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Local Opinion.

Byline: Bonny Bettman and Peter Sorenson For The Register-Guard

Read my lips!

Some people will say anything to win an election. And some of us, of a certain age, remember former President George H.W. Bush's famous sound bite, "Read my lips: No new taxes," a promise that was infamously broken after winning the election.

The proposed Urban Renewal Plan amendments in Measure 20-134 that Eugeneans are voting on in the Nov. 6 election would increase the spending limit by $40 million to $73 million, and extend the ending date to 2030.

According to required financial disclosures, the revenue impact of the increased spending will be funded by reducing revenue to the following government agencies: the Eugene School District, the Lane Education Service District, Lane Community College, the city of Eugene and Lane County. Their losses would total $87 million over the extended life of the plan if this measure is not defeated.

Where will schools and governments get the money to replace such significant losses? From you, the taxpayer, of course. There are numerous, and all too familiar, ways government agencies try to replace lost revenue, such as gas taxes, public safety and other income taxes, business licensing fees, operating levies, bond measures, education fund raising, or new and increased fees. When those attempts fail, essential services such as public health and safety are cut, and classrooms become standing room only.

Even the city of Eugene's financial staff has documented that Measure 20-134 can cause taxes to increase. So when 20-134 supporters claim "no new taxes," remember - they want to win the election, at all costs.

Every child left behind

Urban renewal spending hurts schools locally and statewide.

This proposal would take $29.8 million from the Eugene School District, $3.9 million from Lane Community College, and $1.4 million from the Lane Education Service District.

If Measure 20-134 is not defeated, local school levies and bond measures would have a portion of their revenue siphoned off and diverted into urban renewal accounts to finance private development in the Urban Renewal District.

In the 2006-07 budget year, the State School Fund lost revenue totaling $153.4 million to urban renewal districts. The deficit was partially plugged two ways: first, by decreasing the per-student state allocation for every student in Oregon; second, by pulling money into the State School Fund from your state income taxes.

If the State School Fund had the $153.4 million lost to urban renewal injust2006-07 (the deficit increased 7 percent in 2007-08), the fund could have provided at least $234 more per student statewide.

Eugene's Downtown Urban Renewal District hurts every student in the state. Conversely, every other urban renewal district in Oregon reduces Eugene's per-student funding.

The mother of all slush funds

Originally, urban renewal districts were intended as short-term and focused investments in "blighted" areas. When a district ended, targeted properties would go back on the tax rolls at an increased value and ultimately provide more tax revenue to the city, county and schools. However, the district must end to achieve the intended benefit.

The Eugene district has been repeatedly extended since 1968. It was to have ended in December 2009, when the library gets paid off. Just three years ago, a majority on the Eugene City Council voted to extend the expiration date to 2024 - and now the council majority wants to prolong the diversion of your tax dollars, yet again, to 2030. Most of us will be in heaven or nursing homes by the time it ends, if it ever does

Urban renewal has become nothing more than apermanentdiversion of tax dollars - a diversion that automatically reprioritizes private developers ahead of schools and essential government services. Over the extended life of the proposed plan city services lose $44 million, and Lane County loses more than $8 million.

What could be worse? Amendments to the Urban Renewal Plando not requirea vote of the people. It usually takes only a simple council majority of five votes to amend the plan. The only reason Eugene citizens are voting on this $40 million increase and this deadline extension is because Gavin McComas, owner of Sundance Natural Foods, filed a referendum to put it on the ballot. Both amendments were already approved by the council, and then it was forced onto the ballot.

If this measure is not defeated by voters, the City Council can, and will, come back again and again for more money and more extensions, and the council does not have to ask permission from voters.

Are you aware that city officials originally requested a $95 million spending increase (for $128 million total)? That is an admission that the proposed increase of $40 million (for $73 million total) is, ultimately, not all the money that city officials want. A shocking $10 million of the proposed $40 million increase gets funneled into the city bureaucracy for administrative expenses.

Wait, there's more! The $40 million spending limit on the ballot doesnotinclude all costs for the West Broadway Project. There are at least $29 million in additional cash, tax breaks and subsidies going to this project. That is over $69 million focused on one development proposal covering only 5.2 acres of the entire 70 acre Urban Renewal District. That $29 million in additional resources is available right now for downtown revitalization - without a $40 million spending increase.

Housing, housing, housing

Twenty-five businesses are in the footprint of the district, many scheduled for demolition. Just when downtown is beginning to recover from the last round of scorched earth policy wrought by urban "renewal," city officials want to tear it all down again.

A smarter choice would be to leverage incremental and affordable investments, cultivating entrepreneurship and attracting a critical mass of people to downtown with a diversity of housing opportunities.

Housing is what creates density downtown. Housing is marketable, and less risky than retail. Dense housing in the urban core prevents sprawl and preserves farm and forest land. The West Broadway project provides only 200 housing units and 96 hotel rooms. We can have 106 units of housing with no spending increase. Hugh Prichard, a local commercial real estate broker, informed the City Council that 6,000 units should be our housing target for downtown, but this proposal is predominately retail-focused.

Please don't be fooled by threats that this $69 million-plus project is the only, and last, hope for downtown. When Measure 20-134 is defeated, there are still options, and substantial resources, to pursue downtown revitalization.

One great project, rejected by the City Council in favor of the "big bang" theory of urban renewal, is a viable and noncontroversial project that develops both the Aster and Sears pits; builds dense housing; and reclaims the Center Court and Washburne buildings - all without the proposed $40 million spending increase. That project could have been half built by now. Let's move on these projects the first thing Wednesday morning on Nov. 7 after Measure 20-134 has been defeated.

It's downright un-American!

The hidden cost of this proposal is unfair competition.

The official description of the West Broadway project has been submitted to the federal government. The project's components are specific and predetermined. This proposal includes publicly subsidized corporate retail chain stores, a 12-screen multiplex cinema, a 55,000-square foot chain grocery store, a $16 million parking garage, a 96-room boutique hotel and restaurant, offices and minimal housing. Corporate retail, multiplexes, grocery chains, etc., have every right to locate in our community. They do not have any right to drain taxpayer dollars - dollars that are meant for the services we care about - to boost their bottom lines. Oakway Mall was redeveloped with no taxpayer subsidy.

Isn't America supposed to have a free market economy? Local businesses pay taxes and accept competition as a cost of doing business.

The excessive subsidies provided by Measure 20-134 would put local businesses at an unfair competitive disadvantage. West Broadway developers are requiring the city guarantee them a 13 percent profit. Local businesses deserve a level playing field!

Vote to spend your tax dollars responsibly, and to revitalize downtown sensibly, Votenoon 20-134. For additional information go to
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Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 21, 2007
Previous Article:Mafia on the wane, maybe.

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