Mostly we're examining the current round of ConnectOregon, a $42 million expenditure for multi-model transportation projects. Some of what we've found is great: a way to get bikers and pedestrians in Tualatin from one side of I-5 to the other without crossing seven lanes of on and off ramps, for example, is critically needed. But we've also found several projects that squander the public purse, including $7 million in giveaways to help move coal and oil through Oregon. Really? We're GIVING away tax money for this? You can bet we notified the environmental community and the press about this outrage!
ConnectOregon is designed to accomplish important things; we have no doubt about that. But it's supposed to be a loan and grant program, yet there are never any loans. Instead, the program passes out gifts averaging $1.5 million to private businesses, ports, airports, rails and cities, even when loans would be more appropriate. The program certainly "reduces business costs," as David's analysis of the White's Hauling application shows. But, when did "reducing business costs" become a key goal of state government?
Building common-use infrastructure is clearly something government does best. But shouldn't users of that infrastructure pay most of the bill? Road users do [not actually true! but a widely held myth] why not port, train or airport users?
The airport applications are the most outrageous. Most ask to use state taxpayer dollars to match federal taxpayer dollars, with zero from the airport users, who are mostly private businesses and individuals who own planes.
Obviously, money spent on ConnectOregon is money not available for drug treatment, 2nd grade classrooms, state troopers, or tuition grants. Thirty seven projects are up for approval, with a public hearing in Salem on July 17th. We need to be ready to testify.
We're looking for help reading and analyzing these grant applications.