An idea that’s spent six years in City Hall’s back rooms is bubbling back up: a fee on each Portland household, and probably businesses too, that could pay for street paving, sidewalks, streetcars and protected bike lanes.
If approved by city council — or possibly by a public vote — it’d buttress Oregon’s sagging gasoline tax as a way to maintain and improve the city’s $15 billion transportation system starting as soon as late 2015, supporters say.
It’d also, of course, shift the costs of maintaining the street system further away from the cars, trucks and buses that actually damage the streets, and toward the public in general.
But backers, who include many biking advocates, say a universal fee is more politically feasible than raising fees on motor vehicles. And, unlike the gas tax, the state constitution wouldn’t forbid it from being used for public transit or off-street paths.
Though the city has been circumspect in its public statements, four members of the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s budget advisory committee said this week that based on what they’ve heard from city staff and from one another, a universal street fee looks like the plan.
“You could have a pretty low rate across the board in Portland and generate quite a bit of money,” said Jeanne Harrison, a neighborhood association volunteer in Northwest Portland who sits on the committee.
“You own a house, you pay. You rent a house, you pay. You rent an apartment, you pay. You rent a business that generates a lot of car trips, you pay. I think it’s something that makes a lot of sense.”
— David Sweet, Cully Neighborhood Association
In 2007, former Portland mayor Sam Adams pushed strongly for “Safe, Sound and Green Streets” — a fee initiative that would have charged each Portland household $4.54 per month, plus a variable fee on local businesses, with discounts available for low-income households and those that minimized car use. It would have raised $24 million per year, about half as much as the city now gets from gas tax and 10 percent of the agency’s current budget.
David Sweet, another budget advisory committee member who’s active in Northeast Portland’s Cully Neighborhood, also likes the idea of a street fee.
“The city is way behind on infrastructure and it’s just unworkable, the amount that PBOT relies on federal grants and state grants to do the basic work of maintaining a transportation system in the city,” he said.
The city would need $153 million a year for 10 years “to bring the bulk of our transportation assets — pavement, bridges, traffic signals and streetlights — into fair or better condition,” spokesman Dylan Rivera said Wednesday.
Sweet, who said he’s a daily bike commuter who also drives a car, added that a street fee “would help us give the lie to the idea that people who ride bikes don’t pay for streets.”
“You own a house, you pay,” he said. “You rent a house, you pay. You rent an apartment, you pay. You rent a business that generates a lot of car trips, you pay. I think it’s something that makes a lot of sense.”
The fee might be tweaked to different levels for different households and businesses based on actual or average car use patterns.
Corky Collier, who sits on the committee and represents freight and trucking interests as director of the Columbia Corridor Association, also said a utility fee seems to be the leading option in the city’s conversation.
“I think people are considering restarting that idea of a utility fee similar to what we proposed” in 2007, he said. But Collier said that though he’s “fine” with “the concept of the utility fee,” he thinks the city should first focus on advocating for a new transportation funding system at the state level that would replace the gas tax with something like a weight-based fee on vehicle miles traveled.
list is needed to justify a per-household fee.
(Photo by J.Maus/BikePortland)
“It’s possible to do a utility fee and gas tax change at the same time. but they need to be coordinated,” Collier said. He also said he thinks the city should draw up a list of projects that it wants to build — something he mentioned could be done in a few months — rather than just raising money for its own sake.
“You say, ‘I’m not trying to get new funding, I’m trying to get this pedestrian crossing built,'” Collier said.
He warned that there’d be a public backlash if the city spends the money on “dumb” projects.
“If you go too fast and if you make the wrong decisions, the public’s going to see that and then the next time you want something, you’re screwed,” he said.
(Photo by M.Andersen/BikePortland)
Other possibilities the committee has discussed include a local gas tax (tested by a poll last summer, then sidelined); higher parking-meter prices in high-demand areas; and a citywide fee for the right to park a vehicle on a public street.
“You just say the word ‘tax’ and that’s sort of a hot button for people,” Harrison said. “I think people get the concept of a user fee more easily: the idea that if you’re using something, you pay for it.”
Sweet said a residential parking fee (in Chicago, for example, it costs $50 per year to park on a public street) is “a possibility” but would require “a long-term education program” that Portland hasn’t tackled yet.
Demand-based parking meters, like the ones that currently raise hourly prices near Jeld-Wen Field from $1.80 to $3.50 during soccer games, might be a likelier option, Sweet said.
“The smart meters are all connected through computer and they’re capable of determining when a certain area is parked up,” Sweet said. “It passes 85 percent use and at that point your rates might go up. The utilization goes down and your rates go down.”
A street fee, though, has the virtue of being relatively common in the region.
“Eighteen Oregon cities already pay,” Sweet noted.
As many Portlanders will remember, this isn’t the first time a transportation fee has been seriously discussed — in fact, it wouldn’t even be the first time the city council has approved one. In 2008, after a year of twisting negotiations, city commissioners passed a plan like this and then rapidly repealed it after a group of local gas stations, convenience stores and national petroleum companies unexpectedly threatened to sponsor a signature drive that would have put the fee to a public vote.
Harrison said she doesn’t think the same would happen again.
“This time, the business community and the citizens are all on the same page in terms of funding,” she said. “Our budget advisory committee is made up of a very diverse group of people, and we’re all saying the same thing.”
Time will tell.
Correction 12/12: An earlier version of this post misstated the price of an annual street parking pass in Chicago.
This and the Art Tax are continued regressive tax measures. Ridiculous.
“a street fee ‘would help us give the lie to the idea that people who ride bikes don’t pay for streets.'”
But how does a street fee help with that? We already overpay for streets. If we are unable to convince the unconvinced of how this works right now, what good will a street fee do? If anything it does the opposite, especially when phrased this way it seems to confirm their misconceptions that we now *don’t* pay our way. This is beyond stupid.
Right now I’m saving to buy a home, and barely saving faster than the rate at which properties are increasing. This tacks on another cost for people like me.
do you happen to know the following for Portland/Multnomah Co.?
(a) percent of households who own cars/buy gas
(b) percent of households who own property/would pay this street fee
(c) percent of households in (b) but not in (a) – I know this one: ~6%
Let us assume for the moment that (a) is 83%, and (b) is 60%*.
Shifting from the straightforward, logical index the gas tax to inflation/double it/etc. to this street fee introduces so much mischief, leads those who don’t drive but own property to pay a new fee while those who do drive but rent, or I suppose live outside the region, to have the toll their driving takes on local roads subsidized by the rest of us.
Why? Someone tell me why we would want to go down this rabbit hole?
*landlords, it will be argued, are going to pass this fee onto their renters, bringing this figure up. This seems plausible in the abstract, but I’m not sure in practice how long that would take, how easily this is accomplished or would occur in a straightforward matter. Someone’s researched this question I’m quite sure.
A fee on each household doesn’t just mean those who own property.
I was assuming it would be tacked onto the property tax statement. Is there some other mechanism envisioned for actually billing households? I haven’t heard any spelled out.
I believe the 2008 incarnation of this tax it was to be buried somewhere on the water bill. Now that the politics around water have become nuclear I doubt that will be the plan this time. Probably an annual billing like the leaf fee. That way they could design a paperwork nightmare for the working-poor and elderly to fill out and request relief.
Water or power bill.
If it’s on the water bill people will freak out. Our water bills are already huge.
Federally-mandated big pipes and massive underground reservoirs are not cheap. If you want to blame someone, then blame short-sighted greedy voters who underfunded infrastructure in this city for decades.
Not blaming. I know exactly why they’re so high. Just pointing out the political reality.
I say put up speeding and red light cameras to catch gross offenders and funneling that money directly into the streets fund.
As for people who walk or ride bikes paying for safer crossings: that’s ass-backwards. They would need them if there weren’t so many high-speed roadways filled with cars. The crossings are a mitigation against the harsh environment created so that vehicles have the benefit of being able to travel faster.
The cameras don’t generate much revenue. They barely break even.
Ban studded tires, collect an annual fee based on vehicle weight, raise gas taxes and figure out how to make these pay for infrastructure, increase parking fees and expand where people pay to park, charge taxes on private surface parking lots (could also spur redevelopment!), then consider a monthly fee for everyone. I think our roads and streets are too highly subsidized already, and high-users and high-impact users should start paying more. Oh, also immediately start tolling the I-5 bridges over the Columbia so that our Vancouver road-users can contribute to the system they rely on.
With so many smart people in this town working on transportation how this idiotic idea ever got off the ground is beyond me. Whose idea was this?!
“it’s backers (…) say a universal fee is more politically feasible than raising fees on motor vehicles.”
Where do people get these notions? On what basis are statements such as this made? On what evidence?
On the one hand we tell ourselves that these are basically the same people: those who buy gas, and those who vote/own property.* Starting from that premise the quote above makes little sense. Why would Mrs. driver/property owner prefer to be taxed on her house rather than at the pump?
