TriMet and the Trust Gap Part 4: The equity question and the labor/ridership dispute

Chris has been doing a series on mapping service equity–examining the correlation between transit service, income levels, and population density in different census tracts. It’s a useful exercise to see how well different communities are being served by transit–there are many parts of the metro area which are poorly served (and some not at all), but in many cases service to these areas is difficult to provide.

This post looks at equity at a higher level, however. Rather than focusing on transit riders, this looks at the tradeoffs involved between riders and two other constituencies with dogs in the proverbial fight.

OK, the finance question will be part five. This week’s thread on the failure of 26-119 brought up some interesting (and heated) debate, which deserves its own article.

Chris has been doing a series on mapping service equity–examining the correlation between transit service, income levels, and population density in different census tracts. It’s a useful exercise to see how well different communities are being served by transit–there are many parts of the metro area which are poorly served (and some not at all), but in many cases service to these areas is difficult to provide.

This post looks at equity at a higher level, however. Rather than focusing on transit riders, this looks at the tradeoffs involved between riders and two other constituencies with dogs in the proverbial fight.

The three constituencies

There are several constituencies which have a stake in the transit discussion. The first group to consider, of course, is riders–those who do, or may, use the system. Given that public transit in the US is invariably subsidized, a second constituency is taxpayers, who provide funding for the construction and maintenance of the system, on the theory that public transit provides a social benefit. (Whether it is worth the cost is part of the debate; my personal opinion is that the public value of transit is quite significant). The third group we will consider is labor–the transit agency’s employees.

There are other constituencies that might be said to have a skin in the game, such as development interests, politicians, agency management, etc.–and a frequent criticism is that these groups have too much influence on the decision-making process. My suspicion is that few people would publicly endorse the notion that transit ought to be implemented (using public funds) for the benefit of property owners (regardless of what goes on behind the scenes), so they’re not included in the Big Three.

The shrinking pie

The reason this question is so important–is what happens when the pie shrinks. TriMet’s pie has been shrinking for the past few years–in this thread, I’m asking readers to ignore the questions of why (economic conditions, agency mismanagement) and instead focus on how the pain should be distributed. (This discussion is also useful for when the pie grows–and maybe even more important to consider in good times, given that unwise choices often get made during a boom that only have consequences in the following bust).

One practical reality is that in a democracy, the group that is often best able to protect its slice is the taxpayers. We just saw this with 26-119; TriMet asked taxpayers to provide some additional funds to help with budget shortfalls; the voters said no. TriMet cannot, in general, unilaterally impose tax increases–which have to be approved by either the voters or the legislature. As a result, lean times often produce arguments between riders and labor, over which should bear the brunt of budget shortfalls.

Dueling progressives at ten paces

This argument turned heated in the prior thread. One commenter, a long-time transit activist in town, wrote:

The real reason the bus measure lost (but not in Multnomah county where 9 of the 11 MLR stations are located) is TriMet’s too generous benefits package for its union workers. Riders are paying more and getting less, are Ops and Mechanics ready to share the pain?

Which prompted the following response from another frequent commenter, who is employed as a TriMet bus driver:

I never thought I would see the day when [first poster] would support the cascade policy institute in its quest to deny American citizens livable wage jobs with real benefits.

Both posters have extensive progressive credentials; neither would ever be confused with a conservative. Nor would the first poster, a dedicated transit supporter, have anything to do with a right-wing (and frequently anti-transit) organization such as Cascade Policy Insitute. But the second poster’s frustration is perfectly understandable–he sees his livelihood as under attack, and not just from the usual suspects on the political right, but from groups on the left as well, who long had been allied with labor.

This is a particularly nasty fault line in progressive politics in the US–there seems to be a growing rift between many social service advocates and public employee unions. I can think of quite a few well-known transit bloggers and writers, dedicated progressives all of them–who loathe their local transit union. (One of these activists made an interesting observation–the cities with the best transit tend to have the strongest transit unions; whereas the cities which only run low-quality social service transit are more likely to have outsourced their operations, often to non-union operators). And as more and more private-sector jobs are outsourced and more private-sector unions busted, public employee unions are finding themselves more and more isolated–whereas in the past, the passengers on the bus were often union workers as well; a larger share of bus and train passengers are non-union white-collar or service workers.

A similar situation plays out in public education–where one finds progressive community activists increasingly willing to take on education unions. The solidarity which once existed between labor and social service is rapidly eroding as the two groups are more and more forced to compete for crumbs of an ever-shrinking pie–a state of affairs which weakens both of them (and only benefits interests who are opposed to both quality transit and a robust labor market). Unfortunately, I suspect this will worsen before it gets better.

The question

So the important question is: When the pie shrinks, what should happen to the various pieces? How ought we balance things like fare hikes/service cuts, wage and benefit reductions, and tax increases? And what if the last of these is not possible–who should suffer the most? The guy at the front of the bus or those in the back? And is there a satisfactory answer to this question that might heal the rift between labor and riders–something that if done, might increase their ability to jointly protect their interests? And how was this question answered during the boom years of the 1990s–should the groups which benefited the most during good times be asked to bear the brunt of the pain in bad times?

This is a difficult topic, I realize–both riders and drivers have their livelihoods at stake. (As do many taxpayers, who are seeing their paychecks go down, but public agencies asking for more and more money). But please remember–no personal attacks or uncivil commentary.

90 Comments

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90 Responses to TriMet and the Trust Gap Part 4: The equity question and the labor/ridership dispute

  1. David
    November 7, 2010 at 8:12 am Link

    This is another symptom of the increasing us-vs-them polarization of our society. Lately it’s become us-vs-us.

    It’s an extra-tangled issue for a transit rider who’s a unionized worker elsewhere.

    For people who depend on transit, regardless of their employer (if any), talk of a slowdown or sick-out will definitely create animosity. Tough to justify bogging down the whole transit system over health benefits when a fair chunk of the ridership is just trying to get to a minimum-wage job or the unemployment office. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but the media loves to froth over this sort of thing, and that doesn’t do the union any favors.

  2. Jeff Welch
    November 7, 2010 at 10:06 am Link

    This is a false dichotomy. Those “other constituencies” you mention (management, politicians, etc.) represent a much larger piece of the pie than perceptions give. Why are frontline workers the first to be expected to take a hit when there are top-heavy agencies with grossly overpaid upper-level managers, consultants and executives sitting out the controversy?

  3. EngineerScotty
    November 7, 2010 at 2:14 pm Link

    Those “other constituencies” you mention (management, politicians, etc.) represent a much larger piece of the pie than perceptions give.

    In FY10, TriMet budgeted about $70 million on various “administrative” things, compared to over $340 million on operations (drivers, maintenance, fuel/electricity, etc). That figure includes quite a few different functions–senior agency management, communications/technology/IT, finance, HR, and capital project planning. Actual expenditures on these things were about $63 million–a 10% reduction–with capital project planning taking the biggest hit.

    Perhaps there is more room to cut–but a lot of these expenditures are for line employees such as IT staff, administrative assistants, staff accountants, and the like. One argument I’ve seen from a few LRT opponents is that an in toto abandonment of future LRT construction would allow much of the capital projects budget (one which does involve outside contractors, especially when it comes time for detailed design/engineering) to be zeroed out and transferred to operations. As someone who thinks that rapid transit is actually useful to improving transit outcomes (and not just a fraudulent enterprise designed to enrich contractors and developers), I would question the wisdom of that approach. (That said, there may be some value in bringing more of this expertise in house–employees being cheaper than consultants).

    But certainly–an argument can be made that whatever wage/benefit concessions are being asked of the operations workforce, ought to be demanded of senior management as well.

  4. jimkarlock
    November 7, 2010 at 5:25 pm Link

    deny American citizens livable wage jobs with real benefits.
    JK: Its not about “livable wage jobs” its about penthouse wage jobs that probably average about $60,000 for bus drivers before the average benefits of about $90,000. For a total of around $150,000. Its not about livable wage jobs!

    This may shed some light into why some progressives are beginning to make progress in the area of union excesses.

    Then there are those other constituents, the developers, bond salesmen, electricity sales companies, construction companies, rail car manufacturers, consultants, bricklayers, whose motive is personal profit and has nothing to do with providing transportation services (http://www.portlandfacts.com/transit/whowantsrail.htm). This is the group that has led Trimet to waste money on construction of expensive rail, when bus would serve the people better through lower cost, safer and more frequent service. (lets not forget that the real cost of rail includes the capital construction cost of around $0.36 per passenger-mile, most of which Trimet always ignores in its cost figures. (see: portlandfacts.com/lrt_cost_w_localmatch.html))

    We will not solve the cost of transit problem until the only concern is cost effective service to the users. And that means getting the special interest out of the equation and make Trimets goal service, not redeveloping the city to some utopian idea of how a city should be re-built to meet some goal that only planners want.

