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Facing further cuts, PBOT floats new revenue ideas at budget meeting

Posted by on November 14th, 2012 at 3:19 pm

PBOT Director Tom Miller at a meeting
of his Budget Advisory Committee
last night.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The budget outlook for the Bureau of Transportation is a bit better this year than it was last year; but things are still grim. I attended the first of three PBOT Budget Advisory Committee meetings last night to get the lowdown and words like “triage” were being thrown around. But amid the doom and gloom, there are some interesting developments to report that could brighten the picture.

The big takeaway from last night is that PBOT is prepping for a $4.5 million budget gap in fiscal 2013-14 (which runs July-June). Those cuts are to be ongoing cuts, which means coupled with last year’s huge cuts, the bureau is seriously hurting.

Here’s why these further cuts are necessary:

  • PBOT’s take from the State Highway Trust Fund has been downwardly forecasted by ODOT to the tune of $1.8 million.
  • PBOT’s retirement and health benefit costs have doubled from 2011 to 2012, and now require an additional $1.4 million.
  • PBOT has debt service obligations of about $1 million (primarily due to bonds taken out for Sellwood Bridge and Portland Milwaukie Light Rail projects).

To make the cuts, PBOT will use a similar process as last year. They’ll rank all internal programs on a spreadsheet and fund those first. Then, all leftover money will be doled out according to a map that lists the “streets of citywide significance.” That concept was hatched by PBOT Director Tom Miller last year and it prioritizes streets that, “are of the highest value for the transportation function” and that, “carry the most volume across all modes.” (I’ll have more on these details as the budget process moves forward.)

Miller led last night’s meeting and he went over several factors that are contributing to PBOT’s dire straits.

First and foremost, as many of you already know, the buying power (it hasn’t kept up with inflation) and the overall intake of gas tax continues to fall. And, as fuel efficiency improves and people drive fewer miles, the trendline of what the city brings in from gas tax doesn’t look pretty.

Furthermore, Miller explained that while the gas tax is one of the city’s largest sources of revenue, relying on it presents a conundrum:

“The more effective we become with providing Portlanders with choices, the more successful we are at helping transition people to other means of travel, the fewer dollars we have coming through the doors…. Our policy goals are a lot further ahead than the funding structures. That’s a challenge, that, as a community we have to reconcile.”

Another factor shrinking PBOT’s budget is fewer dollars coming from federal and other outside grant sources (“other people’s money” is how Miller described it). Miller said that figure was about $120 million two years ago and next year it’s slated to be only about $50 million. It’s worth noting that PBOT is unique among all city bureaus in that it’s largest sources of funding (outside grants and the State Highway Trust Fund) are completely out of their control.

With dwindling funds and a huge maintenance backlog and long lists of projects they’d like to do, PBOT needs a new revenue stream. Last year, before the budget talks started, PBOT (and their Budget Advisory Committee) received a mandate from City Council and the Mayor that they were not allowed to even consider new revenue streams. The politics were just not there.

PBOT has not yet received similar notice this time around (they’re “anxiously” awaiting official budget guidance from City Council). However, regardless of whether or not Council makes the same edict as last year, the ice around the conversation for new revenue seems to be melting. This is evident by the actions and words of both Miller and his staff.

Miller announced last night that a task force of financial experts is currently working on a report for PBOT that will detail a number of possible new funding streams. Among them: “performance pricing” for parking; a street fee; and a local increase in the gas tax.

“Performance pricing” is essentially dynamic pricing for parking spots where the price fluctuates based on demand. Miller shared last night how PBOT has already started this type of pricing around Jeld-Wen Field during Portland Timbers home games. When demand for the 455 metered spots around the stadium is highest, the price is $3.50 per hour compared to the regular downtown rate of $1.60.

In addition to the new revenue from performance pricing, Miller said a goal of expanding the program would be, “To send a signal to say, ‘Hey, you might want to take transit.’ It’s just a little nudge to think about a different transportation choice.”