*But it is actually not that straightforward; quite a few of us fall into only one of those categories, some neither. Given the asymmetry this proposed tax introduces, and to which Michael alluded to above, why would anyone entertain this convoluted and regressive inversion of what most of the world is either grappling with, or will soon: a carbon tax?
“Politically feasible” means that a politician who proposes it can actually see it to fruition without killing their own chance of re-election. Hood River proposed a $.03 gas tax to help improve roads and that was nearly career suicide for the council-person who came up with it. Time will tell if the same thing happens to Bluemenaur’s current attempt at the same on a national level.
I believe MaxD nails it in sentiment, but we see how well the studded tire ban is going so far…
Yes. Vancouver drivers who spend their commute and working day using Portland streets (or who avoid their own sales tax by shopping here) really need to pay a share.
It wouldn’t hurt if they’d learn to drive around bikes, either.
We can’t unilaterally decide to toll bridges on Interstate highways. That would require Congressional approval.
I dont’ recall CalTrans having to get permission from Congress to raise tolls on the Bay Bridge (which is the terminus of I-80 but still part of the interstate).
Raising existing tolls is different from enacting tolls on a bridge already paid for.
You mean many of the Vancouver folks who actually work in Oregon and pay income tax here?
Road costs are paid through user fees (gas and registration) and property taxes for the most part.
But Meh nails the distributed money effect perfectly below anyway.
A gas tax is not a user fee. It is a tax. You are allowed to drive on a highway without paying a “fee” – unless it is a toll road. Electric cars, for instance, are not charged a “fee.”
the “for the most part” is the telling point. I mean how long have we been arguing on here that cyclists are paying for roads by paying other taxes. Can’t have it both ways.
I think the bottom line is that Washingtonians are contributing to Oregon in some ways and are not just blatantly “free loaders” as many would like to think.
Those same people who work in Oregon leave behind income tax on every dollar earned and don’t avail themselves of most of the services those taxes provide. Be very happy that they go home at night and flush their toilets in the couve, and leave that money behind.
Those people who come over to shop are making shopping better for your. The more a retailer sells the more they buy and the more they buy they better deal they can get from the wholesaler.
Having people come to our state and leave behind that money is not a negative thing.
Fine by me as long as this is combined with a studded tire tag that costs, say, $150/year…I suppose that would be best implemented and enforced at the state level, though.
More like $1500 per year. Studded tires are so ridiculously unnecessary. Bring chains. Use them in the snowy mountains.
Some cars do not have enough clearance inside the wheel to use chains. I owned a couple. The only alternatives for those cars to studs are tire socks or spider spikes. They cost at least twice as much as studded tires. I got the spiders because I could afford them, but not everyone can.
First, there are very good, viable snow tires that do not have studs. I have 2 sets and am very happy with them.
Second, if one buys a ego boosting sports car with no suspension travel, slammed to the ground and no room for chains one shouldn’t be surprised it isn’t very practical for actual transportation. Just park it when it snows.
The fact that the above posts see absolutely no alternatives leaves to me to believe they haven’t really lived anywhere else. Studded tires are banned in so many snowy (snowier) states, and yet they get by just fine.
I would want to be sure that equals are being compared — here on the east coast, there is interesting variability from town to town in how well the streets are plowed, and in how much salt is used. I recall hearing that a lot less salt was used in Oregon. Most cars here (Boston area) lack studs, but they are more common in cars from Maine and (I think) New Hampshire.
I have extensive experience on snowy and icy mountains and can attest that 1) metal-studded tires are highly over-rated and have many drawbacks, and 2) modern dedicated snow tires like Bridestone Blizzaks or Michelin Pilot Alpins are exceptional in even the iciest of conditions. For deeper snow it’s best to run a narrow, high-profile tire.
I’m on board, though not enthusiastically, for a street fee, as long as it really does have a) a car-ownership component and b) real breaks for the poor. Gotta say, though, that paying the same fee as my neighbor with the two SUVs with studded tires, or the one across the neighborhood line in the high-rent district with four times my income, would go down poorly.
“You just say the word ‘tax’ and that’s sort of a hot button for people,” Harrison said. “I think people get the concept of a user fee more easily: the idea that if you’re using something, you pay for it.”
How is a gas tax (increase) not a perfect example of a user fee, so defined? Lewis Carroll had nothing on these clowns.
How about having PPP target and ticket everyone that is texting/talking on their phone while driving? Dedicate the money to roads.
And every driver who doesn’t use their turn signal. Oregonians are allergic to using their indicators.
Signaling turns is illegal in California…
and too “aggressive” for Oregon.
yeah, good luck with this one folks. I swear the way some people are just totally blind to political realities is really beyond reasoning sometimes.
You can dress this up as a “user fee” all you want but people realize it is a tax and they also realize it isn’t a tax that distributes fairly toward the people damaging the roads vs. those who live their life with a lower impact footprint.
“The fee might be tweaked to different levels for different households and businesses based on actual or average car use patterns.”
Right. And if we do this enough, we’ll be right back where we started/were afraid to go: a gas tax increase! Yikes.
I moved here from NH which bases part of it’s annual auto registrations on vehicle weight and vehicle cost (based on KBB I think). So if you own a heavy and expensive car you pay more. If you drive a light and inexpensive care you pay less. Still the fees were signifcally higher than here in OR. I just paid $300 to reigster my 2010 Forester for 2 years. In NH it would have cost my $350 a year.
Part of these fees went to road improvements at the state leve, city level, etc.
This is nice to hear, as it seems that many of the insular folks in this town can only ever scream bloody murder about how high their auto registration is.
When I did the whole car registration thing when I moved here nine years ago, I paid about $120 for the plate, DEQ and title transfer and that was for two years. I was due to renew in Montana and it would have been $90 for one year. (Did you get special plates or something? I know the rates went up but that seems high.)
I agree that this would be a better way to cover things like this. It is a beuracracy already in place and you could be assessed a extra fee/tax already on what it nornally is. Montana used to go by trade-in value but the voters changed it by the year of the car (and the state lost a lot of money). Weight could be another option as well, although I do like the idea of trade-in value as being the most fair to people who are low income.
That’s about right I think I paid about $240 for two years when I moved here 3 years ago. This was more expensive than the CO reg. I had, but I didn’t think it was insanely high.
9 years ago I’m guessing you didn’t have the $20/yr for the Sellwood Bridge.
No, I did not have the Sellwood Bridge fee. The fee for the two years jumped from $54 to $87 a few years ago which is really not all that high. Still, $87 plus the $19 deq and $21 Sellwood bridge fee every two years make me feel as if I am scamming the state!!
Do you have a breakdown of that, because I’m not sure it’s right. I thought the Sellwood fee alone was 2 x $20/year
I remember people screaming bloody murder here when auto reg jumped from $27 to $54…
Washington state used to do that, plus the sales tax applied (applies?) to car purchases. It died a flaming death a few years back, but did help fund the Seattle Link light rail and massive freeway expansions.
Another regressive flat fee on every address in the city is beyond belief. The 60%+ vote on the Arts Tax has broken a screw in the bureaucratic (and blue-ribbon advisory panel) group-think.
Dear reader, please say no to regressive taxes. Even if they trot out the children. Regressive tax schemes are not fair to citizens, they are just easy for pols.
Here’s what the city of Lake Oswego has to say about it’s street fee.
I thought Question 10 was hilarious:
Question 10: How much does the fee cost local service providers and businesses?
BASED ON 2010 DATA, INFORMATION TO BE UPDATED
Non-residential fees vary based upon the type and gross floor area (GFA) of businesses. Typical ranges are between $4.00 and $20.58 per 1,000 sf of GFA. Some examples are shown as follows:
Example 1: A medical-dental office building falls into non-residential Group 2. The unit of measure is 1,000 square feet of gross floor area. Assuming the office building has 10,000 square feet of gross floor area, the multiplier would be 10,000/1,000 = 10. The group rate of $5.51 multiplied by 10 equals $55.10 per month.
Example 2: A 24-hour convenience market falls into non-residential Group 3. If the market has 5,000 square feet of gross floor area, the monthly rate for that market would be the group rate of $20.58 per month multiplied by 5 (5,000/1,000) to produce a monthly bill of $102.90.
Can you imagine how much this costs to set up, update, administer?! What if you remodel, or add a commercial kitchen?
Well, some comments:
1) every major city in Oregon already tracks the square footage of every building in its taxing district, its part of the building permit & records function
2) you are absolutely right, a gas tax is so much easier – increasing the tax # would not actually require any additional overhead!
People want and expect solid and progressive infrastructure. …More bike lanes, more cycle tracks, pave all the unimproved neighborhoods streets, more sidewalks, signals, street lights, safety safety safety. Certainly all of this is very important but when it is time for people to put their money where their mouth is, people become enraged. All of this costs money folks, which is something I think many people forget. I will gladly pay a street use fee.
