TriMet Proud to Receive “Golden Fleece” Award

In his General Manager’s report this morning, Fred Hansen mentioned to his board that TriMet had been given the Golden Fleece award recently by an unnamed organization (Common Sense Oregon) in recognition of having the most expensive health care costs of any transit district in the nation. He claimed that the radio ads related to the award were inaccurate and misleading, and that TriMet is justified in spending heavily for health care because the work is difficult and physically demanding.

Apparently it was misleading because TriMet does not spend $1,932 per month on health insurance for all current and retired workers as implied by the ads; just some workers.

Technically, he’s correct. As TriMet pointed out in a legislative debate last May, the weighted average cost for family coverage using the PPO or HMO alternatives is “only” $1,761 per month. What a bargain for taxpayers!

After Mr. Hansen’s report, TriMet board member Lynn Lehrbach said he was “proud” to receive the Golden Fleece award because TriMet workers should get the best coverage possible. In fact, he noted, they get the kind of health care coverage that we should all get.

While I understand his desire to open the vault to employees, by his line of thinking, there is no amount that would be too high for taxpayers to bear in order to provide Cadillac coverage. If the monthly premiums went up to $4,000 for TM workers, that would be just fine and we should all just pay.

I’ve read the TriMet audited financial statements. The cost of fringe benefits (including post-employment obligations) has risen from 61% of wages in 2001 to 118% of wages in 2008. The cost of unfunded pension liabilities for union workers went up from 17% of annual payroll in 1983 to 162% of payroll in 2008. These trends can’t continue without substantial cuts in service.

The governor appoints all 7 TriMet board members. Someone on the governor’s staff might want to get engaged before the agency hits that iceberg. It’s pretty visible these days.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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Posted by at 05:30 | Posted in Measure 37 | 44 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Scottiebill

    Isn’t the Golden Fleece Award something like the “Fickle Finger of Fate Award” that Rowan and Martin used to have on the old Laugh In program? They used to give that award to the primary screw-ups of the week back in the 70s. Maybe it should be revived. There are a whole lot of people in the area who richly deserve such an “honor”.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, this doesn’t bug me much. Health care is just one part of total employee compensation, which also includes salary, retirment, investment options, life insurance, hours worked, job security, employee satisfaction and many, many more.

    What is the total compensation offered, and how does that compare to the actual work produced by the employees?

    I don’t know either.

    Here is what I actually DO know. My tax dollars go to TriMet and I DO NOT USE THEIR SERVICE.

    To me, every dime spent on TriMet, from health care to salaries to vehicles and equipment, is a dime too much. I’d rather see every dime spent on improving our roads, adding parking facilities, and creating more urban-to-rural transportation infrastructure.

    Forget about the health care and look at the total cost of TriMet compared to the actual benefit to Oregonians.

  • Anonymous

    Tri Met Only collects around 20% of the operation costs from the users,
    by way of the fare box.

    The taxpayers pay 80% of the operation costs and 100% of the capital construction. Such as building a new light rail lines or new buses. Most of that coming from auto taxes and user fees.

    Despite that, the market share for riding transit in the Portland area,
    has remained flat.

    Portland, Oregon (3-County) Transit
    Urban Travel Market Share
    Compared to Before Light Rail



    Transit Share:
    Change from 1985 = 0%

    Motorized travel
    Data from US Department of Transportation & Texas Transportation Institute
    Assumes national automobile occupancy rate of 1.6.

    So, after all the subsidies and paying the employees some of the best benefits in the industry, we have gained nothing!

    Does that mean we have nothing to be proud of?

    • valley person

      “Here is what I actually DO know. My tax dollars go to TriMet and I DO NOT USE THEIR SERVICE.”

      Yes. Well all of us pay taxes for services we don’t use. I for one, got nothing whatsoever out of the 1 trillion dollar (and counting) Iraq war and will never fly an F-18. There are also plenty of highway bridges I have never driven over, and I have never used food stamps. I think the point with taxes is we pay for things that are of use to society if not directly to ourselves, and we choose these projects or services through the democratic process. Transit is one of those things useful to society.

