 biennium.
4. HOW WE COMPARE
5. FACTORS AFFECTING RESULTS
1. Reduced staffing; and
2. Slow licensure processing.
3. Reduced number of people answering phones and email.
4. We are not able to capture accurate phone data due to lack of capacity to save messages and return messages to the public.
6. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
1. Increase staffing on phones and email sufficiently to allow for ability to capture and return messages left by licensees; (approved more staffing in 2015 Legislative session)
2. Reduce application backlog
3. Keep information clear and accessible
4. Implement new online application system (will allow the agency to significantly redirect staff to phone, emails and processing licenses.)
7. ABOUT THE DATA
Reporting cycle: July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2014 5
Data: We only “count” ratings “above average” or “excellent” in the Overall performance question from our Customer Service surveys.
Strengths — gives general perception of agency’s above average performance. Weaknesses: Only 22% of all people who were issued a license in 2014-2015 (4,130 out of 18,772) responded to the survey.
What the agencies claim to have accomplished
Accountancy, Board of Progress Report
Administrative Services, Department of Progress Report
Advocacy Commissions Office Progress Report
Agriculture, Department of Progress Report
Aviation, Department of Progress Report
Blind Commission Progress Report
Business Oregon Progress Report
Chief Education Office Progress Report
Chiropractic Examiners, Board of Progress Report
Columbia River Gorge Commission Progress Report
Construction Contractors Board Progress Report
Consumer & Business Services, Department of Progress Report
Corrections, Department of Progress Report
Criminal Justice Commission Progress Report
Dentistry, Board of Progress Report
District Attorneys and Their Deputies Progress Report
Education, Department of Progress Report
Employment Department Progress Report
Employment Relations Board Progress Report
Energy, Department of Progress Report
Environmental Quality, Department of Progress Report
Fish and Wildlife, Department of Unreported
Forestry, Department of Progress Report
Geology & Mineral Industries, Department of Progress Report
Government Ethics Commission Progress Report
Governor’s Office Progress Report
Higher Education Coordinating Commission Progress Report
Housing and Community Services Progress Report
Human Services, Department of Progress Report
Indian Services, Legislative Commission on Unreported
Judicial Fitness and Disability Commission Unreported
Justice, Department of Progress Report
Labor and Industries, Bureau of Progress Report
Land Conservation and Development Department Progress Report
Land Use Board of Appeals Progress Report
Lands, Department of State Progress Report
Legislative Administration Progress Report
Legislative Counsel Progress Report
Legislative Fiscal Office Unreported
Legislative Revenue Office Progress Report
Library, Oregon State Progress Report
Licensed Professions Counselors & Therapists Board Progress Report
Licensed Social Workers Board Unreported
Long Term Care Ombudsman Office Progress Report
Marine Board Unreported
Medical Board Progress Report
Medical Imaging, Board of Progress Report
Military Department Progress Report
Mortuary and Cemetery Board Progress Report
Naturopathic Medicine, Board of Progress Report
Nursing, Board of Progress Report
Occupational Therapy Licensing Board Progress Report
Oregon Health Authority Progress Report
Oregon Liquor Control Commission Progress Report
Parks and Recreation Department Progress Report
Parole and Post-Prison Supervision, Board of Progress Report
Pharmacy, Board of Progress Report
Psychiatric Security Review Board Progress Report
Psychologist Examiners, Board of Progress Report
Public Defense Services Commission Progress Report
Public Employees Retirement System, Oregon Progress Report
Public Safety Standards & Training Department Progress Report
Public Utility Commission Progress Report
Real Estate Agency Progress Report
Revenue, Department of Progress Report
Secretary of State Progress Report
Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Progress Report
State Police, Oregon Progress Report
Tax Practitioners, Board of Progress Report
Teacher Standards and Practices Commission Progress Report
Transportation, Department of Progress Report
Treasury, Oregon State Unreported
Veteran´s Affairs, Department of Progress Report
Veterinary Medical Examining Board Progress Report
Water Resources Department Progress Report
Watershed Enhancement Board Progress Report
Youth Authority, Oregon Progress Report
Overview of Oregon’s Resilience Plan
The paper below is a good overview of the situation, with recommendations for response.
For more than 300 years, Cascadia subduction zone off America’s northwest coast has lain dormant. Not until the 1980s did scientists recognize it as an active fault that poses a major geological hazard to Oregon as well as northern California and Washington.