    Thanks
    JK

  5. Steve S
    November 7, 2010 at 6:45 pm Link

    You entire premise is one that pretends the economy is the only challenge. Just another recession?

    I don’t know how you can ignore the single year $27 million increase in fringe benefit costs that preceded the $27 million in cuts.
    Or how you don’t seem to have a problem with TriMet staff deceiving the TM board and public when they claimed it due to the economy when they recommended approval of the budget and the $27 million in cuts.
    Staff never even mentioned to the board the increase costs which just happened to be the same amount as the cuts.

    There’s a pattern here.
    We also know TM staff long knew the MLR fed share would only be 50% yet they told the board it was a new finding.
    There was also no mention of the added $100 million financing costs to MLR or the levy idea when the budget was passed.
    In fact TM staff claimed fiscal soundness.
    We still hear TM and McFalane mention the false surprise of the 50% fed share and McFarlane spun the audit as apples and oranges put together to create an unreasonable number.

    Your question is much too narrow which renders it meaningless.

    The shrinking pie is nothing compared to the rotting pie. Even if the pie were not shrinking most essential services/pieces would be more facing deep cuts due to the reckless failure to set aside fringe benefit funding.

    We need not speculate. We know what will happen. Fare/tax hikes, service cuts along with wage and benefits cuts.

    If benefits are cut form the current 152% of wages to 100% of wages is that a crisis? Is that an unacceptable level of benefits? Is that the same as no wages? Are the wars to blame?

    This level of concession would not even dent the unfunded liability crisis that if funded would now take $75 million more per year. According to the auditors.

    Is this understood by PT regulars? During the budget approval June TM Board meeting Hansen reluctantly revealed at the time ( pressure form Clark) that no set aside existed and it would take an additional $50 million per year to fund. # months later it is $75 million.

    This crisis did not sneak up on TriMet. During the boom years of the 1990s zero was set aside for those OPEBs.

    The levy failed because TriMet is in crisis and still unsults the public by insisting on moving forward with a project the community does not want and cannot afford.

  6. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 6:56 pm Link

    Lately it’s become us-vs-us.

    ~~~>Yup, pretty much says it all. Those with less tear down those with more, the problem is the “more” is actually the middle class.

    The “elite” class gets a free pass it appears.

    Why are frontline workers the first to be expected to take a hit when there are top-heavy agencies with grossly overpaid upper-level managers, consultants and executives sitting out the controversy?

    ~~~>Because these same managers, consultants, etc are very shrewd and are using the power of the media to take the pressure off them and put it on the working class. American’s being basically a pretty stupid people believe everything they see on the media.

    Its not about “livable wage jobs” its about penthouse wage jobs that probably average about $60,000 for bus drivers

    ~~~>Now here we have a very good “Jim Karlock” comment. $60,000 is middle class, not penthouse wage jobs. Mr Karlock also forgets that the $60k is BEFORE taxes are taken out. Penthouse wages is over $150k for sitting behind a desk and living a nice easy executive lifestyle. Jim, please try to get a slight bit more understanding economics before making statements like this.

  7. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 7:00 pm Link

    The real wealth distribution problem is illustrated
    HERE!

  8. Steve S
    November 7, 2010 at 7:14 pm Link

    On the wages and benefits battle.

    I sympathize with Al and the rank and file TM employees but their union has known all along the benefits were not funded.

    What has the union leadership been telling the rank and file? Don’t worry we’ll make em pay up?

    For them to now act all outraged because there is no money to fund them is just that, an act.

    Likewise is the pretense that ANY cut is the loss of livable wage jobs with real benefits.

    I’ve seen this pitch over and over again and how people respond. They aren’t buying it.

    Furthermore they don’t see the union doing anything at all about the Milwaukie Light Rail project.

    Rather it appears the union is perfectly willing to stay silent if it postures them well with management.

    On one hand they seek sympathy form the public while at the same time screwing them by not helping to stop MLR.

    TM bonding $60 million against future operations (union wages and benefits) for MLR is something the union should not be silent on.

    If the labor unions are insisting the public employee unions sacrifice their revenue for the sake of the brotherhood someone is getting screwed.

    Think about it. That’s the rest of MLR funding too. Raiding the revenue streams that feed public employee jobs in order to pay trade union jobs.

  9. Anandakos
    November 7, 2010 at 7:16 pm Link

    Scotty,

    Excellent post except I think you left out one dimension: safety. Well-paid, professional union drivers are the equivalent of the pleasant, observant, and determined TSA staff we have now.

    The alternative — minimum wage stay six months until something better turns up ne’er do wells that private services hire — are the equivalent of the lazy, self-absorbed twits who let nineteen people with box cutters through security in September, 2001.

  10. EngineerScotty
    November 7, 2010 at 7:49 pm Link

    JK: Its not about “livable wage jobs” its about penthouse wage jobs that probably average about $60,000 for bus drivers before the average benefits of about $90,000. For a total of around $150,000. Its not about livable wage jobs!

    The only penthouse you will be able to afford on that salary (even at the high end of the range) is a copy of the magazine. :) Downtown high-rise penthouses start in the seven figures; well beyond the reach of a city bus driver. (Or your average TriMet manager, for that matter–$150k in salary won’t get you into the top floor of the Pearl, either).

    JK: Then there are those other constituents, the developers, bond salesmen, electricity sales companies, construction companies, rail car manufacturers, consultants, bricklayers, whose motive is personal profit and has nothing to do with providing transportation services.

    So? Vendors like these are involved in any public (or private) project–in any case, a principled libertarian should be happy about these things being outsourced to the private sector. You want TriMet in the railcar business? (The whole Colorado Railcar fiasco should illustrate why that’s a bad idea). The simple fact that vendors get paid for their work–and in some cases will lobby for more of it–doesn’t make such projects an act of corruption. (And besides–what’s sauce for the transit goose is sauce for the highway construction gander).

    If you have actual evidence of actual corruption–vendors giving kickbacks, vendors overbilling while public officials look the other way, vendors providing goods or services which aren’t of any public use, by all means–tell us.

    Steve: You entire premise is one that pretends the economy is the only challenge. Just another recession?

    Actually, no. I seem to have written “I’m asking readers to ignore the questions of why (economic conditions, agency mismanagement)”–a qualification which explicitly allows for the possibility that TriMet management past and present has been spending like drunken sailors. However, for the present question, it doesn’t matter–if it makes you feel better, pretend that Governor-elect Kitzhaber fires the entire board and gives their replacements a directive to clean house. Given that, what mix of tax increases, service cuts, and wage/benefit concessions are appropriate? And should the economy improve, or a big fat stimulus check arrive from Salem or Uncle Sam, or some other condition improve the agency’s financial outlook, how ought the surplus be spent?

    The shrinking pie is nothing compared to the rotting pie. Even if the pie were not shrinking most essential services/pieces would be more facing deep cuts due to the reckless failure to set aside fringe benefit funding.

    That’s still part of the pie. (And since this is accounting and not cooking, you can assume the pie is negative if you like). Should services be cut and/or taxes be raised in order to adequately fund pensions? Or should retirees be stiffed somehow? (I’m not aware of any legal way to renege on pension benefits, outside of a TriMet bankruptcy or Federal legislation; nor am I suggesting this as a course of action).

    If benefits are cut form the current 152% of wages to 100% of wages is that a crisis? Is that an unacceptable level of benefits? Is that the same as no wages? Are the wars to blame?

    Now you’re getting somewhere along the way to addressing the question. How much should ATU members be asked to sacrifice? (And correspondingly–in good times, should they receive more favorable pay and benefits–keeping mind that variable pay schemes are quite common in the private sector)?

    Obviously, you’re in favor of abandoning current capital projects, which will help somewhat (mainly due to the scraped-together financing of MLR). But beyond that–were TriMet to satisfy your desires for reform and accountability; how would you deal with the remaining shortfall? Would you support a 26-119 like initiative in the future, if your conditions were met?

  11. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 7:50 pm Link

    I sympathize with Al and the rank and file TM employees but their union has known all along the benefits were not funded.

    ~~~>And why is it not funded? Because the management decided not to fund it!

    Every time Trimet management adds new staff it adds to it’s health care and pension costs.

    These costs are easily defined and predictable!

    They are unfunded because management allowed it to be unfunded.

    And exactly which tax provided service is funded before the funding is needed?

    You may want to watch this VIDEO which gives a pretty good description of how the government really works.

    It always sounds like I am a big government sort of guy, but nothing could be further from the truth.

