Why the Oregonian Doesn't Get It: Missing the Big Story
Friday, the Oregonian stumbled onto the big story of why Portland’s style of government is not working, and true to form, the newspaper missed it. First, if you think your St Patrick's Day hangover is bad, wait till you see the hangover from the South Waterfront deal. The city still hasn't faced the true nightmare: We’ll be asked many times in the future for more money for this project, if these plans are going to be fully realized. It’s a case of, “Help us now, in exchange for promises we can’t keep, and then help us with those, too.” The tram budget gap is chump change compared to the rest of the budget shortfalls, and guess who they’re lining up to be the chumps?
So where is the big story? How did the Oregonian bury the lead here?
I believe it’s halfway through Friday’s piece about the tram deal when this paragraph shows up:
“While no additional cash would come from North Macadam Investors, the company would promise to pay the city if the property taxes didn't materialize. But with condos selling swiftly and land values rising, some commissioners said they don't feel the guarantees are worth much. But Williams disagrees. If the interest rates spike and the condo market tanks, he could be forced to give up his land to the Portland Development Commission.”
Did you notice what’s refreshing in that? There’s an actual reference to market factors here. See, with these commissioners, there is no real connection to the marketplace. When one of their plans goes wrong, they’re not driven out of business. They just merrily move onto the next boondoggle. Do you see how the commissioners react to the warning of a downturn? Not with the fear of a businessman worrying about all contingencies, but with the relaxed confidence of someone who can’t lose.
That’s what’s wrong with city government in Portland. You have a bunch of politicians making decisions about private businesses but they don’t face any business consequences. The marketplace does not apply to them, so they are free to inflict their visions, no matter how awful they turn out to be. Meanwhile the Oregonian thinks the basic city-business partnership model works. This current drama in South Waterfrnot is just an abberation from a winning style. Do you know why the Oregonian can afford to think that? They don't face the consequences of these bad ideas, either. This tram story has been nothing but gold for them. It's good copy and there's no competing daily to challenge their version of reality.
Wait, it gets worse: Not only is the city council unaffected if some terrible financial idea like PGE Park blows up on them, but their intrusion into the marketplace is actively distorting true business realities and hurting everyone else. Shouldn’t hospitals compete without the government siding with one of them, on a massive level? Maybe a more worthy effort could have thrived without the unfair competition. That’s the big story of what’s wrong with Portland. We’ve got commissioners playing in the sandbox of the marketplace, and when they do something wrong, we’re the ones who have to stay after school. That is, if the school hasn’t already been shut down.