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Opinion: The PBA and The Oregonian are wrong about street tax impetus

Posted by on November 14th, 2014 at 12:59 pm

DSC_5589

They’ve never said “Our Streets” is only for paving.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan, U.S. Senator 1976-2000

It’s one thing to be opposed to something on principle or policy grounds, but when the facts are twisted to suit an agenda, that’s something else entirely.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what The Oregonian Editorial Board and the Portland Business Alliance have done. Both of these groups are staunchly opposed to the latest transportation revenue proposal unveiled by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick earlier this week. I’m not entirely in love with the proposal (I think a paltry 7% of total spending toward biking-specific infrastructure isn’t enough); but that’s a different conversation. For now, there’s one aspect of the argument from the PBA and The Oregonian that really needs to be called out.

Almost before the cameras were even turned off at Monday’s City Hall press conference to announce the new proposal — a mix of personal income tax and business licensing fees — the PBA put out a letter that made headlines all over the local media. Among the PBA’s four major objections to the proposal was this one:

“Finally, it is not clear that a preponderance of the newly raised revenue would go toward paving maintenance, which was the initial impetus for creating this new program.”

Note that “initial impetus” part.

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Then one day later, The Oregonian Editorial Board blasted the “street tax mess.” Like the PBA, The Oregonian’s Editorial Board wants a much larger portion of the revenue raised by this program to go toward maintenance and paving — instead of safety projects. (The current split is 56/44 paving/safety. The PBA has advocated for a 75/25 split.) And, just like the PBA, The Oregonian pulled out the following argument to make their case:

Meanwhile, only half the revenue would pay for street maintenance, which is odd considering the tax is a response to a huge backlog of deferred maintenance.

The reality is, the City of Portland has never framed this as being solely intended to pay for paving and maintenance. The “impetus” for new transportation revenue has always included safety projects.

Both the PBA and The Oregonian have just forgotten this fact or they’re intentionally misleading people.

pbotprioriitesfee

Graph showing PBOT survey results that influenced approach to Our Streets funding effort (from February 2014).

I went back into my email archives to find PBOT’s first press release about the “Our Streets” funding effort. Dated February 3rd, 2014, the release was about a telephone survey of Portland residents that asked about their top transportation funding priorities. A month prior, PBOT had convened an advisory committee to help them craft the questions. Their plan was to use the survey results to craft their entire approach to the program.

The headline of the press release was, “Maintenance, safety top Portlanders transportation priorities, survey says.”

Below is an excerpt from the press release. Note the emphasis on both paving/maintenance and safety:

Portlanders are most concerned about basic maintenance and safety. Consistent with prior surveys and audit reports, general repairs like potholes and repaving ranked among the top four “most important areas to invest in now.”
 
Four out of six safety needs ranked among the top six “most important areas to invest in now.” Responses identified safe pedestrian street crossings, safety around schools, safety at intersections and transit stops, and the addition of sidewalks as top choices.
 
The survey reaffirmed commitment to public transit and identified needs for increased bicycle safety. After road maintenance, improving MAX/TriMet and better/safer bicycle lanes were the two biggest needs identified by respondents. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed responded supportive to “safer bike routes to separate people riding bicycles from car and freight traffic.” In response to the question at the end of the poll asking Portlanders to identify “biggest transportation needs,” five of the top 14 response categories were related to public transit service.

Given the results of this survey — where 86% of Portlanders said investments in sidewalks and safety would make them support a new street fee — PBOT’s proposals have always put investments in safety projects on equal footing to paving/maintenance projects.

Going back even further, Hales told The Oregonian during his 2012 mayoral campaign that a new source of transportation funding was “necessary to to maintain and improve the city’s transportation system.”

And (as Portland Mercury News Editor Denis Theriault pointed out in a comment below) Hales was even more direct in 2013, when he told the Mercury, “I see us spending more on bikes and on paving,” he says. “I want us out of the zero-sum game. They don’t need to be in opposition.”

It’s clear that Hales’ inspiration for wanting to raise new transportation revenue was based not just on paving and maintaining what we have, but on building more of the stuff we need to keep all road users safe and happy.

The PBA and The Oregonian are promoting this false narrative so everyone thinks PBOT and Mayor Hales pulled some kind of bait-and-switch with their proposal. That’s not the case. I guess when your priorities are way out of line with what the vast majority of Portlanders want, the only tactic you have left is to mislead and hope your opinions are accepted as fact.

This has never been all about paving and maintenance, nor should it be. We need different opinions and a good civic debate about this important proposal — but that’s much harder to have when these two influential voices are muddying the waters with half-truths.

Michael Andersen contributed reporting to this story.

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73 Comments
  • Adron @ Transit Sleuth November 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    This is a great write up showing the cluelessness behind the PBA and their general attack on Portland. I find it strange they perpurt they’re an advocacy group for Portland business when they often don’t speak for the local business that are actually on the streets of Portland.

    The Oregonian, well, I’m not even sure I need to comment on that. They still have their constituency beyond Oregon that I suppose they have an intent to kiss up to. On the flip they’re just out of touch with the actual city, and seem to be, as you’ve pointed out, not paying attention to what is actually going on.