That is the dumbest idea I’ve heard in a while. Am I missing something? Making homeowners pay for streets? Increase the stagnant gas tax.
gas tax is constitutionally limited to road projects. it’s also a political hurdle as it would affect the whole state. transportation funding is horribly inadequate in this state as well as the rest of the nation. raise the gas tax and add a street utility fee. then we might have high quality, safe, multi-modal infrastructure.
“gas tax is constitutionally limited to road projects.”
Are you talking about federal gas tax receipts? Because we have a law here in Oregon that earmarks 1% of state gas tax funds specifically for bike infrastructure.
Homeowners already pay for streets, that’s how they get built in front of homes.
And especially not as another poll tax. I can’t see how this is any better than a properly indexed to inflation gas tax and property taxes.
How is this anything but a regressive property tax?
If it’s linked to property value (ie. a property tax) then that doesn’t necessarily make it regressive. A flat tax is regressive yes.
Our supposedly “Progressive” income taxes have pretty high thresholds though, so I wouldn’t hold them up as an income equality beacon.
I testified at one of Adams’ neighborhood meetings last time around that I opposed a utility fee, but would support a gas tax increase of ANY amount. I still feel the same.
A gas tax is still a really good way of allocating costs for use of the system. Those who drive more pay more. Those who drive gas guzzlers and emit more carbon also pay more.
I’ll support a modest fee per household once the gas tax is adjusted for inflation with 1993 as a base. That’s the last time the federal gas tax was increased. Since then, it’s been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon. Construction costs have increased by just under 70 percent since then according to the Corps of Engineers’ bridge and highway construction cost index. That means the federal tax should be 31.3 cents per gallon.
The Oregon gas tax in 1993 was 24 cents per gallon. Using the same 70 percent adjustment for construction costs, the Oregon tax should be 40.8 cents per gallon. Make those adjustments and I’ll gladly support a utility fee.
I share the concerns others have expressed above about inequity. I have neighbors with five vehicles that depart every day before work and return every evening. All single occupant vehicles. Another neighbor uses her car once a week for grocery shopping. My household falls in between, but lots closer to the latter example. Should we all pay the same $5 or whatever per month?
As for the shift to a VMT-based tax, let’s delay that until electric vehicles start accounting for a measurable amount of the miles travelled. We can even delay the implementation of a VMT-based system by having a modest increase in registration fees for electric vehicles if anyone is really convinced that’s causing a significant funding shortfall. A VMT-based system is far too cumbersome and expensive for the theoretical improvement in “fairness.” Besides, if we go to a VMT based fee we should really implement a carbon tax like British Columbia. And that’s based on cents per gallon, which is what the VMT-based user fee proponents are trying to get rid of.
Raise the gas tax first.
“…A gas tax is still a really good way of allocating costs for use of the system. …” J_R
“…More complex, but long term is what we need for stable funding as MPG drops and feuls chnage. …” Terry D
“…we have failed to index the gas tax to inflation, allowed it to atrophy, languish, shrivel. …” 9watts
Price of fuel fluctuates at the pump, regularly, depending various factors. I people wanted to do it, at the pump, fuel tax could also be made to fluctuate regularly, to sustain a road tax revenue total amount for a given economic quarter, year, etc.
One more time: Price of fuel fluctuates at the pump, regularly, depending on various factors. If people wanted to do so, at the pump, fuel tax could also be made to fluctuate regularly, to sustain a road tax revenue total amount for a given economic quarter, year, etc.
You have to think like an economist on this one: variable “make-up-the-difference” taxes don’t work. If the retail price is fixed, then everyone in their supply chain will raise their prices to maximize their take, at the expense of tax revenues. You have to define the tax in a way that doesn’t allow producers to manipulate the rate. The only thing wrong with the current gas tax (aside from it not being indexed to inflation) is that it is too damn low.
“…The only thing wrong with the current gas tax (aside from it not being indexed to inflation) is that it is too damn low.” GlowBoy
The gas tax being too low…or thought to being so…is what a variable gas tax at the pump could correct. A regulating agency could change the amount of the tax, daily, weekly, monthly…whatever needed to try get the designated amount of money needed for repair/construction, for a given cycle. It would basically be a more expedient way to meet, for example, PBOT’s budget needs, without having to wait until the next opportunity for increases to the budget through City Hall.
Of course, any such idea would probably be hugely unpopular amongst people faced with paying such a tax. Nobody wants to pay more. People want to receive more while paying less for it. That’s understandable.
The money will have to come from somewhere.
This is exactly like putting cheese around a pill you have to give your dog.
Think about how hard people in Portland freak out when you talk about a sales tax in Portland, and the only people that really benefit from it are those that live in Vancouver, WA. Sure it’s neat to see something for $50 and actually pay $50 for it but I’m not so dumb as to believe the city/state/federal government doesn’t find a way to get that tax from me somewhere.
If people want to crap their pants about a gas tax then let them. Now they can whine and complain about the street fee that is assessed to their home and/or business.
If you want nice streets, it has to be paid for. If entrenched lobbies want to strike their standard and stall out what should be taxed, then find another route to collect the revenue.
Who knows? Maybe the majority will dislike getting taxed in a general way enough to find ways to stop the old entrenched lobbies from stalling out sensible taxation.
And I think that’s why a majority of people voted for the Arts tax (fee).
Kill this. Now.
It doesn’t matter what we pay. I expect little would improve for most of us from yet another greedy revenue grab.
so? functional and sustainable societies require revenue.
functional and sustainable societies require a healthy respect for the public’s intelligence to see through foolish nonsense like this.
The infrastructure is already in place to collect the gas tax, why create a new tax and also have to create a whole new infrastructure to collect it.
Try to raise the gas tax all you want, but it you have to contend with the rest of the state, so be prepared for inaction. Oh, and even if you are successful at raising the gas tax, you would then need a constitutional amendment to be able to use that money for bike/ped projects – particularly any type of off-street path. I wholly endorse paying a modest monthly fee tacked on to my utility bill to pay for local street infrastructure.
However, I would need to see some limits placed on the fees – bike, ped, and multi-modal improvements. Not a fan of using this fee on streetcar projects though – those projects cost too much money and with very isolated benefits.
“Oh, and even if you are successful at raising the gas tax, you would then need a constitutional amendment to be able to use that money for bike/ped projects.”
I would like to learn more about this. Is this true for on-street projects? Anyone know where to find the chapter and verse? I can’t imagine why this would be so. The only reason for those infrastructure tweaks is the dangers emanating form the machines that use the gas on which the tax is levied.
Germany takes in ~53 billion Euros per year from the combination of gas taxes, sales and eco-taxes on cars and gasoline, and related fees. At the same time they spend only about 17 billion Euros/yr on maintaining their (to us unbelievably high quality) road infrastructure. And yet when the subject of a flat fee (per auto, not as is here being considered, per household) came up recently, none other than the German equivalent of the AAA suggested *raising* Germany’s gas taxes instead of going the flat fee route.
How did we ever get ourselves into this pickle where sensible solutions, solutions that instititions in other countries work with every day, are deemed inadmissible, and we instead fool around with cockamaimy ideas that get little traction in places with better roads and mode splits we can only dream of?
* * * * *
When asked about the discrepancy between gas tax receipts and expenditures on roads, one of Germany’s Automobile Association, The Ecological Traffic Club of Germany had this to say:
“We keep hearing demands for the elimination of the eco-tax and a reduction in gas taxes. These demands are justified by pointing out that more money is raised through gas taxes than is spent on roads. According to calculations of the car lobby, the roughly 48 billion Euro taken in through gas taxes are to be viewed alongside a mere 17.5 billion Euro spent on roads. But this calculation is inaccurate because it elides a large portion of the costs generated by traffic that go beyond building and maintaining roads: costs for parking, street lighting and sweeping, ambulance service and economic subsidies related to auto and truck traffic.
These calculations do not yet include external costs of traffic. These are borne by the public. Among these external costs are damages from accidents, noise, air pollution (health, property and environmental damages), the consequences of climate change, as well as additional expenditures in cities, and costs related to congestion. If we add the direct and indirect costs, driving corresponds to higher costs for the economy as a whole than the associated taxes take in.”
> When asked about the discrepancy between gas tax receipts and expenditures on roads, one of Germany’s Automobile Association, The Ecological Traffic Club of Germany had this to say:
> “… If we add the direct and indirect costs, driving corresponds to higher costs for the economy as a whole than the associated taxes take in.”
Holy smarts, batman! Someone should start an ‘Ecological Traffic Club of Portland’ to echo these sentiments locally.
I’ve been reading up on their positions w/r/t all sorts of topics, from helmets to biking to work to e-bikes. It’s enough to blow anyone’s mind. I’ll work on translating the rest of their webpage one of these days.
