Reckless spending is such a way of life in Oregon politics that it is truly noteworthy when a wasteful project is terminated. Such is the case with the proposed Oregon Sustainability Center, a green building Taj Mahal that was pushed for the last four years by Portland State University and the City of Portland. Commentary by John A. Charles, Jr. of Cascade Policy Institute.
The building was originally envisioned to have 13 floors at a cost of $121 million, but went through steady downsizing as political reality set in. When Portland Mayor Sam Adams finally threw in the towel last week, the project had been whittled to seven floors for $62 million, but the basic problem remained: The finance model was unsustainable.
Project backers had always assumed that the Oregon legislature would provide the necessary subsidies; but during the 2011 legislative session, House Republicans withheld all support, and they were joined by influential Senator Betsy Johnson, a Democrat. By early 2012 it was clear that state subsidies would not be forthcoming.
Proponents claimed the building would have been a hub for innovation in green building design, but that was never a valid reason to build it. Such research is highly speculative and only should be financed by private investors. The proper role of government is to encourage innovation through low tax rates, minimal regulation, and enforcement of property rights.
*Cascade Policy Institute consistently opposed the Oregon Sustainability Center throughout its planning process. See John Charles’s March 2010 guest column published in Portland Business Journal, explaining why the Sustainability Center has never been sustainable.
John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.