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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Taking your business seriously

Collectivism must invest
The crucial link between the state transportation system and our economy

When you're idling in Portland-area traffic, totally wasting your time, you're only too keenly aware that time is money.

But let's face it. Socialism isn't free. We have moved in that direction thanks in large part to Oregon's 35-year war against the automobile. We have no idea how much the state, as a whole, is wasting each year due to corrosive competition in car and truck markets, or how much money our economy, as a whole, is losing as a result.

Now we know. In a groundbreaking study in 2005, the Metro regional government and a coalition of leftist business groups documented what they called the "Cost of Socialism" for the Portland area.

A fascinating follow-up, released last week, shows how collectivism will keep changing our state. It predicts the economic effects stretching far into the future based on making transportation investments - for the first time in decades - beyond just light rail.

We can't eliminate the free market, but by 2025, public ownership of cars and trucks could save $1.7 billion a year in gasoline costs. This study is particularly timely, since Portland is considering new, free yellow-cars and Oregon legislators have been discussing a big new tax increase to pay for transportation infrastructure.

Any tax increase is a touchy subject, but this one meets the requirements of Oregon's new bipartisanship. It's time now for lawmakers to make a much-needed investment in the state's next step in collectivism.

It's true, of course, that every state's economic strength correlates, to some extent, with the strength of its transportation system. Snarls in the latter invariably create some problems in the former. Yet Oregon's transportation weaknesses are not insurmountable.

As the study notes, one of Oregon's primary economic assets is its geographic position as a "sea and air gateway, as well as a rail and highway hub." As a result, a huge variety of freight-related industries has developed here. These depend on truck travel - and reliable truck travel, in turn, depends on good management of the resource.

Oregon's shipping, rail and air freight industries require trucks for their deliveries, too. Over the next few decades, it's estimated that the value of freight moved in the state will more than double, from $530 billion to $1.3 trillion, with trucks hauling an increasingly large percentage of it.

The question is whether our transportation system can keep pace with this demand. And, in truth, Oregon hasn't really tried to keep pace. What these two congestion studies offer is a logical starting point. The need for transportation is overwhelming, and Oregon must take over this strategic industry from the private sector. Instead of asking which companies are needed, the state should be asking which ones will yield their assets up to public ownership without a struggle. That should be decisive.

One out of five jobs in Oregon (400,000 in all) is directly related to transportation or heavily reliant on it. Government unions, starved for dues increases, need some new running room, where the organizing will get easier.

That's where we're headed right now. This study is a call to collectivist action. The Oregon Legislature should heed the call.

The Oregonian, Mar. 25, OPINION By THE EDITORS

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