    Summary: Great article. Wish the Oregonian and PBA would get in touch with Portland & the citizenry that lives here.

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  • Jeg November 14, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    The rhetoric about potholes is dog whistle politics for “what are you doing for cars?” That’s been the “back to basics” that’s been talked about by these local conservatives. They want all the money for cars, nothing else. If they can keep pushing it in that direction, they hope people will stop thinking about pedestrians and bikes.

    We must continue to advocate for multimodal improvements. Back to basics crap about potholes is dog whistle politics for “forget the bikers.”

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    • Todd Boulanger November 14, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      …we should steal their slogan and make it ours: “back to basics” becomes “back to basic transportation” or “back to 1900 basics”

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      • Spiffy November 14, 2014 at 3:20 pm

        the dream of the 1890’s is alive in Portland…

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        • was carless November 15, 2014 at 4:51 pm

          Life imitates art.

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  • Caitie November 14, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Well, Jeg, I hate maneuvering around potholes on my bike. Or gritting my teeth and riding over them because of traffic. Or avoiding cars pulling out of their lanes to avoid them. Fixing potholes benefits all modes of transportation.

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    • spare_wheel November 14, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Speak for yourself. I view potholes as effective traffic calming.

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      • q`Tzal November 14, 2014 at 5:28 pm

        Only if they aren’t in my bicycle’s travel path.
        A pothole in bicycle facilities is simply something the police will ignore as unsafe when citing you for not being in the bike lane.
        In the automobile lane it must be large enough that swerving unpredictably in to the bike lane wouldn’t help.

        That truly is an “engineered” pothole.

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    • 9watts November 16, 2014 at 8:00 am

      “Fixing potholes benefits all modes of transportation.”
      I disagree. Potholes are a problem for those who wish to go fast. City streets should not encourage or facilitate going fast. Besides, the potholes happen where car wheels drive; much less frequently on the parts of the streets where I am riding.
      The ‘everyone needs smooth streets’ mantra (Charlie Hales comment on bikeportland , July 13, 2012 )* is a thinly veiled attempt to claim as a universal good something that is in fact a subsidy to the auto-bound.

      *http://bikeportland.org/2012/07/12/portland-biz-journal-op-ed-bicycling-serves-as-economic-tool-74670#comment-3065809

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      • Martin November 16, 2014 at 9:43 am

        Potholes bother me much more when I’m biking than when I’m driving. In fact I don’t really notice a pothole problem when I’m driving, but when biking even a small hole in the road could cause a pinch flat, bent rim, or an accident that could cause me serious injury. When driving I just have to worry about an uncomfortable bump and maybe damage to my car. Also road damage like tire ruts and ~2inch sharp bumps (like on W burnside between 20th and 10th) can be a real hazard to bikes at speed but pose no problems to cars. I support fixing potholes but not if it means creating a new tax to do it. I don’t think having damaged roads is a good way to discourage driving. There are many more direct and simple ways to discourage driving that don’t involve crumbling and unsafe public infrastructure.

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        • 9watts November 16, 2014 at 10:24 am

          All true if you are surprised by one—and perhaps in my case it is having grown up mountain biking—but I find that I can avoid those potholes on a bike pretty easily. Not that I haven’t been surprised by one or two at night without an adequate front light.

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        • Trikeguy November 17, 2014 at 11:55 am

          As someone who commutes down Park/Salmon every day, I agree that fixing the paving benefits a cyclist at least as much as a car. And, no, I won’t ride in the door zone, or drop below the speed of traffic – I just put 35mm tires at 75-80psi on the fronts and rocket over them 🙂

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  • Blake November 14, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    One of the ugliest points of opposition from the PBA is described by the Oregonian:

    The alliance, she wrote, “appreciates” the newly configured business portion of the plan, but McDonough said they couldn’t support the new income tax on residents in particular.

    “Under this new plan, almost half of Portland taxpayers will be exempt from paying even a modest amount,” she wrote. The new plan includes a progressive income tax that would charge a maximum of $900 per year for the wealthiest Portlanders, and would exempt joint filers that earn $35,000 or less.
    (http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/11/portland_street_fund_business.html#incart_story_package)

    That is, they oppose it for being TOO progressive, which is pretty clearly out of touch with most of the city where the original plan was revised after backlash specifically around its lack of progressivity.

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  • J_R November 14, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    There’s plenty of evidence that the US, Oregon, and Portland have neglected the transportation system for years because they have failed to allocate the necessary money.

    There’s also plenty of evidence that the City of Portland has not been a good steward of the resources. I’m thinking of the vastly over budget BES offices. I’m also seeing within a few blocks of my home in SE a massive sewer repair project where many streets are being torn up just months after PBOT patched and sealed these same streets. These are not isolated repairs on a few sections of sewers and streets but blocks and blocks of them.

    I’m all for a balanced transportation system and think that the proposed allocation of the resources for the street fee may be about right. I certainly disagree with the PBA and others that the entire focus should be on new pavement.