Miller also hinted that the groundwork is being laid for another try at introducing a citywide “street fee.” This would be third time it comes up in Portland. As transportation commissioner in 2001, Mayor-elect Charlie Hales tried to make one happen in 2001. Then in 2007, then transportation commissioner Sam Adams also tried. Both attempts were pushed back after opposition from various interest groups (grocers in 2001, a petroleum lobbyist representing convenience stores in 2007) ; but with today’s political and funding environment, the third time is very likely to be the charm.

Last night, Miller referred to the street fee as a, “Fee for access to the public right of way,” and various staffers around the table pointed out that 20 jurisdictions around the state already have such a fee in place. But don’t expect it to happen for at least another year or two. Miller said, “My presumption is that a brand new council won’t take on the heavy lift,” and added that it won’t happen unless a “Broad coalition of support exists to push it into the finish line”

The financial task force’s report will also include the recommendation to increase the local gas tax. Given that a 5-year moratorium on local gas tax increases (due to the Jobs and Transportation Act legislation that passed in 2009) is over in 2014, I won’t be surprised if PBOT jumps on this one.

Given these new revenue ideas, Miller said he’s developing two separate budgets. The “Plan B budget” would be one that, “provides a balanced, conservative, sober budget with no new revenue at all.” Miller’s “Plan A budget” would be “built on some new revenue” just in case Council gives PBOT the green light to consider it.

I sense a growing chorus among PBOT management that real funding reforms are on the horizon. They are speaking about them in more detail and with more urgency and confidence than I’ve ever heard. In the past, this stuff was talked about as if it would never actually happen. Now, it’s not if, it’s when and how.

“Frankly,” Miller said at the end of the meeting, “It’s time to reinvent how we fund transportation. That’s the bottom line. It’s not an easy conversation, but it’s one that has to be had.”

Stay tuned.

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  • Ethan November 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    This “Future City” isn’t going to be funded with unicorns, rainbows, or gas taxes. We will have to pay for it ourselves.

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  • Jeff Bernards November 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Studded tires cut road life by 50- 65% in the Portland area, it’s time the conversation revolved around some conservation measures (remember climate change!). Just raising more money to subsidize 10% of road users who feel it’s there free choice to use studded tires is ridiculous. If were going to have a conversation about the roads, let’s include “ALL” road users and abusers.

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  • J-R November 14, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    There is no such thing as the State Highway Trust Fund. Search for ODOT budget on Oregon’s website. It includes a great graphic of revenues and expenses, including the transfers to cities and counties.

    Contrary to popular belief, vehicle fleet fuel economy is about the same as in 1980. The lack of money to do transportation maintenance and projects has more to do with inflation – especially construction cost that have increased faster. It’s not about increased fuel economy.

    I will support any amount of gas tax increase, but not a street access fee. When my car is in the garage, it’s not causing the need for street improvements. A gas tax is a nearly perfect user fee and those with gas hogs, which produce more carbon emissions, should pay more.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm


      “State Highway Trust Fund” is what PBOT calls it in their official documents. It’s a combination of three things: gas tax revenue, vehicle registration fees, and weight mile taxes.

      And yes, I realize that rising cost of materials is a key factor. I just failed to mention that in the story. Perhaps I should pop it back in there. Thanks.

      As for the gas tax. Hard to understand why you think it’s a good revenue source. The fleet is changing and will change considerably. People are also driving less. It’s obvious that gas tax revenue is trending way way down. How can it be perfect if more and more people don’t even pay into it, yet they still use the roads?

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      • 9watts November 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm

        ” Hard to understand why you think it’s a good revenue source. The fleet is changing and will change considerably. People are also driving less. It’s obvious that gas tax revenue is trending way way down. ”

        Simple (in principle). Index the tax to stay ahead of these trends. Pegging it to inflation would be a start. But since the other trends undermining the purchasing power of the gas tax revenue are modest, even in sum, this shouldn’t be that hard. For that matter, the signal of steadily increasing taxes on things we recognize we must discourage are salutary quite apart from their revenue implications.

