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Sometimes We Just Have to Tell Government “No”

Sometimes We Just Have to Tell Government “No”

February 17, 2015

Throughout American history, citizens have given some limited power to government and then after government has abused those powers, citizens have had to return and place further limits on the original granted power.

The most notable example is the original United States Bill of Rights.

Washington state Sen. Don Senator Benton (R-Vancouver) has introduced Senate Bill 5189, which, if passed, would prohibit Washington governments from using eminent domain and then giving the property to a government agency of another state.

Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would need such a bill, but never underestimate the power creep of Big Government. Sometimes we just have to tell government "no".

Here is a little back story:

In 2013, C-TRAN (Clark County Public Transportation Benefit Area) and TriMet (Tri-county Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon) entered into an agreement for the operation and maintenance of the then-proposed Columbia River Crossing (CRC) light rail project. The agreement made TriMet the lead agency and subordinated the rights of C-TRAN, along with the rights of Washingtonians.

One of the most odious provisions in the agreement was the use of eminent domain. The agreement stipulated that under the direction of TriMet, C-TRAN could condemn any property it needed for the project needed and then hand it over to TriMet.

"C-TRAN shall use its eminent domain powers to acquire the required property interests. …. Thereafter, C-TRAN shall, upon request from TriMet, transfer ownership of such property interests to TriMet."

The agreement also has some teeth. It contains a $5,000,000 liquidated damages clause. If C-TRAN breaches any provision of the contract, it will cost them a bundle.

If all this isn't bad enough, consider the TriMet partner. While southwest Washington governments were rushing to jump into bed with TriMet, Oregonians were scampering from them. John Charles, president and CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute in Oregon, wrote a report that outlined why Oregon cities and counties should consider leaving TriMet. As of his report in 2014, six cities had already abandoned it: Molalla, Wilsonville, Sandy, Canby, Damascus and Boring.

Charles stopped just short of calling TriMet bankrupt, but might as well have. He uses TriMet's own data to demonstrate that on the current path, TriMet will have a "service crises" in 2017 and have a revenue/expenditure imbalance of $200 million in 2030.

TriMet is a classic ponzi scheme. It needs to continue expanding massively expensive construction projects to backfill its operating deficit. The CRC line was to have been its next big windfall, but the project was scuttled by the Washington Legislature in 2014.

The C-TRAN/TriMet agreement remains in place and some wishful thinkers still remain in TriMet hoping for a Hail Mary pass to reinvigorate the CRC project and their cherished light rail project.

Since neither C-TRAN or TriMet have agreed to mutually abandon their agreement, Benton is attempting to legislate out the worst provision.

The bill was heard today in the Law and Justice Committee. The Freedom Foundation provided the only testimony.

Resources

Bill of Rights

2013 TriMet / C-TRAN agreement

John Charles, Cascade Policy Institute

Why cities and counties should consider leaving TriMet