    My problems with the income tax – street fee program are:

    1. Non-Portland residents who account for a huge amount of street usage will pay NOTHING.
    2. Regardless of what is promised by the current council, a future council could completely change the allocation to different transportation priorities or even sift it entirely away from transportation. It’s an income tax.
    3. A future council could completely change the rates and formulas. It’s proposed to be 0% for lots of residents and 0.10% to 0.30% for middle- and high-income residents.
    4. In an era where we are moving toward user pays, (as in the more use you make, the more you should pay for a service), this income tax disguised as a street fee is completely devoid of any connection to use.

    As I’ve opined on this forum before, we should have higher taxes on things that are bad and lower taxes on things that are good. Something that’s bad: burning fossil fuels. Something that’s good: having a job. So why in the world do we choose to have a lower tax on gasoline than on income?

    As I’ve proposed before: RAISE THE GAS TAX. Do it at the state level, do it at the local level, or both.

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    • Blake November 14, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      1) On the gas tax vs income tax, they are separate issues and it sounds from other conversations and the election results, that there may be an additional gas tax at the state level which would supplement the revenue for transportation improvements, so it doesn’t need to be either/or
      2) On the issue of taxing people for doing “good” things like having jobs: That is a straw man if I ever saw one. Tax revenue will be raised and relying solely on the gas tax to disincentivize burning gasoline ignores the distributional impact of it.

      The gas tax is regressive because the total $ paid is a higher percent of income for lower-income people, they tend to drive older (less fuel efficient) cars (so their $ amount is higher per mile) and the gentrification of inner Portland is pushing people further out to areas with poorer walking, biking and transit opportunities. An income tax like the one that was proposed, however, is progressive and I bet if you pair the progressivity of the income tax for the Street Fund with a rise in gas taxes at the state (and if one would like to fantasize, at the federal level too), you would hope the overall burden would be at least flat (with lots of spending on areas with poor access to walking, biking and transit like East Portland) and preferably progressive.

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      • J_R November 14, 2014 at 2:49 pm

        I agree that a gas tax is in some ways a regressive tax. So, do what British Columbia did with the carbon tax: give a rebate or credit to all people or households regardless of income or carbon tax paid. That is a truly progressive tax policy.

        Do you not agree that burning fossil fuel is something to discourage?

        In addition to being concerned about the regressive nature of a gas tax are you also concerned about the regressive nature of cigarette taxes? A low income person smoking two packs a day is paying a higher portion of his income than is a wealthy person.

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        • Blake November 14, 2014 at 3:04 pm

          I don’t disagree that gasoline use harms the environment and has negative effects that are not included in its price (and so it should be taxed). I don’t disagree that cigarettes also cause an externality (higher health care costs for all).

          However, both the reasons explained above don’t provide support to using a gas tax to fund maintenance and safety improvements. They are taxes that the government imposes hoping it will result in a decrease in its tax receipts.

          The opposite is the motivation for a safety/maintenance tax policy. We WANT and NEED it to bring in the revenue we hope and for it to increase every year so that it generates the same real (as in inflation-adjusted) revenue in subsequent years. They are different tax policies to accomplish different goals, so I can be fully logically consistent in supporting a regressive tax policy in one case (taxing cigarettes to reduce demand for cigarettes) but opposed to it in another case (a gas tax hike to fund maintenance/safety improvements)

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          • J_R November 14, 2014 at 3:28 pm

            If we had increased Oregon gas tax in line with the inflation of construction costs (using 1993 as a base), the Oregon gas tax would already be 41 cents per gallon. The Corps of Engineers construction cost index for roads, highways and bridges has gone up by 70 percent in the last 21 years.

            If we had been indexing gas taxes, we would not currently be facing the funding crisis and many of us would have made different auto choices if gas taxes had increased by 1 cent per year. We would have opted for higher fuel economy rather than higher horsepower. More new, fuel-efficient cars would have been purchased over the years and more used, fuel-efficient cars would be available now for the lower income people.

            If we want to minimize the economic harm to low income individuals, let’s do a rebate as British Columbia did or a new “cash for clunkers” program with an income limit or something. We’ve got to get away from economic policies that favor increased use of fossil fuels for transportation purposes and all the adverse consequences.

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            • Blake November 14, 2014 at 3:43 pm

              I don’t think there is any question the lack of indexation of gas taxes has and continues to have detrimental impact on the funding of infrastructure and our choices about what vehicles (new and used) are on the road today, but we can’t go back and rewrite history and so raising the gas tax today will have detrimental impacts on lower income people based on the used cars that are on the road today.

              We can’t make meaningful change with a state- or city-level cash for clunkers, which would eat up most of the funding at the level being proposed (CfC was $2.85bn nationally = $57m per state; based on relative population, that would be $36m for the Portland metro area, compared to the estimated Street Fund spending of ~$46m).

              It was also not something which by and large benefited the lower-income people you are talking about. A Brookings study (http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2013/10/cash-for-clunkers-evaluation-gayer) found: “In terms of distributional effects, compared to households that purchased a new or used vehicle in 2009 without a voucher, CARS program participants had a higher before-tax income, were older, more likely to be white, more likely to own a home, and more likely to have a high-school and a college degree.”