In 1993, the building codes in Oregon were updated to address this newly revealed earthquake threat to the built environment. Since then, geologists have discovered that over 40 great earthquakes of magnitude 8 and larger have struck Western Oregon during the past 10,000 years (see Fig. 1).
The most recent event occurred on January 26, 1700 AD, and was a great earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0. The time interval between previous earthquakes has varied from a few decades to many centuries, but most of the past intervals have been shorter than the 313 years since the last event.
The current calculated odds that a Cascadia earthquake will occur in the next 50 years range from 7-15 percent for a great earthquake affecting the entire Pacific Northwest to about 37 percent for a very large earthquake affecting southern Oregon and northern California. Many state and local officials have been concerned about potential widespread vulnerability of the buildings and lifeline infrastructure in Oregon.
In 1999, the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) published a preliminary statewide damage and loss study identifying the dire consequences of a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami for Oregon’s infrastructure and for public safety.
In the following ten years, the Oregon legislature passed several bills that directed the state to launch a statewide assessment of public schools and emergency response facilities and established a state grant program to help fund seismic upgrades to hazardous schools and other critical emergency response facilities.
Meanwhile, the state and local transportation agencies and some forward thinking utility providers have taken voluntary steps to assess seismic vulnerability of their systems and conduct limited seismic rehabilitation. However, the systems in different infrastructure sectors were assessed and/or rehabilitated by their public operators and private owners without coordination and without consistent understanding of their interdependencies on other systems let alone the consequences of their systems’ failure on the overall pace of the community recovery. There has been growing desire to break down the “silo” mentality and take a holistic look at comprehensive steps to mitigate the Cascadia earthquake risk to our economy and to our businesses, homes, and communities.
In January 2011, three Oregon earthquake safety advocates suggested in the pages of the Oregonian  that Oregon should take new steps to make itself resilient to a big earthquake.
The March 11, 2011 Tohoku Japan earthquake and tsunami provided the occasion for Oregon’s House Representative Deborah Boone to introduce House Resolution 3 that was unanimously adopted by the state legislature in April 2011. The House Resolution 3 (HR 3) directed Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC) to “lead and coordinate preparation of an Oregon Resilience Plan that reviews policy options, summarizes relevant reports and studies by state agencies and makes recommendations on policy direction to protect lives and keep commerce flowing during and after a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami”.
The focus of the HR 3 is on the state’s physical infrastructure. The plan and recommendations were scheduled to be delivered to the 77th Oregon Legislative Assembly by February 28, 2013. As the goal of the Oregon Resilience Plan is consistent with the aim of President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive / PPD-8: National Preparedness issued on March 30, 2011, Richard Reed, President Obama’s Senior Director for Resilience Policy, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, and Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup (CREW) acknowledged the resilience planning efforts and provided their endorsement prior to the kickoff of the project.
Resilience Definition and Expected Earthquake Scenario
Resilience as defined in the HR 3 means that Oregon citizens will not only be protected from life-threatening physical harm, but because of risk reduction measures and pre-disaster planning, communities will recover more quickly and with less continuing vulnerability following a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and tsunami. For the Oregon Resilience Plan, OSSPAC defines the Cascadia earthquake (as mentioned in the HR 3) to be a Magnitude 9.0 Cascadia subduction earthquake with an average recurrence of once every 550 years. We believe that a Magnitude 9.0 earthquake is a very real possibility that would affect all of Oregon and is directly comparable to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the effects of which are all too well known.
To achieve the goal of rapid recovery, we need arrangements in place for government continuity, resilient physical infrastructure, and business and workforce continuity. Resilient physical infrastructure is the foundation, and will help the state enhance its sustainability and other aspects of community resilience such as social, environmental, and economic resilience.
The definition of (physical) resilience can be better illustrated with the resilience triangle diagram as shown in Fig. 2.
Higher resilience is characterized with minimal reductions in critical lifeline services after a disaster, speedy recovery of those services, and an overall improved service level as a result of rebuilding damaged systems and implementing better systems. The resilience triangle diagram indicates that Chile and Japan have high levels of earthquake resilience. At the current stage, Oregon’s infrastructure has low resilience and is expected to have significant loss of sector services and an excessively long recovery time.
