Charlie Hales is part of a nationwide "conspiracy" to con city planners into building streetcar lines—or at least that's what a libertarian think tank claims.

A new Cato Institute report, "The Great Streetcar Conspiracy," accuses light-rail proponents of exaggerating the economic benefits of streetcars to ensure government funding.

Randal O'Toole, the Cato fellow who wrote the report, singles out Portland and Hales for special criticism.

"Downtown Portland's revitalization owes more to the microbrewery revolution, which started in Portland in 1980, than to mass transit," he writes.

Hales has portrayed his role in advocating streetcars nationally as a strength during his campaign, saying it brought national attention and acclaim to Portland. But O'Toole attacks him for it, saying he inflated his accounts of the streetcar's economic benefits while working for HDR Inc., a streetcar consulting company.

In that job he persuaded Atlanta, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Tucson, and several other cities to apply for federal grants to build streetcars as an economic development tool, using Portland as an example. “The $55 million streetcar line has sparked more than $1.5 billion (and growing) in new development,” claimed Hales in 2006, without mentioning the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of other subsidies, all of which he voted for and some of which he himself proposed to supplement the streetcar line.

The report also criticizes Oregon's congressional delegation, in particular U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio (both D-Ore.), for what it calls "arm-twisting" Congress.

The report is the latest blast against public transit from O'Toole, originally from Portland. He is known for his criticism of public transit and Portland in particular, and previous reports have titles like "Debunking Portland: The City that Doesn't Work" and "A Desire Named Streetcar."

Proponents of light rail have questioned O'Toole's findings on previous reports, saying he has misinterpreted and misrepresented facts. In 2007, a Florida Law professor released a report of his own attacking O'Toole.