Fun stuff for the whole family!
And one small correction they are an association that deals with all transport, not just cars, as was probably obvious.
We can rephrase “taxes” for our “burn down the gubment” neighbors: it is not a tax, it’s a yearly subscription fee.
You don’t want to pay the yearly fee you can pay an amortized per use fee ×150%. The extra charge isn’t about punishment but instead would be configured to cover the bureaucratic infrastructure costs of allowing these people the privilege of living in a Ferengi paradise.
Since when does it cost $16.50 annually to park in Chicago? Residential permits cost $180.00.
Click on the link, then go to the “Pricing” tab.
Right, but that’s on top of the $150/year city sticker. So it really costs $175 per year to park in Chicago.
My error! Thanks to both of you. I’ll fix.
Oh yay, another regressive tax!
Judging by the way the city spends our money as outlined in the latest issue of the Willamette Week I can’t say that I’m too excited about this latest shake down. Well I’m excited but not in a good way..
What’s to prevent PBOT from spending this street fee on lunchtime jazz concerts like their colleagues over at BES? We pass every single bond measure and tax that comes by and where are the results? Sorry but I don’t trust a word that comes from City Hall, all talk and no action. Give them a trillion dollars and they’ll have their hands out for more in six months.
Since I don’t own a car will PBOT build me nice protected bike lanes all around town with the extra money that they want to extort? Nah….. clowns.
Im curious how trucks, buses, and cars have damaged the sidewalk in front of my house?
Im not opposed to this, a bicycle registration (that could help track my bicycle frames vin in the case it is stolen, it would be registered when pawned, sold, etc like a vehicle) and a vehicle registration with varying amounts while vehicle registration remains highest due to its higher infrastructure needs.
Cars, trucks, and buses haven’t damaged the sidewalk in front of your house. Most likely either tree roots have damaged the sidewalk, the sidewalk wasn’t put in properly to begin with, or it has reached the end of its useful life. Fortunately, in Portland at least, we already have a funding stream to deal with this issue – it’s the property owner’s (if you live in Portland, your) responsibility to fund and complete the sidewalk maintenance. So, a street maintenance fee is not necessary to fund fixing sidewalks.
Additional funding is needed to fill in sidewalks where they unwisely weren’t required of developers, and for more infrastructure to help people walk across streets safely. But at least the crossing infrastructure should be funded by gas tax, mileage fees, or some other tax on motor vehicle use, because it is the use of motor vehicles that makes crossing large streets dangerous for walkers.
Overall, I think the City should just raise the gas tax and motor vehicle registration fees, not try to create an additional fee to administer just because the devil they don’t know (opposition to the fee) might be better than the devil they know (opposition to raising the gas tax).
Yeah i know what has caused the issues to sidewalks around town, it was a remark towards how it is being reported here with what the tax would go towards and Anderson inserting his one-sided remark. With people reducing their driving habits as has been happening and we only raise vehicle taxes it would be a neverending cycle until all those taxes are shifted suddenly at a significantly higher rate to everyone as a whole. Whats the issue with cyclists and pedestrians paying for paths and sidewallks just like a car paying for a higheay?
The issue is that extensive crossing treatments, separate paths and lanes, etc. would not be necessary if our public roadway (which historically was shared between different modes, including walking) had not been de facto allocated to high-speed motor vehicle transport only during the 20th century. The road is all of our collective inheritance and the fact that almost all of it has been given to motor vehicle transport is a wrong that motor vehicle use needs to pay to right.
As an analogy – say the City passed a new law saying all of our present parks would now be for use by people on unicycles only, no walking allowed. Say that in a few decades, people realized that people who prefer or need to walk deserve access to nature too. And, say that every time people walking mixed with people unicycling, there was a rash of fatal unicycle-on-walker accidents that led the City to believe that the two could not safely mix in parks. Would it be fair to require that the people who wanted to walk in the parks pay to acquire new land for parks for themselves? Or, should the unicyclers pay for the new land, because they were given a huge gift of all the parks in Portland decades ago? I think the unicyclers (motor vehicle users, of whom I am one) need to pay to give walkers places to walk.
As someone that has two vehicles parked outside my house his house, I would totally support a residential vehicle parking fee. It would discourage ownership of junk vehicles that are never or rarely used.
This is a great point. When I lived in Long Beach, CA, my neighbor owned 5 “classic” cars which he kept on the street in free street parking. This is near the beach, where parking was always scarce, and an off-street space cost about $90 a month. Since he didn’t need to actually use those cars, he could drive around looking for free spots.
In San Francisco you HAVE tom move your car once a week for street sweeping. If it can not be moved, it is towed. I have been arguing for years that PBOT should do this at least once a month in areas of the city with complete streets.
If everyone went back and read some history they would realize that we are underfunding our transportation system by HUGE amounts compared to what we invested pre-1980. This street fee only makes sense. $4.50 a month is not much, particularly if it is attached somehow to ROW length when it comes to single family homes. Someone with a 10,000 square foot lot has a lot more road to maintain than someone in on a 2000 foot flag lot. Hence we could make it somewhat progressive. Also, if there is a discount for those who minimize auto use. How you would show that I do not know.
The gas tax is a dinosaur that needs to be retired in favor of a combination wheel-mile tax combined with an economy wide carbon tax. The federal gas tax would in theory capture the direct pollution gasoline causes, the carbon tax would price carbon pollution into the mix when it comes to fuel choice and the wheel mile tax would charge for the actual damage/wear and tear a car actually causes (add studded tires) si would include electrics.
Of course this would require a complete overhaul of our funding system from Salem. We will have better luck passing a local street fee. Yes it is regressive, but the homes and businesses that have complete streets will be paying for the build out of some area that don’t. So in reality, the benefits will trickle though out the city…in theory.
I usually enjoy your posts, learn lots from them, but I am perplexed about this one.
I, for one, have never disagreed with the fact that more money would be salutary. The question before us, though, is how to raise that money, make up for the idiotic manner in which we have failed to index the gas tax to inflation, allowed it to atrophy, languish, shrivel.
But then you say this: “The gas tax is a dinosaur that needs to be retired in favor of a combination wheel-mile tax combined with an economy wide carbon tax.” Where did that come from?
The US/state gas tax is no dinosaur; it is a child that was never allowed to grow up, and now you’re calling for infanticide, when it would be far more useful to give it some milk to drink and a new pair of shoes so it can grow big and strong like its European cousins.
I drove an old diesel that ran B99. If I had the time, I could have brewed it cheaply and I would not have had to pay the $4 a gallon….and avoided feul taxes completely. I know people in just this situation that do, but their driving still damages the roads. Gas as a feul should be taxed extra becuase it is carcenogenic and a general eco-nightmare…but as a measure that attempts to charge those who use the road more, it is now a failure so I guess i should have specified that. It is an easy and understandable tax that would be more aceptible to the masses than a complete overhaul, but as a long term fix it is unworkable.
Hence why I push for a carbon tax whenever possible. All feuls would then be charged at some level, even if it is in the production of the solar panals to charge the electric car. A wheel/mile tax indexed by weight would capture the direct damage. More complex, but long term is what we need for stable funding as MPG drops and feuls chnage. The street fee would capture those who do not have cars and kill the “bikes do not pay” arguement once and for all. The extra income can be targeted to the areas of the city that need the help or be used to drop mass transit ridership costs or provide low income monthly passes. I also think that we should meter wherever possible, but that is another can of worms.
“as a measure that attempts to charge those who use the road more, it [the gas tax] is now a failure…as a long term fix it is unworkable.”
You have not explained why you believe either of these things.
“The street fee would capture those who do not have cars and kill the ‘bikes do not pay’ arguement once and for all.”
Why are you intent on ‘capturing those who do not have cars’? I’m missing something. What have they done that warrants ‘capturing’?
As for killing the ‘bikes do not pay’ argument, as I said above and have said here before, we already know that those of us who do not have cars/do not buy gas typically overpay substantially for roads through our taxes (see http://www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf); we don’t need a street fee to make that point, and in fact what you and Dave Sweet are saying is even worse; although you apparently do not realize this you are conceding the mistaken notion that we are (currently) freeloaders.
As far as I can tell, you were always supposed to mail in your gas tax when you used your biodiesel or waste oil. No one did, but if they wanted to make a fuss out of it, they could have.
Anyway, the number of oil burners (even straight gas station diesel) and electric cars is still tiny, while fuel efficiency has only increased above 1980 levels in the last 5 years. The gas tax is BEGINNING to become outdated, but its not a dinosaur yet. If we had indexed the gas tax to inflation (or had the willpower to manually raise it) we could have a nice long term discussion about transitioning to VMT. Instead we’re trying to come up with stop gap solutions.