This is partly due to the sheer size and power of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, but it is also the result of the inherent vulnerability of our buildings and lifeline systems. Another major factor that amplifies the effects of a Cascadia earthquake and delays the pace of recovery is the co-location and interdependencies of various lifeline infrastructure systems, coupled with the wide geographic spread of a Cascadia disaster as virtually all of the resources required for the recovery of lifeline systems would have to come from outside the affected states.
Resilience Planning Methodology and State Response/Recovery Strategy
OSSPAC identified existing earthquake resilience planning from San Francisco, California by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) as a good model to follow. The SPUR developed a method that
(1) defines performance metrics for buildings and lifeline infrastructure based on what a community needs in the context of response and recovery stages and
(2) helps the community identify where the resilience gaps are.
The SPUR method focuses on the speed of infrastructure recovery, which is critical for Oregon’s economy as 50- 60% of our state work forces are employed by small businesses which do not have sufficient financial resources to survive lengthy business disruption.
To apply the SPUR method to a state level, OSSPAC decided to divide the state into four distinct zones based on expected pattern of damage in combination with Oregon’s mountainous geography:
(1) Tsunami Zone;
(2) Coastal Zone (outside the Tsunami affected area);
(3) Interstate 5/Valley Zone; and
(4) Central/Eastern Zone (see Fig. 3 for these four impact zones).
In addition, this would allow the state to implement the statewide response and recovery effectively and efficiently.
In the Tsunami Zone, we anticipate that severe shaking and tsunami inundation would cause near total damage of buildings and lifeline infrastructure, and threaten the lives of thousands of residents and tourists. Thus, our focus is simply to save lives.
In the Coastal Zone, severe shaking and landslides that will cause damage to transportation systems would severely disrupt and isolate communities. Thousands of people displaced from the Tsunami Zone are expected to evacuate here. Thus, in the Coastal Zone, keeping the population sheltered, fed and healthy is critical to avoid humanity crises.
In the I-5/Valley Zone where we have majority of the state population and businesses, widespread moderate damage would severely disrupt daily life and commerce. It is clear that restoring services to businesses and residents will be the main priority.
The Central/Eastern Zone, light damage would allow rapid restoration of services and functions, and communities would become critical hubs for the movement of response, recovery and restoration personnel and materials for the rest of the state.
This requires the state to develop an efficient and cost-effective multimodal transportation system to maintain statewide connectivity and provide the highest level of mobility to the largest area and the highest population centers. This multimodal transportation system involves a lifeline backbone highway system supplemented with air transportation and marine ports.
The backbone highway system (after strengthened) will move goods and people from the Central/Eastern Zone to the Valley to the Coastal Zone. In addition, we believe that the Redmond Municipal Airport in the Central/Eastern Zone could be hardened to remain fully operational without much investment. From there, goods and people would be easily distributed to commercial airports in the Valley via fixed-wing aircrafts. Then, goods and people would access coastal areas by helicopters. An alternative redundant transportation system would serve Oregon from the west from ships. Goods and people would have access to the ships either through selected ports shortly after the event or helicopters.
Advisory Panel and Eight Task Groups
To complete the plan without funding and on a fourteen-month schedule, OSSPAC decided to lead and coordinate the preparation through its Resilient Oregon Steering Committee and chose to tap into volunteer expertise from Oregon’s academic, professional, governmental and public communities. Almost one hundred seventy volunteer experts drawn from a broad section of Oregon society were organized into one Advisory Panel and eight work groups to complete this planning task. The eight task groups include
(1) Earthquake/Tsunami Scenario,
(2) Business and Workforce Continuity,
(3) Coastal Communities,
(4) Critical/Essential Buildings,
(7) Information and Communications, and
(8) Water and Waste Water.
The Advisory Panel consisted of representatives from the state and federal government, the state legislature, universities, and local businesses. It augmented OSSPAC’s overall capability and capacity, and provided strategic advice to the OSSPAC’s Resilient Oregon Steering Committee on an as-needed basis throughout the development of the Resilience Plan. Through its interaction with the Advisory Panel, OSSPAC was able to keep the state government, legislature, and businesses informed of overall statewide earthquake risk and necessary steps to mitigate it.