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      • J_R November 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm


        The gas tax accounts for only 22 percent of ODOT’s budget. The driver and vehicle licensing fees account for 14 percent. So, we’re all paying a significant share by just licensing a vehicle and having a driver’s license. Check the ODOT budget:


        I continue to believe that a gas tax is a really good option. OK, maybe not perfect, but really good. British Columbia instituted a carbon tax a few years ago and do you know how they implemented it for motor vehicles? With a tax of about 20 cents per gallon of gasoline. And yes, there are equivalent taxes on coal and natural gas and jet fuel.

        The point is that with a gas tax, the more you drive and the less efficient vehicle you drive, the more you pay. What’s wrong with that?

        And if we’re worried about the owners of the electric vehicles not paying their fair share, why does the State of Oregon give them a $1500 tax credit for buying one? Let’s do away with the income tax credit and say “our incentive to you for buying this electric vehicle is not having to pay gas tax.” The person who buys a 40 mpg Prius will pay $1500 while driving 200,000 miles with 30 cent per gallon gas tax. What’s the difference?

        As for construction costs and gas taxes, I offer the following. The federal gas tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. That same year Oregon’s tax was 24 cents; two years ago it finally went ot 30 cents (a 25 percent increase). Since 1993, the construction cost index has increased by 69 percent.

        Let’s index the gas tax for the construction cost index and adjust it further as the vehicle fleet economy increases. Do you really care if a driver of a F150, Suburban or Hummer pays more in gas taxes than the owner of a Prius? I don’t. And if someone wants an all electric car, so what if he doesn’t pay for every mile he drives. If you take away the $1500 tax credit, your a long way toward equity anyway. If electric vehicles start becoming a significant part of the fleet (like maybe 5 percent), increase the electric vehicle’s license plate fee by $50 per year or whatever.

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        • davemess November 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm

          But this line of reasoning is assuming there will always been the same “levels” of fuel efficient cars out there. You’re assuming that SUVS/trucks will never come out of vogue, so there will always be those people at the bottom of the fuel efficiency spectrum to really make the gas tax works. What happens when a major shift in fuel efficiency comes and revenues go way down?

          You’re trying to plan for the future with today’s demographics and not really considering changes that may happen tomorrow.

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          • 9watts November 15, 2012 at 12:20 pm

            “What happens when a major shift in fuel efficiency comes and revenues go way down?”

            You mean like in Europe?

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            • davemess November 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm

              Do you honestly ever see “that” happening in the US? Really?
              What percentage of transportation funds do most Euro countries get from their gas tax?

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              • 9watts November 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm

                daverness – you’ve got me all confused. What “are” you saying?

                There is zero reason to expect fuel efficiency to change suddenly. Driving might decrease suddenly, but that will have salutary effects that swamp the decline in revenue generated by our measly gas tax.
                But there’s also no need to reinvent the wheel here. Other countries have this figured out, have no trouble maintaining their infrastructure, and discourage over-reliance on the automobile at the same time.

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          • Pete November 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm

            Trucks aren’t at the bottom of the fuel efficiency spectrum if you don’t drive them so much. I think that’s J_R’s point. I have a van that probably gets 8 MPG with a tailwind, but I bet I pay a fraction of the gas taxes as my neighbor who drives his Prius like a bat out of hell to the grocery store down the street.

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        • PorterStout November 15, 2012 at 12:53 pm

          FYI, the $1500 Oregon tax credit for alternative-fueled vehicles no longer applies. http://www.sustainablebusinessoregon.com/articles/2011/12/new-home-energy-tax-credit-rules-start.html

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    • NF November 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm

      Yes! It’s inflation. The gas tax is pegged at a specific amount (say, 18.4 cents per gallon). Over time, those same 19 cents pay for less, and less, and less.

