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City’s legislative agenda: ‘Modernize’ transportation funding

Posted by on January 15th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

“… the need for new infrastructure and ongoing maintenance outpaces available transportation revenue at the state and local levels.”
— From City of Portland’s 213 State Legislative Agenda

2013 is shaping up to be the year of transportation funding. For years now, everyone has known way we fund transportation is broken, but no one ever wanted to talk about it. Now, so many threads of the funding discussion are coming together that it’s not a stretch to think that by the end of this year we’ll have some major breakthroughs.

While ODOT continues to lead the nation in a push toward a mileage-based tax (instead of the gas tax), the City of Portland is doing some pushing of its own. Case in point is the City’s 2013 State Legislative Agenda that was released today. The agenda is a 48-page document — signed by Mayor Charlie Hales — that outlines the specific policy issues the City’s government relations staffers will lobby for down in Salem. Among the top priorities this year is infrastructure spending.

On a page titled, “Modernize & Enhance Transportation Spending,” the City states their objective as wanting to support legislation that will, “bolster long-term funding for multimodal transportation to better meet the evolving and growing needs of Oregonians and businesses.”

According to the agenda, the issue is that, “the need for new infrastructure and ongoing maintenance outpaces available transportation revenue at the state and local levels.” This is an interesting position for Mayor Hales. He painted a picture during his campaign, and has re-iterated in recent interviews that the reason PBOT hasn’t maintained roads at an acceptable rate is because of mismanagement and a reluctance to focus on the “basics” (read: too much priority on “bike projects”). This is the same perspective constantly hammered out by The Oregonian.

Campaign rhetoric aside, the City’s first post-Sam Adams agenda acknowledges the glaring financial complications facing the bureau and shows an understanding that we need more dedicated funding for bicycling-focused projects. Below are the three bullet points (followed by my notes) that go into specifics of what City lobbyists will support in Salem this session:

Support greater flexibility for local governments to raise transportation revenue by allowing the preemption on local gas tax increases to expire on January 2, 2014.

This is a reference to a deal struck by lawmakers when they passed the landmark Jobs and Transportation Act of 2009 (H.B. 2001). As part of that law, the gas tax went up six cents from $.24 per gallon to $.30 per gallon. That was the first increase since 1993. In order to get that increase, lawmakers put a moratorium on raising local gas taxes that is set to be repealed on January 2, 2014. While the gas tax is largely understood to be headed toward obsolescence, raising the local gas tax could raise revenues in the short-term.

Support dedicated state funding for non-roadway transportation modes, including investments in public transit operations and pedestrian, bicycling, and passenger rail transportation in addition to marine, freight rail, and aviation investments.

This is explicit support for a new funding program known as Connect Oregon Plus. The proposed program (that the Bicycle Transportation Alliance is also firmly behind) seeks to add additional project categories into the existing Connect Oregon, which specifically funds marine, freight rail, and aviation projects.

Support adoption of a road usage charge as a long term replacement for declining gas tax revenue to ensure that drivers pay a fair share for road maintenance and construction.

This is in reference to the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee that is being developed. As we’ve reported in the past, ODOT is leading the nation in coming up with the technology and the policy to make a mileage-based fee a reality.

Finally there seems to be real momentum for new funding ideas. 2013 should be very interesting. Stay tuned.

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Allan
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Allan

We should alter state gas tax proceeds so that instead of proportionally by # of vehicles registered it is proportional based on how many miles are driven in each county.

peejay
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peejay

So funny that everyone thinks the gas tax is broken because why? Electric cars or something. I have news: the gas tax isn’t broken; it’s just too damn low. And it will keep being too low as long as it is set as a certain amount per gallon, rather than per dollar of gas bought. If we could fix this technical problem, we’d guarantee gas taxes keeping up with inflation, or even inflation in the transportation sector, forever, without any hard to obtain rate changes.

Now that change in practice may be hard, but compare that to the creation of an entirely new infrastructure that would be required to monitor and charge accurately for VMT. Gadgets would have to be added to every car, even old ones, and a cottage industry would spring up overnight in ways to hack your car to cheat this VMT monitor. People with privacy concerns would rightly complain about the government tracking their movements, people with inefficient, wasteful vehicles would suddenly start paying exactly the same rate per mile as people who drive high fuel economy cars, and the overall newness and strangeness of the new tax would be met with a wall of political resistance.

Why do people think VMT is better than a minor fix to the boring old gas tax? Help me understand this point, please.

Andrew K
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Andrew K

I can hear the cries of the O-Live board already, “Require all bikes to be licensed and registered!!!”

*sigh*

This document is a start though, and a welcome one if you ask me. These conversations need to happen and they shouldn’t be taboo. Part of government’s job is to make very difficult decisions.

peejay
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peejay

Now, I don’t have super accurate numbers on this, but they’re in the ballpark. The national gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon, with state and local averaging about 30 cents more. I don’t know what’s happened to the state and local rates, but the national rate has been the same since 1993, when the average gas price was $1.07, vs $4.03 today, which means we went from a tax of 17% of the value of a gallon in 1993 to 4.6% today. That’s a huge rate DECREASE, while cars have been getting more efficient (less gas bought) and at the same time heavier (more damage to roads). If at least we kept up with inflation, the federal tax on a gallon would be pushing 80 cents a gallon, which I bet would be sufficient to pay for a lot of transit needs.