  12. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 8:00 pm Link

    Furthermore, this race to the bottom which seems to be taking place all across the developed world has been caused by many factors that have nothing to do with working men and woman worldwide.

    While the elite are prospering more than anytime in history the working class is asked to give back basic things like decent health care.

    Something is rotten, and it is stinking up the human race.

    It doesn’t take genius level IQ to see behind the facade put up by the corporate media however it does take average IQ.

    Most Americans have below average IQ it appears, the Europeans get it.

  13. EngineerScotty
    November 7, 2010 at 8:12 pm Link

    Excellent post except I think you left out one dimension: safety. Well-paid, professional union drivers are the equivalent of the pleasant, observant, and determined TSA staff we have now.

    The alternative — minimum wage stay six months until something better turns up ne’er do wells that private services hire — are the equivalent of the lazy, self-absorbed twits who let nineteen people with box cutters through security in September, 2001.

    I’m not sure if you’re being serious or snarky in comparing ATU drivers with the TSA… :) Many security professionals routinely mock the TSA as little more than an expensive show. OTOH, 9/11 has not repeated itself; and the two incidents where terrorists were able to smuggle explosives onboard (but which were foiled by passengers) both occurred on inbound flights which originated abroad. I’ve flown internationally several times since 9/11; and the security procedures on the return flights are generally quicker and less intrusive.

    I suspect the bigger difference in between the pre- and post-9/11 security regimen is the thoroughness of the screening procedures, moreso than the professionalism (or lack thereof) of the staff. Prior to 9/11, boxcutters, kitchen knives, and other “small” blades were generally not considered a threat–and Tom Clancy novels notwithstanding, the biggest terror concern with airplanes was bombs being brought on board.

  14. EngineerScotty
    November 7, 2010 at 8:19 pm Link

    Steve: I sympathize with Al and the rank and file TM employees but their union has known all along the benefits were not funded.

    Al: And why is it not funded? Because the management decided not to fund it! Every time Trimet management adds new staff it adds to it’s health care and pension costs. These costs are easily defined and predictable! They are unfunded because management allowed it to be unfunded.

    I think that Steve is suggesting that ATU was derelict in its duty to its members by not demanding, at the bargaining table, that pension benefits be funded. Obviously, that’s the business of ATU Local 757 and its members, but it’s a fair point.

  15. jimkarlock
    November 7, 2010 at 8:32 pm Link

    Now here we have a very good “Jim Karlock” comment. $60,000 is middle class, not penthouse wage jobs.
    JK: You neglected to mention the other $90,000 in benefits for a total of around $150,000

    And that is WELL ABOVE the average wage.

    Thanks
    JK

  16. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 8:42 pm Link

    Jim Ole buddy, is it “our” fault that the health insurance industry is a bunch of blood sucking greed mongers?

    CLICK HERE!

  17. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 8:47 pm Link

    And no Scotty, it’s not the unions responsibility to “insist” that the management fund the obligations it agreed too.

    Management makes that guarantee when they enter into contracts!

    Imagine if Trimet management decided to sign a contract with the WES builder and then didn’t have the money to pay its contract?

    Even when the contractor decided they won’t honor the contract Trimet management gives them the money to make sure the boondoggle gets completed.

    But when it comes to it’s labor contract?
    No, we don’t have to honor that!!

    That’s really wonderful management isn’t it! We will just honor contracts we want and the rest can go fly a kite!

  18. jimkarlock
    November 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm Link

    AL M Says: Jim Ole buddy, is it “our” fault that the health insurance industry is a bunch of blood sucking greed mongers?
    JK: Irrelevant – I was comparing Trimet’s pay to others. Those “others” also have to deal with the health industry. Somehow they do it without having a loaded pay cost of $150,000 per person.

    BTW, what is you proposal to fund the Billion dollar unfunded liability?

    Thanks
    JK

  19. jimkarlock
    November 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm Link

    AL M Says: That’s really wonderful management isn’t it! We will just honor contracts we want and the rest can go fly a kite!
    JK: But, that’s VERY progressive – look at it as a “living contract”. You know like a “living constitution” that can be re-written at will, by both the courts and legislature, without going through the formal amendment procedure.

    Thanks
    JK

  20. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 9:22 pm Link

    Those “others” also have to deal with the health industry.

    ~~~>Well ya! The others don’t bother to pay for any health insurance, I suggest you read the article I posted with my response.

    BTW, what is you proposal to fund the Billion dollar unfunded liability?

    ~~~>Well what’s your proposal to deal with the trillion dollar liability of the war?

  21. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 9:28 pm Link

    The entire operation of the UNITED STATES, STATE OF OREGON, COUNTY OF MULTNOMAH, CITY OF PORTLAND, TRIMET, PORT OF PORTLAND, ETC ETC ON AND ON IS AN UNFUNDED LIABILITY!

    Every single aspect of every single operation of every single level of government is an unfunded liability which would starve if not for our taxes!

    There is not one single government function that is not an unfunded liability.

    NATIONAL DEBT CLOCK

  22. jimkarlock
    November 7, 2010 at 9:29 pm Link

    AL M Says: The others don’t bother to pay for any health insurance, I suggest you read the article I posted with my response.
    JK: That’s not true – many companies provide health insurance and have a fully loaded employee cost well under $150,000 per year.

    AL M Says: Well what’s your proposal to deal with the trillion dollar liability of the war?
    JK: Don’t try to change the subject. I repeat:
    BTW, what is you proposal to fund the Billion dollar unfunded liability?

    Thanks
    JK

  23. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 9:32 pm Link

    Jim:
    See HERE!

  24. jimkarlock
    November 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm Link

    AL M Says: There is not one single government function that is not an unfunded liability.
    JK: You don’t suppose there is message there do you? Like the government is irresponsible and is trying to do too much. Like running transit systems.

    Thanks
    JK

  25. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm Link

    You ask what is my proposal to deal the the billion dollar unfunded liability?

    Well you might as well ask me what is my proposal to deal with the $13,000,700,000,000,000 unfunded liability of the whole freaking shebang!

    There is no freaking answer! To this or any of the one million other liability questions! Just keep robbing the future to pay for the present, hell this is the way it has been done for decades!

  26. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 9:40 pm Link

    And yes Jim, we are up ****s creek and the whole freaking thing is gonna crumble, hopefully I will be dead and gone before it happens, cause it will happen, its unknown when or how fast the decline will come, but it is headed our way!

  27. EngineerScotty
    November 7, 2010 at 10:15 pm Link

    While the national debt (and the causes thereof) is certainly an important concern, lets try and keep the focus of this discussion to TriMet. As the old bumper sticker says, it would be nice if schools were fully funded and the Air Force had to hold bake sales to buy bombers–but that’s not the world we live in; and altering that state of affairs is outside the scope of this website.

  28. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 10:41 pm Link

    Well Scotty,

    Maybe its time to upgrade PORTLANDTRANSPORT to PORTLANDTRANSPORT AND WORLD EVENTS!

  29. jimkarlock
    November 7, 2010 at 10:52 pm Link

    When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is:

    Q U I T . D I G G I N G

    Thanks
    JK

  30. EngineerScotty
    November 7, 2010 at 10:56 pm Link

    Maybe I’ll bring it up at the next board meeting. :)

    On a serious note, one problem with issue-focused advocacy is it frequently gets held hostage to politics and events thousands of miles today. Obviously, we must be mindful of what goes on in Salem, DC, and beyond (Beijing?)… but we also need to try and do our best to take care of our own patch of earth here, and not use world events as an excuse to stop worrying about our local communities and homes.

    Yeah, an asteroid may crash into the earth next week and render all we do moot–but on the other hand, it might not.

  31. AL M
    November 7, 2010 at 10:58 pm Link

    jimkarlock Says:

    When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is!

    A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – 1945)

    {That will be my last word on the topic!}

  32. jimkarlock
    November 7, 2010 at 11:13 pm Link

    [Uncivil remark deleted. Enough of this line of argument from the both of you–Moderator].

    Thanks
    JK

  33. Lenny Anderson
    November 8, 2010 at 11:42 am Link

    ES, thanks for taking this on. Given what the state budget looks like, addressing the total cost of public employees will be with us for a while.
    Al is right…distribution of incomes is way out of line, and everyone should just be on Medicare, i.e. a single payer health plan. But after the vote last week, we can only expect those to factors to only get worse. Tax cuts for the rich? Give me a break.
    Meanwhile, transit riders are paying more for less service, and probably most pay something for their health insurance if they have it at all. So should we not “share the pain” a bit? Of course, management as well as union folks.
    Without Ops and mechanics, there is no transit system, just as without teachers there is no school. As an long time press operator, I knew that without me the ink does not go on the paper. But where there was once a flourishing printing industry in San Francisco with a great union…35 hour week, health benefit, pension, etc., there is now nothing. Its gone.
    TriMet isn’t going anywhere, but watch out!

