Members of the Oregon chapter of Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax and limited government interest group founded by David Koch and Koch Industries, showed up in force on Thursday when the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners shared their plan to raise funds to help pay for the Sellwood Bridge. In order to raise $22 million of the estimated $300 million to replace the ailing bridge, Clackamas County wants to pass a new ordinance that would create a $5 per year vehicle registration fee.
But members of AFP (150 of them according to the group’s website) sent a strong message to the Commissioners: they do not want to help pay for a bridge that’s in Multnomah County (although a traffic study revealed that 70 percent of bridge traffic is from Clackamas County). According to news reports, some protesters said the proposed fee isn’t fair because bicycle riders wouldn’t be required to pay it (an idea that has been thoroughly debunked). Here are excerpts from local media coverage of the hearing:
“The proposed fee has especially stung with Clackamas County residents upset that their dollars might end up paying for a streetcar, light rail, bike paths or other features they view as Portland-centric.
“Why are Clackamas County residents being Multnomah County’s patsies?” asked Bob Karl, a West Linn resident. “Why aren’t Multnomah County bicyclists required to pay? It’s sneaky, it’s dangerous, and it’s corrupt.”
“If we’re going to register,” testified one critic, “Let’s do the bicycles as well.”
According to sources at the meeting, AFP members were organized and were holding signs that read “No Fee. No Taxes”. AFP’s website says almost 150 members were at the meeting to “tell Clackamas County Commissioners that enough is enough on tax and fee increases in the County.”
Koch Industries is one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S. and the two brothers behind the company, David and Charles Koch, have funneled over one million dollars into groups like AFP. These donations were subject of an article in The New Yorker back in August that characterized the Kochs as “billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.”
Wednesday’s hearing was the first reading of the proposed ordinance, and it’s slated to come back to the Commission for a potential vote on December 9th. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is urging their members to speak up in support of the new fee. Email your comments on the issue by December 8th to email@example.com.
UPDATE, 11/29: According to Jeff Kropf, Director of Americans for Prosperity Oregon, the local chapters of the group do not receive funding from the national AFP and all their money is raised in Oregon. Read his full explanation here. The headline of this story originally claimed that the protesters at the Sellwood Bridge meeting were funded by the Koch Family (founders of AFP); but if Kropf’s claims are accurate, they are not. I have edited the headline to better reflect my knowledge of this issue.