You are right of course, but in this country “long slow discussions” about anything usually lead nowhere fast. If they index the gas tax, or even raise it like Blumenauer wants to, the “we are taxed enough ” group will say “it is fixed now” and real change will be pushed MUCH further into the future. This may however be the only option in the near term as even liberals are torn on Carbon Taxes because of their initial regressive nature (particularly to poor rural residents).
…all this talk of dinosaurs and biodiesel is nothing but smoke and mirrors.
Germany’s vehicle fleet fuel efficiency is much higher than ours here in the US. They have excellent roads, and take in far more in gas tax revenues than it costs them to maintain their roads. Why again are we not able to (consider) that approach here?
Saying the ‘gas tax is outdated/a failure/a dinosaur’ is like pulling out a bike that has been sitting behind the garage for twenty years and saying ‘this bike is unrideable’ – because the tires are flat.
We can consider a much higher gas tax and I would support it, but that does not mean it would be a permanent fix…it would not be. England’s gas tax has been indexed to inflation for many years as a % of cost. That is ALSO how a carbon tax works. The cost per ton increases over time. Starting at about $30 (in British Columbia) and increases over time as climate change impacts become more expensive and our global “carbon budget” shrinks.
Hence, it would do the SAME THING as a gas tax (a carbon intensive fuel) but also capture alternative fuels (B99 contains 22% carbon of dino-diesel), AND home heating oils/fuels. The gas tax has been around for 100 years. That is how long it takes to get things changed in this country. Just increasing this tax or even indexing it to inflation is just adding a band-aid to a wound that will not heal. The more electric and alternative fuels on the road the more it will become obsolete. A CARBON tax would be good for the next century until fossil fuels are permanently phased out (at least in my Eco-fantasies).
As far as the “cyclists do not pay” I know that is a bunch of propaganda and have read all the studies showing this, but sometimes you have to fight propaganda with tokenism. A small street fee where a great proportion is devoted to transportation infrastructure that helps the lower classes would provide MORE economic benefit to them than the paltry $4.50 a month costs them. They would probably save more than that just on their lower monthly bus pass (which would now be subsidized). Hence, only the ones that can afford losing that one Starbucks trip a month will be paying for it (if it was written correctly).
Fuel isn’t free. For crop-based biofuels, you need to grow it – which requires acreage, water, time, labor, and machines for planting and harvesting. Which equals money. You can see where this is going – any fuel has its price, even if it can be grown as a plant.
Why should there be a discount for those who minimize auto use? There is no discount in the portion of property taxes that pay for schools for those who do not have children. In order for a truly complete multi-modal transportation system that benefits all of society to evolve, all of society should have a stake in it.
Because we all benefit from an educated society.
We all pay a penalty every time someone drives a car. Greenhouse gasses, smog, congestion, injuries and deaths, and of course, worn out roads. There is some benefit to car or truck based mobility, but single occupancy vehicles are currently operating at a steep subsidy, far beyond that benefit.
Whatever percentage of this tax is going to fund multimodal projects is almost certainly not going to be enough to encourage bike or transit use vs continued use of subsidized cars.
This is exactly my point. We do not have ‘fee-based services’ in our society, we have a tax structure which portends to benefit the greater good of the whole. People who do not drive still damage roadways through the purchase of household necessities shipped by truck. You can argue that they minimize that damage over a single-occupant driver as much as any child-less person (or ZPG advocate) can argue that they’ve minimized footprint by not creating more polluters / consumers of natural resources. Both points are moot when it comes to funding shortfalls.
Our society benefits from multiple transportation options as much as it benefits from education – and you can argue the extent to which we’ve achieved (n)either.
“Our society benefits from multiple transportation options as much as it benefits from education – and you can argue the extent to which we’ve achieved (n)either.”
just for kicks you should read Ivan Illich on this. He viewed our approach to education, transport, & healthcare as deeply and perhaps irredeemably flawed, as creating dependencies and promoting inequality, not to mention failing (and not by coincidence) to achieve anything like the stated objectives.
But more specifically to your comparison of how we fund education (everyone pays whether they have kids or not because an educated society is something we value) and transportation infrastructure (everyone should pay because everyone benefits from what this infrastructure makes possible).
The difference as I see it is that education *is* understood to be a public good, something everyone including the childfree benefit from, have themselves probably benefited from, etc. With all its flaws, a society that includes public primary and secondary education institutions is one we (say we) prefer over one that does not. But in the realm of transport the chosen path does not enjoy a comparable benefit:cost ratio. We have had a chance to discover just how misguided, fragile, unaffordable, unsustainable our fossil fuel-based transport is. Having realized that, it is not longer good enough to equate our car- and truck-based system of moving ourselves and our stuff around with the benefits we once expected to flow from it. I certainly am not arguing that we shouldn’t all contribute to infrastructure, to a system that offers the benefits we once assumed would flow from knocking down neighborhoods to build more freeways, a car in every driveway, cheap gas, etc. But this turned out to be a lie, and this street fee does nothing to accelerate the urgent reorientation of our system, is not built around a mechanism that discourages driving while fostering alternatives. As such it does not, at least to me, meet the public good test like education does.
The problem as I see it is two-fold. Our familiar approach to transportation, based as it is nearly 100% on fossil fuels, doesn’t work, is broke, and must be completely reimagined. Secondly, the question of how to fund it and who should pay cannot be usefully separated from the first problem. Compelling everyone to keep pouring money into keeping the cars humming, whether they have opted out of the *direct* use of a car or not, serves no useful long-term purpose, and that we are even considering it just shows how out of touch our experts are with the present challenges.
Is there a way to include renters in the user fee? They have cars and use the roads just as much as homeowners so why aren’t they included in this as well. Most people are psyched for taxes as long as it does’t pertain to them
It would be “per household” so renters would be included. It complecated though, what about a duplex with four adults versus a single house where four adults share. Same impact, double the cost? Hard to say.
Landlords charge renters to use their property. Renters pay landlords, landlords pay taxes.
I really don’t see how making housing less affordable and driving more affordable is the right thing to do here.
Does this really make driving more affordable? If anything it does nothing at all to driving.
Six different people have now complained that this is a regressive tax. While I think it is many (foolish) things, I’m not sure its regressiveness is its worst feature. I’m more concerned with the fact that, contrary to the gas tax which manages very elegantly and inexpensively to discourage & financially penalize the consumption of gasoline or diesel–one of the best proxies for use/deterioration of roads we’ve stumbled upon–the proposed street fee does away with this precision, low overhead, existing, functioning collection system in favor of a flat or nearly flat fee that fails to make even the most basic attempt to capture the large differences in rates of use/wear/expense related to our transport infrastructure. This fee violates the most basic principle of fairness, and does so without any justification, without any attempt to explain why updating the languishing system we have (the gas tax) is less plausible than this confused mess* of a proposal.
As the esteemed Elly Blue wrote here back in 2008,
“[T]he proposed street fee that has dominated news headlines lately, amounts to a subsidy by those who drive little to those who drive a lot.”
*confused mess because after suggesting this will be a flat fee, its proponents immediately start to backpedal and insert this or that adjustment (see below) which does two things:
– it concedes that a flat fee is a crummy way to do this, and
– it instantly introduces a rapidly spiraling complexity into what until a moment ago was a simple, if misguided, flat fee = the worst of both worlds.
“The fee might be tweaked to different levels for different households and businesses based on actual or average car use patterns.”
Amen, 9watts! This “street fee” proposal has little relationship to people’s actual demands on street space, paving, or overall infrastructure and is therefore unfair even without considering the equity component or carbon pollution. People who drive more and have more cars use up way more road space and cause way more damage to the roads than other people. Just increase the gas tax and vehicle registration fees. I say this as a member of a two-person two-car household (for now).
It is distressing that this proposal is still kicking, but even more distressing how poorly people of all walks of life seem to understand the basic situation.
It seems that if enough talking heads repeat ‘Social Security is bankrupt,’ or ‘the gas tax is a dinosaur’ this is enough evidence for some to treat these statements as fact. When pressed they seem to have no insight into the matter, but instead keep repeating this falsehood on which the entire proposed ‘fix’ rests. How is one to debate and formulate policy in such a fact-free environment?
Social Security is “bankrupt” only because the cap has never been raised. Drop the cap, problem fixed. It is not that easy when it comes to gas taxes. With new technology wheel/mile/weight taxation would not be that difficult to implement. Expensive at first, but long term much more fair. An economy wide carbon tax indexed to our “carbon budget” would also increase over time and would encourage individuals to make low carbon choices throughout the economy, even though only 40% of our emissions come from transportation.
I am looking at thing globally and economy wide. Transportation is usually looked at in a vacuum…it can not be.
“It is not that easy when it comes to gas taxes.”