  34. Steve S
    November 8, 2010 at 1:33 pm Link

    Absolutely ATU local 575 was derelict in its duty to its members by not demanding, at the bargaining table, that pension benefits be funded.

    Al,
    Your comparison to “Trimet management not paying for it’s WES contract” doesn’t work because the source of funding is established and approved ahead of time.

    There never was any such process for the benefits and the union did not care.
    Furthermore it was year after year, contract after contract for decades.
    There is no excuse.
    Yet even more egregious is the union continually supporting politicians who agree to these contracts but never funded them.
    Bottom line is the union knew all along. They are complicit.
    The union was only interested in getting the benefits and were negligent in getting assurances they would be funded.
    Knowing full well there was no trust fund.
    Of course the union should have been demanding that a trust fund be established to assure their contractual benefits.

    AL M Says: There is not one single government function that is not an unfunded liability.

    Oh come on Al. That’s just wrong.

    “everyone should just be on Medicare, i.e. a single payer health plan”

    The TriMet union won’t go for that. Wouldn’t that results in even more of a major reduction in coverage for TriMet employees.

    The vote last week was quite clear but TriMet is not wavering. They’re trying to bond $60 million for MLR against Al’s future pay checks and benefits.

    So where is the union to fight against this attack on his compensation?

  35. EngineerScotty
    November 8, 2010 at 5:40 pm Link

    Michael at PortlandAfoot throws another touchdown pass.

    http://portlandafoot.org/2010/11/want-a-6-figure-job-become-a-libertarian-activist/

  36. jimkarlock
    November 8, 2010 at 5:47 pm Link

    But where there was once a flourishing printing industry in San Francisco with a great union…35 hour week, health benefit, pension, etc., there is now nothing. Its gone.
    JK: Some would say that there is a lesson hidden in that statement. Same lesson as Detroit’s auto workers.

    Maybe same lesson for Trimet.

    Thanks
    JK

  37. Lenny Anderson
    November 9, 2010 at 8:25 am Link

    I know some commenters here would love to see TriMet dissolved. Let’s bring back old Rose City Transit, ha, ha, ha. Not likely.
    As with all public institutions, or almost all, TriMet is not subject to innovate/grow or die discipline of the private sector where succcessful companies borrow to invest in new technologies that reduce costs and improve products.
    But the public sector does and should borrow to build better schools, new fire stations, and yes, high capacity transit that moves more people, more reliably and lower cost.
    Back in the day it took 2 journeymen with two helpers to run a 4 color press; now its done by one operator who produces more & higher quality output. Why would we have 4 bus operators drive in a corridor when with capital investment in more efficient technology we could do a better job with one? Its the same story with the longshoremen’s union and containers.

  38. AL M
    November 9, 2010 at 12:38 pm Link

    Well eventually there will be no jobs left in this country except delivering pizza’s to each other in our private vehicle.

    We are going straight downhill folks, as a society and watching American’s fighting with other American’s does not hold out much hope for our future!

    The right wingers are not gonna listen to me and I am not buying what they are selling.

    They want what? Rose City transit? It went out of business!

    They want us to have no health care?
    That’s just wonderful since they don’t seem to have any problems with the health insurer’s who are the real villains in this mess.

    They want NO TRANSIT in Portland? Wonderful idea, I’m sure that will work out just peachy for everyone!

    They want us to have no retirement?

    Then why the hell would I be working here at all?

    What the hell do they want?

    Just make minimum wage and they will be happy?

    What the heck do you people want anyway?

    It’s freaking disgraceful.

  39. AL M
    November 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm Link

    THIS is what I make working at Trimet!

    Does this look like penthouse wages to anyone?
    From that I have deducted $168/mo for my health insurance, soon to be $315/mo.

    Another $40 for union dues,
    Then I get whacked for Oregon state taxes, federal taxes, social security taxes etc etc. (did it ever occur to any of you that all of us actually pay taxes)

    Does anybody actually think I make too much money?

    That’s after 14 years of working here.

    I have no control over the criminal health insurance industry in this country.

    All of this mess could be solved if they had enacted a single payer health care system, but no, its easier for the likes of the John Charles’s and Jim Karlocks of the world to go around attacking people for actually getting decent health care while allowing the criminals to make BILLIONS OF DOLLARS!

  40. Lenny Anderson
    November 9, 2010 at 1:31 pm Link

    How much is enough is a tough question. An environmental activist I much admire was once asked by a someone from the industrial side, “how much is enough to you enviros?” His reply was “how much profit is enough for you guys?” The questioner stalked out of the room.
    I wonder what the average/mean income of TriMet riders is? How much does TriMet spend for salary and benefits for Operators & Mechanics…and how much for same for support staff and admin?
    re no more jobs in America…as long as we innovate, invest and figure out how to do better at lower cost, there will be plenty of work. TriMet needs to do that with its service too.
    Simply reducing our dependence on cars reduces money spent on imported oil and puts more money into circulation locally for food, beer and books…all of which now contribute to the traded sector economy. Trading in a car and using transit or a bike is like a $500/mo pay increase.

  41. jimkarlock
    November 9, 2010 at 1:59 pm Link

    Lenny Anderson Says: As with all public institutions, or almost all, TriMet is not subject to innovate/grow or die discipline of the private sector
    JK: That is the key problem with government trying to run businesses. That is why the Soviet union is no more and why Cuba and N. Korea are really not working too well – the government enterprizes are NOT subject to innovate or die pressures

    Lenny Anderson Says: where succcessful companies borrow to invest in new technologies that reduce costs and improve products.
    JK: That is the second key problem with government trying to run businesses. It makes crazy spending decisions based on political pressures and ignores basic economics. While companies do some of this too, most of them have to face competitor that may not and thus the wasteful ones go under.

    Lenny Anderson Says: But the public sector does and should borrow to build better schools, new fire stations, and yes, high capacity transit that moves more people, more reliably and lower cost.
    JK: We need schools & fire stations, but do not need 10 car commuter trains to haul tens of thousnds of commuters per hour into portland. That is high capacity transit found only in big cities like New York. I’ll bet you were talking about light capacity rail instead. Buses are cheaper and more flexible. Remember that LOCAL MATACh money adds 36 cents per passenger-mile to the alleged low cost of light rail. Light rail costs too much & does too little.

    Lenny Anderson Says: Why would we have 4 bus operators drive in a corridor when with capital investment in more efficient technology we could do a better job with one?
    JK: Because the capital cost of that investment matters. It is currently 36 cents per passenger-mile for the local match alone, and will almost double if we build the MLR doomboggle.

  42. EngineerScotty
    November 9, 2010 at 2:12 pm Link

    Lenny Anderson Says: As with all public institutions, or almost all, TriMet is not subject to innovate/grow or die discipline of the private sector
    JK: That is the key problem with government trying to run businesses. That is why the Soviet union is no more and why Cuba and N. Korea are really not working too well – the government enterprizes are NOT subject to innovate or die pressures

    Oh. Give. Me. A. Break.

    The Soviet Union is no more, and Cuba and N. Korea are in the crapper, because they were/are totalitarian command economies; not because the local transit systems therein were subject to insufficient market discipline. I can point you to numerous examples of publicly-run transit systems which are wildly successful, and which exist in functioning stable democracies.

    JK: We need schools & fire stations, but do not need 10 car commuter trains to haul tens of thousnds of commuters per hour into portland.

    I don’t recall anyone proposing 10-car commuter trains. MAX and WES all run two-car consists, and there’s no plans to change any of that. We could argue, likewise, that we don’t need six- and eight-lane freeways for much the same reason.

    Besides–the current MAX system seems to bring 10k commuters/hour into Portland during the AM peak (and take them home again at night) just fine.

  43. AL M
    November 9, 2010 at 2:38 pm Link

    Lenny:

    Rather than I wonder what the average/mean income of TriMet riders is? How much does TriMet spend for salary and benefits for Operators & Mechanics

    Why aren’t you asking what is the average wage and benefits for the executives?

    How much bureaucracy has built up at this agency that is not driving or fixing buses?

    Every time they award a contract how much is going to those executives in terms of remuneration?

    Why are we made the enemy?

    I expect that from Karlock and company, but not from you!

    The wealth of this world has moved directly into the pockets of a highly influential elite who intend to escape their sins by getting working class people to attack working class people.

    As far as “forced to pay at the point of a gun” argument,

    ,its a valid argument,

    but can only be implemented when the economic system that we live in is dismantled, then we can dismantle this horrible government that we have created.

    In other words, the whole structure needs to go, not just little pieces of it.

    It won’t happen in my lifetime that much is clear.

