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PBOT must slash $16 million to balance budget

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 1st, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Transportaiton Safety Summit-22
PBOT Director Tom Miller says
"tough decisions" lie ahead
for his agency.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has projected $16 million in cuts to balance their 2012-2013 fiscal year budget.

As we reported earlier this month, the cuts are necessary due to a variety of local, regional, and national issues and Portland Mayor Sam Adams is asking all bureaus to do their parts to weather the storm.

In a statement issued today, PBOT said they've gotten even lower than expected gas tax receipt projections from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). State gas tax revenues are PBOT's single largest source of funding and they've been dwindling as people decide to drive less and drive more fuel-efficient cars.

"The Bureau of Transportation must make permanent, significant cuts to match expenditures to revenues," reads their statement. These cuts come after a decade of cuts at PBOT. Since 2002, they've cut $16 million and 83 staff positions from their discretionary budget (meaning funds that are separate from state and federal grants).

Here's PBOT Director Tom Miller via a statement just released:

"Today we are faced with two interrelated challenges. We must provide basic transportation services even as we make strategic choices about Portland’s transportation future. And we are forced to do it all with an ever-shrinking number of dollars."

We will no doubt see a vigorous public conversation begin about where and how to make these cuts. PBOT is already soliciting feedback via pbotbudget@portlandoregon.gov.

Investment that make bicycling more viable and attractive have the largest return for the City's dollar. Advocates and City staff themselves have been polishing that argument for years and it seems they'll have to continue to make that case in the months ahead.

As always, this will likely have a lot to do with politics and power. Stay tuned.

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Comments
  • Kathleen McDade November 1, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    I guess the good news is that people are driving less?

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  • Jeff Bernards November 1, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Gas taxes aren't keeping up because of less driving and fuel efficient vehicles, that's great news. The water bureau raised rates years ago, people conserved so they still had a budget shortfall, so they raised them again. It's simple raise the the gas tax, to get more money. It moves around 10-20 cents a week already, I personally would hardly notice it and would welcome it. Because we'd get still more of, less driving and more fuel efficient vehicles.

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  • Matt November 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Raise gas taxes. How do automobile registration fees fit into the equation? I'd pay more there as well.

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    • J_R November 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm

      ODOT's revenue sources are as follows:

      - Tax on motor fuels 19%
      - Weight mile taxes (paid by trucks) 12%
      - Vehicle and driver licenses and fees 12%
      - Bond proceeds (mostly from license/title fees) 21%

      You can find ODOT's budget at:

      http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/COMM/docs/BudgetBooklet_09-11.pdf?ga=t

      I object to paying any more in license fees than I'm paying now, but I support paying much higher gasoline taxes. Owning a car and keeping it in the garage (mostly) is not causing as much demand on the street system as USING the car.

      Yes to higher gasoline taxes at the state and federal levels. The federal tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. If it were adjusted for inflation it would be over 30 cents. If it were adjusted for the construction cost index it would be a few cents higher. That's what's causing the shortage for transportation agencies.

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      • Matt November 2, 2011 at 12:53 pm

        Agree. Thanks for the info.

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      • middle of the road guy November 2, 2011 at 4:06 pm

        Those costs would get passed along to the consumer.

        If anything, cyclists will be paying a higher effective tax rate than they do now. Pay for the gas you use now, and then have the increase passed on to you through other goods - you're paying the gas tax twice.

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    • Neighbor Gregg November 2, 2011 at 8:50 am

      GREAT!
      I agree.
      Let's raise gas taxes, license fees, etc.

      Let's raise them enough to cover this 16 million dollar short fall, the bicycle master plan, and enough left over to drop Trimet useage prices down to FREE.

      We'd have a LOT of money if we stopped the CRC Highway Expansion Project.

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      • was carless November 4, 2011 at 11:28 am

        FYI, Trimet's budget is around $1 billion a year. Thats a lot of gas tax. I'd also rather not have the bums circling the Trimet system for free like they used to (and their stinky cans).

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      • 9watts November 4, 2011 at 11:34 am

        Well put, Gregg!