You say this, Terry D, but provide no support except for your example of the biodiesel freeloader. While that is an amusing example, it represents such a miniscule drop in the bucket I think you need to come up with something better, more convincing to show that raising the gas tax is not in principle difficult. It happens all the time in many countries, even, occasionally here. The more we demand it the easier it will be fore those wussy politicians to hop to.
as an example of oue political sluggishness Our laws have not kept up with technology when it comes to privacy. Technology moves too fast. I could give example after example of this. All I am saying that if we are going to revamp our transportation funding syetm for the long term we should do it in a way that globally works long term Can you predict what feuls will be there 20 years from now? I can not. Breakthroughs in genetically engineered bateria are happening that could rapidly create ethanol. Biodeisel grown in algea vats is very close.
Look at all the natural gas vehicle conversions
hydrogen fuel cells
new battery technolgy
I do not have a looking glass into the future, do you? When the internal combustion engine was created the tekegraph w
In the short term, locally we HAVE to do something since we can not expect more funding nationally. Long term a carbon tax would give the consumer a yard stick to see what feul does what damage.
None of this has any bearing on the future prospects of a serious gas tax. It works the world over and should continue to – until it doesn’t.
Yes, soon enough all hell’s going to break loose and we won’t recognize our transportation system that has to scramble to figure out how to work without cheap oil and an atmosphere ready to absorb untold gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. At that point (could be next year) we’re going to be screwed six hundred different ways, and the gas tax at that point won’t amount to a hill of beans. But since we’re doing absolutely nothing to prepare for that eventuality, tossing out the gas tax now because it won’t work under those circumstances is putting the cart before the horse. No fee structure we are likely to come up with now would carry us through the end of fossil fuel transportation.
Then all we are arguing about is time frame. I look at it from the perspective that the wheels of political taxation move VERY slowly and if we are going to go through the political lift to modernize, we should do a fix that works for another generation or two at least. If you are just concerned with the next decade, then fine…take the easy way and tax the hell out of gasoline….and then we can have this debate all over again when we run out of funding…again.
In principle I like your idea just fine. But there are two issues that make this implausible.
Political Will – The first problem is that if we try to locate these three ideas on a continuum, this proposed mess called a street fee is on one end, and a carbon tax is on the other. I’d put the gas tax in the middle, in terms of feasibility, usefulness, and directive potential. You see, if we can’t figure out how to revamp the gas tax, give it a kick in the pants, then what are the chances that we are going to do a decent job with a carbon tax? Zero.
Knowledge – The second problem, as I mentioned above, is that we haven’t begun to grapple with what the post-cheap-fossil-fuel-absorptive-atmosphere phase will look like when it comes to transportation. In the absence of a thorough understanding of what is in store, what we can expect, it would be nuts to try to formulate a policy that we might hope to carry us through ‘another generation or two.’
Our land use and transportation planning, or 99.5% of it, is premised on the indefinite continuation of Cold War, cars-first, linear expansion of material and energy throughput. We have shown ourselves completely unwilling to face this music, concede defeat, change course. Until we do, I hold a very dim view of the prospects for a carbon tax that isn’t a hopeless muddle like this street fee proposal.
Right. If this proposal passes, then this region loses all credibility for being progressive and pro alternative transit. We may as well subsidize oil companies to extract oil, but luckily we don’t have any oil fields.
Fracking will come to Oregon… mark my words.
We are lucky here as of now it looks like we do not have the shale formations that are needed for fracking. The closest sites are in California. There is of course always methane hydrates at the bottom of the pacific though if you look really deep.
“…and have more cars use up way more road space and cause way more damage to the roads than other people.”
While more cars indeed take up more space, an individual can only drive one car at a time, and an individual owning more than one car already pays more than one share of registration fees. It is also not safe to assume that any of these multiple vehicles will be parked on-street.
If the tax is based on square footage than it’s not as completely regressive as a flat tax. Wealthier people do tend to live in larger homes. And those with the means to buy a home tend to have more square footage than those who rent.
But basing it on square footage is problematic, too: how accurate are the county’s records of how much square footage we all have? Pretty sure I’ve seen a number of houses with additions and improvements that affect square footage but aren’t reflected on PortlandMaps. This raises a lot of the same problems as a weight-mile tax (which as we’ve already discussed is vastly inferior to raising the simple fuel tax).
Also, can I assume from the term “Gross Square Footage” that the proposal would include taxing unimproved spaces like basements and attics? I’m still disgusted that Portland’s Realtors pushed through a change (in the late 90s, I think) so that property listings include unfinished square footage in the totals. That is NOT how it works in most other cities I’m familiar with, where the standard rule is to advertise only finished square footage. In any event, the tax should only be based on finished living space, not people’s ability to store stuff in their basements and garages.
This had already become a farce a year ago. I’m not sure what to call this. We’ve now come full circle—*almost* back to the gas tax—but via a complicated, back-door, klunky, Soviet-style calculation, that as we know will eat up a nontrivial share of the funds-to-be-raised:
“The revised proposal drops the progressive personal income tax that had been the residential portion of the fee. It is replaced with what Novick is calling a ‘user fee’ that will vary by income, based on national statistics showing that gasoline consumption increases as income goes up.
‘Gasoline use is one proxy for ‘road use,’ and gasoline use varies somewhat by income level,’ Novick said when he announced the change Monday morning.”
Why engage in this never-ending circus? Why continue to drive home the point that Novick et al. have no clue, either how to set this up, or how to persuade and defend their decision? Why invent square wheels, when we already discovered that round ones work really well?
Sagging gas tax? More like sagging politicians, they are so afraid to raise the gas tax. (It cost 5 times as much to collect the mileage fee vs the gas tax). This is a huge sudsidy to driving, drivers and trucking. Climate Change dictates that a “carbon tax” (gas tax) is the only thing that will get people to reduce their oil use. We tax things like cigarettes to discourage use, it needs to be the same for gas. Taxing housing? Politicians quit using my house as your ATM. Your broken taxing model needs fixing along with your priorities. Your going to force me to build even more low-income housing. Then their going to means test the tax too?, Really? It sounds more like an income tax than a street maintenance fee.
I always enjoy it when home owners out here complain about how high their property taxes are. It is a My house, if assessed at the same rate, would have property taxes 50% higher or more if it was in Wisconsin or Illinois. Last I checked, Oregon is 36th out of 50 states in Tax burden. I really do not think an extra $60 a year fee on your household to help maintain our street is a big deal to ask.
“I really do not think an extra $60 a year fee on your household to help maintain our street is a big deal to ask.”
In the grand scheme of things it may not be, but it goes 180 degrees against the carbon tax you keep flogging (and which I’d prefer too). Property (houses) don’t use gasoline or wear out roads. And neither do shoes. Let’s stick with the straightforward and equitable.
It’s not that property taxes are extremely high, it’s the taxing of something unrelated to what the money is for. I don’t drive my house down the road. It’s time to ban or tax studded tires to fix the roads that they are directly damaging.
here’s a speech by an Iowa politician, and chair of the House Transportation Committee on why raising the gas tax is the right thing to do, and along the way he lists some well known politicians who–contrary to what we keep telling ourselves–proposed gas tax increases and were reelected. http://tinyurl.com/mt6bsh3
“Some Iowa legislators claim that raising the fuel tax will be an issue used against them politically. In 1989, Gov. Branstad raised the state fuel tax and in the 1990 election you re-elected him by his largest margin of victory. In 1982 President Reagan signed a law raising the federal gas tax from four cents per gallon to nine cents per gallon. Reagan stated, “We simply cannot allow this magnificent system to deteriorate beyond repair.” In the 1984 presidential election, Reagan won a second term by securing 525 of 538 electoral votes and carried 49 states.
I would ask my colleagues of both parties to push aside the fear of being re-elected and replace that fear with the leadership of doing what’s right for Iowa’s infrastructure.”
Now that is a politician I’d vote for!
Speaking of taxing something unrelated, much of my Oregon property tax actually goes to schools, yet my house doesn’t.
Terry, I agree that our property tax rates are indeed lower than what people might pay. But bear in mind that compared to most places in the Midwest prices for comparable properties are also higher. So people often end up paying just as much for a comparable property even though the rate is lower here.
Actually my 50% higher is based on real data for comparable houses. i had this argument with someone over FB a few months back so I did comparisons on MY house. There is of course significant variability, but all three Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago were all much higher for the same house on the same sixed lot in a comparable area.
What do you propose for the time when most vehicles get over 40 mpg? And what about the ones that won’t be using a liquid fuel?
Um… German auto fuel economy is much better than ours. They have somehow managed to keep the gas taxes ahead of this problem. As for the demise of liquid fuels that is coming soon enough, but we won’t need to worry about deteriorating roads when we discover that liquid fuels need to remain in the ground.
What do you do? Raise the gas tax! This isn’t rocket science, people. Like, if your cell phone plan doesn’t have enough minutes. Do you simply stop talking to friends and family? Or do you up your minutes package?
We are in this boat because politicians in this country run the country based on idiotic sound bites and popularity contests. Budgets and funding source should be adjusted and fine-tuned over the years, which they aren’t doing.