The OSSPAC’s Resilient Oregon Steering Committee provided leadership and direction to the eight task groups and helped coordinate the planning efforts among different groups to address interdependencies of various lifeline infrastructure sectors. Each task group was charged with three primary tasks for four affected zones (Tsunami, Coastal, I-5/Valley, and Central/Eastern Zones):
(1) Determine the likely impact of the scenario earthquake on the assigned sector and estimate the time required to restore functions in that sector if the earthquake were to happen under current conditions;
(2) Define performance targets for the sector. The targets represent the desired timeframes for restoring functions in a future Cascadia earthquake — in other words, the timeframes within which functions must be restored if Oregon is to be resilient;
(3) Provide a series of recommendations to OSSPAC for changes in practice and policy that, if implemented, would ensure that Oregon reaches the desired resilience targets over the next 50 years.
The products from the various task groups were reviewed by the Advisory Panel to ensure that the material was accurate, complete, and up-to-date. OSSPAC then reviewed the recommendations and selected and endorsed those that the commission felt offered the most effective way to achieve resilience to a great Cascadia disaster.
The Oregon Resilience Plan
After fourteen months of extensive planning, coordination, and meetings, OSSPAC assembled eight chapters that make up the plan titled The Oregon Resilience Plan: Reducing Risk and Improving Recovery for the Next Cascadia Earthquake and Tsunami  (See Fig. 4 for the report cover), and delivered it to the Oregon’s 77th Legislative Assembly on February 28, 2013. Below lists a brief summary of what each task group produced for the plan.
The Cascadia Earthquake Scenario Task Group (Chapter One) reviewed current scientific research to develop a detailed description of the likely physical effects of a great (magnitude 9.0) Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and tsunami, providing a scenario that other task groups used to assess impacts on their respective sectors.
The Business and Workforce Continuity Task Group (Chapter Two) sought to assess the workplace integrity, workforce mobility, and building/infrastructure systems performance – along with customer viability – needed to allow Oregon’s businesses to remain in operation following a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami and to drive a self-sustaining economic recovery. Resilience is primarily about the timely re-occupancy of residents as employees and businesses.
The Coastal Communities Task Group (Chapter Three) addressed the unique risks faced by Oregon’s coast, the region of the state that will experience a devastating combination of tsunami inundation and physical damage from extreme ground shaking due to proximity to the subduction zone fault.
The Critical and Essential Buildings Task Group (Chapter Four) examined the main classes of public and private structures considered critical to resilience in the event of a scenario earthquake, and sought to characterize the gap between expected seismic performance (current state) and desired seismic resilience (target state). The group also assessed buildings deemed vital to community resilience, and addressed the special challenges posed by unreinforced masonry (URM) and non-ductile concrete structures.
The Transportation Task Group (Chapter Five) assessed the seismic integrity of Oregon’s multi-modal transportation system, including bridges and highways, rail, airports, water ports, and public transit systems, examined the special considerations pertaining to the Columbia and Willamette River navigation channels, and characterized the work deemed necessary to restore and maintain transportation lifelines after a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. The group’s scope included interdependence of transportation networks with other lifeline systems.
The Energy Task Group (Chapter Six) investigated the seismic deficiencies of Oregon’s energy storage and transmission infrastructure, with a special emphasis on the vulnerability of the state’s critical energy infrastructure (CEI) hub, a six-mile stretch of the lower Willamette River where key liquid fuel and natural gas storage and transmission facilities and electricity transmission facilities are concentrated.
The Information and Communications Task Group (Chapter Seven) examined the inherent vulnerabilities of Oregon’s information and communications systems and the consequences of service disruptions for the resilience of other sectors and systems. The group explored the implications of co-location of communications infrastructure with other vulnerable physical infrastructure (e.g., bridges), and specified the conditions needed to accomplish phased restoration of service following a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami.
The Water and Wastewater Task Group (Chapter Eight) reviewed vulnerabilities of the pipelines, treatment plants, and pump stations that make up Oregon’s water and wastewater systems, discussed the interventions needed to increase the resilience of under-engineered and antiquated infrastructure at potential failure points, and developed strategies to address fire following the earthquake to minimize secondary damage to buildings. The group proposed a phased approach to restoration of water services after a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami, beginning with a backbone water and wastewater system capable of supplying critical community needs.
Major Findings of the Oregon Resilience Plan
Oregon is far from resilient to the impacts of a great Cascadia earthquake and tsunami today.
The scenario Cascadia earthquake would be an unprecedented catastrophe for Oregon and for the United States. It would impact every aspect of life for all Oregonians and for the residents of northern California, Washington, and British Columbia.
