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Mayor pushes back street fee vote to November – UPDATED

Posted by on June 3rd, 2014 at 10:54 am

Portland City Council

Portland City Council at the public hearing for a transportation street fee last weeek.
(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales says a planned City Council vote on a street fee, originally scheduled for tomorrow, will be pushed back to November. In a statement released a few minutes ago, Hales said the vote is “temporarily delayed due to concerns voiced by small business owners and low-income people and advocates.”

PBOT Commissioner Steve Novick said the street fee effort is “On pause, especially as we look to see if we can ensure that low income discounts flow to people in multifamily housing.”

The Oregonian reported just this morning that Novick and Hales would delay the vote indefinitely.

Today’s decision comes after a public hearing last week where Council heard 5 1/2 hours of testimony. While many people spoke in favor of the fee, many people also opposed it strongly. Other key advocates, like those working on affording housing and representatives from business interests, expressed major concerns. While Hales and Novick seemed to remain confident and answer of the public’s questions and concerns, the hearing ended with fireworks between Novick and Commissioner Nick Fish.

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Fish made it clear he wanted more time to digest the public testimony. He then sent a list of questions about the street fee to Novick. Those questions were answered yesterday.

While the effort to pass a household and business fee to help pay for transportation had gone relatively smoothly for several months and passed a series of town halls with solid momentum, the effort became controversial as specific fee details emerged and key interest groups expressed opposition.

Here’s the full statement from the Mayor’s office:

Mayor, Commissioner Push Back Council Vote on 2015 Street Fee

PORTLAND, OR – The proposal by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick to launch a street fee in 2015 remains on schedule. However, the council vote on how to structure the fee will be pushed back until November.
“We have not taken care of our largest asset: our streets. We have to change that,” Mayor Hales said. “We’ve been talking about this for 13 years, and we held several town halls this winter and spring to hear from people. Despite that, many constituents still haven’t been heard yet. We get that. Postponing the Council vote will give people time to weigh in on whether this is the best solution to this dire need, and to consider changes to make it work better.”

”The last street free proposal in 2008 was derailed by a lobbyist filing a referendum petition,” said Commissioner Novick. “This one has been temporarily delayed due to concerns voiced by small business owners and low-income people and advocates. We are in a hurry to get to work, but if we’re going to be delayed, it’s for the right reasons.”

The City Council on Wednesday will still vote on referring a charter change that would lock in the use of any street fee for transportation purposes. “Voters need to be assured that we will spend this money the way we say we will,” Hales said. “A charter change will ensure that we stay true to that commitment, administration after administration.”

However, the council vote on both the residential fee, and the non-residential fee, will be pushed back to November..

Further public forums will be scheduled to hear from residents and the business community.

And two work groups will be formed. Their charges:

● To analyze city policy regarding low-income residents and fees. The work group will look at the street fee as well as fees for other city utilities, including water and sewer, to see how well low-income residents are being served and how widely discounts can be applied.

● To further engage with small business, nonprofit and government partners on design and implementation of the fee.
“Think of this as a track race,” Hales said. “We haven’t moved the finish line, which is July 2015. But we’re moving the starting blocks. We heard from the community: We are taking our time to hear a more robust debate on the details of this fee. But we have not wavered in our resolve. It is our intention to finally address our deteriorating streets.”

UPDATE: Commissioner Novick has realized a statement of his own. It’s very detailed and he expresses support for possibly looking into different types of taxes instead of the street fee.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • davemess June 3, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    I’m amazed that it appears Novick is trying to draw comparisons to water/sewer rates. They’re different! Despite Portland having a completely ridiculous water/sewer rate, that fee is still somewhat dependent (though not as much as it should be) on use. This street fee was not based on use at all.

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    • 9watts June 3, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Yes. Precisely!

      If you decouple use, behavior, discretion in how to back out of paying, you lose a lot of people who may feel that user fees, taxes, financial mechanisms designed to discourage the activities we can’t afford so as to reward those we would like to encourage are fair.

