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BTA and environmental groups line up against bill that could boost bus service 42%

Posted by on February 10th, 2016 at 2:08 pm

First snow day of 2014-1

The proposed tax hike would be enough to upgrade
20 bus lines to frequent service.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

A coalition of transportation and environmental groups is opposing a payroll tax that would create a massive boost to TriMet bus service.

As reported Wednesday by The Oregonian, they’re doing so because the tax would fall flatly on both rich and poor workers, like TriMet’s existing payroll tax does.

The main differences: unlike TriMet’s employer-side payroll tax of 0.7337 percent, which is invisible to employees, this tax of 0.185 percent would appear on paychecks alongside Social Security and Medicare; and the revenue could be spent only on bus service, unlike other payroll taxes that have been earmarked for new rail service, bus service or construction projects.

To someone earning $20,000 a year, the proposal would cost about 71 cents per week, or $37 per year. For someone earning $60,000, it’d be about $2.13 per week, or $110 per year.

Economically, employer-side and employee-side payroll taxes are very similar, because employers factor them into the cost of paying workers. But the proposed employee-side tax would apply to some groups, like seasonal agricultural workers or employees of public schools or 501(c)3 organizations, whose employers are currently exempt from TriMet tax.

To someone earning $20,000 a year, the proposal would cost about 71 cents per week, or $37 per year. For someone earning $60,000, it’d be about $2.13 per week, or $110 per year.

If fully enacted by TriMet’s board, that’d be enough to boost TriMet’s effective payroll taxes by 25 percent, or about $70 million this year. All of that would go to “improving or maintaining” bus service.

If we assume that this includes both bus operators and its bus maintenance workers, it’d come out to an overnight boost of $70 million a year for TriMet’s bus funding, a 42 percent increase. That’d be approximately enough to create five new frequent-service bus lines from scratch, or to upgrade 10 standard-service bus lines to frequent service.

It’s about six times larger than TriMet’s most recent round of cuts and fare hikes, in 2012.

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In an interview Wednesday, Bicycle Transportation Executive Director Rob Sadowsky said the BTA based its opposition to the bill on input from its partners in the Transportation Justice Alliance, a group that includes the BTA, Community Cycling Center, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Oregon Walks, the Asian-Pacific-American Network of Oregon, Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives and the Native American Youth and Family Center.

“We’re hearing really loud and clear from partners that we partner with in the transportation justice coalition that it is really hard to support an increase in employees’ income tax if it is not progressive,” Sadowsky said. “The reality is that people of moderate to low income are facing a lot of challenges, and it starts with affordable housing.”

“An income tax is more just than a wage tax because the income of poor and working class households comes almost exclusively from wages.”
— Vivian Satterfield, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon

In a letter to the state legislature, the BTA joined with 1000 Friends of Oregon, Better Eugene-Springfield Transit, the Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters to note that transit agencies don’t need legislative permission to levy a new net income tax, which would cover more types of income but exempt people with zero taxable income.

The two largest transit agencies in Oregon – TriMet and Lane Transit District (LTD) – already have the statutory authority to implement a residential “net income tax” to fund transit in their service area, ORS 267.370. This authority allows transit agencies to collect taxes on all forms of taxable income – such as interest, dividends, rental payments, capital gains, and other forms of income that are not derived from wages paid by an employer. This existing tax authority also has the additional benefit of being easily implemented and administered, as it may be collected as surtax on state income taxes.

The TJA haven’t taken a formal position on the bill, S.B. 1521, which has been pushed by Senate President Peter Courtney. But another of its members, OPAL, sent a similar letter of its own.

“Advocates for poor and working class families such as ourselves recognize that an income tax is more just than a wage tax because the income of poor and working class households comes almost exclusively from wages, while a larger share of income comes from non-wage sources in more affluent households,” Deputy Director Vivian Satterfield wrote.

