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Council sends gas tax to ballot behind wide range of supporters

Posted by on January 28th, 2016 at 10:42 am

Marion Haynes with the Portland Business Alliance
offered conditional support.
(Photos from City Council live feed)

Advocates of a 10-cent local gas tax joined up to form quite a list of endorsers Wednesday for a midafternoon hearing at Portland City Council. Council heard a presentation and testimony about the idea ahead of adopting a resolution to send the tax to the ballot.

“I feel like a possum on I-5 during rush hour right now,” said Paul Romain, a lobbyist for Oregon gas retailers who was one of only two people to speak clearly against the measure.

Offering support was everyone from a freight advocate to a business advocate to an environmental justice advocate from East Portland to a frequent City Hall testifier who goes by the name of “Lightning.” While almost everyone seemed to like the idea, a close look at their testimony reveals mixed feelings that could offer clues to future debates.

“It’s not every day that we have a panel that has the diversity of views that have come in before us,” said Commissioner Nick Fish, who cast one of the council’s five unanimous votes in favor of sending the $16 million annual tax to Portland voters on the May 17 ballot.

“We want to make sure that vehicle road capacity is not impacted as a part of this.”
— Molly Haynes, Portland Business Alliance

Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, whose office pulled the various interests to agree on this concept over the last year, was another of the five votes. He said the city estimated that 54 percent of the revenue would go toward projects mostly associated with road maintenance and 46 percent toward projects mostly associated with road safety.

Here’s the list of people who testified in favor Wednesday (as well as I’ve been able to assemble it):

Fiona Yau-Luu, Oregon Walks
Kari Schlosshauer, Safe Routes to School National Partnership
Kristi Finney-Dunn, Families for Safe Streets
Mychal Tetteh, Community Cycling Center
Marion Haynes, Portland Business Alliance
Andy Shaw, City Club of Portland
Leah Benson, Gladys Bikes
Rebecca Hamilton, Pedestrian Advisory Committee
Gerik Kransky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance
Chris Smith, Portland Planning Commission
Matthew Mičetić, Red Castle Games
Amy Subach, Vision Zero USA
Ophelia Miracle, Grant High School student
Vivian Satterfield, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon
Corky Collier, Columbia Corridor Association
Chris Rall, Transportation for America
Ruthann Bennett, Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (city workers)
Charles Johnson, Oregonians for Food and Shelter and Compassionate Wisdom
Chau Phan Mende, parent of student at Robert Gray Middle School
Kem Marks, East Portland resident
Hau Hagedorn, North Portland resident
Craig Rogers

Here’s a list of people who opposed it:

Paul Romain, Oregon Fuel Association
Terry Parker, Northeast Portland resident

Many of those who said they were in favor offered conditions. For example, Mychal Tetteh, executive director of the Community Cycling Center, was one of several who said he was taking the city at its word that it would spend the next four years working on a more progressive way to pay for streets.

The regressive nature of the mechanism adds to a long list of transportation fees and taxes and fails to protect our lower-income households from higher transportation costs, much less divides the revenue more fairly between residents and businesses. Thankfully, the projects listed in the proposal steer revenue to the areas of the city that have long been neglected and unsafe. However, these projects alone do not solve the existing structural challenges either in the way the Bureau of Transportation allocates existing funds or determines overall transportation policies. During the regressive nature of the temporary tax on gas, our support of this effort is conditioned on the city and PBOT’s commitment to identify and pursue less regressive future funding sources and an ongoing commitment to increase transportation improvements in our most dangerous neighborhoods.”

Collier, the freight lobbyist, sounded similar notes of support but added that $16 million a year is very little compared to the $100 million a year cost of fully preserving every street in the city, plus the unknown cost of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Collier noted that if Oregon’s 1919 gas tax had been adjusted for inflation, it would now be at 70 cents per gallon, not the 30 cents people pay today.

“We have a lot more expensive road system than we did in 1919, but we’re only spending half as much to maintain it. If we could get away with it, that would be something to be proud of, but we haven’t been getting away with it. It’s deteriorating and it’s going to cost us a lot more in the future. … This is just the beginning. This is a drop in the bucket for how much we’re going to have to come up with in the future. … A few years ago, a gas tax was an obvious good solution. But that was before the arts tax, the library bond, the school bond and a number of measures that have weighed more heavily on the poor.”

Haynes, of the Portland Business Alliance, said her group saw a lot to like about gas taxes:

“It’s user-based, it’s very low in its overhead, we appreciate the voter approval that the gas tax requires, and the gas tax couldn’t be diverted to other uses. So we know that it’s going to go to its intended purpose of the maintenance issues and the safety issues.”

Haynes also said that in addition to the deferred maintenance problems the group has focused on, “there are also pressing safety needs on the streets that need to be addressed.” But she said the group would only support improvements to those “pressing safety needs” on one condition.

“We want to make sure that vehicle road capacity is not impacted as a part of this,” she said. “We really think the focus needs to be on those critical safety improvements and also on the maintenance backlog.”

Haynes also seemed to call for future taxes or fees on people who don’t drive cars. “We would not like to see additional taxes and fees on this same user group during the period, recognizing that there may be others out there that aren’t contributing at this point,” she said.

Kristi Finney-Dunn testified on behalf of Oregon and Southwest Washington Families for Safe Streets, the advocacy group whose members have seen loved ones die or suffer life-changing injuries on streets. “It is imperative that measures be taken to improve safety on our streets as soon as possible,” she said. “We cannot stress enough the urgency that we feel on this matter … We don’t want any more people to qualify for our Families for Safe Streets group.”