              A rebate idea would be interesting, but would leave you with a politically impossible mix with the gas station association opposing the gas tax increase and the PBA opposing the rebate (they already think the income tax idea is too progressive!). There seems to be momentum towards gas tax increases at the state level so let that happen and push for a rebate there. Don’t work against the Street Fee because it doesn’t do exactly what you think is the best policy (don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!)

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          • 9watts November 14, 2014 at 11:02 pm

            J_R’s right on the money.

            “They are different tax policies to accomplish different goals, so I can be fully logically consistent in supporting a regressive tax policy in one case (taxing cigarettes to reduce demand for cigarettes) but opposed to it in another case (a gas tax hike to fund maintenance/safety improvements)”

            I guess I don’t think that logic looks far enough into the future. I see that cigarettes and cars serve different purposes in our societies, and that in the here and now lots of people depend on cars in ways that are meaningfully different than people’s dependency on nicotine, but the whole point of policy, in my understanding, is to look beyond the here and now, take into account the medium—and ideally also the long term—view of things. Appreciated in that context, gasoline usage is probably 100 or 1000 times worse for public health than cigarettes. We need to face this particular unpleasant music, take the regressivity of a gas tax to heart, and do what we need to do to get ourselves collectively beyond fossil fuels.

            Pussyfooting around in 2014 out of concerns for a gas tax’s regressiveness is not going to help the poor car-dependent people of tomorrow who, along with the rest of us, are soon enough going to experience the End of Cheap Oil much more abruptly and painfully than any tax currently being considered or rejected.

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          • Martin November 15, 2014 at 5:51 pm

            If you are worried about the gas tax revenues going down, index it with average MPG of the autos on the road…or inflation…or the cost of roads…or a combination of all three.

            Charge a high tax for studded tires!

            If you are worried about the regressivity of a gas tax, give a credit on state income taxes for low income households….or charge higher registration fees for higher value vehicles…or add a car sales tax.

            If there isn’t enough revenue because of our weird property tax laws, lets fix those laws and raise those taxes instead of creating new taxes to compensate.

            I can think of lots of ways to fund roads that make more sense to me than creating an entirely new tax just for Portland residents just to pay for streets which we already pay taxes for through several existing systems that could just be modified.

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            • J_R November 15, 2014 at 8:48 pm

              Indexing the gas tax to compensate for the fuel economy of cars would provide a small benefit. It’s better than nothing, but not by much. Since 1993, the fuel economy of autos has increased 12 percent from 20.6 mpg to 23.3 mpg. During the same 21-year period, the construction cost index has risen by 70 percent. Inflation, not the slight increase in fuel economy, is the real reason the gas tax revenues are failing to provide enough money to maintain the system.

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        • was carless August 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm

          I disagree with the gas tax being regressive. Case in point – what do you think a carbon tax will be, if it ever is enacted?

          Transportation sector contributes roughly 25% or so towards GHG emissions, and getting cars off the road and big trucks converted to electric and trains would help tremendously.

          I thought the whole point of building mass transit (max, buses) and bike lanes were so that everyone can get around the city on congestion-free routes that don’t negatively impact the quality of life and people’s health.

          Gotta break some eggs in order to make an omelet, me grandpappy used to say.

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      • jeff bernards November 15, 2014 at 1:49 am

        The poor drive gas guzzlers? I bought a 4 passenger car for $1000 that got over 50 mpg, if you look there out there.

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        • Martin November 15, 2014 at 5:35 pm

          It may sound blunt and self-evident, but the poor often make choices that aren’t aligned with their long-term financial best interest. Policy makers seem confused by this concept while marketers exploit it.

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    • Todd Hudson November 17, 2014 at 9:20 am

      Cities and towns are prohibited by state law from enacting new gas taxes independent of the state gas tax. That was from an amendment in the 2009 statewide gas tax increase.

      So, that idea is out.

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      • J_R November 17, 2014 at 12:17 pm

        Sorry, Todd, but you are incorrect.

        HB2001 that was adopted by the legislature in 2009 had a TEMPORARY prohibition on new gas taxes by local governments. That prohibition EXPIRED on January 2, 2014.

        Key elements of HB 2001 are as follows:

        SECTION 25. (1) A city, county or other local government may not enact any charter provision, ordinance, resolution or other provision taxing fuel for motor vehicles. (2) A city, county or other local government may not amend any charter provision, ordinance, resolution or other provision taxing fuel for motor vehicles.

        SECTION 26. Section 25 of this 2009 Act is repealed on January 2, 2014.

        Increase the gas tax.

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    • paikiala November 17, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      JR,
      How much street usage do non-portlanders account for? What’s your metric? and sources?