      The Street Fee was never fair, logical, innovative, easy or cheap to administer. Novick’s blog suggests this process is being handled in a very ad hoc manner:
      “And, although I’m not sure yet if it will work, I came up with an idea late Sunday night that I’m rather excited about. …”

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    • meh June 4, 2014 at 6:36 am

      Because every tax we pay is based on use? Don’t have kids, don’t use the school system, guess I shouldn’t pay the tax on that one. Don’t use Trimet I work from home, shouldn’t pay for that.

      Don’t use the roads, sorry but every item in your house came from somewhere and it came into Portland on a truck, it didn’t fall from the sky. I think that mail you get 6 days a week gets delivered to you by a truck driving on the streets.

      Somethings you pay for because it’s a good thing to pay for them, like infrastructure and schools, whether you use them or not you benefit from them.

      Doesn’t mean I agree with this fee, since they’ve had plenty of money and wasted it, but please quit with the idea that people don’t have to pay for the roads because they don’t use them

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      • 9watts June 4, 2014 at 7:12 am

        “Somethings you pay for because it’s a good thing to pay for them, like infrastructure and schools, whether you use them or not you benefit from them.”

        of course many public goods are paid for differently, not through user fees, and that is not something I’m interrogating here. But the Street Fee is based on a willful denial of the existing asymmetry in the extent to which various groups already contribute to funding our roads.

        Paying for more asphalt, I concede, seems to many right now like a public good, but to the extend that Hales/Novick are hoping to shore up our failed system of private automobility, failing to take the opportunity to move beyond this by relying on elegant fiscal incentive mechanisms that discourage discretionary driving, that signal an end to the subsidies of the horseless carriage, I submit this is actually not like schools and public transit.

        Just because all our taxes are not user fees doesn’t mean that in some instances a user fee isn’t the smartest solution. Or am I missing your point?

        As for the we all use roads argument, the gas tax does a far better, cheaper job of passing along the costs to everyone on your list than the now skulking Street Fee’s Soviet-style calculation based on square footage, incomes, or other contested algorithms.

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        • meh June 4, 2014 at 7:41 am

          Stated specifically that I don’t agree with this fee. Past wasteful spending being my primary concern, lack of effort to identify and fix the waste and also the cost of administering this fiasco being close to half the monies collected, as well as the anti-business tone.

          But I don’t do damage to the roads so I don’t have to pay for them is a specious argument. Roads are the primary infrastructure on which everything else runs. Everyone benefits from them and such everyone should pay. Which we already do through our tax payments into the general fund.

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      • davemess June 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm

        But I’m not expecting the city to tack a school tax onto my water bill.

        And I’m not arguing I shouldn’t pay at all. A graduated system however, would be preferable to a flat fee.

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        • davemess June 4, 2014 at 5:05 pm

          And money for schools in not gather via a flat tax either (graduated property/income tax).

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  • Spencer June 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Thank fish! Someone has some sense on the council. Lets fund roads with taxes already, like a gas tax

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  • Scott H June 3, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    This whole thing is like watching a train wreck. A 1st grader could have come up with a better idea from the start. I hope someone sits down with Novick in person and finds out just what the hell is going on.

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    • 9watts June 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      “A 1st grader could have come up with a better idea from the start.”

      Exactly. An indexed gas tax is that better idea.

      For some reason, Novick et al. ruled this out from the get go, but perhaps they are coming to regret that right about now. I simply don’t get why something that was predictably going to get complicated, never mind be expensive to collect, struck these clowns as more promising than the tried-and-true gas tax increase that is 1000 times easier to defend against its critics than this cockamaimy idea.

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      • spare_wheel June 3, 2014 at 2:22 pm

        unfortunately a gas tax will likely be more regressive than the fee proposal. i support increasing gas taxes only if a chunk of that funding is used to increase access to public transportation for the underprivileged.