Paul Romain, a lobbyist for the Oregon
Fuels Association has killed past attempts
to raise road use fees, and he’s not
happy about this one either.

Romain, the fuel retail lobbyist, warned that “there will be a very broad coalition of people opposing this at the ballot.” (You might recall that it was Romain whose opposition tanked former Mayor Sam Adams’ “Safe Sound and Green” effort in 2008.)

“This is a bad idea,” he said, observing that some people will choose to fill up their cars at stations outside Portland’s borders. “We can go up a lot with the state gas tax, we just have a hard time with a local gas tax.”

Romain said his allies would mount a legal challenge to the text of the city’s ballot measure to reflect that (although the state constitution requires that it be spent on roads) the money might not be spent on the projects the city currently plans.

“Anybody in the audience who thinks those projects are sacrosanct is wrong,” Romain said. “They can be changed at any time.”

Asked by Fish and Mayor Charlie Hales what alternative measures his members would support, Romain mentioned the statewide gas tax and a proposal by Clackamas County to raise annual auto registration fees by $25 per year.

If this tax passes, we could have a very interesting summer here in Portland. Just as the City makes driving more expensive, Portlanders will see 1,000 bike share bikes hit the street. If both programs work as advertised, it could be a strong one-two punch from transportation reformers.

If you missed the hearing, you can watch it here.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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  • Adam H. January 28, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Safety should get a higher percentage. Ideally, every project would be required to prove it is fixing a pressing safety issue, or include safety improvements as part of the project. e.g. Repave a road, but also add bicycle facilities as part of that repaving, or re-stripe to narrow or reduce lanes.

    Still, this gas tax will be a good start and hopefully free up PBOT funds so that they can pay for more bicycle projects. The tax needs to at least be indexed to inflation so that its purchasing power isn’t diminished over time. The tax should also be much higher (thinking $1 per gallon or more) but that’s not politically feasible. At least once the tax is in place, it will be easier to raise it later down the line.

    Great job, everyone! I look forward to discussing this over the next four months and voting for it in May!

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    • Corky Collier January 28, 2016 at 12:06 pm

      The problem with giving safety a higher percentage now is that it will eventually force us to decrease safety spending 10x more in the future. Because delayed maintenance leads to expensive street rebuilds, each dollar you divert from maintenance equals $10-12 more you will have to spend on maintenance later, which will likely come out of safety programs. Wouldn’t it be nice to do the opposite? Pull $1 from safety programs this year and convert that into an additional $10 for safety in 2020.

      The mistake we’ve been making, which has put us in this situation, is like saving money by not going to the dentist or buying toothpaste. You save $1 now, but you’ll pay $10 later. It’s classic “penny-wise, pound-foolish.”

      The good news is that PBOT does a pretty good job of combining safety and bike lane expansion with maintenance projects. You’re right to say we should be combining them, and we do.

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      • Adam H. January 28, 2016 at 12:09 pm

        Sure, I definitely see your point. It would be nice, however, if every maintenance project included a safety project bundled-in. Ripping up and repaving a street is a good time to consider additional safety improvements, such as curb extensions, protected bike lanes, or road diets.

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        • Corky Collier January 28, 2016 at 12:17 pm

          While there’s room for improvement, PBOT usually tries to do just that. Getting the timing together is difficult. All of us have to keep pushing on them to do better. They try. We have to make them try harder.

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          • Adam H. January 28, 2016 at 12:46 pm

            Agreed. This would require PBOT to look at every project from a holistic viewpoint instead of from a mode-specific one. They already do a good job considering the lack of funding they receive, so hopefully having additional money will help that progress along.

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            • Corky Collier January 28, 2016 at 12:51 pm

              It doesn’t help that the bureaus are silos. We can do better at combining BES and Park needs into transportation projects.

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              • paikiala January 29, 2016 at 9:35 am

                Except that those testifying, and the courts, have clearly indicated that transportation taxes used for parks, and BES taxes used for unrelated projects can’t be done.

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        • wsbob January 28, 2016 at 12:56 pm

          I don’t recall the specifics, but I believe that already, there is a policy requiring that when streets are scheduled for major repaving or construction, bike lanes are to be added. Curb extensions may not cost a lot of money to do, but protected bike lanes may. Eats up the budget, fast. Of course, road diets are hugely controversial.

          It’s Portland’s gas tax proposal, so I’m not sure how it will go. Not a big surprise that there’s such a widespread representation of support for the proposal. People from outlying areas that have occasion to drive in Portland, get the word out from personal experience, word of mouth, that the condition of the city’s streets is bad. I’ve heard this from family out here in Beaverton.

          As some already have noted, the amount of money the tax will bring in, isn’t enough. And the tax isn’t set up to correspond fairly to income…so it is modest income people that will feel the hit of any tax increase, not just this one proposed. Got to keep the streets up though, or eventually, everyone will have to either drive a big four wheeler or ride a mountain bike over the streets of Portland.

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          • David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC January 28, 2016 at 2:34 pm

            The added bike lane rule for roads only kicks in when the curb has been moved more than 18 inches. This is a big issue on 82nd and Powell for the BRT, but not when there is just a grinding and repavement on 122nd, for example.