I may sound like a broken record on this subject, but that record is gonna keep playing until someone lifts the needle with a real insight as to how or why I’m wrong.

CPAC
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CPAC

Here’s how to pass either a VMT or the per-dollar gas tax: tie it to bicycle licensing/registration. Put them both into one bill.

Before you all jump on me, I know the licensing/registration thing wont even pay for itself, and I know it’s a lousy idea and sends the all the wrong messages, and I know it may not be actually workable. I’m opposed to it.

But as a means of gaining broader political support for a VMT or per-dollar gas tax (or at least removing some of the loudest opposition) would you make that compromise?

dwainedibbly
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dwainedibbly

$100/tire tax on studded motor vehicle tires.

Gerik
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In addition to the fantastic news that the City of Portland endorses Connect Oregon Plus, I’d like to point out that JPACT adopted it into their state legislative agenda as well. We have some credible momentum behind this proposal!

You can review the packet of materials from JPACT’s Jan. 10th meeting to see it on page 7 of the PDF.

“Support Multimodal Investment: Oregon should build upon its lottery-backed program of investment in multimodal capital projects that support freight mobility and transit by identifying new, ongoing state funding that supports those projects as well as transit operations and pedestrian and bicycle facilities.”

http://www.oregonmetro.gov/index.cfm/go/by.web/id=31963

J_R
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J_R

As others have stated, the problem is simply that the gas tax is too low.

The fuel economy of the vehicle fleet has not changed significantly in 30 years! We’re basically stuck at a fleet fuel economy of about 20 mpg. This is because the composition of the fleet (more SUV’s and light trucks) has increased, thus negating the relatively minor increases in fuel economy of cars.

The fuel economy has not been going up because the manufacturers, in response to consumers (that’s US), have been demanding increased performance rather than fuel economy. Look at the auto magazines or consumer magazines. It’s hard to find a car with a 0-60 time of more than 10 seconds. Even economy cars are achieving that. My 1974 BMW 2002 tii couldn’t do 0-60 in ten seconds and it was a sports car.

The problem is that federal gas tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents since 1993. Oregon’s gas tax was 24 cents per gallon in 1993 and was finally raised to 30 cents in 2011. That’s a 25 percent increase for those keeping track. During that same period, the consumer price index has gone up by more than 60 percent and the streets and highways construction cost index has gone up by more than 65 percent. That’s why we’re falling behind on road maintenance. Add to that new requirements, such as ADA compliant ramps at intersections, fish-friendly culverts to replace the old ones, new larger street signs, higher electricty costs to run traffic signals, etc. It’s no wonder we don’t have enough money to maintain the system, much less make improvements needed to accommodate a greater population. Instead we’re forced into a false choice between “autos and bikes.”

The gas tax should simply be adjusted for inflation – beginning 20 years ago. If it had gone up by a penny per year, we wouldn’t be in this fix.

The state has promised us that VMT-based charges for transportation use would be “revenue neutral.” So what the heck is the point? Do we really care if a Prius owner pays $5 per month less in gas tax than the Suburban owner? Remember they both pay the same vehicle and driver’s license fees.

The gas tax is really pretty fair. It causes those who drive more and drive less efficient cars to pay more. Besides that the gas tax is really cheap to administer. It’s collected on a wholesale fuel level. The VMT based tax would turn every vehicle owner into a road use tax payer. How many more bureaucrats will be needed to process all those payments.

Finally, if we don’t have enough money to maintain the entire transportation infrastructure and if construction and maintenance costs keep rising, does anyone believe it will be easier to raise the VMT tax from 1.5 to 1.6 cents per mile than it would be to raise the gas tax from 30 cents per gallon to 32 cents per gallon?

Just raise the gas tax and be done with it!

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

I agree with everyone above who says gas taxes are simply too damn low, and we wouldn’t be in this pickle if it had been indexed for inflation all these years. I think 9watts is right in his comments about VMT, and it damn well better factor vehicle weight in if we do go down that rabbit hole.

And I LIKE the fact that the gas tax incentivizes people to (1) drive LESS, (2), drive more efficient cars, and (3) drive more efficientLY. (Almost no one except me seems to do #3, but there’s a lot of potential there if people would stop treating their gas pedals as testosterone dispensers).

In fact, if gas taxes had kept up with inflation over the past few decades, we might have seen less sprawl, less of an SUV craze and less of a perceived need to go 80mph on the freeway. Oh yeah, and more bike and bike-friendly infrastructure.

bicycle rider
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bicycle rider

why wouldnt you make gas taxes a percentage instead of fixed number, like how every other tax is collected?

Terry D
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Terry D

A local option gas tax may be fine in the short term and it should be indexed to inflation, but we what we really need is a CARBON TAX.

Seattle is actually talking about a local one, similar to British Columbia’s, which I have read has been successful so far. Part of the reason gas taxes are used on public transportation and other non-auto related projects is emissions mitigation. Admittedly, as a household we have only filled up our bio-diesel three times since last March, but I do not think I should be paying the same fuel tax for Oregon grown B99 that someone running Dino-diesel from the middle east is since I have only 22% of the carbon emissions.

That said, a carbon tax combined with a wheel-mile tax would be fair since our auto does do the same damage to the roads whatever the fuel and a studded tires annual fee (if we can not eliminate them) would be a great modernization of our financing to 21st century realities.