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City’s legislative agenda: ‘Modernize’ transportation funding

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“… 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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