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        • 9watts June 3, 2014 at 2:58 pm

          (1) rebating gas tax to offset disproportionate effects on poor people is common enough. Then there’s the Fee & Dividend approach to a carbon tax, where every man, woman, and child gets a big fat rebate. The point there is that the rebate is flat whereas the amount of tax you pay is directly proportional to the amount of fossil fuel you purchase directly. Talk about an elegant incentive!

          (2) With enough gas tax revenue we can have anything we want. Free bus service for everyone! Why not? Germany has ~34 (52-17) billion Euros left over each year after gas tax funds have been spent on maintaining their roads.

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          • spare_wheel June 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm

            “rebating gas tax to offset disproportionate effects on poor people is common enough.”

            thanks. i like this idea very much.

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            • GlowBoy June 4, 2014 at 2:30 pm

              I think a rebate to low-income people is going to be essential – morally and maybe even politically – to any serious increase in the gas tax.

              In his web post, Novick points out the possibility of leveraging the existng Arts Tax low-income exemption to provide a rebate on water, sewer and (proposed) transpo fees. If this idea proves feasible, maybe it could also be used to facilitate gas-tax rebates.

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            • 9watts June 5, 2014 at 9:50 pm

              Here’s a study of some of the options for offsetting a Carbon Tax’s
              Costs on Low-Income Households. A close relative of what we’re talking about here.


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      • paikiala June 3, 2014 at 3:03 pm

        people elect representatives who tell them what they want to hear, not what the people need to hear. All your complaints about council choices and comparisons to first graders are useless. Electeds do what the electorate wants – the majority of the electorate. Even PBOT didn’t agree to speed bumps until people were laying in the street in front of TV cameras.

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        • 9watts June 3, 2014 at 3:33 pm

          “Electeds do what the electorate wants – the majority of the electorate.”

          Oh… you’re talking about a democracy.

          But we don’t live in a democracy. Remember the exemptions from paying the Street Fee for the parking lots? Choo Choo Charlie? Campaign promises? Patricia McCaig? Money?!

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  • Jim June 3, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    I appreciate Novick and the Mayor are providing some leadership. I also think Novick is right to point out that costs letting our transportation infrastructure decay, including the loss of human lives, mount every day. That should be unacceptable.

    Still, I think the right questions about the street fee, particularly the impact on low-income, cost-burdened households are spot on.

    The gas tax would be preferable but I believe it has some constitutional limits that- under current law- would prohibit it from funding many of the safety improvements to streets intended for the street fee (although I may be wrong about that). Regardless it is not within the City Council’s power to levy a gas tax. AND lot of other potential progressive mechanisms for raising revenue are preempted by state law. Given Novick’s values and his experience in Oregon tax and public finance issues, I think if there was a less-regressive option, he would have found it.

    So whatever the fate of the street fee, I think we- as citizens- need to really push for changes our State Legislature to allow better more progressive local funding mechanisms to make our streets safer and to build and maintain the more balanced transportation system our desperately communities need.

    For example, how about a bill that would simply send a higher percentage of gas tax revenues to local governments to spend as they see fit rather than feeding ODOT’s highway building machine/lobby.


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    • Mike June 3, 2014 at 3:20 pm

      Giving more money and freedom to our local government is a terrible idea. It seems they have poorly managed the money they do have and terrible roads are a result. Utilzing water/sewer money for unrelated projects is another example. They need to show some responsibility first and then ask for more money.

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      • Jim June 3, 2014 at 6:02 pm

        Despite the political spin surrounding individual Water Burea projects and the efforts of some local newspapers to blow them out of proportion and discredit the City in the eyes of the voters, the vast bulk of City of Portland finances are quite well managed relative to other cities of its size. That is reflected in the City’s relatively positive municipal bond rating. Last time I checked Portland’s bond rating was as good as the State of Oregon’s so there is no reason to assume that giving Portlanders more control over the gas dollars they pay into the system (in higher amounts than any other city in the state) would be any worse. Indeed I would argue that Portland would spend gas tax dollars better than ODOT because the Portland City Council is far more accountable to the values and priorities of their constituents.