The effects of a Cascadia subduction earthquake will be greatest on the coast, which is right next to the subduction zone fault, and will diminish as one goes inland. This, in combination with Oregon’s mountainous geography, divides the state into four impact zones: within the Tsunami Zone, damage will be nearly complete. In the Coastal Zone, shaking will be severe, liquefaction and landsliding will be widespread and severe, and damage will be severe. In the I-5/Valley Zone, shaking will be strong, liquefaction and landslide will be common but less severe, and moderate damage will be widespread. In the Central/Eastern Zone, shaking will be mild, landslides and liquefaction sporadic, and damage generally light.
Fatalities and Economic Loss
Available studies estimate fatalities ranging from 1,250 to more than 10,000 due to the combined effects of earthquake and tsunami, tens of thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged so extensively that they will require months to years of repair, tens of thousands of displaced households, at least $30 billion in direct economic losses (close to one-fifth of Oregon’s gross state product), and more than one million dump truck loads of debris.
Extreme Vulnerability of Liquid Fuel Supply
A particular vulnerability is Oregon’s liquid fuel supply. Oregon depends on liquid fuels transported into the state from Washington State, which is also vulnerable to a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Once here, fuels are stored temporarily at Oregon’s critical energy infrastructure (CEI) hub, a six-mile stretch of the lower Willamette River where industrial facilities occupy liquefiable riverside soils. Disrupting the transportation, storage, and distribution of liquid fuels would rapidly disrupt most, if not all, sectors of the economy critical to emergency response and economic recovery.
Large Resilience Gaps Business Communities Can’t Afford
Business continuity planning typically assumes a period of two weeks to be the longest disruption of essential services (i.e., utilities, communications, etc.) that a business can withstand, and service disruptions lasting for one month or longer can be enough to force a business to close, relocate, or leave the state entirely. Analysis in the Oregon Resilience Plan reveals the following timeframes for service recovery under present conditions as shown in Table 1. As shown on Table 1, row 1, basic electricity services are expected to be down for over three to six months in the Coast Zone and between one and three months in the Valley Zone, and so on.
Resilience gaps of this magnitude reveal a harsh truth: a policy of business as usual implies a post-earthquake future that could consist of decades of economic and population decline – in effect, a “lost generation” that will devastate our state and ripple beyond Oregon to affect the regional and national economy.
Based on the findings in the Oregon Resilience Plan, OSSPAC recommends that Oregon start now on a sustained program to reduce our vulnerability and shorten our recovery time to achieve resilience before the next Cascadia earthquake inevitably strikes our state.
OSSPAC urges systematic efforts to assess Oregon’s buildings, lifelines, and social systems, and to develop a sustained program of replacement, retrofit, and redesign to make Oregon resilient. Sector-by-sector findings and detailed recommendations are presented in each chapter of the Oregon Resilience Plan. Overarching priorities, illustrated with examples selected from the chapters, include new efforts to:
1. Establish a State Resilience Office to provide leadership, resources, advocacy, and expertise in implementing statewide resilience plans;
2. Undertake comprehensive assessments of the key building structures and critical infrastructure systems that underpin Oregon’s economy;
3. Launch a sustained program of capital investment in Oregon’s public school buildings, emergency response facilities, and lifeline transportation routes;
4. Craft a package of incentives to engage Oregon’s private sector in efforts to advance seismic resilience;
5. Update Oregon’s public policies, including
(a) revising individual preparedness communications to specify preparation from the old standard of 72 hours to a minimum of two weeks, and possibly more;
(b) developing a policy and standards for installation of temporary bridges following earthquake disruption; and
(c) adopting a two‐tiered ratings system that indicates the number of hours/days that a citizen in a community can expect to wait before major relief arrives, and the number of days/months that a citizen can expect to wait before the community itself achieves 90 percent restoration of roads and municipal services.
published under a CreativeCommons Attribution License by three Oregonians, Kent Yu, Jay Wilson, and Yumei Wang. Cite as
Yu Q.-S., Wilson J., and Wang Y. Overview of the Oregon Resilience Plan for Next Cascadia Earthquake and Tsunami. Proceedings of the 10th National Conference in Earthquake Engineering, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Anchorage, AK, 2014.
Yu is Principal, SEFT Consulting Group, Beaverton, OR 97005. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Wilson is Emergency Manager, Clackamas County Emergency Management, Oregon City, OR 97045; Wang is Principal Engineer, Sustainable Living Solutions LLC, Portland, OR 97214