      A more future-proof gas tax would have pegged the tax value to inflation, or to a percent of sales.

      It’s not too late to change it, but it will be unpopular.

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      • Pete November 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm

        You nailed it! Nobody has the political cajones to run on that platform. Hood River proposed a $.03 increase (might have even been temporary, I don’t recall) and you should have heard the public outcry. Let alone imagine a state- or federal-level politician being so audacious!

        I think the gas tax is a perfect measure of utilization in theory, but in the coming era of alternative fuels let alone transportation modes there will need to be a new strategy (which may include our contribution, somehow). You’d think that with the GPS chip they secretly implanted in our skulls at birth a cloud-based movement tax may be just around the corner.

        (I kid, I kid! Or do I… ? 😉

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    • 9watts November 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm

      Agreed, J-R.
      “Fee for access to the public right of way” sounds suspect. I’d like to know more about how this would work, what its authors have in mind. Didn’t we hear about another one of these overly complex fees recently. What was it? Oh, right: VMT tax. What is it about USers assumed antipathy to a gas tax? Simple, precise, well-established, just waaaay too low.

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  • BURR November 14, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    This is why sharrows on arterial streets are such a necessary interim measure; it’s going to be a while before PBOT has the resources to build anything but the smallest experimental/demonstration cycle tracks.

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  • Granpa November 14, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Carbon tax, not gas tax. Include a per unit excise tax on the coal that will be moved through our area by the gigaton.

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  • A.K. November 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    “Last night, Miller referred to the street fee as a, “Fee for access to the public right of way,” and various staffers around the table pointed out that 20 jurisdictions around the state already have such a fee in place.”

    Can you explain what a street fee is? This explanation doesn’t really give any idea of what it is, who has to pay it, or how it’s collected.

    Also: “PBOT’s retirement and health benefit costs have doubled from 2011 to 2012, and now require an additional $1.4 million.”

    That is crazy! Who is controlling that budget? Costs doubling every year is not sustainable.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm


      The street fee is a fee based on each person’s estimated usage of the roads. i’m no expert, but will try to clarify: In 2007 it was tied to where you lived and/or did business. There was an algorithm that calculated how many trips your property generated and then it would base the fee on that. I think it came out to like $4.50 per month for an average household and it would have been tacked onto your water/sewer bill.

      If I recall, the effort to pass it died because the algorithm was problematic for some interest groups.

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      • 9watts November 14, 2012 at 4:56 pm

        “…the algorithm was problematic for some interest groups.”

        I can see why. This is absurd. Why on earth would anyone propose such a complex notion when we already have a (modest but raisable) local gas tax that sends a clearer signal, requires no algorithm, additional administration, or explanation that takes up column inches and staff time?

        “…calculated how many trips your property generated”

        sounds like an administrative nightmare to me.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm


          I think it’s premature to get into the details of the street fee. I am not an expert on it; but the time will come when we can get into the weeds.

          From what I’ve heard, it makes some sense and it seems reasonable to me. More importantly, it’s much more stable than the gas tax.

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          • 9watts November 15, 2012 at 8:23 am

            Perhaps. However in googling the concept I came across an enthusiastic 2008 editorial here by Elly. Her second sentence (copied below) confirms one of my misgivings:

            “In fact, the proposed street fee that has dominated news headlines lately, amounts to a subsidy by those who drive little to those who drive a lot.”

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      • A.K. November 15, 2012 at 9:02 am

        Ah OK, that makes a little more sense to me (along with the follow up comments by others below). Thanks!