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          • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 3:38 pm

            “And the tax isn’t set up to correspond fairly to income…so it is modest income people that will feel the hit of any tax increase, not just this one proposed.”

            In a more rational political environment this would cause politicians to exercise fiscal restraint and exercise discretion is identifying and funding spending priorities.

            But, as we see here, this motivates people to simply devise more ways to confiscate money from others and label it progressive to make themselves feel better for it.

            I think that this is what is most depressing about this whole road conditions problem… It is a direct result of this City’s political class’s inability to exercise restraint and display humility. Instead of devising new ways to raise revenue, the political class should have been focusing on core responsibilities. Hence, year after year the City’s political class failed to properly budget for and expend dollars to maintain critical infrastructure. It’s notnas if we all woke up yesterday to see how badly that road infrastructure had deteriorated.

            This is why we must be suspicious of this proposal. Sure, it’s temporary in nature… Yeah, right. In four years, there will still be a massive backlog that the general fund cannot handle. What then?

            Look, imo, road infrastructure has a far higher priority than parks or housing, therefore, spending in those areas needs to be reduced until the roads are fixed. This is what politicians are supposed to do, resolve public policy questions by making decisions. But these leaders refuse to lead and, instead, simply seek to kick the can down the road pretending that this gas tax is temporary and will help fix the problem.

            An example of this deception was Fish’s questions to Romier. Yeah, politically, now is a good time to try to pass a gas tax because gas is cheap. But Fish knows that gas prices are volatile, moreso now than in recent history and Fish knows that gas prices influence drivier behavior. Both factors undermine the stability and, therefore, the revenue projections of this tax threatening the ability to even spend what the City says it wants to spend.

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        • Beeblebrox January 28, 2016 at 6:15 pm

          Most of them do include safety improvements!

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      • soren January 28, 2016 at 12:59 pm

        “The problem with giving safety a higher percentage now is that it will eventually force us to decrease safety spending 10x more in the future.”

        This assumes that we will need to maintain the road surfaces we have today in the future. I believe that in the not too distant future we will be worrying more about removal of roadway than roadway maintenance.

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        • RMHampel January 28, 2016 at 2:30 pm

          In what utopia will non human-powered vehicles vanish from our streets? Are all those Amazon.com packages going to hover in by themselves?
          What poppycock!

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          • soren January 28, 2016 at 5:47 pm

            Where did I say that?

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    • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 12:19 pm

      Well, wait a moment… Here we have City leaders characterizing road funding as essential, characterizing infrastructure condition as being in alarmingly bad shape, even dangerous.

      If that is the case, why isnt all PBOT funding being wholly dedicated to resolving this alarmingly amd dangerously deteriorating situation? Why should PBOT funds be freed up to be spent on things that will not correct the alarming and dangerous infrastructure problems?

      What are the priorities here? You cannot sell an increased gas tax on the basis that our dangerously deteriorating roads require more funding and then take existing dollars to spend on things that do not fix the dangerously deteriorating road infrastructure. Thats called a bait and switch.

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      • Adam H. January 28, 2016 at 1:16 pm

        While I agree with you that our roads are not in a dire state as is being trumpeted by City Council, funding for safety improvements has always been a part of this plan from the beginning.

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        • bdlandoe January 29, 2016 at 10:15 am

          I’m curious, why do you doubt PBOT’s statement on the condition of Portland’s roads? They use an industry leading asset management system recommended by the city auditor.

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          • Adam H. January 29, 2016 at 10:30 am

            Sure I’ve noticed bumps and cracks in the road, but I don’t think poor road surfaces are in that dire of a need to be fixed compared to other issues, mainly safety. Poor roads also serve as traffic calming. This whole campaign feels like a large handout to drivers to enable them to drive more easily, while putting true safety projects aside as less important. To me, there is nothing more important than safety.

            Ideally, there’d be more focus on getting people to drive less, therefore putting less wear on the roads, rather than fixing problems after the fact.

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      • Corky Collier January 28, 2016 at 1:23 pm

        You raise one of the points that is most disconcerting to me. From a fiscal perspective, putting all the new money into maintenance will result in the highest long-term savings. This in turn, allows us to send the most long-term money to other needs (safety projects, parks, police, etc.). However, we can’t ignore the immediate safety needs and we have to accommodate various priorities. I may prioritize maintenance; you may prioritize safety; maybe we can agree on a little of both.

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        • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 2:26 pm

          Corky, I really enjoyed your comments to the Council yesterday, thanks for stepping up.

          Of course, no one is sugesting 100% go to road construction, repair, and maintenance. However, that is the critical space right now. Hence, I prioritize this far higher than safety projects. I think a more effective split wouldve been something 70-30. But 56-44 splits over-emphasizes the relative importance of safety projects.

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        • soren January 29, 2016 at 11:53 am

          Single occupancy vehicle use is certain to decline over the long-term. Instead pretending the untenable status quo will persist indefinitely, the city of Portland should seek to reduce long-term costs by aggressively putting more roads on a diet. Specifically, dedicating more of the roadway to active transport will generate significant maintenance, health, and environmental cost savings over the long-term.

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  • Buzz January 28, 2016 at 11:12 am

    “We want to make sure that vehicle road capacity is not impacted as a part of this”

    Despite its ‘conditional’ support, PBA’s attitude on transportation priorities hasn’t changed much…

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  • Dan A January 28, 2016 at 11:28 am

    So is Romain going to lobby to increase the state tax?