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    • middle of the road guy November 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm

      Yeah, let's tax the poor more when federal Medicaid funding dwindles, too.

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  • Nick November 1, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    I emailed PBOT encouraging them to focus their funds on active transportation and make their cuts to projects which are automobile-centric.

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  • Randall S. November 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Raise parking rates downtown. Problem solved.

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    • Greg November 1, 2011 at 5:12 pm

      Raising parking rates downtown will lead to less travel/utilization of the downtown core. When rates rise, citizens will chose to do without. Lower utilization = Lower tax revenue.

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      • Natalie November 1, 2011 at 10:12 pm

        Meh, I don't really buy that. The only people I hear raising that as a consequence are people who either park downtown a lot and don't want to pay more, or downtown business owners who are generally opposed to anything that could potentially curb shoppers but don't actually have facts to back up their opposition to certain policies.

        I feel like this mentality echoes that which screams that taxing businesses kills jobs, when really these issues are a lot more complex and often related to psychological perceptions than raw numbers.

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        • L November 2, 2011 at 9:24 am

          I also don't see higher parking fees hindering people from parking downtown either. As an easy suggestion, why not get rid of the free evening parking? People going out at night in the Pearl are already going to spend $10 on a single cocktail; people going out in Old Town are going to spend the same when buying a drink for an amateur stripper on the public poles at Dirty. Why not collect a few dollars from every car downtown during these peak party hours?

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      • Randall S. November 2, 2011 at 7:52 am

        I don't buy it either, because it's not true. There isn't enough parking downtown as it is. Raising the parking prices won't suddenly leave empty spaces everywhere.

        Of course, this is coming from someone who already thinks that bicyclists should have to pay more than their fair share so that they can have safe roads (see the comment about bicycle registration).

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    • was carless November 4, 2011 at 11:29 am

      I'd like to see meters in SE & NW Portland. Otherwise, charging only downtown will give some people an excuse to avoid it altogether.

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  • Greg November 1, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I would like to see bike registration program. I would gladly pay $25-$50 every few years to register my bike to help pay for bike lanes, boxes and intersection safety improvements.

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    • gumby November 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm

      All of the bike registration programs I have heard of were abandoned because the administrative costs ate up most of the revenue and were difficult to enforce. Maybe instead, the share the road plate program could be expanded to include funds for active transportation. Currently, it only funds the BTA and Cycle Oregon http://oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV/vehicle/platenonprof.shtml
      Perhaps the PBOT could roll out a voluntary contribution program of their own.

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      • middle of the road guy November 2, 2011 at 3:29 pm

        So price it accordingly.

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    • tony November 1, 2011 at 7:06 pm

      I am sure that there's a way to make a donation.

      I'd be willing to pay a point of sale tax on new bikes, I'd maybe be willing to pay a personal "licensing" fee. I am not willing to pay 5 registration fees per year for my families bikes.

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      • Randall S. November 2, 2011 at 7:54 am

        How many times does this need debunked? Cyclists ALREADY pay for the roads, via taxes, licences, and the fact that most of us also own cars. In fact, we pay more than our fair share, since we still pay for the roads, but use and damage them less than motorists.

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        • Neighbor Gregg November 2, 2011 at 8:56 am

          Cyclists and pedestrians/ public transit users should not have to pay anymore than they do to move around.

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        • Oliver November 2, 2011 at 10:48 am

          You can repeat this like a mantra till your final breath and it will never sink in due to the ability by people of a certain political stripe to hold two conflicting ideas simultaneously without the cognitive dissonance experienced by those who possess a soul, I mean conscience.

          Like the ***insult deleted — Oliver, I do not appreciate name-calling. Thanks — JM*** whose wealth depends entirely on government contracts, yet demands that we (ahem HE) pay no taxes.

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        • middle of the road guy November 2, 2011 at 3:32 pm

          Randall, you are neglecting to include the investments made for bicycle infrastructure. These have costs, too.

          Also, if you are driving less, you are contributing less to roads since you are not purchasing as much fuel.