It should not be a difficult proposition to raise the gas tax from, say 50 cents a gallon to 70 cents – $1. Your price at the pump would likely change by a small amount, but luckily Oregonians don’t drive that much anyway!
Why can’t we raise parking fees? Parking in Portland is incredibly cheap and it not only represents lost revenue but also increased difficulty in finding parking. Hasn’t SF’s dynamic parking fees worked out pretty well?
We should…immediately. All trendy gentrified shopping districts in inner Portland should be metered. All neighborhoods with congestion and complete streets should require permitted parking. We should also charge everyone who enters the central city.
Steve Novick ran on a platform of “We should have meters on Hawthorne, Mississippi and 28th.” Where is the talk of this? How about planning for tolling the Sellwood (for Clackamas county residents) when finished in 2016 like Charlie Hales promised. There are all sorts of ways cities usually charge automobiles, but Portlanders are too spoiled to want to pay for their vehicle storage.
The “street Fee” is the easy way out. Hales is looking toward higher office so he is not going to try to think creatively. He does what is most politically palatable….and the survey they did a few months back told them just that.
“The ‘street Fee’ is the easy way out.”
please explain what do you mean by that? Easy way out of what?
Seems to me like he means ‘the most politically palatable option’ as he says below that.
City Council decides parking rates, not PBOT. It’s political.
Of course. If we were really a progressive city when it comes to transportation city council should be debating congestion priced parking where there are meters. Once the decision is made, the “free market” would set the price. I bet you much of our dowtown commutter problem would fix itself if this information was publically available. Too expensive to park today, lets take the MAX.
Yet again, those who use the least amount of resources, ie pedestrians, cyclists and public transit riders will subsidize those who drive. As a home owner in out SE with plenty of on street parking and vehicle owner, who drives roughly 2500 miles a year, i would be unfairly penalized for my non auto dependent lifestyle.
I prefer to look towards #1, increasing the gas tax, taxing studded tires, increasing parking fees and increasing phone and text while driving fines to the order of $2000-3000 per ticket.
All of these, especially together, will raise funds for road maintenance and charge “per use” as it were in addition to creating less of a car culture and encouraging people to drive responsibly.
Where is my $2200 a year to Multnomah county for property taxes going anyway?
“Where is my $2200 a year to Multnomah county for property taxes going anyway?”
That is an easy one:
education (primary, secondary, CC) 34 cents/$
cities (police, fire, parks, codes, zoning, transportation) 30 cents/$
Multnomah County (public health, mental health, senior citizens, jails, elections) 20 cents/$
The remaining 16 cents goes to
urban renewal, library district, metro, rural fire protection and the Port of Portland
The perception that BIKES-DO-NOT-PAY is overwhelmed by MOTORISTS-ARE HEAVILY-SUBSIDIZED. A driver who finds another way to get around saves money for everyone. A person biking is NOT DRIVING and it makes sense to PAY THEM because they do not rely on the government to subsidize a driving habit.
And once you realize this, it is hard to listen to statements such as David Sweet’s & others’ above which try to suggest that *another* fee will somehow correct this persistent confusion about how roads are funded now.
Yes. You get payed back though increased facilities, better conductivity, safer streets, better air quality, better mass transit. There is more to life than money…..and I think that it is worth $5 a month to be able to say “Not only do I subsidize your driving through general taxation, but I also pay my $5 a month fee….so shut up and give me my bike bridge over the gulch at 7th.”
If you have a better way to convince the general public who will NEVER believe the truth when it comes to how our transportation system is funded I am all ears. A third of American’s do not even believe climate change is happening, and another third believes it does not effect them.
I have one friend who was excited he is getting health care next month. He is tuned into politics …I thought…. Yet, he did not know this was due to Obamacare. How do you fix this knowledge gap?
Wait a second. I’ve seen this movie before. The Brits already have this and it’s called a “Road Tax”. Which is exactly what the Pilgrims fled. They were tired of overpaying taxes for roads when all they wanted to do was hike, in the cold/rain, to their Puritan churches.
Wake up, Sheeple! We have no more “new worlds” to conquer and pave!
Wait, I thought we rebelled because Britain was giving a special tax break on tea to the King George-controlled East India Corporation?
No. Just, no. Try again.
There should be, as others have suggested, a per-vehcile fee, but based on more than the vehicle’s weight: power, footprint, etc all have a bearing on how much it costs a community to accommodate vehicle usage. I wrote this up recently for a local LA blog:
I predict that with the “can’t do” attitude of group think politics in Portland, nothing will actually happen.
I’m just amazed that we can continue to ignore the elephant in the room – the gas tax – and try to make up some sort of alternate tax that does the same damn thing.
Especially when it will only raise $24 million/year when we have a $153 million/year funding hole! So that means we will only be short $129 million EACH year!
I think a comparison list of developed, first world countries will help shed light on just how chintzy our country and laissez-faire philosophy around taxes are:
List of gas taxes by country*/gallon in USD**:
Italy: $5.38 (includes VAT)
UK: ~$3.60 (+20% VAT +vehicle excise duty (CO2/km), price varies)
Germany: ~$3.37 (+19% VAT, price varies)
Canada avg: $0.90
Vancouver, BC: $1.46
USA avg: $0.50
*sources – wikipedia
**#’s rounded up to nearest cent
The average gas prices in Europe are around $8/gallon
“…Netherlands: $5.53…” gas tax
Netherlands…the country whose bike infrastructure, Portland many area bike enthusiasts seem to look upon with great envy. Maybe some people reading here think a $5.53 tax consisting of the major portion of $8 dollar a gallon gas, or something less than that but more than the 50 cents cited as being what Oregonians currently pay for gas tax, would be the ticket to better road design, construction and maintenance here in the U.S., or locally…in Portland.
Could have a chance of working, if the land area of the U.S. was close in size to that of the Netherlands, and was bounded by water on all sides and some distance from surrounding areas where people could choose to live and commute back and forth from to avoid paying a higher tax.
Well, at least an increase of, say 50 cents is a tiny amount, all things considered. Gas prices have dropped by about that much, or more, since summer. So I really don’t understand people’s fear of the gas tax boogeyman – I mean, its used to help pay for your roads. Without a gas tax, you get no roads to even drive on!
If lower income people are excluded from this fee then I am a huge supporter. The upper quintiles have been behaving like economic parasites for decades and it’s about time they started to pay their fair share.
Lower income people don’t drive and use the streets? Last time I checked out here in east Portland it’s pretty car-centric…and not very high income either.
1. the bulk of pbot’s spending already goes to the inner city.
2. the working poor pay more of their net income in taxes than the higher quintiles.
3. taxing the non-working poor is sociopathic.
My response to this would depend on more information about what exactly the street fee is intended to pay for. The article states it could go towards “street paving, sidewalks, streetcars and protected bike lanes.” If it’s just a way to pay for car infrastructure, then I don’t see any connection to property, since there’s an imperfect correlation between home owners and car owners (and we already have car- and has-specific fees and taxes). If it really funded sidewalk or bike improvements, perhaps I could see an argument for taxing–oops, I mean charging everyone a fee (doesn’t a “fee” make you feel better now?), since we all are pedestrians at some point.
But overall, I would still be opposed to another duplicative revenue collection system. The arts tax has been an abject failure and I don’t think we can put together a patchwork of funding solutions for everyone’s pet projects. Time to stand up and confront the entrenched interests and the general laissez-fair and anti-gubment types. Yes it takes time, but these ridiculous band-aid approaches only make it take longer.
Yeah that “failure” of an art tax got voted in by 60% of the city. Go figure. I expect this new tax will get voted in too.
We need a multi-pronged approach. Street fee could be part of that, but let’s also increase the gas tax (state and federal) and tax the living daylights out of studded tires.
“We need a multi-pronged approach.”
Alright – I’ll bite.
I agree on muli-pronged. Everyone benefits from a safer and more complete transportation system, so everyone should pay more, if more funding is needed. Free stuff is worth what you pay for it and valued the same. street fee and increase gas tax. property taxes are already paying for much of the road maintenance.
Residents already pay fees on their land, they’re called property taxes.
And if peaches on a truck from Georgia are shipped here on a truck and diners from Beaverton drive on our roads in the city, WE are the ones who pay for that, NOT them. Why do that to us?
We need a transportation system that is more user based. A gasoline tax/vehicle mile tax is probably the most efficient and sane tax in the US history (assuming it’s priced right).
Think about. You use a car, it causes damage to roads and creates demand for more roads. Gasoline taxes help pay for those two things.
If people drive less, less damage occurs to roads and there’s less demand for building new roads to meet demand.
Our transportation system could vastly change and a street fee wouldn’t be able to respond to this. We are seeing a change in transportation dynamics right now. People are driving less. Imagine if our street fees were mis-allocated and put to use for ONLY cars, then we’d be left with overbuilt car infrastructure that’s not responding to a changing city’s needs.