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    • reader January 28, 2016 at 11:46 am

      No. His goal is to kill a Portland tax. End of story.

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    • Corky Collier January 28, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      He did in the past. He wasn’t leading the charge, but he helped push a statewide gas tax increase. The state legislature was the obstacle. You may not like him, his business or his message, but he did more to get a gas tax increase last year than you did.

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      • reader January 28, 2016 at 12:31 pm

        “he did more to get a gas tax increase last year than you did.”

        If he did anything more than nothing, you are undoubtedly correct. 🙂

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        • Corky Collier January 28, 2016 at 12:35 pm

          That’s the first laugh I’ve gotten out of this thread! Thanks

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  • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be any talk, generally, about the City’s spending priorities. Like public safety and education, the provision and maintenance of roads is clearly a public service and a core governmental function. Therefore, it is also a core function and should be funded via general fund dollars.

    That means it is reasonable and appropriate to ask why the City is not allocating it’s general fund spending to address what City leaders describe as an emergency regarding deteriorating transportation infrastructure. So, why are we not asking this?

    The concept of a general fund exists for a reasons, to provide a funding account from which to allocate funds to support the provision of general city services. However, lately, we see cities proposing and voters enacting separate dedicated taxes to pay for core city services whether police, fire, ems, roads, etc.

    Well, where are all the general fund dollars going then? Are these expenditures as important as improving our current transportation infrastructure and road safety? No one is asking questions like this.

    Gas taxes were not proposed and were never intended to be a sole source of revenue for road construction, maintenance, etc. Given the cyclical nature and unpredictability of revenue generated by such a tax, it makes sense that gas taxes were supplemental budgeting tools. Yet, advocates of a gas tax rely on the misperception that gas taxes could and should fund roads 100%.

    Approving this gas tax provides unwarranted and undeserving cover to local leaders who refuse to make decisions of priority regarding the expenditure of public funds. Passing this gas tax essentially says that residents do not care about political leadership, fiscal responsibiltiy, or good government. Enacting this gas tax permits city leaders to continue wasting public funds on non-essential activities rather than on essential, core functions.

    I really wish people would think more broadly about this issue. Currently, the only way people are thinking about this is that the current gas tax at the local and federal levels do not cover all road costs and, therefore, we need to increase the local gas tax. It’s a bogus way to look at this issue. First, because the current proposal doesnt come close resolving the issue; second because it ignores that roads and road safety are core governmental responsibilities for which the general fund exists; amd third because it ignores that the City of Portland is wasting huge amounts of dollars on non-essential expenditures and depriving core city services the funding that is required.

    Do not pass this gas tax and continue enabling the mismanagement and misallocation of current city general funds.

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    • Rob Chapman January 28, 2016 at 2:06 pm

      BR, I owe you a high five for hitting the nail right on the head.

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    • David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC January 28, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      In Oregon, gas tax revenue is required to be spent on infrastructure build or major rebuilds, by state law. I agree, other revenue sources should be used, and in Portland, parking fees and other sources are used for street maintenance, not just gas taxes.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley January 28, 2016 at 9:34 pm

      Define essential services. The City of Portland, for one thing, isn’t in the education business, so that’s not one. Probably everyone would agree on Fire, Water, BES wastewater management, and police. After that, one citizen’s essential starts to look like another citizen’s wasteful spending.

      The City doesn’t get to pick and choose its “customers”. It serves half a million masters, and their essentials conflict.

      I get really tired of this “cut government waste” argument when it seems to be based on a general perception that whoa, those folks in the Portland Building make good money and I’m sure some of them are unnecessary.

      I’m sure they are too: God knows the City felt no need to replace me when I retired. But still…define essential.

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  • rachel b January 28, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for the thorough coverage, Michael. I was (unfortunately) eating lunch while I read “…and a frequent City Hall testifier who goes by the name of “Lightning”” My instant laughter almost caused a food accident. 🙂

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    • maccoinnich January 28, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      Full name: Lightning – Watchdog X.

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      • rachel b January 28, 2016 at 1:39 pm

        Better and better. 🙂

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  • canuck January 28, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    And the estimates will be wrong on the high side as every estimate of income is with new taxes.

    In this case it takes nothing more than a 5 minute drive to exit Portland city limits and gas up in Clackamas, Gresham or Beaverton.

    And who knows what the administrative costs of implementing and collecting the tax will be, I’m sure based on how much everything else the city does costs that this estimate will be low.

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    • Chris I January 28, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      You really think people are going to waste 10 minutes and a burn gallon of gas to save $1-$2 on a fill up? Do the math!

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      • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 2:29 pm

        Not for a one-time fill-up, of course not. However, over the course of every-other-week fill ups, yeah, I would plan my fill-ups accordingly. Over the course of two weeks Im sure many drivers find themselves in neighboring cities, especially those living near the city limits.

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    • Pete January 28, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      So you’d drive from Portland to Beaverton or Clackamas every time your gas tank is low to save what, a dollar? Your time must not be that valuable.

      Just don’t complain when there’s more wear and tear resulting from that extra driving and no funds to fix it. Definition of irony…

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    • yashardonnay January 28, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      A few folks will drive out of their way to save what, like $1.50 on taxes? Those individuals would be in the small minority who live near the county border. Humans are generally conditioned toward convenience, and most everyone will continue to use their local gas station especially as time passes. If everyone was so hard-lined about saving dollars everywhere they can, the entire city would drop cars for bikes and public transport.