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      • rwl1776 November 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm

        Algorithm? Estimate? How would they calculate it? Or would it require a GPS transmitter that recorded how far you traveled by car? the RUTF has already floated that idea, and they PROMISED it would not track your every move. Yeah, right! This same idea is already being promoted by the Progressive Insurance. Their GPS unit will monitor your driving habits. Based on your driving, their “algorithms” can predict IN ADVANCE that you will have an accident. They want to charge you in advance for an accident you may never have, kinda like a pre-crime from Minority Report! Pretty scary stuff, ‘eh? What if they put these GPS units on bicycles too, recorded how many times a person rides thru stop signs, on sidewalks, etc. Would the cycling crowd like that?

        What is the problem? the City has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.


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    • rwl1776 November 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm

      It is called PERS, and the Unions would rather bankrupt the State and Cities instead of letting the Governor change their Cadillac retirement plan. “The latest example came Saturday, when Kitzhaber used a speech at the annual meeting of the Oregon School Boards Association to preach the need for reforming the Oregon Public Employee Retirement System. “If we do nothing, the cost to the state, per student, will increase over $1,000 in this” two-year budget cycle, Kitzhaber said.” http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2012/11/gov_john_kitzhabers_pers_speec.html

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      • Pete November 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm

        Funny how it used to be an entitlement and not a “Cadillac” plan… until health care costs shot through the roof and along with it the ‘value’ of a pension plan. I know people who left private industry with significant wage cuts for this very reason.

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        • Dan V November 15, 2012 at 10:55 am

          And how everyone in private industry had a pension plan until the companies (and the investment banks) convinced you that you would do better investing your pension dollars yourself in the stock market (IRA, 401). Anyone hear how that is turning out? BTW, we took gave up 6% in raises in exchange for the 6% PERS pickup; it wasn’t a give-away. Sorry that healthcare costs are soaring; let’s all start talking about single-payer and get that under control (Sorry I went off-topic Jonathan!).

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          • Pete November 15, 2012 at 11:00 pm

            True dat – and sadly your PERS funds were invested in the same market as my IRA. I remember when I left my first job out of college (the job from hell) after two years, and my Dad said “you’re crazy to hop jobs like that, son – you won’t have a pension!”

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  • BURR November 14, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    You know that there are already cities in Oregon that have local sales taxes to cover these sort of things, too.

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  • 9watts November 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    “With dwindling funds and a huge maintenance backlog”
    So why exactly did City Council approve $400M for the Rose Quarter un-jamming? I realize that some or perhaps most of that money wasn’t from PBOT’s budget, but still.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm


      City Council didn’t approve any money for the Rose Quarter/I-5 freeway expansion project. They approved a concept plan that includes the project. BIG Difference.

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      • 9watts January 15, 2013 at 5:28 pm

        I can’t figure out where the $400M are coming from. What is our share, locally?

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  • Gary Charles November 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Also: “PBOT’s retirement and health benefit costs have doubled from 2011 to 2012, and now require an additional $1.4 million.”
    That is crazy! Who is controlling that budget? Costs doubling every year is not sustainable.

    That really jumped out at me as well. I’d like to know more about it and what the future projections for health and retirement benefits are.

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  • rwl1776 November 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    “Last year, before the budget talks started, PBOT (and their Budget Advisory Committee) received a mandate from City Council and the Mayor that they were not allowed to even consider new revenue streams. The politics were just not there.” That’s because the tax payers have nothing left!

    The voters just agreed, or those that voted YES agreed, to the $35 Arts tax, a $449 million schools bond measure (the biggest ever) and a Library bond measure, so there is nothing left in our shallow pockets. I know my property taxes are going up $950 or so a year…..money I will have to come up with by cutting MY budget.

    If you voted yes on the library budget, would you have still voted yes had you known these facts?: “The Multnomah County Library is one of the most expensive public libraries in the U.S.—costing twice the national average.

    During the 12 years when the county has cut $50 million in basic services, the library has steadily grown.