  44. Aaron
    November 9, 2010 at 2:38 pm Link

    $50K a year for a part-time gig doesn’t seem so bad, Al.

  45. Bob R.
    November 9, 2010 at 2:48 pm Link

    $50K a year for a part-time gig doesn’t seem so bad, Al.

    Aaron, this whole little flame war started because after Al mentioned “living wage” (which TriMet wages actually are in most cases), JK came up with the absurd characterization of “Penthouse Wages”.

    No, a part time mini-bus operator making a combined income (wages + benefits) of $50K a year isn’t “so bad”, but it’s nowhere within striking distance of JK’s gross mischaracterization of “penthouse”.

    Less hyperbole from everyone, please.

  46. Aaron
    November 9, 2010 at 2:52 pm Link

    Bob, I apologize. I didn’t think the comment I made earlier even went through due to the pace of the commenting here and I just made another attempt and then I saw your request. You can delete either or both.

    Sorry!

    [Moderator: 2nd comment removed. – Bob R.]

  47. Steve S
    November 9, 2010 at 3:22 pm Link

    Lenny,

    Is it really necessary for you to make up your own critic’s objectives?

    If TriMet does get dissolved it will be from gross mismanagement that you can’t seem to recognize. But it is not the critics desire to simply have it shut down.
    It’s broken, corrupted and is recklessly raiding other essential service’s budgets to prop itself up.
    You think it is all swell. We get that.
    If we did bring back a privately run Rose City transit there are many ways to improve and preserve transit service while making it affordable and fully funded.
    That would be far prefferable to the status quo, non- sustainable crisis we are witnessing.
    But all of that is a discussion that avoids today’s issues.

    Your chronic attempt to discount and dismiss the enormnous cost of constructing and maintaining light rail infrastructure doesn’t work.

    Al,

    You really should be hammering your union to oppose Milwaukie Light Rail to help prevent the raiding of TriMet’s payroll to pay for it.

    What’s the problem? The repayment of the $60 million TriMet share will devour $100 million from your future payrol.
    Because TriMet is upside down, that $100 million must come from services cuts, compensation cuts and fare and tax increases.
    Despite the ridiculous fantasy that MLR will save money.

    TriMet managment is pushing itself and your job straight downhill.
    Not the right wingers.

    Rose City transit was denied a 5 cent fare increase and driven out of business in order to take it over.

    No one including Right wingers wants you to have “no” health care.
    You keep repeating that when there’s no such call for no health care.

    Likewise there is no call for “NO TRANSIT in Portland”
    Or no retirement for you .

    It isn’t helping your cause to keep casting the criticism over the excessive and unfunded benefits as demands to provide no benefits.

    Many people are on the rank and file’s side but your advocacy methods are harmful.

    You will have to accept a reduction in benefits.
    A reduction is not cancellation or total loss.

    As you know, but avoid, your $2200/month health care coverage cost is that high because it covers everything you and your dependents will need for the rest of your lives. That’s as lavish as it gets.

    If it’s slightly less and can be affordable to the agency those are still very good benefits.

    It is possible for you to stop reacting as if your benefits are about to be entirely taken away?
    I haven’t read anyone say you make too much money.

    Al, you must realize that if you end up in national single payer health care system, your coverage would be a fraction of what it is today.

    Your calling on a single payer system is advocating for a much bigger cut to your benefits.

    The auditors, not Charles or Karlock, reported that TriMet’s benefits are costing 152% of wages.

    That is neither acceptable or affordable.

    Now is it possible for you to comment on, say, a reduction to 125% of wages without pretending it would be the same as no benefits?

    And get your Union to the TriMet board meeting tomorrow and demand the halt to the MLR raid on your paychecks and benefits.

  48. Jason McHuff
    November 9, 2010 at 4:31 pm Link

    Rose City transit was denied a 5 cent fare increase and driven out of business in order to take it over.

    It was not just the 5-cent increase–it was that more and more increases would be needed. Moreover, Rosy was in pretty bad shape. If anyone wants to see for themselves, the Multnomah County now provides online access to entire archives of The Oregonian for that and earlier eras. I’ve saved some relevant ones.

  49. jim karlock
    November 9, 2010 at 7:46 pm Link

    No, a part time mini-bus operator making a combined income (wages + benefits) of $50K a year isn’t “so bad”, but it’s nowhere within striking distance of JK’s gross mischaracterization of “penthouse”.
    JK: My penthouse wages comment was about the $150,000 per year fully loaded cost of an average driver.

    Whether or not 50k for part time falls in this area is NOT something that I commented on.

    Thanks
    jk

  50. Bob R.
    November 9, 2010 at 8:54 pm Link

    JK attempts a defense:

    My penthouse wages comment was about the $150,000 per year fully loaded cost of an average driver.

    Here’s what you actually said:

    Its not about “livable wage jobs” its about penthouse wage jobs that probably average about $60,000 for bus drivers before the average benefits of about $90,000. For a total of around $150,000. Its not about livable wage jobs!

    Sorry, JK, you can’t buy a penthouse on $60K take-home, regardless of your health care or retirement benefits.

    You’re engaging in hyperbole, plain and simple.

    This mean-spirited little digression and flame war is over. Stop it.

  51. jimkarlock
    November 10, 2010 at 12:51 am Link

    This mean-spirited little digression and flame war is over. Stop it.
    I thought I did stop after the penthouse comparision.

    The post you responded to was just a clarification.

    Thanks
    JK

  52. jimkarlock
    November 10, 2010 at 12:51 am Link

    EngineerScotty Says: The Soviet Union is no more, and Cuba and N. Korea are in the crapper, because they were/are totalitarian command economies; not because the local transit systems therein were subject to insufficient market discipline.
    JK: My point was about the effect of the lack of market competition which applies to many government run organizations, many private enterprise monopolies and some whole countries.

    EngineerScotty Says: I don’t recall anyone proposing 10-car commuter trains.
    JK: My point was that light rail is NOT high capacity transit, 10 car trains are.

    Thanks
    JK

  53. EngineerScotty
    November 10, 2010 at 6:29 am Link

    EngineerScotty Says: The Soviet Union is no more, and Cuba and N. Korea are in the crapper, because they were/are totalitarian command economies; not because the local transit systems therein were subject to insufficient market discipline.
    JK: My point was about the effect of the lack of market competition which applies to many government run organizations, many private enterprise monopolies and some whole countries.

    But your examples don’t prove your point, for precisely the reason I illustrate. The problem with the Soviet Union is not public infrastructure was public. The problems were that a) it was a complete command economy, an arrangement that pretty much is considered discredited by everybody; and b) it was a totalitarian state to boot. Moscow had excellent transit under the Soviets, and still has excellent transit today–this has nothing whatsoever to do with communism.

    If you want to prove something about the “lack of market competition”, you might try comparing different arrangements for dealing with transit (and other public infrastructure) in modern capitalist democracies, not Communist states (or developing nations, for that matter).

    EngineerScotty Says: I don’t recall anyone proposing 10-car commuter trains.
    JK: My point was that light rail is NOT high capacity transit, 10 car trains are.

    That’s arguing semantics. 10-car trains are generally only found in very-large-city metros and the like. The capacity ratio between a 10-car subway train and a 2-car MAX train is nearly the same as a 2-car MAX train and a 40′ bus; about 4 or 5 to 1, depending on how you measure. (Crush loads vs design loads).

    While there are certainly higher-capacity forms of transit than MAX–I think most of us here will agree that building infrastructure capable of handling 10-car trains (which would require 300m platforms and grade separation everywhere, since a 10-car train would span several city blocks) would not make any sense whatsoever. Why you think 10-car trains are even relevant to a discussion about Portland is completely beyond me.

  54. Bob R.
    November 10, 2010 at 10:54 am Link

    This is a complete aside, but a lot of people don’t realize that when discussing how long a train is (2-car, 10-car, etc.), that MAX “cars” are actually rather long. You need to know how long a car is on each system to make a true comparison.

    JK said “commuter train” but I think when most people think of NYC they think about transit, not commuter service. (And MAX is a transit service). And NYC’s longest 10-car trains are about 600ft. MAX’s longest 2-car trains are about 200ft.

    An individual NYC train is only about 3X as large as MAX, although it has a greater passenger capacity because of fewer seats, more standees.

    On average, a MAX “car” is 100ft long and an NYC “car” is 60ft long.

    There are many differences even within NYC and I’m sure NYC transit buffs can list dozens right off hand, my point is merely that we can’t make blanket comparisons based solely on the number of “cars”.

  55. Nick theoldurbanist
    November 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm Link

    The NYC IRT cars are 51’4″ long and 8’9″ wide. Capacity is about 180 passengers.