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    • David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC January 28, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      The 10 cent tax comes from Portland’s share of the overall state intake; it’s a (slight) change to the funding formula. The amount Portland receives is based upon the particular number of vehicles registered as belonging within Portland. It won’t matter if you are buying your gas in Portland, Bend, or Burns, Portland will still get its share of the tax, but not necessarily from you when you pay for your gas.

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  • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    I think Novick presented a rather feeble response to the general fund argument. So, lots of general fund dollars go to police (apparently not enough given the bureau cannot properly investigate bike thefts or even monitor homeless camps), fire, parks, and housing. Ok, Im sure that lots of general funds are spent in thise areas. But these expenditures reflect a choice to assess these four areas as higher priority than roads and road safety.

    Why is that proposition not being questioned? I think that police and fire are clearly superior priorities, but parks and housing? That is certainly debatable is it not?

    So why no debate? Why the pretense that those dollars allocated to housing and parks are sacrosanct and untouchable?

    So ehat happens when the general fund can no longer support the ever-growing spending demands for housing and parks? A series of parks taxes? Housing taxes?

    You see, all that is happening is a greater and greater growth in spending without any consideration of restraint, need, priorities, etc.

    Just enact more taxes. Well, then lets see a dedicated tax to pay for pbot markrting activities; a mew tax to pay for the growing number of diversity officers and officers throughout the City.

    How about some real transparency in how City leaders are prioritizing it’s expenditure of general fund revenues?

    I hope my posts will be posted…

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    • Rob Chapman January 28, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      During the street tax debacle I asked the mayor directly when could we expect a park bench tax or an oxygen tax.

      I wasn’t joking.

      The last I checked, roughly half of every general fund dollar goes to serve police and fire pensions. How exactly is that financially sustainable?

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      • David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC January 28, 2016 at 2:43 pm

        It isn’t sustainable. Many cities and states are going bankrupt over public pensions and promised benefits. This is a looming issue for the state government in Oregon, all Oregon public schools, and also for the City of Portland. Which is why the gas tax is so important – it can’t be used for pensions and such, only for transportation infrastructure.

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        • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 2:56 pm

          Well, perhaps the City and State should take real action to address these unsustainable benefits and pension programs, no?

          Unfortunately, the combination of public sector unions and judges have conspired to ensure that public employee will, to their death, pillage the public trough. Public sector employee unions need to be banned immediately (no less than FDR recognized the perverse nature of unionized public employees) and the law needs to be changed to allow changes to be made to benefit and pension plans of those already retired. These two changes would very quickly improve the public employee retirement benefits sustainability problem.

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          • paikiala January 29, 2016 at 9:47 am

            Your words imply you don’t believe in keeping promises, or at least believe it is ok to back out of them when they cost more than you thought they would.
            The state sets the law on this matter, and the legislatures have changed the law twice, that’s why there is a 3 tier retirement system and new hires don’t get a defined benefit anymore. The courts have ruled that a contract cannot be broken, that seems fair.
            Why would anyone make a deal with you knowing you will back out if you don’t like the results?

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            • BeavertonRider January 29, 2016 at 10:26 am

              I believe in keeping promises. I do not believe in fiscal irresponsibility that would have public employers go bankrupt or to underfund core City services after irresponsible City or State officials negotiate unreasonable contracts.

              So do you believe that a City should go bankrupt to keep the promise of pension benefits? Do you believe that a City should reduce police and fire services to preserve pension promises? Should a City underfund water services to preserve pension promises?

              We can rely on empty platitudes about keeping promises right up until a City can no longer even address bike theft… oooops, too late – the City of Portland cant afford that but it’s keeping it’s “promise” to pensioners… Sheesh

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  • soren January 28, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    During the regressive nature of the temporary tax on gas, our support of this effort is conditioned on the city and PBOT’s commitment to identify and pursue less regressive future funding sources and an ongoing commitment to increase transportation improvements in our most dangerous neighborhoods.”

    I agree with this position 100%. Sadly, I could not testify due to a work conflict.

    I would add that this tax (if it passes), the Sellwood bridge license fee increase, and the arts tax are all regressive. I still believe that a progressive income tax would be a more equitable way to fund our transportation funding deficit. And I’m very disappointed that a progressive income tax never went to the voters due to the PBA’s opposition. Essentially Portland city government caved to corporate lobbying and we now get to vote on a regressive consumption tax that is straight out of the reactionary conservative playbook.

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    • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 1:15 pm

      I was just watching the hearing and listened to Fish’s follow-up on this. It was disappointing that the person testifying refused to articulate specific alternatives, let alone even express a philosophical basis for taxing some people more and others less for their use of the same taxable thing.

      I wonder what the basis is for taxing some people more when they purchase gas than others…

      Also, I think Id prefer an increase to the city’s income tax to pay for sellwood bridge, arts, and to increase general funds available for roads rather than, for example, this temporary gas tax that neither resolves the road funding issue or has a reliable expectation to result in the revenue level projected.

      But, look, there needs to be a critical look at how the City is spending current dollars. We cant be applauding yet another diversity office and staff when pbot cant connect sidewalks. We cant be expanding youth recreation programs when multiple people are dying at unsafe intersections.

      Again, this is a question of priorities and making choices. But the choice here is to simply confiscate more money from consumers and eat their cake, too.