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    • Greg November 2, 2011 at 6:27 pm

      The city and the region are generally aiming to encourage non-car travel, as car travel has a higher marginal cost than other modes.
      Therefore, they are not interested in increasing restrictions and costs on a mode they want to encourage.

      The only people who really want a bike registration system are the ones who still mistakenly think that cyclists "don't pay their share".

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    • was carless November 4, 2011 at 11:30 am

      Screw you, I own 12 bikes!

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  • Rebecca November 1, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    1.) Congestion pricing in the downtown
    2.) Metered parking on the East side commercial corridors
    3.) Increase the gas tax to levels that reflect the actual price of the product - at least a dollar/gallon hike.
    4.) Hike the cost of speeding tickets and distracted driving citations.

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    • Randall S. November 2, 2011 at 7:55 am

      Now THIS I can get behind.

      Put a cop on the corner of 14th & Glisan giving out yapping on your cell phone and failure to stop for pedestrian tickets, and PBOT could cover the budget shortfall in an afternoon.

      Recommended Thumb up 8

      • L November 2, 2011 at 9:25 am

        Same for Broadway & Flanders.

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        • middle of the road guy November 2, 2011 at 3:32 pm

          And maybe one to dole out tickets for cyclists at Shaver and Miss.

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    • Dave Thomson November 2, 2011 at 9:25 am

      Strangely the Oregon legislature REDUCED most traffic fines in the last session on the claim that officers were reluctant to write citations because the fines were so high, and that lower fines would lead to more citations and more revenue.

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    • Hugh Johnson November 2, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      You are just targeting the poor with this.

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  • Opus the Poet November 1, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    PBOT needs to have a source of funding that is not dependent on cars and fuel usage (especially when more electric cars come online). As people shift their transportation from cars to bicycles and mass transit more and more funding will have to come from general funds, there really isn't any choice. Taxing bicycles directly has been shown to cost more than it raises, ditto with licenses for cyclists or registering bicycles. So that leaves property taxes, sales taxes (not sure if you have sales tax in OR), income taxes (we don't have income taxes in TX), taxes that don't depend on consumption to raise money (with the exception of the sales tax).

    Personally if there was a way to tax bicycles that would not cost more to collect than it brought in or exceed the value of the bicycle per year I would be in favor of that, but unless the tax could be collected through an already funded channel we are back to costing more than it collects.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Neighbor Gregg November 2, 2011 at 8:58 am

      Inheritance tax!

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    • Brian November 2, 2011 at 9:19 am

      Exactly. Simply because the structures used in the past (does someone have a link to the research behind this?) cost more than the taxes raised by bike licensing fees does not mean that charging bike license fees is a bad idea. Increase the efficacy of the licensing program, and use the funds directly for bike enhancements.

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      • neighbor November 2, 2011 at 9:42 am

        Nope. It's a bad idea.
        Why would we do ANYTHING that would stand in the way of people choosing to ride bikes, walk, or take transit?
        We need to remove obstacles, not make them.

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        • Brian November 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm

          Because it wouldn't. More $$ means better infrastructure means more riders means more $$ means better infrastructure. You get the idea. I'm not sure why people assume that a $5 a year fee would inhibit people from riding, especially if that $5 went directly to a better, and safer, riding experience.

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          • Neighbor Gregg November 2, 2011 at 1:17 pm

            Because ANY charges for cycling would be an obstacle.
            We have all of the money we need to cover the 16 million shortfall, and to build the 2030 bicycle master plan, and to make Trimet free for all... But we are using those monies for Highway Expansion Projects, and for other car-centric endeavors (Which cost a lot more)

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      • was carless November 4, 2011 at 11:36 am

        That is called a "regressive tax." Look it up. Hurts low-income people unnecessarily, not to mention - some people cycle because it is cheaper than driving. You want to make driving less expensive than cycling? Think about it.

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    • John Mulvey November 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm

      Get the funds from the GOP's market-based solution, Cap and Trade. (Wait, that was the GOP before they all went insane.)

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    • was carless November 4, 2011 at 11:34 am

      Congestion tolling on I-84, I-26 and I-5 during peak and congested hours. Say, $.50 per mile driven during these periods.