    American Library Association statistics from 2011, the most recent available for comparison, show it cost $81 per county resident to run the library. That’s more than double the national average, and systems of similar size are spending about $38 per person. The only cities roughly Portland’s size with more expensive libraries are San Francisco and Cleveland.” http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-19508-when_stacks_attack.html

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    • are November 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      somewhat off topic, but yes, i was aware of these facts and i voted yes on the library measure (but not on the city arts tax, which promises to be an administrative nightmare — but hey, a foot in the door for a local income tax). per capita library usage is much, much higher in portland than in your comparables.

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      • Pete November 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm

        I’ve always loved libraries but foresaw their potential obsolescence with the coming of the Internet. Hood River voted a bond measure that built them a LEED-certified award-winning addition that they can no longer operate. Where I live now we have a HUGE public library (which includes a coffee shop), and although it’s very expensive to operate it’s also very popular… for people who go there to use the Internet.

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        • Hood River Betsy November 15, 2012 at 8:57 am

          I don’t know what you are talking about. I just called the Hood River library, and they said they were open from 10am-7pm!

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          • Pete November 15, 2012 at 9:28 pm

            OK, so it reopened since I moved away then. Believe me, my point wasn’t about advocating closing it, especially since I helped pay a good deal of money to build it out (and operate it – I still own properties there).

            Note that 2 of the 3 relevant comments are about using the library for Internet access. The first comment says public libraries are responsible for teaching so many children to read, but I’d argue that’s primarily due to public schools (who incidentally have their own libraries) – not that public libraries don’t have inherent educational value, that is.

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    • spare_wheel November 15, 2012 at 8:13 am

      I care far more about schools, libraries, and arts education than I do about your property tax increase.

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      • Pete November 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm

        $950/yr isn’t an insignificant increase. If rwl1776 is paying ~$2K a year that’s twice the rate of inflation. Most of that increase, I assume, is for the school funding bond… maybe, like with the gas tax for roads, children should be taxed to pay for schools?

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  • dwainedibbly November 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Somebody from the Oregonian or KATU is bound to jump on the “license plate for bikes” bandwagon.

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  • Jeff Bernards November 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Maybe 20 years ago the city raised the cost of water to raise money and encourage conservation, well it worked. Everyone conserved water and the city again had a budget shortfall. What did they do? Raise the rates again so it would have a positive impact on the budget. The gas tax is no different, yes we conserved, driving less and smaller cars. To solve the budget problem you add more to the gas tax to fix the budget shortfall. THE GAS TAX IS THE BEST USER FEE FOR CONSERVATION AND DRIVING LESS. Subsidized oil and driving is undermining real driving behavior and transportation options attractiveness. A carbon/gas tax is past over due to help fight climate change.

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    • ScottB November 15, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      You’ve confused things a bit. water use fees go to build and maintain a minimum system. If people use less water, the rates have to go up just to cover those minimum costs.
      We already have more roads than we need, though not in all the places we need them, and local citizens have to build local roads before we, the city, assume maintenance responsibilities. Raising gas taxes might bring in more revenue to cover maintenance of what we have, but downsizing/rightsizing what we have would be a valuable exercise as well.

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  • Joseph E November 14, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Raising the gas tax and raising parking prices in areas with limited parking are both good ideas, even if the money was refunded directly to taxpayers. Every other developed country has gas taxes 4, 10 or 20 times higher than ours, because spending tons of money on imported petroleum is terrible for the economy. Gas taxes: http://cloudfront.mediamatters.org/static/images/item/economist.jpg

    In neighborhoods with limited car parking, free or underpriced street parking leads to drivers circling around for an empty spot, and encourages people to stay parked all day instead of moving their car to someone with more parking. More market-based parking prices will be good for local businesses and even good for drivers. The money should go back into the local commercial district, for new sidewalks, street trees, cleaning, etc.

    PBOT should be funded out of the general city fund, directly. No need to tie funding to a specific tax.

