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Constitutional amendment would expand state transportation funds beyond highways

Posted by on December 17th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

A day in Salem-15

Rep. Jules Bailey
(Photo © J. Maus)

State Representative Jules Bailey (D-Portland) will support a bill in the 2011 legislative session that would amend the Oregon Constitution to make it easier to spend state revenue on transportation projects outside of the highway right-of-way. If the bill is passed by the legislature, it would be sent out to voters for final passage (or not) in the November 2011 general election.

Rep. Bailey’s intention is to give more flexibility to city, county, and state officials on how they can spend state transportation funds. Currently, Oregon law mandates that gas tax and motor vehicle operation and license fee revenues can only be spent within the highway right-of-way. This means about $1.39 billion in biennial revenue generated by the state of Oregon must be spent on highway projects.

(Luckily, we’ve got the Bicycle Bill that mandates a minimum of 1% of highway money must be spent on bicycling and walking projects. At its worst, that money is spent on four-five foot bike lanes on high-speed, state highways; at its best, we have the multi-use path adjacent to I-205.)

Rep. Bailey’s office confirmed for me yesterday that the House Revenue Committee, of which Bailey is Vice-Chair, has introduced the measure at Bailey’s request. Here’s the draft summary:

“Proposing amendment to Oregon Constitution to allow revenue from taxes on motor vehicle fuel and ownership, operation or use of motor vehicles to be used for transportation projects that will prevent or reduce pollution and congestion created by use of motor vehicles.”

Bailey’s key proposed addition to the existing language of the constitution seeks to expand the definition of “transportation projects”:

“As used in this section, “transportation project” means any project or undertaking that facilitates any mode of transportation within this state. “Transportation project” includes, but is not limited to, a project for highway, transit, rail and aviation capital infrastructure, bicycle and pedestrian paths, bridges and ways, and other projects that facilitate the transportation of materials, animals or people.”

This effort by Rep. Bailey shows his creativity in using existing transportation dollars in new ways to fund a more multi-modal system, instead of looking for new revenue (which no sane person will do this session). This also jibes with ODOT’s stated vision to try and ween itself off highways and begin to give more people around the state other options to get around.

Keep in mind, even if this effort can make it through the legislature, since it’s a change to the Oregon Constitution, it must be approved by voters. Whether or not a majority of Oregonians share the vision of multi-modal future remains to be seen.

The 2011 legislative session is just now heating up. Stay tuned for more on this and other bike and transportation-related action in the months to come.

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  • Andrew December 17, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Is it confirmed that Bailey will be the vice chair of Revenue this session? He was in 2009/10, but he was also in the majority party then.

    Will they be splitting vice-chairs along with chairs? Will there be a Barnhart-Bailey co-chair and co-vice-chair for the Dems?

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  • Velowocky December 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    This is one instance where I hope the issue does not overly emphasize the bike related aspect. Increasing the power of local governments to spend as they see fit for their communities is the central aim of the provision and that’s what seems likely to appeal to voters.

    If this gets portrayed as special interest bikers ‘at it again’ trying to wrest money from drivers and highway spending the outcome will not be good for anybody.

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    • Spiffy December 17, 2010 at 2:02 pm

      THIS!!! if anything this is the reason it won’t pass… residents are angry about all the money their cars are losing out on to bicycles and won’t vote for this if it’s sold as beneficial to bikes…

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      • Kt December 20, 2010 at 10:20 am

        Agreed– there needs to be equal emphasis on pedestrians! Maybe people won’t knee-jerk oppose it if the focus isn’t so narrow on bikes.

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  • matt picio December 17, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    I don’t think it’ll matter much whether voters share the multimodal vision – because the multimodal vision won’t be the issue people are told to vote on. As soon as this is on the ballot, this will become a “we don’t want to pay gas taxes to fund projects for scofflaw cyclists” issue.

    This proposed change will be a textbook example on how to spin an issue, and unless pro-multimodal groups and individuals step up and spend a lot of time, effort, and money (especially money) to control the message, there is a good chance the voters will kill it. They might even kill it no matter how much the pro-bill side promotes it.

    Which doesn’t mean Rep. Bailey shouldn’t do it, or that we shouldn’t help make it happen – just want to state well in advance that this one is going to be an uphill battle, and to get it done, someone needs to motivate people to band together on this early and often.

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  • Southern Oregon December 17, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Here’s a vote from the Rogue Valley. Just get us the chance, Rep. Bailey!

    Well said, Velowocky: “Increasing the power of local governments to spend as they see fit for their communities…”

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  • q`Tzal December 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Waiting for the slanderous political ads against this amendment where the only truthful statements by the opponents are where they quote chopped up and rearraged statments out of context.

    Everything else will be bald faced lies.

    TV spots to start in … 3 … 2 … 1 …

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  • John Landolfe December 17, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    My 1st reaction was, “great, who could possibly take issue?”

    My 2nd reaction was, “oh wait, I’ve had that 1st reaction so many times this past year.”

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    • Jackattak December 17, 2010 at 5:20 pm


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  • Another Doug December 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    I wonder how productive this will be. Oregon voters only recently trashed by a huge margin a proposed amendment that would have allowed the use of highway funds for state police patrols. It seems more productive to go after the non-highway fund money that currently is being used to accommodate more motor vehicles on local streets.

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  • dwainedibbly December 21, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    I share a lot of the concerns expressed. If this passes the legislature, the only way for it to pass the voters will be if the “local control” part is emphasized.

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