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        • will June 4, 2014 at 10:42 am

          You argue that we should judge the city’s fiscal stewardship by its bond rating? Like a bond investor? I have not heard that viewpoint expressed before.

          A rating agency’s outlook on our ability to repay is very far removed from how most Portlanders would judge the fiscal management of the city I think. In fact, spending the road maintenance money on capital improvements that you cannot maintain is the definition of poor management to some.

          The city can’t approach the affordable housing crisis and Vision Zero is a pipe dream until the city spends a year of time and political capital on funding to prevent the continued degradation of our largest fixed asset. Real Portlanders are impacted by this fiscal mismanagement in the here and now. As you note in a separate post, every day passed has increased costs and the risk of death to someone. The everyday cost of fiscal mismanagement Portland pays, a cost that will not impact the Aaa rating until the roads truly resemble East Africa.

          There is real frustration out here with where we find ourselves financially as a City Jim. To wave it off as political spin and inflammatory O headlines is unfairly diminishing.

          Best Regards,

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    • J_R June 3, 2014 at 9:01 pm

      Jim: The “Constitutional limits” of which you speak are not very restrictive. Pretty much anything within a highway/street right-of-way are OK, including bicycle/pedestrian facilities, crosswalks, bulb-outs, signals, park-and-ride lots, etc.

      As for sharing a greater portion of the ODOT revenues with cities and counties, do you know what that share is? Transfers from the total ODOT revenues to cities, counties and other agencies totals about $1 billion for the current biennium – about 20 percent. If you exclude the federal revenues and bond revenues, the transfer to cities, counties and other agencies is almost 35 percent of revenues.

      You can learn more about the ODOT budget at the following:


      In spite of your suggestion to the contrary, ODOT’s budget mostly goes toward maintenance not new roads. Look at the budget document.

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  • spare_wheel June 3, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    “We are open to broad changes so long as it meets that test — does everybody pay…”

    Our blue dog mayor.

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  • paikiala June 3, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Regardless it is not within the City Council’s power to levy a gas tax.
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    As of 2006, per the State of Oregon web site, Cottage Grove, Dundee, Eugene, Oakridge, Sandy, Springfield, Stanfield, The Dalles, Tillamook, Veneta, and Woodburn have city gas taxes.

    From a 2013 O article: “Fourteen Oregon cities already have gas taxes, although only two in the metro area — Tigard and Milwaukie — assess the per-gallon charge. Multnomah and Washington counties also have three-cent and one-cent gas taxes, respectively.”

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    • davemess June 3, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      That’s my question. If these other cities can do it, why can’t we? I haven’t really heard a concrete reason why we can’t increase (or start) a local gas tax, just Hales continually blaming our current situation on the feds not raising the federal gas tax.

      Does anyone have an answer to this?

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  • paikiala June 3, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Utilzing water/sewer money for unrelated projects is another example. Recommended 1

    Any examples of ‘unrelated’ to share/refresh our memories? Overpriced work space is overpriced, not unrelated. Greenstreet features along greenways is not unrelated, it’s targeted and snyergistic.

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    • davemess June 3, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      Does the “water house” count?

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      • Rob Chapman June 3, 2014 at 4:31 pm

        How about the neon rose davemess? And how over budget is that new BES building again? Matters little if it’s related or not, it’s still proof of fiscal irresponsibility.

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        • davemess June 4, 2014 at 12:28 pm

          I was mountain biking at Powell Butte last night and went over the check out the new parking lot. The Powell Butte Reservoirs visitor center struck me as very odd. A visitor center for the park made sense to me, but for the reservoir? They spent some serious money on the infrastructure up there. Definitely no longer a dirt parking lot with a portapotty. Is this waste? Who knows.

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  • davemess June 3, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Yes, it’s lines like that that do not sway me with a lot of confidence in our leaders. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that they had not thought this one out very well.

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    • davemess June 3, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Was meant to nest after 9watts’ Novick quote:
      “And, although I’m not sure yet if it will work, I came up with an idea late Sunday night that I’m rather excited about. …”

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    • 9watts June 3, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      “It was pretty obvious from the beginning that they had not thought this one out very well.”