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  • Peter W November 15, 2012 at 12:57 am

    One issue with funding might be the framing of the tax and how the idea is sold to voters. Consider for example the ‘Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program’ in WashCo which has generated around half a billion dollars via property taxes. It sounds like an ‘improvement program’ rather than a tax, and they traditionally got buy in by giving people a tangible list of projects that’d get funded.

    Obviously the problem with decoupling the cost of driving from the act of it, however, is you remove a key disincentive.

    Another possibility folks could think about is a ‘Climate Safety and Streets Improvement Program’ which could be funded through gas sales and use the money to a) improve streets, b) support transit and c) lower people’s energy bills by installing solar, weatherproofing homes, etc. Perhaps if there were a tangible list and people felt like they were getting really great things via the program, it’d be more likely to be supported.

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  • anon1q2w3e4r5t November 15, 2012 at 1:38 am

    Yeah, so let’s spend money on a bike sharing program. The people are going to be pissed when they realize how money was wasted on Portland’s bike sharing program. The people are going to be even more pissed when they realize how the bike sharing program is going significantly set back Portland’s livable city/streets movement. The people are going to be beyond pissed when they realize….nah I’ll save it for 2013.

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  • Jack November 15, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Now that all the parking meters are electronic, “performance parking” should be in continuous effect with expected demand (as continuously monitored and projected with software) driving price. I’m sure there’s no shortage of people who will pay more for parking if the price goes up, and those who don’t want to pay more will turn to other options. Everybody wins.

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  • Elliot November 15, 2012 at 7:49 am

    “It’s time to reinvent how we fund transportation. That’s the bottom line.” – Tom Miller

    I had a good chuckle at this one since revenue (in this case, funding) is recorded as the top line. Obviously I support the spirit of what Tom is saying. 🙂

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  • Andyc of Linnton November 15, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Well, I’m all for a new source of revenue, whether it’s a “street user’s fee” or something similar. I bet if that for now we raise the gas tax as well, PBOT would actually obtain a lot more revenue for the foreseeable future. I mean, I still drive the car what seems like ALL THE TIME, because the alternatives to driving in this city either take years to implement or have what seems like very weak organizations backing them(and yes, I know we’ve done a lot in the city, its just really still not enough. Downtown still has no auto free road save that alley at Ankeny). Plus Trimet keeps scaling back, so I’m still driving as much as I did 5, 6, 7, 10 years ago, maybe more.

    I think if the model for a gas tax is in place, PBOT could up that significantly for the present time while they are attempting a new model for revenue for the future.

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  • Tom November 15, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
    ” People are also driving less. I

    Portland Commuters Are Driving More, Taking Transit Less


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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 15, 2012 at 10:06 am


      That story is based on one census report by the PBA. If you look at overall numbers, people are driving less on a per capita bases. Fewer miles, fewer cars.

      In 2001, that same PBA census showed 44% of people drove alone into downtown. In 2011 the number is still 44%

      In 2001, that PBA census tallied 3% of people biking. In 2011, it’s 11% biking.

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  • 9watts November 15, 2012 at 10:29 am

    But it is important to not lose sight of the first order issue: total fuel consumption by private auto. Per capita figures, while illustrative of individual behaviors, don’t capture the whole story.
    As we learned here
    total gasoline consumption for OR and WA has actually declined a bit of late, which–John Charles’ opinion notwithstanding–is excellent news.
    Quoting from that report:
    “Two concurrent trends have spurred the reductions in gasoline consumption: people are driving less, and vehicles have become more efficient. Of the two, declines in driving—particularly among northwesterners under the age of 35—have made the greater impact.”

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    • 9watts November 15, 2012 at 10:34 am

      And a bit more on automotive fuel efficiency’s modest contribution to the decline:
      “Gains in vehicle efficiency play a surprisingly small role
      in recent fuel trends. Despite stricter federal fuel economy
      standards and renewed consumer interest in higher-efficiency
      vehicles, the real-world efficiency of the nation’s vehicle
      fleet improved by only a few percentage points over the last
      decade, and has remained virtually unchanged since 2008.
      (See Figure 5.)7 This suggests that gains in average vehicle
      efficiency have accounted for less than 13 percent of the
      reduction in per capita gasoline consumption since 2002.”