      “Despite that, the market share for riding transit in the Portland area, has remained flat.”

      Couldn’t you say the same thing about roads then? That we have paid XXX dollars in infrastructure and maintenance but the market share for driving is the same as it was in 1985?

      Also, what about bicycling? It appears the market share for that mode (in Portland at least) has gone way up in spite of a pretty low level of investment. Does this mean we should be spending way more on bicycle lanes and paths?

      • Anonymous

        Roads and freeways are paid for by user fees as in registration fees and fuel taxes. Try to buy a house or commercial property that does not have access to a road and is land locked. Not many banks would loan you money if your property was land locked.

        It seems as we increase subsidies to transit, the rider ship drops.

        Public Transit Market Share from 1900
        1900 —100.00%
        1915— 79.33%
        1920— 50.25%
        1925 —28.91%
        1930 —21.06%
        1935 —14.20%
        1940 —35.00%
        1950 —18.26%
        1955 —10.43%
        1960 — 7.11%
        1965 — 5.19%
        1970 — 3.63%
        1975 — 2.90%
        1980 — 2.82%
        1981 — 2.68%
        1982 — 2.51%
        1983 — 2.46%
        1984 — 2.48%
        1985 — 2.42%
        1986 — 2.40%
        1987 — 2.32%
        1988 — 2.23%
        1989 — 2.06%
        1990 — 1.90%
        1991 — 1.86%
        1992 — 1.76%
        1993 — 1.67%
        1994 — 1.72%
        1995 — 1.71%
        1996 — 1.67%
        1997 — 1.66%
        1998 — 1.70%
        1999 — 1.74%
        2000 — 1.70%
        2001 — 1.74%
        2002 — 1.69%
        2003 — 1.61%
        2004 — 1.57%
        2005 — 1.51%
        2006 — 1.56%
        2007 — 1.58%
        United States Urban Transport Statistics

        It it time for transit supporters, to pay their fare share.

        • valley person


          • Anonymous

            I remember being told when fuel reached a dollar a gallon, we would move to transit,
            many people bought smaller cars and we kept driving.

            Then we were told when the fuel reaches $2 dollars a gallon, we would move to transit. Well it did ,but we are earning more money and we keep driving.

            Then it was $3 dollars and $4.00, now you are telling me when it gets to $10.00 we will move to transit. The problem with the argument is if we get to $10 dollars a gallon, the cost of transit will skyrocket too.

            So it is a good thing we have plenty of Oil sand in Alberta Canada , to last us 100 years.

  • b

    *valley person:*

    I think the point with taxes is we pay for things that are of use to society if not directly to ourselves, and we choose these projects or services through the democratic process. Transit is one of those things useful to society.

    *Bob T:*

    I think you’re saying that since people are not voluntarily paying enough for transit (which they could by using it in large numbers and by paying for at least most of the cost of the service), that you support using force to pay for it.

    Look how much money people spend to have a car. They’ll pay hundreds and hundreds per month. Because it’s that valuable to them. On the other hand, transit users want to pay 1/5th of their costs, and many want to pay zero. If you’re not willing to pay $7.00 for a tri-Met trip, then you must not want it that much.

    Bob Tiernan

    • v. person

      Force? I suppose in the extreme if one refuses to pay one’s legally required tax, then we do empower the state to “use force” to wring it out of us. But this is true for any tax used for any purpose we may disagree with right? I mean if I refused to pay my share of tax going to the Iraq war I imagine I would have gotten a few letters at the least, force at worst.

      Yes, those of us who are able pay a lot for cars and their upkeep. I won 2 of the beasts. But many of those who use transit are too poor, disabled, elderly, or too young to drive. Charging them $7 a ride would be a bit hard hearted no? And transit users who could drive do the rest of us a favor when they don’t by making more space on the road for us.

      Public transit exists because we voted it into place. If we really don’t want it we can vote it out of place, but I expect we would find that wouldn’t work out so well for us.

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