      So we have ~150,000 cars/day driving up/down I-5. Potential gross income would be $75,000/day, or $19 million/year (assuming 260 weekdays in a year).

      Problem solved! Even the Prius drivers have to pay! And it should "encourage" drivers to avoid freeways and use alternative transit. Note that this proposal was part of the original CRC recommendation.

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  • Bill November 1, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    make automobile drivers pay the actual expense of operating a vehicle! So, add more fees for registration and more on the gas tax. motorized vehicles have been subsidized for years in so many ways. for one, there is a cost to public health thats never added into the equation. I do drive a vehicle part time and I still feel that drivers dont pay their fair share even though a good portion of drivers think they are paying too much.

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    • meh November 2, 2011 at 6:22 am

      How about transit users paying the actual expense of using the system. So raise the prices to reflect the actual cost.

      I don't support subsidizing transit users, as much as I don't support subsidizing drivers.

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      • Neighbor Gregg November 2, 2011 at 9:00 am

        Really? Why?

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        • meh November 2, 2011 at 9:22 am

          Are you really asking that question?

          It's okay for the WES riders to pay $2.40 for a trip that costs $9, but somehow drivers have to pay the whole shot of their road use?

          Equity is equity. Pay for the services you use.

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          • Hugh Johnson November 2, 2011 at 9:37 am

            wow...finally some sanity on BikePortland

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          • neighbor November 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

            Is there a driver that pays for using the road? Drivers are the MOST subsidized of all road users.

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          • Case November 2, 2011 at 11:02 am

            A transit trip costs $9 per rider? That would mean it's ~$600 per run for a bus. The average run is ~2 hours, meaning a bus shift costs ~$2400 to run? I think I'd like to see some references on those numbers.

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          • meh November 2, 2011 at 1:10 pm

            The statement on $9/rider is for the WES, the gold plated turd that runs from Wilsonville to Beaverton.

            Here are the numbers as run by the Portland Tribune after the 1 year of WES running.

            http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story_2nd.php?story_id=126525029252660400

            I was wrong, at least based on their numbers it's over $18 per rider.

            I'm sure with the growth in ridership that number has dropped somewhat.

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          • meh November 2, 2011 at 1:17 pm

            Neigbor,

            You refuse to read.

            No where did I approve of subsidizing drivers.

            I'm pointing out that we are subsidizing Trimets obsession with rail.

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          • craig November 2, 2011 at 2:36 pm

            There is a case to be made for zero-fare--fully subsidized--public transit:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_public_transport

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          • middle of the road guy November 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm

            Look up what a public good is, please.

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          • meh November 2, 2011 at 6:55 pm

            And all road infrastructure is a public good. I want the fire department to get to every house. I want ambulances and police to be able to get to every house. I want an interstate system that allows an evacuation route from natural disaster, as well as to be used by the military for national defense.

            You can play this game all you want, but Trimet for the public good or not has wasted money on rail projects, cut back on bus routes and provides less public good every day they exist and keep up this push for more rail.

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          • was carless November 4, 2011 at 11:44 am

            The WES is a really screwy example.

            The MAX carries far more people and makes an operating profit: the averaged operating cost per rider on Max is only $1.52, even though they charge between us $2.05-$2.30 per trip.

            Even "frequent service" bus service costs ~$2.40 per rider. Most of the subsidy is on other things, such as paratransit, infrequent bus lines, retirement packages, etc.

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      • middle of the road guy November 2, 2011 at 3:46 pm

        This will only encourage the perception that drivers pay for infrastructure and cyclists don't.

        And not every transportation system is intended to be break even. Transit is a public good and has other societal values beyond revenue.

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    • middle of the road guy November 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm

      This will only encourage the perception that drivers pay for infrastructure and cyclists don't.

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  • Seriously? November 1, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Are you frickin' crazy? Who wants more taxes. Let's just spend the money more wisely.

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  • Joe November 1, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    The City definitely gets the most bang for the buck on active transportation improvements. I would support a property tax bond of some sort to pay for citywide sidewalk infill and bike infrastructure.