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      • paikiala January 29, 2016 at 9:49 am

        The city has an income tax?

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        • BeavertonRider January 29, 2016 at 10:29 am

          My bad… I had started a new sentence and my thought process changed and i didnt completely delete. I meant to say impose a small city income tax.

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    • Corky Collier January 28, 2016 at 1:35 pm

      I also agree with that position and testified to that effect yesterday. However, I don’t completely agree with blaming PBA. The first street fee proposal by the Mayor and Commissioner Novick was horribly regressive. Several of us, including PBA, told him so and spent months working on a progressive street fee. But then the Mayor took it in a wild direction, making it far too progressive. It was surreal: first he ignored the need to be progressive, then he ignored the need to not be too progressive. I’m not trying to anoint PBA with sainthood, but they weren’t to blame for the wild gyrations of the street fee proposals.

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      • soren January 28, 2016 at 1:45 pm

        But then the Mayor took it in a wild direction, making it far too progressive.

        I strongly disagree. IMO, the final iteration of the income tax was nowhere near progressive enough.

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      • nuovorecord January 28, 2016 at 1:51 pm

        Just in general, Corky, I appreciate you stepping in here and providing your perspectives. No funding mechanism is perfect, but it’s good to see a wide variety of road user interests coming together behind this. Thanks for your partnership!

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      • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 3:19 pm

        I am boggled here trying to think of a logical and legitimate basis to charge some people more or less than others to use an on-street parking space. I can only assume that the only basis available to justify such a fee model is simply that, well, some can afford to pay more, so make them pay more. And this is no argument at all, it’s just anothrr variation of tyranny, in other words, tax them more because we can.

        It’s an illegitimate basis to discriminate and we should wholly reject it.

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    • RMHampel January 28, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      You and others keep dredging up the tired old argument that a gas tax is regressive because it would hit the poor driver disproportionately more than the rich one. Yet in other discussions on this site, the argument that the poor are much more likely to take public transit and ride bikes – and NOT automobiles to get around. So, which is it? I’m confused /s.

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      • Derp January 28, 2016 at 3:26 pm

        Those aren’t incongruous statements. The poor driver still gets hit with a regressive tax regardless of his poor neighbor taking the Max to work.

        I think you want to make the argument that since poor people use transit less overall, the remaining poor of the driving public are an acceptable trade-off?

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        • Derp January 28, 2016 at 3:47 pm

          oops, should have written “poor people use transit more”. Hence, my name.

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      • soren January 28, 2016 at 3:44 pm

        As I’ve stated elsewhere, I believe the regressiveness of a gas tax should be reduced by targeting funding towards mass transit and active transport (especially pedestrian infrastructure). To do this effectively we would, of course, need a larger gas tax. I’m absolutely fine with that!

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        • B. Carfree January 28, 2016 at 8:06 pm

          Nicely said. Personally, I favor gas taxes in their own right as a means of discouraging a horrific activity. One less car could well end up being many more bikes if it is true that it is the level of traffic that scares people off of bikes. I get that there are losers when gas taxes are raised and that those losers will often be poor people. However, waiting for a perfectly crafted tax also has losers, and many more of them, imo.

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          • paikiala January 29, 2016 at 9:56 am

            Improving roadways lowers costs (time) for drivers. Increasing gas taxes is one mechanism to rebalance the economics so that we improve roads, and safety, without encouraging more use, wear, and congestion.

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    • bjcefola January 28, 2016 at 11:26 pm

      The trouble is administrative cost. The old itax cost $4m – $5m to administer, with inflation let’s say that’s $5.5M today. You’d need to collect $100M plus before that was a reasonable cost ratio. I don’t think Portland would approve an income tax that high just to pay for transportation.

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  • Tom January 28, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    I support the gas tax but I also think it’s a waste of time. Too small and revenue will only continue to decline as more people switch to electric and hybrid cars (the weathly). We should be moving ahead with a VMT tax now to replace the gas tax. See article today on streetsblog sf. VMT tax is the future, not the gas tax. This gas tax is just a diversion.

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    • Jeff Bernards January 28, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      The gas tax works today, electric vehicles won’t kill the gas tax, electric vehicles are probably less than 1% of the cars on the road. The “rich” aren’t going to kill the revenue stream or overly avoid paying the tax. Washington solved the electric vehicle-gas tax problem with a $100 registration fee-one and done. I don’t need a transponder in my car because of a few electric cars, really. What a waste of money to put a transponder in everyone’s car, and visitors will avoid paying anything to use our roads, there’s that.

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      • Tom January 28, 2016 at 4:09 pm

        The gas tax will never be able to meet revenue needs. You need a 50 cent increase just to get started, which will never happen. A VMT tax gives the chance of doing a reset to generate the amount that is really needed, plus the ability to do things like congestion pricing.

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        • Jeff Bernards January 29, 2016 at 12:12 am

          London’s $15 per day congestion pricing is done with license plate readers, everyone who drives into London pays. In ten years it’s raised just under $4 billion with 47% going for public transportation and bike lanes.

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          • paikiala January 29, 2016 at 9:58 am

            Another example of transportation demand management, economic price elasticity, etc.

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      • soren January 28, 2016 at 8:02 pm

        electric vehicles will not be less than 1% of the cars on the road in a decade or so. ICE vehicles are boring and gauche. dinosaurs that burn dinosaur juice.