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      • J_R November 17, 2014 at 1:00 pm

        I’m sure someone could do a better job of sorting through the Bureau of Census’ data, but here’s what I found:

        Table 2. Residence County to Workplace County Flows 2006-2010

        Clark Co., Wash, residents who work in Multnomah County 45,078
        Clackamas County residents who work in Mult. Co 54,170
        Washington County residents who work in Mult. Co. 54,819
        Washington County residents who work in Clackamas Co. 14,190
        Clackamas County residents who work in Washington Co. 20,344

        And for comparison, Multnomah County residents who work in Multnomah County 281,594

        I am not claiming that all of these people drive on Portland streets, but I think it is likely that many do. For example, many of the Clark County residents likely work in Portland, though obviously some also work in Gresham or other areas outside Portland. Same holds for the Washington County and Clackamas County residents. The Clackamas-Washington and Washington-Clackamas is probably mostly west side connections on OR 217, but some may be the Sellwood Bridge users, for example.

        This doesn’t even touch the portion of Gresham, Troutdale, and Fairview residents who work in Portland since those are all in the Multnomah-to-Multnomah totals.

        The point is that there’s an enormous amount of inter-county and inter-city travel for commuting purposes.

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  • Denis C. Theriault November 14, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    And I’ll remind everyone about this Charlie Hales quote, from the spring of 2013:

    “I see us spending more on bikes and on paving,” he says. “I want us out of the zero-sum game. They don’t need to be in opposition…. Yes, we will raise your taxes. I don’t think that will be a pitched battle.”

    http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/tale-of-the-grip-tape/Content?oid=9573548

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    • Blake November 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm

      It seems like the Mayor is going to not back down on this iteration of the proposal and I would like to remind you to bookmark this article from the Oregonian where the PBA argues against the Street Fund because it is too progressive (quoted in a comment above): http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/11/portland_street_fund_business.html#incart_story_package

      I would hope the Mayor will continue to lobby on behalf of the tax’s progressivity and it never hurts to show that the opposition is based on opposition to progessive taxation (which is something I suspect they differ dramatically from the general population of Portland).

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      • njb November 14, 2014 at 9:00 pm

        He is exempting the very poor and capping taxes for the rich. The only folks who are getting squeezed are in the middle class, those of us who did not get a working group or the special treatment the biking lobby got. Now, tell me more about progressivism..

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        • Blake November 14, 2014 at 10:36 pm

          $5 per month for a couple earning between $40k and $60k.
          $7.50 per month for a couple earning between $60k and $75k
          $10 per month for a couple earning between $75k and $100k
          Source: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/508979

          That is adjusted gross income (i.e. income minus deductions), minus a $5,000 per child deduction. I hardly think that is “squeezing” the middle class. Yes, it could be more progressive, but it is much (!) better than the original proposal.

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          • 9watts November 14, 2014 at 10:49 pm

            So under $40K/yr households are exempt, then? That seems like a generous exemption.
            Still seems odd that this Street Fee/Transportation Users Fee/Street Fund /What Are They Going To Call It Next? is ranked by income rather than by gasoline usage. Income has not all that much to do with demand for transport services, wear on our streets. Progressive taxation is great, but taxing the stuff we urgently need to discourage is even better.

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          • jeff bernards November 15, 2014 at 1:52 am

            It’s going to cost $10 to collect the $5, seriously and the untold millions to collect it all, ridiculous.

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            • Blake November 15, 2014 at 10:51 am

              Actually, going to be done with annual collection through the Arts Tax process, so limited additional cost I imagine AND with the two combined, might actually become economical to go after non-payers.

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              • jeff bernards November 16, 2014 at 1:57 am

                59 new employees, Same as the art tax? not quite

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              • J_R November 16, 2014 at 5:33 pm

                Yeah, that’s 59 new employees at PBOT and 22 more in the Revenue Department.

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    • Will P November 14, 2014 at 4:52 pm

      This quote itself is a walkback from Hales campaign in 2012 when he repeatedly said that he could pay for street paving by reducing city overhead and middle management. There is a link in the blog post below to his campaign literature.

      http://www.blueoregon.com/2014/06/wait-charlie-hales-promised-pave-our-streets-without-street-fee/

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      • Blake November 14, 2014 at 4:57 pm

        The idea of funding things out of reducing overhead spending (or how politicians usually say, “waste, fraud and abuse”) is almost always unrealistic fanciful delusions about the scale of waste, fraud and abuse (or excessive middle management) in government. I would commend Hales for getting into office, seeing the scope of the problem and funding gap and reversing course when the facts contradicted his campaign rhetoric. Outside of political discussion, we call that “learning”. Only in politics is consistency in statement favored over accuracy and changing policies to match reality.

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        • Will P November 14, 2014 at 5:15 pm

          The world would be a better place if you were right.

          If Hales had just fallen off the turnip truck I could largely agree with your point of view. This is an experienced municipal manager (of Portland) with multiple successful public campaigns on his ledger. He knew very well the scope of PBOT’s shortfall, it had been building in clear view since the 2008 battles. It defies belief that he ever honestly believed that he could wring enough savings out of the city bureaus to cover it.

          Then again, I am becoming a jaded man.

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      • was carless November 15, 2014 at 4:58 pm

        Look up the term “rhetoric.” This is what politicians use when getting elected; carefully crafted narratives in order to convince people to vote for them.

        People who tell the boring truth simply don’t get elected. Them’s the reality, folks.