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      • Pete November 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm

        Because they haven’t actually gained that much. My 2011 Acura gets great mileage, but not all that much better than my 1990 Acura (just a whole lot cleaner – my ’73 Nova even got reasonable mileage on leaded gas with no corn in it). There’s a perception that the popularity of hybrids has led to a big gain in efficiency, but I’m willing to bet most people don’t get 45 MPG out of their 45-MPG-rated Prius just based on the way they drive.

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  • Thomas November 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Neighborhood parking permits aren’t exactly a new idea. Two decades ago I lived in Seattle and we had neighborhood “zones” parking permits. Basically if you wanted to park on the street, you had to have a permit. I don’t know whether Portland needs zones or not – but I would certainly support an on-street parking fee. And I’m talking about overnight parking – not just casual day use. This would be a nice counterpoint to the gentleman who wants to double tax bicycle commuters (at least the majority of us who also own cars.)

    Jonathan – I think a number of people point to the fact that the revenue numbers for PBOT are not very clear. A nice fill-in article on this topic would be to really make transparent where PBOTs funds come from and where they go to. Some nice infographics to help paint a clear picture would be great. I’ve done my own perusing of the ODOT transportation numbers – and as far as I can tell, gas taxes are a small revenue source. It really confuses me when I hear PBOT say that this is their largest revenue stream. Is it really?? I’d love someone to sort this out and communicate it publicly.

    Thanks for great reporting – keep up the good work!!

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  • Tony Fuentes November 21, 2012 at 4:01 am

    A couple of things to recall from the 2007 discussions regarding transportation funding 1) a city gas tax was on the table for many months, it was removed toward the end of the process (then Commissioner Adams took it out of the package in November 2007); and 2) it may have been Paul Romain’s work representing the Oregon Petroleum Association that killed the street fee but there was a building concern about the inequity of the street fee within the small business community as well.

    The small business concern stemmed from the tiered pricing that became part of the street fee ordinance adopted by Council in January 2008. The fee structure provided large businesses that generated more car trips (i.e. more demand for street use) with a dramatic trip fee discount. The result was that the cost of the street fee was going to fall disproportionately upon small businesses.

    If a street fee proposal is developed again, I hope that one of the lessons learned from the effort in 2007/2008 is that the fee needs to be equitable.

    On a different but related note, although the role of gas taxes is often highlighted in the PBOT funding scheme, I believe the role of local property taxes is worthy of its own discussion.

    Every year that I have lived in Portland (since 2001) a larger and larger share of property tax revenue that would’ve gone to the city’s general fund is paying Urban Renewal Area debt.

    When I arrived in 2001, about 16 percent of this property tax revenue that would’ve gone directly to the general fund was supporting URAs. Looking at my most recent property tax statement, 27 percent of property taxes going to the city are now paying for Urban Renewal debt. That is a dramatic share of revenue being shifted away from the general fund in favor of subsidizing private sector development in the URAs as well as capital intensive pubic projects, such as the Street Car.

    Putting it another way, when I got here in 2001 over half of every property tax dollar went to the general fund, now less than half does. If you ever wonder why utility fees seem to be the go to sources for a wide variety of non-utility investments, this is the core reason why.

    I don’t think any new revenue sources should be taken off the table for discussion. However, I hope that given the dramatic budget challenges facing all the city bureaus (not just PBOT) that the new Council approaches the revenue challenges with the full picture in mind, not just the needs or desires of any single agency. And I hope that we as a community encourage this review to take place.

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  • Tony Fuentes November 21, 2012 at 4:08 am

    If you want a comprehensive snapshot of the city’s financial position, this 2011 report from the Auditor’s office outlines the reality:


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