No on street fee. It’s stupid and a cost to residents and businesses that are not borne by the users of the mode.
I agree with the voices here that property taxes are already high enough and that it’s really the only source of income anything from the county level and lower seems to have. More taxes that increase cost of living only hurt the working poor more and force them to live even farther away, making them even more dependent on motorized transportation. When will this backwards thinking about how to fund our roads stop? Cyclists, pedestrians and regular users of mass transit are already subsidizing drivers, there needs to be a pay-per-use fee or the next closest thing – a higher gas tax. Furthermore, that revenue should be used to make improvements for “alternative” transportation and promote its use. And, as revenue from gas taxes decreases because of use of alternative transportation, the gas tax should continue to be increased so as to further discourage unnecessary driving.
Let’s imagine we went with a hefty bump to the local gas tax instead–from $.30 (State) + $.03 (Mult. Co.) cents to $.30 (State) + $.36 (Mult. Co.)- and index it to inflation going forward.
Well, assuming the amount of driving doesn’t decline, we could expect raise 2x the $24M now apparently raised through gas taxes, or $48million/year.* But of course that is a foolish assumption. Driving can be assumed to decline somewhat/a lot? How much someone like Joe Cortright could probably calculate for us. You can see how this yields triple or quadruple dividends, whereas the stupid street fee sends only one very clumsy signal if it sends one at all, I’m not really sure?
What are the benefits of doubling the gas tax and indexing it to inflation?
(1) the prospect of raising serious money (up to 4x what is under discussion);
(2) a lusty kick in the pants to those who are contemplating chucking their car and going with zipcar/car2go/getaround or just biking/Trimet;
(3) less wear on our roads from the decline in total VMT;
(4) an unmistakeable signal to anyone in the region and beyond that we’re serious about moving our transport system toward one that is less reliant on fossil fuels, on single occupant vehicles, more multi-modal, resilient, and best of all solvent.
Unrealistic, you say?
O.K., then tell me what makes more sense, a better approach to aligning expenses and revenues for PBOT?
*someone should check my math. I started here: http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/CS/FTG/Pages/current_ft_rates.aspx and assumed the $24M/yr reflect both taxes. Is that correct?
Several problems. Clark, Clackamas, (and maybe Washington) Counties. If Multnomah or Portland taxed gas what will stop people from driving out to Clackamas?
At $0.30 extra on 15 gallons, that would be an extra $4.50. Plenty of people who live near the border will just go to a lower taxing area. Some will go even if the drive costs them more money in used gas. People don’t like taxes. If they live in one of those counties, then they just buy all their gas there.
Then they drive their studded tires into Portland, tear up the roads, and leave without paying any additional tax. Problem of course, is that the proposed “fee” does not handle this at all either.
There is no reason to think of this as static. On the assumption that Multnomah County/Portland did this, what is keeping from neighboring communities from jumping on the bandwagon? If Portland can raise that kind of money, what’s keeping others from doing likewise? It isn’t as if our problems (how to fund road maintenance, how to deal with/avoid/pay for the externalities from cars) were somehow unique to us.
Our politicians/political system tends toward the unimaginative, timid. But this conservatism can be exploited if someone tries out a really good idea that others are free to copy when they realize that it solves a bunch of problems they had been unable to address.
Deeply-rooted anti-tax and pro-car, pro-sprawl ideals? I don’t know a single person that lives outside Multnomah County (I work with a bunch of them), who would support an increase in the gas tax. Most of them think we’re all a bunch of loonies in Portland.
I am familiar with these sentiments, but perhaps you will grant that
– eventually we’re going to have to overcome this impasse;
– plenty of jurisdictions have jumped through these hoops, have figured out how to stare down the naysayers;
– the oppositional sentiments you are describing are to a large extent circular, self-reinforcing–but this copycat predisposition can be inverted.
It is in my view equally plausible to chip away at this stalemate in the manner described. If we do it and it works, watch how quickly it gets emulated, even in jurisdictions about which we tell ourselves it would never fly. Once they get envious of the quality of our infrastructure, the balance of our budgets, the employment figures that would follow from having to re-spend all that money taken in, all those extra jobs to support those who have opted to *not* drive….. Remember, money spent on gas, cars, asphalt mostly leaves the community, whereas money spent on getting your bike tuned up, or a cargo bike box built by Jeff Lauten, or earmuffs knit by Gigi stays here.
Rereading all these comments today is a good laugh.
We just passed a gas tax increase earlier this year that so many of you were arguing was un-possible.
Yet another burden on the working poor. Not to mention that the people that already don’t like bike and ped infrastructure will see through this “user fee” nonsense in a heartbeat — it’s a tax, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Another line item to brew resentment against anyone who does anything other than drive 100% of the time. Very disappointing to see this blog support such a terrible idea.
“An idea that’s spent six years in City Hall’s back rooms is bubbling back up: a fee on each Portland household, and probably businesses too, that could pay for street paving, sidewalks, streetcars and protected bike lanes.”
So someone thinks that “households” damage streets? BS. Some households don’t own motorized vehicles. This is nothing but a property tax and if even suggested the voters will remove the city council in the next election. This is an idiotic idea.
Street maintenance taxes should come from gasoline taxes on a per gallon basis – that way those who drive big heavy gas hogs that damage the street will pay more than those who drive lightweight gas misers which do less damage to the street. If you rarely drive your big heavy gas hog you will pay very little in tax.
Studded tires should also have a tax because they do A LOT of damage to the street – they are the reason all of our freeways have ruts. California freeways that have 10X the traffic and have no ruts.
Can we just cut the shit already and implement a reasonable sales tax? This state is broke and going nowhere. My property tax is insane and my neighborhood school still sucks. Just wrote a thousand dollar check for an “art tax” which while I love art the whole notion seems like it was pulled right out of Portlandia. And now another proposed tax? Enough is enough
How does a $35 tax end up at $1000? Is there a separate one beyond the poll/income tax?
Yes, Oregon is going to continue to beat it’s head against the wall and see insufficient funding until it implements a sales tax.
Are all the other states who have sales taxes flush? Seems to me everyone’s broke.
A sales tax makes more sense to me then all of these “death from a thousand cuts” half-baked low hanging fruit taxes that the city keeps coming up with. Of course the caveat being that I would not support a sales tax on food which would hit low income people the hardest.
If a sales tax meant buying a smaller TV or alloy instead of carbon wheels, oh effing well.
I’d also like to hear some ideas on how to spend less money not more. Like I’ve said before, I’m a homeowner, not a piggy bank. Despite what City Hall seems to think I have a finite amount of resources.
Even if you exempt food, a sales tax inherently hits lower income earners proportionally harder because they spend a higher fraction of their total income.
Tax the bad things – things you want to be used less – like gasoline. Yes, some will say gasoline is good, not bad, and in many ways that is true. Some will say that a gas tax unfairly burdens the poor. That’s true if the poor can afford to operate a car – and many do. But most people can afford a small gas tax increase.
I remember when Clinton was president and he proposed raising the gas tax 5 cents/gallon. The Republicans howled an squealed “The people can’t afford 5 cents more per gallon.” Then a week later they increased the national speed limits from 55 to 65 in towns and 65 to 75 on the open road. Immediately, because of increased fuel consumption, the price of gas went up 25 cents! Most people were unaffected by the price increase- they just paid it.
Increase the gasoline tax. It’s a no-brainer and that’s something politicians should understand.
Does Trimet pay for the wear and tear of city streets caused by their buses?
Does Trimet pay for the wear and tear of city streets caused by their buses?
Good question Randy, and one that few people posting on this website could answer correctly. The answer is: NO, the taxpayers pay for all government costs including repairing the wear and tear of city streets.
Trek, that’s true in an absolute sense (all government funding is shuffling around money from taxes etc.). But I believe it’s also true in a relative sense – TriMet doesn’t even shuffle money from itself to ODOT because of its buses’ inordinate impact on the road. I believe it’s because government agencies don’t have to pay the weight-mile tax.
For those who may be against the gas tax increase realize what will happen if the gasoline tax isn’t increased. Kitzhaber is studying putting GPS devices on cars to track their mileage and charge by the mile to get revenue. Thus, a person who drives a Smart Car 10,000 miles per year will pay more than a person who drives a Hummer 9,000 miles per year. Which does more damage? The idea is as stupid as this “households” tax – this is the type of crap you get when liberal bureaucrats sit around and attempt to think.
Do you want a GPS attached to your car? I don’t.
Infrastructure costs money. People want to use roads like they turn on a tap and get water. The cost of freedom ain’t free.
No quibble with the fact that maintaining our infrastructure costs money, but the guy watering his private golf course and the homeless guy drinking from the Benson Bubbler are–in this instance–supposed to pay the same fee for their water.