      Except… that this one’s been cooking in City Hall for, what, seven years?

      I used to think highly of government.

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  • 9watts June 3, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    Thinking more on this question of why Novick/Hales haven’t thought of the gas tax themselves… I remembered something Jonathan wrote a few months back about this issue:

    (From Jonathan’s comment of April 18, 2014 at 3:34 pm)

    “But what I’ve come to understand about PBOT is they — like electeds in City Hall — are extremely nervous/scared of getting too far out in front of the public. And, in their estimation (whether right or wrong), they feel if they do/say anything that smacks of being “anti-car” it will create anger/controversy/”modal wars” and so on. Think about the people involved in these efforts. These PBOT staffers have memories like elephants. They have personally been through some very tough battles and many controversies… those experiences leave a mark on how they approach issues.

    Same goes for Commissioner Novick and Hales. They want something to pass. Period. They do not want to get into a high-profile controversy about bikes vs cars and who pays for what and so on. They are trying to balance bold leadership and an understanding of what we need to do with our streets, with real sausage-making to take a very big policy step (raising new revenue) that they can both claim proudly in their legacy.”

    They do not want to get into a high-profile controversy about bikes vs cars and who pays for what and so on.
    And this just may have been their undoing.

    If Jonathan’s assessment is correct–and I’m coming around to thinking he is–this is turning into one more example of underestimating their audiences. Who pays for what is what this whole thing is about. Hiding from the truth, playing dumb, dissembling, cooking up workarounds….
    We’re not so easy to fool.

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    • 007 June 4, 2014 at 3:08 am

      Re: council not wanting to appear anti-car.
      Since at least the 1960s, Portland has been a city whose people supported the deliberate and proactively progressive urban development that would accommodate and sustain alternative transportation such as bicycling and light rail. That is why it is a unique U.S. city today and why people want to visit and live here.
      I feel that anti-cyclist, anti-light rail, refuse-to-ride-the-bus metro residents who enjoy spending most of their time within the confines of their cars have really chosen the wrong place to live.
      Love Portland, or leave.

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      • Oregon Mamacita June 4, 2014 at 10:49 am

        “Love Portland or Leave” is bike evangelism at its worst. Portland has 520,000 cars and 20,000 motorcycles. Your simplistic view of Portland history does not advance your contentions. The majority of adults in Portland own cars. Only 1% of the outer Eastside commutes by bike. You set your cause back- I am surprised that a BTA member didn’t call you out as unproductive to their attempts to build support for cycling in the wider community.

        If everyone who was pro-car left PDX- you would have about 10% of the population left. Good luck with that. Maybe Portland should split into four cities. That way people in Mid-to-Outer SE would not have to swallow your bogus definition of civic “love.” You and I could be in separate towns, and neither of us would have to physically move. I am liking that, 007.

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        • Scott H June 4, 2014 at 11:12 am

          You’re assuming anyone that owns a car is strictly anti-bike or something. Allow me to open your eyes. I own a car, and I love Portland because I don’t have to drive my car every day. Portland lets me ride my bike, or take light rail, or walk, etc, and I’d like to see even more of that. So yeah, love Portland or leave.

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        • 9watts June 4, 2014 at 11:42 am

          “If everyone who was pro-car left PDX- you would have about 10% of the population left.”

          Driving a car ≠ pro-car. Cars for many are something they have to have, or think they have to have.

          Besides, many who may have no idea how wonderful an alternative the bicycle is right now could and surely will eventually discover this. Accelerating that process a little won’t hurt. Modal distribution is not a static thing, you know.

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      • spare_wheel June 4, 2014 at 4:01 pm

        imo, these people are not only a minority of portlanders they are a minority of car-owning portlanders.

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  • Dave June 3, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I wonder if it would go over better with the public if the street fee program included a mandate to hire local workers and contractors regardless of bid. Make sure the money stays at least within the county.