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  • babygorilla November 14, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Anyone who doesn’t recognize that the City has emphasized repair and maintenance as a primary driver for the need for a new funding mechanism for transportation going back to the auditors’ reports on PBOT spending and street condition is deceiving themselves. They trotted out the $91 million maintenance backlog needed to fix “aging infrastructure” as the first finding in the initial “street fee” ordinance.

    The “back to basics” narrative was part of Hales campaign and part of his administration. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/mayor/article/451624. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/451483.

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    • Alex Reed - BikeLoudPDX November 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Note that you say “a primary driver” rather than “the primary driver.” As Jonathan notes, it’s been a primary driver of the street fee campaign among two primary drivers – the other being safety, especially for non-car modes of transportation, most of all walking.

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  • encephalopath November 14, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    The PBA and The Oregonian are wrong about _____________.

    I hope this isn’t a drinking game.

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  • 9watts November 14, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan and Michael, for calling out these rascals.

    To me their angle on this is so ironic, shortsighted, flawed. In a few short years their crowing for more asphalt is going to look pretty anachronistic and wishful when the horseless carriage—the justification for all this refreshed asphalt—will be rusting away in front of our houses, unused. Can we then sue them for causing our tax dollars to be misspent? Do they (or we) have a Plan B?

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  • Babygorilla November 14, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    Here’s a slightly contemporaneous article from The Mercury identifying the new revenue source as a “Maintenance Fee.” The use of quotes imply that that characterization is not from the reporter. Someone was flogging it as a maintenance fee, not a safety fee or transportation improvement fee.

    http://www.portlandmercury.com/BlogtownPDX/archives/2014/05/08/city-halls-flogging-a-street-fee-poll-is-it-any-good

    Didn’t the city even change the proposal at some point to add language that a majority of funds would be dedicated to maintenance?

    Given that and given that Hales appointed an interim PBOT director to focus on maintenance, that serious public street fee discussions came out at about the same time as the auditor reports on PBOT spending and pavement conditions, and that Hales ran on and trumpets his back to basics platform, I don’t see how identifying maintenance as the impetus of the street fee or that the street fee proposals was a response to maintenance concerns is remotely incorrect.

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  • davemess November 15, 2014 at 7:58 am

    I disagree Jonathan. If you’d attended those early town hall meetings last summer, you would have heard/seen a HEAVY emphasis on our “crumbling” streets. They talked of how the back log on maintenance was so great and soon we would have streets turning back to gravel. You heard VERY little about the actual safety issues in our city (except for a few slides showing some improvements the money could pay for).

    Even if the press releases seemed to give lip service to both needs, the presentations were dominated by talk of road maintenance and paving.

    More importantly we should be calling out the fact that only 75% of this fee will be going to any actual improvements (paving or safety). Or the fact that PERS retirees (who also clearly use the roads) will not be paying anything.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 17, 2014 at 9:31 am

      In the Oregonian’s primary endorsement of Hales, they cited his willingness to fix potholes as one of his pluses. They didn’t mention street improvements, just maintenance. But throughout his campaign, Hales was just about 100 percent consistent about always saying that a new transportation revenue source (which he was calling for from the moment he started running) would go toward both paving and safety improvements such as sidewalks.

      Here’s exactly what he told the O’s editorial writers in his October 2012 general election endorsement interview:

      “One, we have to change the reality and spend more of what we have on maintenance of what we have. Two, we need to explain what we’re doing and the proportion of the budget that’s going to new things for whatever mode of transportation we’re talking about. Then I think we get to say: And having done all that — put the house in order, we’re good stewards of the money you’ve given us, we’re repaving 83 miles of streets this year and 92 miles next year or whatever we’re going to be able to cite to people — now you’ve got to understand that if we’re going to pave all those unpaved streets, build all those unbuilt sidewalks, we’re not going to do that with the revenue we have today. I believe this is where we’ll end up. And therefore if we want to get up out of the mud, we’re not going to have the homeowners on these streets tax themselves to build them. We’re going to have to have a citywide capital improvement program that over a very long period — 20 years, 30 years — builds out that missing infrastructure. And that’s what I think we’re going to need the new revenue for.”

      Hales says this at 32:50 in the video. He doesn’t even take a breath in between “pave all those unpaved streets” and “build all those unbuilt sidewalks.”

      The Oregonian’s focus on the paving issue has certainly shaped the emphasis of the discussion, including at those town halls. And if they chose not to hear Hales when he promised not only to pave streets but also to improve them, that’s their prerogative. But there’s no disputing that Hales said it, and has been saying it, throughout.

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      • davemess November 17, 2014 at 3:11 pm

        I’m not denying that. I’m saying that I was at some of those early meetings and they were dominated by talks of maintenance improvements.

        I just don’t think this should be remotely surprising at this point. You’re quoting Hales from two years ago.

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      • davemess November 17, 2014 at 3:13 pm

        And I should point out that Hales didn’t even show up to a couple of the town halls.

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  • Terry D-M November 15, 2014 at 10:44 am

    There seems to be a whole series of whining amungst all the papers about this proposal. It is much better than the art’s tax which so is clearly a regressive head tax….while using a loophole to escape being declared unconstitutional.