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    • Pete January 28, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      I also agree that gas-based tax is obsolete, but I don’t think the migration to electric will happen all that quickly, especially not with the production projections in the pipeline. Down here in Silly Valley we saw huge incentives drive people towards the Prius, then just as quickly away from it as prosperity increased, the HOV lane incentive went away, and gas prices plummeted. The Tesla is also hugely popular here now, but the shortage is still in the availability of public charging stations (people are literally fighting over them). Meanwhile, sales of pickups and SUVs are hitting highs, so the short-term revenue from them should offset the implementation costs.

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  • charlietso January 28, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    Every time someone like Ms. Haynes makes an argument about how non-drivers (typically implying bicyclists) should pay fees for using the roads, it just baffles me where that logic comes from. A 4000 pound automobile imposes far greater social, safety, and environmental costs than a 15 pound person-powered bicycle (as well as walking and taking transit). Cars also demand more a lot parking spaces and road capacity. It makes perfect sense that drivers pay for maintaining and improving our transportation system via the gas tax.

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    • Pete January 28, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      Indeed. See my recent comments about childless taxpayers funding schools. The government is not in the business of providing a la cart services to citizens. I’d love to only have to pay a fireman’s pension when he actually stopped my house from burning down, or a policewoman when she caught the bastard who stole my bike.

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      • charlietso January 28, 2016 at 3:02 pm

        Pete, I am glad you feel the same way as me on the suggestion of making non-drivers pay for the road. However, I would say that I don’t share the same stance on paying for police, firefighter, and schools.

        To be more clear, I don’t think these example are the same as bicyclists paying for roads. No one can pay-as-they-go on police officer or firefighter because you can’t predict when you will need their help. We all also have a collective social responsibility to pay for police and firefighters to make sure that everyone in our community will get their service when they need it, even if our houses never catch on fire.

        The gas tax is the opposite. The more you drive the more you pay. You can make a decision on whether if you are going to drive tomorrow and pay for the environmental and social cost you impose on your community. And it is different from childless households paying for schools too. Multi-modal improvements such as bike lanes and better walking infrastructure can benefit drivers too. Having good bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure offers more travel choices to people who currently travel by car.

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        • Adam H. January 28, 2016 at 4:36 pm

          Better schools benefit everyone, even people without children. From a strictly capitalistic stance, a well-educated society produces more goods and services. From a sociological standpoint, smarter, more engaged citizens can have more of a positive impact on their community.

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          • soren January 28, 2016 at 8:00 pm

            educated politically-engaged citizens are bad for corporate profits and economic rents.

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            • BeavertonRider January 29, 2016 at 2:26 pm

              Ive always been curious about the hate directed at corporate profits.

              Is the reasoning that profit is not inherently morally evil?
              Is the reasoning that corporate profits amounts to theft?
              Is the reasoning that profit is stuffed under the mattress?

              I dont get the hate.

              Without that profit businesses do not innovate, do not expand, cannot pay out dividends and attract capital investment.

              Or is it that you cannot simply tell others how much they can profit?

              I really am curious here.

              Hope this is posted…

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              • soren January 29, 2016 at 8:18 pm

                corporate capture of our political system has resulted in a multi-generational deficit in sharing of the product of labor. evidence of this can be seen in 37+ years of wage stagnation, the death of organized labor, and a gini coefficient that puts many banana republics to shame.

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              • Dan A January 31, 2016 at 2:41 pm

                Bow to your corporate overlord.

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        • Pete January 29, 2016 at 1:24 pm

          I suspect we likely do share the same stance; my analogies were meant to be far-fetched. I think there’s also a common misconception about the need to drive, as I suspect many would argue they don’t have the choice because they have to get to work / pick up the kids / groceries, so the gas tax is unfair because it’s on a necessity.

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      • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 3:15 pm

        So you think cyclists should be paying for roads or did I misunderstand your comment?

        Like public education and public safety, transportation infrastructure is a core governmental responsibility. Therefore, just as we all pay to support education and public safety, we should all pay for roads. It is in this vein that Id support a higher income tax to support these core governmental services. Id also support a City sales tax imposed on all purchases made in the City regardless of residence. Both of these are preferable to a gas tax in that both bring a broader tax base and a more stable source of dollars. Additionally, both reflect the fact the roads are a shared responsibility because even those who do not own a car benefit greatly from the availability of the transportation network.

        Lastly, I am not at all sympathetic to the regressiveness argument or the argument that x pays a larger share of income toward gas or whatever. One of our foundational principles, while currently threatened, is still equal opportunity. This principle is not also a guarantee of equal outcomes.

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    • B. Carfree January 28, 2016 at 8:11 pm

      Now if only we could come up with a system in which motorists were paying for the roads, we’d be in business. Sure, their gas taxes are paying for almost half of the maintenance and construction, but since they’re doing all the damage they are getting quite the free ride.

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  • Chris I January 28, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    [quote] “I feel like a possum on I-5 during rush hour right now,” said Paul Romain, a lobbyist for Oregon gas retailers who was one of only two people to speak clearly against the measure. [/quote]

    Actually, a possum could leisurely waltz along I-5 during rush hour. It would be easy to navigate around the stopped single-occupancy vehicles with Washington plates.

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    • Pete January 28, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      Isn’t it hilarious when people in the business of encouraging driving complain about traffic?

