Big and Expensive Green Ideas

11/1/2009: Harry Esteve has an article in the Oregonian today about how Governor Kulongoski bullied state analysts into low-balling their cost estimates for his green tax break schemes. It’s complete with careful documentation – obtained by public records requests – of spreadsheets with hand written “corrections”, emails about the need to lower the estimates to make the bill politically feasible, analysts quitting in disgust, other analysts getting promotde, etc. This story is a great example of why government doesn’t work without newspapers to blow the whistle and I hope Esteve gets a Pulitzer for it:

The official estimates turned out to be absurdly low. In 2007-09, the business tax credit cost the state $68 million, of which about $40 million can be attributed to the bigger subsidies. The latest estimate for 2009-11 puts the tab for subsidies at $167 million in lost revenue, which is projected to grow to $243 million for 2011-13 — about what Oregon spends now from its general fund on the entire state police budget.

The UO connection? (Aside from the fact these tax credits will be 3x what the state gives UO.) Provost Bean has been pushing his “Big Ideas” program, which is focused on environmental issues, because of the same pressure from Governor Kulongoski’s office which led to the scandal above. Just as these tax credits take away money that could have used for higher ed, UO’s Big Idea focus takes effort, money, and attention from other programs.

Part of the original motivation for the green ideas was that they would attract new money from the governor. That looks considerably less likely given this scandal, and we should reevaluate what Provost Bean’s Big Ideas will cost the rest of UO’s academic efforts.

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