    This is only a start of what we need to upgrade, rebuild, preserve and modernize our network in a multi-modal way. User fees will come next and the state will pass a gas tax increase indexed in some way so it automatically increases over time. It is not like the federal government is going to increase funding any time soon, so we need to come together and settle on at least a small step forward. Federally, we should lobby to allow tolling on existing “freeways.”

    We need to start making a dent in the sidewalks in south, east and sw Portland and bring the bikeway network into these underserved neighborhoods. If we can not pay for it locally, then where is the money going to come from? it is not like the private sector is volunteering to do it…I could site a dozen examples from around the city.

    Anyone who whines about the 5 to 75 $ per month “disparity” and how this has no relation to use….and is just another example of soaking the rich. Remember, social security and medicare contributions are capped. The upper incomes will not even notice this small income tax. The “Cap” should be eliminated if you actually want to be fair about it, then have the extra resoucres be directly targeted to programs, mass or active transport, specifically designed to get Portland’s workforce to work as cheaply, efficiently and safely as possible.

    Combined with congestion pricing of bridges and parking, we could then start actually repairing and modernizing our system in a serious way. Right now, even with the best management practices we are a sinking ship that keeps getting loaded with new passengers from ..well, everywhere.

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    • Martin November 18, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      So your argument is that newspapers should stop “whining” about a bad policy proposal because it’s better than “the art’s tax which so is clearly a regressive head tax….while using a loophole to escape being declared unconstitutional”?

      I think it makes sense for them to continue “whining” until the policy makers come up with a proposal that could be called good on it’s own merits not just less bad than other bad things. I would say this type of critique of government proposals by an independent press is one of the most important functions of newspapers in our society and I would be careful not to call it “whining” even if I disagreed with the conclusions on occasion.

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  • Randy November 15, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Still a flawed proposal. Raise the gas tax…

    Those with low vehicles miles travelled (VMT) should pay less. Big vehicles with single person trips should pay more. Those with studded tires should pay more.

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  • Eddie Barksdale November 15, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Complete aside maybe, but I wish they would just stop paving roads for bicycles and instead offered unpaved options. Certainly, gravel does not become as slick as asphalt when covered in ice or leaves? At least, that’s what it seemed like the last few days. Only the paved bike lanes were dangerously slippery, but any stretch of gravel seemed like the safest place to motor.

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    • Beth November 19, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Gravel is only safe if you’re yng and hardy and have some bike-handling experience and skills. If you’re an older rider who is riding her three-speed to the store, gravel may be less safe in any weather. maybe it’s unrealistic to as, that improvements to bicycle infrastructure meet the needs of the least experienced rider, but if we only build and maintain facilities for the young and hardy then only the young and hardy will ride. That’s not a good prescription for growing ridership in Portland.

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  • robt November 15, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Street maintenance/repair is not just a Portland need. I would prefer that the state increase vehicle licensing fees plus gas tax to raise funds. Otherwise, Portland may simply lose state/federal funding to other cities that don’t have a street fee. (This is what happens when school bond measures pass-the state steps in to aid districts in need.)

    Also, if the street fund goes forward I think it’s more rational to base deductions on the number of cars people own, not the children they have. (no car=15k deduction, 1 car= 10k deduction, etc) Families already get child tax credits.

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    • J_R November 15, 2014 at 8:52 pm

      Increasing the gas tax, not the licensing fees, is the answer. When my car is sitting in the garage, it’s not putting any demand on the transportation system and certainly isn’t causing any wear on the roads.

      Gas tax extracts money from people for USING the roads. A licensing fee extracts money from people for OWNING a car. We need to be discouraging use.

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      • Martin November 16, 2014 at 9:47 am

        I agree, but perhaps simply owning a car is also a behavior that has some detrimental effects on others and should be taxed to compensate. The use of public streets for storage comes to mind. We do already tax it to some extent through vehicle registration fees.

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        • J_R November 16, 2014 at 5:37 pm

          I admit that I hadn’t thought about the use of the public streets for storage or parking. But, it remains that a moving car causes more wear and tear on the streets, causes a need for traffic enforcement, pollutes the air and water, and is a much greater hazard to bicyclists and pedestrians than is a stationary one. So, let’s make people who park on the street buy an annual permit for that AND raise the gas tax.

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  • F.W. de Klerk November 17, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Exempting people under 40K still is unfair. Many low-income people still drive cars whether they can afford them or not. These folks can contribute something.

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  • Trek 3900 November 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Raise the gas tax statewide so that those using the most gas, who are doing the most damage, pay the most. Cheap used cars that get good gas mileage are available – pick any old model Civic as just one example. If you just raise the gas tax in Portland, people will drive to Beaverton or Gresham to get gas. Tell Governor Kittyslobber to shut down his mileage tax plan that penalizes cars that get high mpg – it may be OK for electric only vehicles.

    Put a reasonable tax on studded tires so those who damaging the roads with studs pay their fair share – I’d start with say $25 or $50 per set of 4 tires or say $10 per tire, etc. Probably will not pay for all the damage but will help.