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      • JeffS January 28, 2016 at 5:56 pm

        His business is more that of a paid mouthpiece, which is why I never understood the desire of journalists to print their words as if they were their own.

        This coverage is desperately in need of a quote from the lobbyist or spokesperson for the Vancouver gas retailers.

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  • m January 28, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    A reminder that in a time of consistently rising gas tax revenue, Portland intentionally reduced its spending on maintenance in favor of other pet projects despite the known backlog on maintenance. Now they come with their hand out asking for even more. The city auditor was not impressed.


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    • BeavertonRider January 29, 2016 at 9:47 am

      Thanks for linking us to that report. Ive linked to it here before, though, it gets ignored by those bent on passing a gas tax increase.

      This excellent report supports many of the points that I am making –

      That PBOT makes bad choices in allocating funds, for example, starting a sidewalk replacement program, but choosing not to reduce spending on it when PBOT revenues were decreasing and choosing instead to decrease spending on road mainteance;

      That PBOT relies on unrealistic projections, for example, PBOT itself will, in some reports, forecast fewer miles driven, lower gas consumption, but then will forecast in other reports steadily increasing revenues from gas taxes; and

      That PBOT refuses to establish a comprehensive strategy.

      These factors should cause all of us to pause and consider whether PBOT should be trusted, that PBOTs current analysis and forecasts ought to be considered credible, and that PBOT id not once again attempting to snow the public.

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  • JeffS January 28, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    I’m astonished by the number of agendas that can be associated with a basic use tax.

    Is it a driving deterrent or an enabler? How many ways can we find to spend the money that doesn’t involve fixing streets? Should we be encourage driving by the poor by subsidizing their gas? How much gas tax money can we redirect to other uses before the motorists revolt?

    The gas tax discussion has carried with it a negative and dishonest tone.

    I don’t need more roads, paving or signals, and I don’t condone social engineering via punitive taxation so I’ll pass on this one.

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    • paikiala January 29, 2016 at 10:24 am

      The status quo is social engineering as well. When only about half of the road construction or maintenance costs come from the primary beneficiaries – fuel taxes – we are intentionally skewing consumer choice toward the subsidized mode of transportation.


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    • Pete January 29, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      “How much gas tax money can we redirect to other uses before the motorists revolt?”

      I guess to put that question in context you should consider what taxes besides gas taxes are used to pay for roads and in some way subsidize the use of cars and trucks. The Fed Highway Trust Fund, for instance, while mostly filled with gas tax revenue, has been in deficit for nearly two decades now, meanwhile current transportation budgets include fairly sizable funding for research on autonomous and wireless automotive technologies and solar-powered roadway lighting, as well as high-speed rail infrastructure, and more chunks of funding for PTC, a wireless rail safety technology that essentially came about due to crude oil exploding in train derailments.

      I just don’t believe the question of funding equity boils down to the simplistic gzintas/gzouttas and who-pays-for-what scenarios that the macroeconomic arguments portray. Plus, the basic formula for calculating revenue versus expenditure based on fuel consumption was static, linear, and flawed from the get-go. (Structural wear and materials decay calculations, on the other hand, are far from linear).

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  • BeavertonRider January 29, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Another story here at bikeportland.org highlights the mtn biking master plan planning committee. In that article, we’re reminded of the $300,000 Hales “invested” in this activity.

    This is an example of the poor spending choices I have been harping on when arguing that a gas tax increase is not needed. Note that this $300k came from someplace… Where? What is being shortchanged here?

    Also, it reflects the poor decisionmaking and lack of ability to properly prioritize spending.

    The City’s leaders are proposing an increase in the gas tax because of am alarming backlog of road mainteance projects… Well, I am sure 300k could have helped in this backlog. Instead, Hales thought that planning for mtn biking in the City was more important than this alarming backlog of toad maintenance, backlog of needed road safety ptojects, etc.

    How many more of these $300k “investments” are out there being wasted on non-essential, unimportant eotk?

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  • GlowBoy January 29, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    One thing to bear in mind, which shockingly few people understand, is that a ten cent tax will not raise the price of gas by ten cents. That would only be true if demand for gas were completely inelastic, which is not the case (especially over time).

    In the real world of microeconomics, the price of a good is result of an equilibrium between aggregate supply (the amount of which varies depending on the price one can charge) and aggregate demand (the amount of which varies depending on the price being charged). An added cost doesn’t get fully passed along to the end consumer, because raising the price of a good causes people to demand less of it. Which in turn forces the supplier to ease back a bit on the price increase. In order to maximize profit they can get away with passing along part of the tax, but not all of it.

    The price will go up by more than zero cents, but less than ten cents. Realistically, somewhere between 3 and 7 cents per gallon.

    Put another way, the ten cents won’t entirely come out of consumers’ pockets. Some of it will, but the rest will come out of suppliers’ pockets. And THAT, my friends, is why oil companies freak out and spend a lot of money opposing gas tax increases. If the entire cost of the tax could be passed on to the public, the tax wouldn’t cost them a dime so why would they care?

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  • Mark smith January 30, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Pbot puts down the minimum thickness required, puts in far too many lanes…and the police hardly enforce speed limits…and he we are. 10 cents barely cuts it. But…it’s a ballot measure and the folks who only know their vehicle will largely vote against it.

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  • Reginald January 31, 2016 at 12:16 am

    “I think they should make it a 1 dollar per gallon tax increase for all Portland gasoline”, said the owner of a gas station just outside the city limits.


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