    The newest BMT/IND cars are a little over 60′ long and almost 10′ wide (standard RR width). Capacity is about 240 passengers.

    Portland’s MAX cars have significant design constraints that affect overall capacity, namely the end sections and the articulated sections. Ditto for LINK in Seattle.

  56. EngineerScotty
    November 10, 2010 at 3:01 pm Link

    Joseph Rose interviews Jon Hunt, the head of ATU Local 757.

  57. Michael, Portland Afoot
    November 11, 2010 at 1:42 am Link

    Belatedly, Scotty, thanks for the nice words about my blog post.

  58. Michael, Portland Afoot
    November 11, 2010 at 1:52 am Link

    And on the topic of the original post: I too have the sense that a major schism is happening on the left between labor and social service advocates. It’s a slow-motion crash and I’m afraid I’m rubbernecking.

    It occurred to me the other day that maybe the great value of unions isn’t actually (or at least, isn’t any more) their work negotiating on my behalf. #workplace. Instead, the social value of unions is that they create. is to create a *political* force that has a rare incentive to lobby the government on behalf of working-class people.

  59. jimkarlock
    November 11, 2010 at 3:46 am Link

    is to create a *political* force that has a rare incentive to lobby the government on behalf of working-class people.
    JK: I would argue that they are now advocating for a very well paid lifestyle for their members that WILL be paid, not by the capitalists, but by those whose income is lower than theirs.

    In other words, the public employee union members are becoming members of the elite class, at the expense of the rest of us.

    Thanks
    JK

  60. Michael, Portland Afoot
    November 11, 2010 at 8:12 am Link

    Jim, to clarify: I’m talking here about union political work mostly at the state and federal legislative level, where they tend to support the whole range of domestic liberal politics as well as trying to take home bacon for their own members, like any other faction.

    This as opposed to their organizing work, which is done explicitly on behalf of their members, not the public interest in general.

  61. EngineerScotty
    November 11, 2010 at 8:48 am Link

    An interesting article on the subject of austerity politics. An an article I wrote at DKos on the prospects of intergenerational fights over benefits, and how it might affect US politics going forward–the latter article did garner me a few flames from a few Kossacks who seemed to think that because I was discussing the prospect of pension repudiation, I was endorsing it as policy. (I wasn’t).

    But JK’s most recent post contains an interesting observation that merits further expansion. He writes:

    I would argue that they are now advocating for a very well paid lifestyle for their members that WILL be paid, not by the capitalists, but by those whose income is lower than theirs.

    In other words, the public employee union members are becoming members of the elite class, at the expense of the rest of us.

    In some ways, JK has a point, and this is a big contributor to the present discussion.

    Sixty-five years ago, after the end of World War II, labor utterly dominated US politics; the vast majority of Americans who weren’t in the professional class, or engaged in their own business (including farmers and the like), belonged to unions. “Closed shops” were commonplace, many urban political machines were run by union bosses. It was a time of prosperity, in large part due to the US not having its infrastructure demolished by the war, but unions were a powerful force. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, though, was the first blow in a long campaign against organized labor, and over the years, various political and technical changes have chipped away at the political power of labor.

    Today, organized labor is nowhere near the force it was in the mid 20th century. And a big part of that is that far fewer Americans are represented by unions. Most of the big industrial unions are long gone. Many US industries have essentially vanished. This is especially true at the low end of the economic spectrum (in service jobs) which are now dominated by non-union shops. Some unionized places still exist–generally employers who have been around so long that they existed during the time of union strength–but newer entrants into these marketplaces are generally non-union, and current laws make it very easy for employers to resist organization.

    What’s left of organized labor in the US seems to fall into three categories: high-capital manufacturing and service (auto industries, airlines), where high barriers to entry limit the rise of non-union shops to compete with the union ones; unions in certain high-skill professions (actors, athletes, musicians) which in many ways resemble the craft guilds of old which predate the modern labor movement, and public employee unions. It is the latter category which now dominates the labor movement, as more than half of all unionized workers now work for government agencies.

    As a result, the vast majority of all unionized workers are highly-paid; and a majority of those are public positions–funded by taxpayers. And this state of affairs has led to the present narrative–where rather than being seen as defenders of the poor, unions are seen by many poor people as just one more parasitic self-dealing elite. Of course, as “self-dealing elites” go, unions pale in comparison to the modern American aristocracy–a group which is happy to further the meme that unions are no good, and has a good part of the media establishment at its disposal–but nonetheless, there are many many poor people (who descend from union workers), struggling to make ends meet, who view labor not as a potential source of salvation, but as leeches.

    That’s how it gets framed. I don’t agree with this analysis, obviously, but that’s the current state of affairs in US politics. If your job goes to China, it’s not the fault of the boss for seeking out the lowest bidder; it’s the fault of the unions for keeping America from being the low bid.

    Many in organized labor understands this. James Trumka, the leader of AFL-CIO, seems to–the political advocacy of his organization lately has been geared more towards improving the lot of all Americans, rather than seeking out improved compensation and working conditions just for union memmbers. President Obama seems to understand this as well; many labor-specific policy goals (such as card-check) have been essentially ignored by the Administration, a stance which has cost the President some support on the left. But many individual locals, it seems, only care about their own membership. What many union critics are fond of pointing out is that it isn’t enough to mouth platitudes about “family wage jobs” when the only such jobs being considered are already taken.

    When the highest paid guy on the bus is usually the driver, it indicates the presence of significant social problems. These problems aren’t the fault of the transit union–instead, it’ the fault of a distorted economy–but it’s often the transit union that gets blamed.

    The solution to this problem will not be found by bus drivers fighting over crumbs with their poor passengers–whose own opportunities for a stable, “family-wage” job vanished years ago. The solution is far harder than that–and requires taking on capital in a game which has been heavily rigged in capital’s favor.

    Enough left-wing polemics for today. :)

  62. jimkarlock
    November 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm Link

    The solution is far harder than that–and requires taking on capital in a game which has been heavily rigged in capital’s favor.
    Please peruse this statement to its logical conclusion. Including who will ultimately pay for any increase in wages and how that plays out through society in general.

    Thanks
    JK

  63. EngineerScotty
    November 11, 2010 at 2:22 pm Link

    Please peruse this statement to its logical conclusion. Including who will ultimately pay for any increase in wages and how that plays out through society in general.

    Well, I was thinking of a country with a more progressive tax structure; where those who benefit most from civilization contribute a fair share to its maintenance.

    Plenty of examples of such abound.

    Did you think I was a commie or somethin’?

  64. jimkarlock
    November 11, 2010 at 3:49 pm Link

    Well, I was thinking of a country with a more progressive tax structure; where those who benefit most from civilization contribute a fair share to its maintenance.
    They already contribute more dollars per per person.

    BTW, what does taking more money in taxes do to the creativity and motivations of those who provide the jobs and innovation?

    Thanks
    JK

  65. Bob R.
    November 11, 2010 at 4:17 pm Link

    So, bus drivers with healthy benefits packages are “elites” but rich people who pay “more dollars per person” are somehow victims here. Riiiiight.

    what does taking more money in taxes do to the creativity and motivations of those who provide the jobs and innovation?

    I’ll leave it up to Scotty to decide if this thread has gone completely off the rails, in which case he’s free to delete this whole pointless diversion.

    Nonetheless, as a business owner, I can tell you: If I’m going to be taxed, I’ll find a way to keep that money in the company, invest in the long term, make capital improvements, etc. Otherwise, the money will, to some extent, be put away in investment vehicles. That’s fine too, but at some point things get so out of balance that there’s an excess of capital and nowhere sound to invest it, so “financial innovations” like the disastrous mortgage schemes are cooked up by Wall St.

    When there’s an excess of capital so great that a single bad investment category can sink the entire economy (as almost happened without socialist taxpayer intervention to bail out elite investors), at a time when investment in genuine social needs and civic infrastructure is low, then yes, taxes on the wealthy are too low.

    Progressive taxation exists for sound economic reasons, not because bus-driving elites want to soak the defenseless rich.

    But in some people’s world view there’s no balance, any degree of progessivity in the tax code or common social services (retirement, health care) is tantamount to totalitarian communism, thus the casual (and meaningless) references to Cuba and North Korea.

    This is all basic stuff, but thanks to a 30-year campaign by well-funded “think tanks” to confuse the public about basic economics, some people still believe that “trickle down” will generate a rising tide which lifts all boats. The problem is that the trickle has become a torrent that goes into risky investments and tax shelters out of the country.

    The current low, low tax rates for the very wealthy, by the way, have been financed on the backs of working people who contribute to the Social Security Trust Fund. The “tax cuts” are all borrowed money, borrowed from recent generations of workers, and now the very wealthy don’t want to pony up to pay it back.

