Portland: politically correct trumps job creation

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

Do you ever read Steve Duin in the Oregonian? I do, regularly. I doubt that there are a handful of political things upon which Mr. Duin and I might agree, but he is an articulate spokesman for the left. Even more important, Mr. Duin regularly strives to present the rational side of liberalism rather than simply the personal attacks favored by most liberal sycophants.

So it was with considerable interest that I read Mr. Duin’s editorial condemnation of the failed promise of Siltronic to expand and build its silicon wafer plant to supply solar panels along the river in Portland. Mr. Duin explained:

“Once upon a time — call it 2009 — Siltronic informed the Portland Development Commission that it was painfully close to a $1.1 billion expansion that might bring 2,000 new jobs to our fair city.

“Siltronic officials were rather vague beyond that but very specific about this: The German company — which manufactures silicon wafers on the banks of the Willamette — could not afford to be boxed in by those annoying environmental restrictions in the city’s River Plan.  

“Former Mayor Sam Adams and the City Council caved, of course, as the city so often does when job creation is blowing in the breeze.

“That phantom expansion? The new wafer plant, and all those jobs, went to Singapore in a joint venture with Samsung.

“Last March, Siltronic shut down one of its wafer lines, eliminating another 350 local jobs.”

I agree with Mr. Duin but probably not for the same reasons. Mr. Duin’s condemnation centered on what he perceived to be local politicians sacrificing environmental concerns as a sop to job creation.

“Heck, everyone has turned into an economic development engine … because everyone knows you can sell anything — to city, county and Legislature — if you promise jobs are in the works.”

Mr. Duin also cites the Columbia River Crossing (Portland’s controversial multi-billion dollar replacement of the I-5 Bridge over the Columbia River) and the expansion of the Port of Portland on Hayden Island. In both instances there is significant environmental opposition that is being ignored by the very politicians that the environmentalists helped to elect. Normally I would mutter something about the chickens coming home to roost and move on to something else but there is a far more serious issue here upon which Mr. Duin has touched but not clarified.

This is not just about “job creation” being the Portland area politicians’ rationale for ignoring their own mandates. If that were so then we would have seen these same politicians moving heaven and earth to ensure the construction of the LPG facility and the facilities necessary to capture the increased movement of coal from Montana and Wyoming to the West Coast for shipment to China, Japan and South Korea. But the Portland area politicians have not only not moved heaven and earth to secure these massive job creators, they have been in marked opposition.

No, the real issue is the politicians ignoring their own mandates when a larger politically correct item intercedes. Portland’s political elites (all uber liberals, all the time) have partaken of the Kool-aid of “green energy. When Siltronic came courting they practically wet themselves at the opportunity to demonstrate their claim to be at the epicenter of “alternative energy.” The promise of “job creation” was just icing on the cake – an opportunity to proclaim an otherwise economically unsustainable venture as being “good for the economy.” They did the same for the Music Men of wind energy – all of which will fail the moment Oregon state government and the federal government stop subsidizing their windmills. Of course not a one of these politicians have invested a dime of their own money but they are more than willing to throw millions of taxpayer dollars without any regard as to economic viability.

The same can be said about the Columbia River Crossing. Literally tens of millions of dollars have been spent studying the construction of a new bridge for the passage of I-5 over the Columbia River. But the millions haven’t been spent to focus on the need to add additional lanes of traffic rather they have been spent on ensuring any design includes the transit of light rail from Portland into Vancouver. Portland has become the national showcase for light rail systems despite their crippling operational and maintenance costs. There is not a single light rail system in Portland that is economically sustainable – in fact none would have been built without massive federal subsidies. The same Portland political elites who love “green energy” worship light rail and are hell bent on imposing their utopian vision of public transportation on the residents of the much smaller Vancouver, Washington, despite their decades old adamant opposition. Again, the job creation is just a collateral benefit to the underlying rationale of light rail everywhere for everyone. Add to that these same politicians insistence that bike lanes play a prominent role in the construction and you have another politically correct adventure paid for by someone other than those who enjoy its benefits.

Mr. Duin is right to criticize these projects and he is probably right that environmental concerns should not be ignored in the process of the decisions on these projects. But it isn’t just job creation that is the driver here. This is wholesale abandonment of critical analysis in favor of promoting a politically correct agenda. Had anyone in the Portland government class reasonably examined these proposals – solar energy, wind energy, light rail – they would have sounded alarms about the true cost to taxpayers over time and the likelihood of failure without ongoing taxpayer support. But don’t expect any change soon. The left is in charge in Portland and so long as there is anyone left to pay taxes, they will continue to ignore reality in favor of a politically correct agenda.