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    • GlowBoy November 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      I don’t often agree with T3900, but I agree with every thing said here. Except I think the tax on motor vehicle studded tires should be $25-50 per tire, minimum.

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      • Martin November 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm

        Yes those are all great and simple ideas that our city politicians don’t seem interested in considering.

        I don’t see any reason to spare studded tire users from the cost of the damage they are doing. Chains are more effective than studs and cheaper. There really is no reason for studs except convenience and I don’t have a problem making stud users pay for that.

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        • GlowBoy November 18, 2014 at 11:11 pm

          Studless tires might arguably be a studded tire alternative (though there are some situations where studs are still superior) but chains emphatically are not. They are limited to 30mph, they wear out after a few dozen miles of use and inflict severe vehicle damage if you don’t remove them immediately when they start to come apart, and they can dangerously unbalance a vehicle’s handling (because they are generally only installed on one axle).

          They are really only suited to extreme conditions; for moderate conditions, they are overkill, especially for long distances or in varying conditions where you are going back and forth between bare pavement (where 30mph will get you run off the road) and slippery frozen stuff. You know, the situations you might encounter in eastern Oregon. Oh wait, this is Portland – people have no clue. Chains also require installation along the side of the highway, an extremely risky activity (one that very, very nearly got me killed once); again, they are suitable for extreme conditions, but not for moderate conditions.

          Many Portlanders are fine with chains for short trips up to the mountain and back, where you go ONCE up a short, steady incline into worsening conditions, and then descend back home for the day. For longer trips, potentially through multiple snow zones, it’s much safer AND more convenient to have winter tires (not necessarily studded) installed on your vehicle and carry chains for the infrequent occasions when you really need them or are required to install them.

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          • Martin November 19, 2014 at 8:41 am

            OK Those are all fair points I had not considered. I still think people who choose to live in those areas and choose to drive and choose have studded tires should pay for the damage they do to the roads. I, living in Portland as you predicted, am happy driving my subaru which handles great in the snow without studded tires and when more traction is needed, I put on the chains.

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            • GlowBoy November 19, 2014 at 4:40 pm

              Completely agree that studded tire owners should pay for the damage, or at least that the fee be set high enough that very few people choose to use them.

              By the way, I see a lot of people improperly installing chains on the front of AWD cars. Since you have an AWD, I’ll just caution you to make sure to install them on the rear, not the front. They only go in front on front-wheel-drive cars that are incapable of sending power to the rear wheels. With chains on the front, even a modest loss of traction to the rear wheels (e.g., on a snowy curve) can make your car swap ends faster than you can imagine.

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  • rachel b November 18, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/11/proposed_portland_street_fee_v.html

    “A careful review of the street fee indicates that the largest users — trucking companies and railroads — are largely exempted from the fee.

    For example, as currently proposed, a single family can pay a street fee as high as $600 per year. The Portland Bureau of Transportation estimates that Union Pacific Railroad’s Brooklyn Rail Yard will be paying only $480 per year — even though the family has only one or two cars and the Brooklyn yard has thousands of trucks loading and unloading freight from all over the U.S. The family’s cars weigh one or two tons. A single semi going to or coming from the Brooklyn yards weighs 40 tons. Something seems amiss with the city’s fee calculations.”

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    • Katie Taylor November 19, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      That is completely insane!!

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    • rachel b November 19, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      I’m no fan of The Oregonian and I don’t think PBOT is evil. The vehicle of the article to which I linked (oregonlive) is less than ideal (I really miss having a respected state newspaper), but Robert McCullough raises some important issues in his In My Opinion Column, and he’s representing thousands of people in SE Uplift who are also asking those questions. I’m puzzled why simply suggesting making Portland’s heaviest road users pay their fair share–or even something remotely close to it–isn’t a major part of the discussion. It would relieve already-beleaguered Portland property owners tremendously, and it’s only just. With City, PPS, etc. bond measures already planned for 30 years into the future, homeowners cannot afford the street fee as proposed, and they shouldn’t have to. Heavy users should pay their fair share–we should not be subsidizing them yet again. Not being combative–please enlighten me if I’m missing something here. ???

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  • TOM November 19, 2014 at 8:05 am

    sure, and PBOT is paying out US$150K for help with it’s “vision” …Treat seems a puppet for Lil’ Napolean.

    “Portland Bureau of Transportation paying nearly $150,000 for ‘vision’ of its ‘transportation future'”

    http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/11/portland_bureau_of_transportat_14.html

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 19, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Tom. The Oregonian and their owners do not like PBOT and they do not like government in general. Keep that in mind when you read their stuff.

      That being said, the article you link to is about what Treat has called an “Action Plan.” The idea – according to her – is to give the public a transparent, interactive tool so we can see exactly where their money is going and what their specific objectives are and what strategies they’ll use to achieve them. IMO, that’s well worth $150,000. Of course, we’ll have to see what they come up with, but I’m certainly not ready to jump on the everything-at-PBOT-is-evil bandwagon that The PBA and The Oregonian are driving.

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