    That tends to put a damper on most people’s creativity and motivations.

    Thanks for asking.

  66. EngineerScotty
    November 11, 2010 at 4:18 pm Link

    JK: BTW, what does taking more money in taxes do to the creativity and motivations of those who provide the jobs and innovation?

    Probably nothing–these are, more than likely, particular personality traits that have little to do with the tax code. Were the “Bush tax cuts” to expire at the end of the year and Federal tax cuts to go up; I seriously doubt I’d quit my job in protest. Would you? Likewise, do you really think that someone with a money-making venture would abandon it were his income taxes to go up?

    Actually, this illustrates why a good reason that higher income taxes on the wealthy is a GOOD idea, as to other forms of taxation. If I were a Rich Dude (I’m not), and I owned a company, and my taxes on my net income increased (gross receipts less business expenses) went up, but nothing else–would it change how I operated the business? Probably not–I’d still act to maximize the profits of the business; I’d just take home a little less of it. Such taxes won’t turn a profitable enterprise into a money-losing one.

    OTOH, were my employees’ payroll taxes to go up, or sales taxies levied on my inventory, or higher property taxes levied on my facilities–THAT might threaten the profitability of the business more directly; forcing me to downsize.

    I find it immensely laughable when people complain about the “stimulus” being wasteful; then turn around calling for tax breaks for the wealthy.

    And of course, all of this presupposes that the wealthy got that way by being more industrious, clever, or otherwise more meritorious than the rest of us–a dubious premise, as quite a few of them are conniving, back-stabbing, self-dealing SOBs–either that, or people who got financially lucky in the parents department.

  67. EngineerScotty
    November 11, 2010 at 4:23 pm Link

    Regarding relevance–in THIS artice, JK hasn’t quite gone off the rails; though he’s starting to lean in the turns a bit.

    Plus, demolishing glibertarian talking points is so much fun. :)

  68. Bob R.
    November 11, 2010 at 4:34 pm Link

    Since you mentioned talking points, a favorite come-back I’ve heard recently goes something like:

    Cuba and South Korea are not examples of a progressive economic system any more than Somalia is an example of a thriving unregulated market. (But perhaps Somalia is an example of thriving 2nd-amendment remedies.)

  69. The Smooth Operator
    November 11, 2010 at 10:03 pm Link

    I would like to add a few cents to this conversation. Someone here in an earlier thread asks if the Union men and women were ready to “share the pain” with benefit cuts, etc. Well, I am one of those people…and my answer is “no”…let me explain why.
    Although I am not interested in “killing the goose that lays the golden egg”, but the management hasn’t show good evidence that the “goose” is in any danger…quite the contrary-they voted a pay raise for the top managers at the same time they are asking for major concessions from the Union.
    I feel that Trimet management has not been honest or negotiated in good faith with the Union…
    The Union negotiated past contracts to preserve our health benefits vs. pay raises…Bus Operators have not received a pay raise in over 10 years (except COLA). And in terms of total compensation we are “in line” with other bus agencies…they are paid more per hour but have less benefits…and now management wants to cut, cut, cut and give nothing in return. NOTHING.

    They changed their final proposal to the Union from the negotiating table to the arbitrator…and included new cuts and other changes. The rule is–as I understand it–that you can’t do that.

    Since the Union called them on the above (and filed a ULP complaint) the management has engaged in behavior that can only be called juvenile…they waited until Union leaders were out of town and then sent threatening letters to all Union employees n regards to health benefits.

    More recently, when the final cost numbers for their health benefit proposals for 2011 were ready they sent those figures out directly to all Union members…but neglected to send any information to the Union leaders for a week afterwards.

    So, WHY should I trust managers that resort to such disonesty and silly antics? IF there is such a budgetary crisis why haven’t they simply laid it out to us in a simple and “easy to read” format? What are they hiding or not telling us or the public at large?
    They seem to be trying to play a game of “three card monte” or “divide and conquer”…i.e. Union vs. public opinion, Operators vs. Mechanics, full time vs mini run…etc.

    The statements in this posting are my opinions alone and do not represent Trimet or any other person living or dead.

  70. EngineerScotty
    November 12, 2010 at 1:38 pm Link

    It appears that a right-wing blogger (OK, Randall O’Toole aka the “AntiPlanner”) has taken notice of a parallel debate on this topic over at PortlandAfoot.

  71. AL M
    November 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm Link

    So, WHY should I trust managers that resort to such disonesty and silly antics? IF there is such a budgetary crisis why haven’t they simply laid it out to us in a simple and “easy to read” format? What are they hiding or not telling us or the public at large?
    They seem to be trying to play a game of “three card monte” or “divide and conquer”…i.e. Union vs. public opinion, Operators vs. Mechanics, full time vs mini run…etc.

    Amen Brother!

    http://vimeo.com/16776998

  72. jimkarlock
    November 12, 2010 at 6:26 pm Link

    Please don’t call Randall “right-wing”, he is libertarian.

    The difference is that he believes in freedom and equal government treatment for everyone, not just some sub set of the population and does not think the government should be an enforcer of moral values. He also does not believe in wasting tax money (other people’s money)

    Do disagree?

    Thanks
    JK

  73. Bob R.
    November 12, 2010 at 7:54 pm Link

    O’Toole is “libertarian” in the same way that CATO is “libertarian” – occasionally intersecting Libertarian philosophy when it is convenient to do so.

    Example, O’Toole critiqued the book about the market for parking, “The High Cost of Free Parking”, without even having read it. And further, got details wrong (there is “free” street parking in Manhattan, contrary to O’Toole’s claims).

    So you can count O’Toole among other paid political polemicists. Interesting and often contrarian, but not necessarily 100% aligned with a particular ideal or principle.

    See:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/09/01/shoup-to-otoole-the-market-for-parking-is-anything-but-free/

  74. Jeff F
    November 12, 2010 at 8:39 pm Link

    The libertarianism of the late 70s and early 80s has almost nothing in common with the ideology now labeling itself “libertarian.” These days, it seems like “don’t tax me, bro'” sums everything up.

    Everyone lays claim to “freedom” but whatever opportunity we had for a common definition seems to be long gone.

  75. Bob R.
    November 12, 2010 at 9:12 pm Link

    I realize that my use of the word “convenient” may have been a bit too personal. Obviously, I can’t read the minds of O’Toole and the CATO gang. I hereby substitute “on inconsistent occasions” with “when it is convenient to do so.”

  76. jimkarlock
    November 12, 2010 at 9:15 pm Link

    Aren’t we getting a little heavy into the ad hominems here?

    Thanks
    JK

  77. Bob R.
    November 12, 2010 at 10:38 pm Link

    JK, you didn’t seem to mind touting O’Toole’s supposed beliefs as though they were true, and that comment was allowed to stand. Now you’re complaining that others disagree.

    And the subtext of your remarks was to demean the motivations of those who do not agree with O’Toole’s expressed viewpoints as somehow being anti-freedom.

    In any case, the thrust of my remarks was to point out O’Toole’s factual inconsistencies and the egregious (to borrow a recently popular word) error in publishing a critique of a piece he hadn’t read. That’s not ad hominem.

  78. EngineerScotty
    November 12, 2010 at 11:43 pm Link

    I would take Randall O’Toole’s “libertarian” claims more seriously if he took on the highway lobby with the same level of vociferousness as he does transit. Instead, however, O’Toole seems to be a fan of “road socialism”–using the specious justification that “because everyone drives and pays fuel taxes, it isn’t really subsidized”.

    While I have issues with John Charles at CPI, he seems to be more consistent in his approach to free-market philosophy, such as calling for congestion pricing on Portland’s roads and highways, in order to reduce the amount of general tax dollars which go to pouring concrete.

    One other thing about O’Toole; he isn’t particularly shy about throwing out ad hominem attacks. That doesn’t justify open season on him, or course, but undermining his credibility is certainly fair game.

    And as a general principle–I find libertarian attempts to claim for themselves the mantle of “freedom” and “liberty” to be patently obnoxious. While many libs like to assert that they are the heirs of Thoreau, there’s a big difference–Thoreau and other classical liberals viewed large private organizations (particularly big business in its various forms, but organized religion and labor also qualifies) as a threat to individual liberty, and viewed government regulation of these as an appropriate response; the modern libertarian seems to take the view that only the State is (by definition) capable of being an oppressor, and that big business and the like needs to be protected from it.

    And that goes doubly so for corporatists who ape libertarian dogma when it comes to economic and tax matters, but have little interest in other planks in the libertarian platform.

  79. AL M
    November 13, 2010 at 12:49 am Link

    O’Toole is “libertarian” in the same way that CATO is “libertarian” – occasionally intersecting Libertarian philosophy when it is convenient to do so.