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  • John Mulvey November 1, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Can someone who knows about the PBOT budget explain what bike and ped projects come out of the general fund? Most (or all?) of the bike-specific projects I'm familiar with are from other sources.

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  • Jim Lee November 2, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Absolutely correct, Jonathan, this will have everything to do with politics and power.

    One aspect: does Michael Powell have enough clout to keep his two major funding and operational sources for Portland Streetcar, Inc., TriMet and PBOT, in line?

    As of now he does not seem to have enough funding to complete the eastside loop, let alone the line to Lake Oswego.

    Crunch time!

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  • Evan Manvel November 2, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Of course, despite dwindling funds, ODOT still finds the funds for boondoggles like the costly, risky CRC. They've spent $70 million of ODOT funds on it already (and about another million dollars every month). Just to put this money in perspective.

    It's time the City of Portland tells the OTC and ODOT (and the legislature and governor) stop pouring money into the fantasy highway project that won't get built, and to spend its money on cost-effective ways to improve safety, mobility, and transportation options.

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    • 9watts November 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm

      "They've spent $70 million of ODOT funds on it already (and about another million dollars every month)"
      Evan,
      can you say a bit more about this? Point us to a link or source for those figures? That is appalling. Thanks for pointing this out.

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    • was carless November 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm

      Wait. ODOT is spending money on the CRC, not PBOT. Those are 2 completely separate government entities - one at state level, the other is the city of Portland.

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  • peoples republic November 2, 2011 at 11:57 am

    16M in cuts.

    sniff, sniff, that's the smell of Idaho stop stings coming your way.

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  • John Mulvey November 2, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    It should be said, during any discussion of general fund shortfalls at the City, that the hundreds of millions of dollars diverted to urban renewal is a huge part of why existing revenues are insufficient. Urban renewal projects are always presented as if they cost no one anything --even by members of the City Council who should know better.

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  • Ryno Dan November 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    The "DOT"'s are the "vehicle" by which motor vehicle operators are fed their subsidy.
    Easy solution - terminate all road widenings and "safety" improvements.

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  • John Mulvey November 2, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Has there been a recent mass migration of Oregonian commenters to Bike Portland?

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  • Brian November 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    I don't disagree, but it is a bit naive to think that those car-centric projects are going away. We are still a minority in this representative democracy. We need to become a majority before we can wrangle those funds away. IMO, the most effective way to do that (and increase cyclist numbers) is to improve structures for us through revenue generated by us. I don't agree that a license fee is a barrier.

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    • Matt November 2, 2011 at 5:11 pm

      You should not have to pay to ride a bike. Kids ride bikes. Riding bikes is the goal here. A license fee IS a barrier. We all pay for things we don't use directly but benefit from indirectly. I don't use the Sellwood Bridge but I benefit from less traffic because others use it. I don't use elementary schools but I benefit from an educated younger generation. It's called living in a society. Motorists benefit from cycling projects because it reduces traffic congestion and makes driving easier for those who drive.

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  • Brian November 3, 2011 at 6:46 am

    When I suggest a license fee (we had one growing up in Wisconsin and it didn't seem to be a barrier for any of us, and I did not grow up in a wealthy family), I am not implying that we still would not receive additional funds from ODOT because we are a smaller user group. Also, a license program could take many forms. Age 16 and up, for example. I don't have the answers for the best way to make this work. I simple believe that a license fee is less of a barrier than a lack of separate bike facilities to get more people on bikes. I would like to see us generate additional, local funds that go directly to improving riding infrastructure for us.

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  • Jeff Bernards November 3, 2011 at 10:18 am

    I look at these comments and names, not one of these people have offered to volunteer for the Initiative Campaign to Ban Studded Tires, which will save us millions of dollars in unnecessary road repair. There isn't going to be a lot of new money, we need to use the resources we have more wisely. It's easy to sit in front of your computer and bitch how it should be, I suggest you contact http://www.preservingoregonsroads.org and volunteer to collect signatures, it's easy. I got 200 at the farmers market last Saturday, that was 3 hours. We need 80,000 signatures, it's a peoples initiative, that means you.
    Thanks
    Jeff Bernards

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