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    • 9watts June 3, 2014 at 7:27 pm
    • 007 June 4, 2014 at 3:12 am

      That’s one of my pet peeves. The city should hire city residents, including the police, and contract with contractors and companies that are physically located in Portland.

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      • 9watts June 4, 2014 at 7:18 am

        Or we could go further, take a page from the Sidewalk Manual for Homeowners put out by the City, and invite citizens, groups of neighbors, or even neighborhood associations to do some of this kind of work themselves. City Repair, of course, takes an approach like this too. Much of the work for stormwater bioswales, bike lane painting, covering up sharrows when the fogseal crews come along, etc. could be done handily by people who are not paying into a PERS account.

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        • Dave June 4, 2014 at 10:21 am

          So, undercut city employees who are part of the local economy when they spend their $? Sounds like race-to-the-bottom shit to me.

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          • davemess June 4, 2014 at 5:03 pm

            Nope, getting stuff (which might not be done at all or in a timely manner) done by people who are willing to volunteer.

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    • paikiala June 4, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      What evidence do you have that this practice does not already exist?

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  • TOM June 3, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Steve Novick says he’s open to reconsidering a sales tax or income tax.


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    • 9watts June 3, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      ANYTHING but a gas tax, eh?

      What is next, a tax on gutters, or broccoli?

      How does any of this make our eventual need to face the music => carbon tax, gas tax, etc. any easier? What is the pedagogical value of avoiding the obvious way to solve this problem, the way everyone else does this, until the bitter end?

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  • TOM June 4, 2014 at 7:54 am

    ANYTHING but a gas tax, eh?
    What is next, a tax on gutters, or broccoli?

    Portland mulls ‘Late Night Activity Permit’ for businesses open past 10 p.m


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    • 9watts June 4, 2014 at 8:11 am

      “The streetlight effect is a type of observational bias where people only look for whatever they are searching by looking where it is easiest.”


      Hales/Novick seem to subscribe to the opposite.

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  • TOM June 4, 2014 at 11:47 am

    I was doing a little surfing and found this on the O, re: disabled parking:

    Novick’s plan would force people with a the general dark blue placard to pay for parking starting next July 1.

    let’s see .. proposed “street fees” , open to income tax, sales tax , disabled parking fees , avoiding a street fee vote. “since we’d lose 60/40” , etc… Have I missed anything ? What’s next ?

    Since he has thrown down the first name calling of his co-workers , I suggest that SN be called “Mr. Tax & Fees PDX.”

    He challenged us to remove him if we disapproved, think I’ll take him up on that.

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  • Middle of the Road guy June 4, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    “small business owners and low-income people”

    Uh, and lots of other regular people too, Mayor.

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    • davemess June 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm

      We all know we’re unimportant.

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  • TOM June 5, 2014 at 7:24 am

    VERY good WW article about this mess : Fee For All



    “In 2012, Novick denounced the $35-a-person Portland Arts Tax as “beyond regressive” because it hit people without regard to their income level. But his residential street fee is also regressive”

    “But he admits he chose a flat fee over options like an income tax because it was less likely to inflame the powerful, who could refer it to a public vote. ”

    “He’s telling the voters, ‘Come at me, bro,’” says Eric Fruits, recent chairman of the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association. Novick says he didn’t mean to sound combative. “I don’t matter,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if I’m a political idiot sometimes. What matters is we get to the end goal.”

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  • TOM June 5, 2014 at 9:50 am

    did they gen up the proposed street fee verbiage with “the majority of fees collected going to maintenance” with an idea they would use 51% (the majority) for streets and 49% for unknown ?

    >>Commissioner Amanda Fritz introduced the latest changes, which would require at least 8/10 of money raised go to “transportation maintenance and transportation safety improvements.” The previous version of the charter amendment, which will eventually appear on the November ballot, simply said “the majority of funds” would go to that purpose.

    even with AF’s amendment, where does the other 20% go ?


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  • TOM June 7, 2014 at 6:48 am

    this O guest post echos exactly my thoughts on the FEE


    Portland street fee needs three votes, thank heaven

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