    The libertarianism of the late 70s and early 80s has almost nothing in common with the ideology now labeling itself “libertarian.”

    And the subtext of your remarks was to demean the motivations of those who do not agree with O’Toole’s expressed viewpoints as somehow being anti-freedom.

    And as a general principle–I find libertarian attempts to claim for themselves the mantle of “freedom” and “liberty” to be patently obnoxious.

    W-O-R-D!
    Truthenize!

  80. jimkarlock
    November 13, 2010 at 3:59 am Link

    EngineerScotty Says: It appears that a right-wing blogger (OK, Randall O’Toole aka the “AntiPlanner”)
    Bob R. Says: O’Toole is “libertarian” in the same way that CATO is “libertarian” – occasionally intersecting Libertarian philosophy when it is convenient to do so.
    JK: O’Toole is a Cato fellow. Did you guys actually look at the Cato web site?
    * Is writing/publishing a paper about how well Drug Decriminalization works in Portugal, right wing?

    * Is writing/publishing papers titled “Deployed in the U.S.A.: The Creeping Militarization of the Home Front” and “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America,” right wing?

    * Is writing/publishing a paper title “”The Federal Marriage Amendment: Unnecessary, Anti-Federalist, and Anti-Democratic” right wing?

    Thanks
    JK

  81. jimkarlock
    November 13, 2010 at 4:07 am Link

    [Moderator: Duplicate comment removed — ES]

  82. AL M
    November 13, 2010 at 10:58 am Link

    I think that private for profit transit should not be prohibited by regulations protecting government subsidized transit.

    However, it should be apparent that the so called “free market” is not the panacea that some would have us believe. It is the mindless pursuit of profit that has caused so many US manufacturing jobs to leave this country.

    What Mr Karlock and company never seem to quite understand, is that tax subsidized transit provides mobility for people who otherwise could not afford or are not able to travel by any other means!

    Furthermore, this funding goes to citizens of the community by providing family wages and decent benefits! These citizens then use that money to purchase goods and services which in turn supports the free market enterprises in the community!

    Of all the government waste and boondoggles, I will never understand why Mr Karlock and company have this special animosity towards transit?

    [Moderator: Short section directly questioning the motives of JK and company removed. The rest of this comment is also a bit over the line but since so many previous comments have crossed that line in this thread, the rest of Al’s comment can stay. – Bob R.]

    Transit is one of the very few positive examples of how our tax money is spent, yet it causes so much animosity from these “think tanks”?

    I just don’t get it?

    What is the real reason for this special hatred these think tanks have for public transit?

    Not even welfare gets this sort of treatment from these people.

  83. Bob R.
    November 13, 2010 at 11:02 am Link

    JK, you’re conflating commenters. If you have a beef about the “right wing” characterization, that’s between you and Scotty.

    My point is that he’s not consistently Libertarian (and Scotty also demonstrated this), and although its great he wrote the papers you mention, that doesn’t excuse the sloppy scholarship (critiquing books he hadn’t read and getting it wrong) and turning a blind eye to automobile-subsidizing policies.

    O’Toole is a Cato fellow.

    Yes, I know that. That’s why I mentioned Cato.

    Speaking of ad hominems, you got the ball rolling when you called public employees members of an “elite class”.

    So relax and leave the moderating to us.

    Thanks.

  84. Bob R.
    November 13, 2010 at 11:11 am Link

    Speaking of leaving the moderating to us, now that Al has had his say (while I was writing my other comment), it’s time for some moderation:

    I’m declaring all further motivation-questioning in this thread, whether it be aimed at transit operators, public employees, CATO fellows, or other commenters, officially dead.

    And to JK and Steve (since this so often needs repeating): This is a pro-public transit, pro-planning blog. Occasional dissent is welcomed and this thread certainly encouraged such discussion but such repetitive diversions won’t be tolerated in every topic.

  85. AL M
    November 13, 2010 at 11:22 am Link

    It does seem like the same debate goes on and on and on and on and on and on……..

    Year after year after year…….

  86. EngineerScotty
    November 13, 2010 at 11:35 am Link

    Regarding O’Toole and “right wing”.

    First, the comment was a tongue-in-cheek reference to O’Toole’s put-down of Michael Anderson as a “left wing blogger” (not that Michael seems to object).

    Second, however, Libertarianism as it is practiced within the US finds itself in alliance with the political right far more than it does with the political left. While there are areas in which Randall O’Toole likely agrees with a writer such as Glenn Greenwald (a staunch pacifist and civil libertarian and a harsh critic of Obama, but a liberal on economic matters), what dominates the output of organizations such as Cato is economic issues–on which Libertarians invariably align with the political right. Why taxes and regulations (as opposed to civil rights and foreign policy) are the predominant focus of Cato and others is obvious: their funding sources, in many cases, aren’t Libertarians; instead, they are industrialists and financiers and the like trying to influence policy to their own advantage, and who seek to use appeals to liberty to make their agenda more palatable. (Hence we get to read reams of nonsense about how Americans are being denied the “freedom” to work for fifty cents per hour). There’s plenty of money interested in opposing financial reform, or health care reform, or even public transit; the number of dollars devoted to ending the war on drugs, or getting the US out of Afghanistan, or to restraining overzealous police departments and prosecutors, is far smaller.

    And this financially-driven alliance with conservatives seems to go beyond simple agreement on economic mattes. Last spring, Cato fired two staffers interested in expanding the scope of liberal-libertarian cooperation–essentially declaring the “liberaltarian” project dead. Many Libertarian writers act with great outrage when large coastal cities attempt to pass overly-intrusive health regulations (such as NYC’s trans-fat band, or the recently-vetoed “happy meal law” in San Francisco), but ignore the march of Christian-identity politics in much of rural America. I could go on.

    So, yes–“right wing”. Perhaps a case can be made that O’Toole is an exception, but the center of gravity for modern Libertarian thought in the US is squarely on the right-hand side of the political spectrum. It’s still remains a distinct philosophy from other branches of conservatism–many of which are more openly moralistic, corporatist, or bellicose in foreign policy–but so long as the primary dividing line between right and left is economic; it’s hard to categorize Libertarianism as anything but a right-wing philosophy.

  87. EngineerScotty
    November 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm Link

    Just a quick note–my last response was posted simultaneously with Bob’s. (Maybe this site should have a permanent “junk drawer” or similar honeypot thread, alongside the open thread, where debates on political philosophy can go).

    Back to the topic at hand…

  88. jimkarlock
    November 13, 2010 at 1:38 pm Link

    AL M Says: What Mr Karlock and company never seem to quite understand, is that tax subsidized transit provides mobility for people who otherwise could not afford or are not able to travel by any other means!
    JK: Now tell us what is the cost of providing this needed service to JUST THE NEEDY, including by means other than Trimet.

    AL M Says: Furthermore, this funding goes to citizens of the community by providing family wages and decent benefits!
    JK: Yep, $150,000 /yr fully loaded. This is a major issue when it is
    1) tax money and
    2) probably double or more the average wage in the area and
    3) is a skill than many have, or can easily learn and
    4) does not require 4-6 years of college.

    AL M Says: Of all the government waste and boondoggles, I will never understand why Mr Karlock and company have this special animosity towards transit?

    I just don’t get it?
    JK: See previous answer. Add in Trimet intentionally designing bus stops to block traffic. Add in Light rail taking travel lanes. Add in Trimet’s financial management (for comparison C-Tran is debt free – they own their buildings and buses without lease backs!) And don’t forget light rail which has no real transportation purpose and is far more costly than buses (but it is great as an excuse to give money to companies run by former Trimet CEOs and current board members.)

    AL M Says: What is the real reason for this special hatred these think tanks have for public transit?
    Not even welfare gets this sort of treatment from these people.
    JK: After welfare reform, welfare is now perceived as going mostly to the needy. Not so transit tax money. And, of course, $150,000 /yr fully loaded.

    Bob R: This is a pro-public transit, pro-planning blog
    JK:
    1) Is that only government operated transit (effectively pro-Trimet), or does it include privately operated transit ? Like jitneys and London’s private bus system under government contract.
    2) Does pro-planning include city planning by the transit agency (real-estate deals, TOD subsidies, etc., as opposed to transit route planning)?

    Thanks
    JK

  89. Bob R.
    November 13, 2010 at 1:51 pm Link

    JK, I’ve answered your questions along those lines (jitneys, planning) etc. dozens of times. Don’t waste my time.

    This is not your blog.

    End of discussion.

  90. AL M
    November 13, 2010 at 6:13 pm Link

    Jim Karlock:
    You do crack me up! LOL!!LOL!!
    Let’s have lunch some time!

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