On May 17, WW reported on Gov. Kate Brown's plan to sell $5 billion in public assets to erase part of the state's $22 billion unfunded pension liability.
When she announced the plan, Brown made clear that her task force would look aggressively for ways to raise money, saying her task force "will examine state assets as well as the assets of other public employers that could be sold, bonded against or otherwise leveraged."
Brown said everything except state forests, prisons and parks is potentially for sale. That's a point her spokesman, Bryan Hockaday, reiterated this week, saying that with those few exceptions, Brown has given a task force "broad authority to look at every sizeable state asset to use in buying down the PERS unfunded liability."
WW reported that one of those "sizeable state assets" under consideration is TriMet, the regional transit authority that serves Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.
The transit agency pushed back Wednesday night, releasing the following statement on social media.
So, what's the truth?
First, the original story says "the state owns TriMet." That's an error. The original story has been corrected and now says "the state controls TriMet."
We stand by the core of the original reporting, however: Sources tell WW that the sale of some or all of TriMet is indeed on the table, as are many other prized assets.
TriMet spokewoman Roberta Altstadt and a lawyer for the agency, Eric Van Hagen, say they do not believe Brown has the authority to make such as sale and say that nobody on Brown's team has raised the issue with the agency.
The legalities of a potential sale of TriMet or any other asset remain unclear at this point because Brown hasn't even officially named her task force yet. (And as the story made clear, regardless of legality, selling TriMet would be politically difficult.)
But TriMet's claim that the agency is "much like a city or a county" is inaccurate.
Here are the facts:
*The Legislature created TriMet in 1969.
*TriMet gets 60 percent of its operating revenues from a payroll tax that is authorized and regulated by the Legislature.
*Most importantly, TriMet is governed by a seven-member board, each of whom is appointed by the the governor. TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane reports to that board and the board approves the agency's budget.
So the transit agency is substantially different from cities and counties, which set their own tax rates and report to independently elected officials, not to the governor.
Whether Brown can or will push for a sale of TriMet remains to be seen, but the agency's desire to be exempted from such considerations is wishful thinking.