Sadowsky said his group would support a further payroll tax hike “if it was progressive” and added that “TriMet shouldn’t be going out on their own” to get new revenue, but instead working with other partners for a bigger package next year.

“If you do one thing, it’s going to be difficult to really build a great 2017 transportation package,” he added. “Someone says We don’t need to fund you because you just … blank blank blank. … We need to set up a comprehensive and holistic way of funding transportation and not picking up little things.”

Correction 2/12: An earlier version of this post inaccurately estimated the approximate number of frequent service bus lines that could be created with the new money.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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  • Allan February 10, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Essentially a way for folks who earn money from investments to avoid paying into the system. Otherwise we would just have an income tax for transit

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    • Middle of the Road guy February 10, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Nothing is going to be completely fair.

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      • Endo February 11, 2016 at 5:34 pm

        And that’s the way TriMet likes it. All these people banging the drum for TriMet need to remember that a) they build infrastructure that makes biking more difficult and b) their service is a direct competitor to biking. Why on Earth should we be paying for big, polluting buses? Let’s take that money, shut down TriMet and build world-class bike facilities.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. February 10, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    Honest question: why is the BTA getting involved in this at all? This has nothing to do with bicycle transportation.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) February 10, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      I can’t speak for the BTA but I tried to summarize Sadowsky’s argument, which struck me as reasonable even if one disagrees with it:

      – First, biking advocates need allies, and since many current and potential bike users are poor, it makes sense to listen to groups who are more explicitly rooted in advocating for poor people

      – Second, biking advocates need allies specifically in a big transportation bill anticipated next year. If TriMet gets a bunch of funding this year, then it’ll be easier for people to say next year “hey we just gave money to this non-car crap.”

      Some other possibilities that Sadowsky didn’t mention:

      1) If TriMet gets a bunch of money now, then they might have less reason to throw full weight behind next year’s bill.

      2) This isn’t discussed here but there’s a potential feud brewing between TriMet and active transportation advocates (among other people) over other funding questions. If TriMet “went off on its own” to push this bill, other people in the low-car coalition might be distancing themselves from it as a way to pressure TriMet to stick with the pack.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 10, 2016 at 3:07 pm

        yes… to add onto what Michael says… There has been some heartburn in the past from BTA and others when TriMet has gone out on its own to grab federal funds from pots that biking/walking competes in…. like back in 2011 when TriMet tried to tap an ODOT source for Orange Line funds and it raised BTA eyebrows

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        • GlowBoy February 11, 2016 at 8:00 am

          So, to boil it down: advocates for non-car transportation are squabbling with each other over monay? Keep it classy, Portland.

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          • Huey Lewis February 11, 2016 at 8:32 am

            Can we stop using “keep it classy, _____”?

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            • GlowBoy February 12, 2016 at 8:08 am

              Not as long as trashy stuff like this is happening.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. February 10, 2016 at 3:07 pm

        That makes sense, thanks for the clarification! Just seems like overreaching for a bicycle advocacy organization to oppose a transit tax (not to mention fueling the potential TriMet vs active transportation fire), but as always, there’s hidden political reasoning for everything.

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  • ethan February 10, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    I want better bus service and I’m happy to pay the ~$50 a year it would cost.

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  • Buzz February 10, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    So where’s the bike infrastructure payroll tax?

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    • Paul Atkinson February 10, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      We already pay for transportation through property and income taxes. I prefer mine to pay for bike infrastructure rather than car infrastructure.

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      • dwk February 10, 2016 at 7:01 pm

        Totally agree, subsidies for cycling, running or walking are minimal or basically nothing. Half the transit riders could do one of the three.
        I pay enough for TriMet, I bike to work and I am 62 years old. No one is paying for my pass.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. February 11, 2016 at 8:51 am

      Building bike infrastructure is cheap and saves the government money in the long run. They should be paying us!

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    • was carless February 12, 2016 at 12:57 pm

      Even when the city gets money, they don’t even spend it!

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  • Paul H February 10, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    I’m no wonk, and may be way off base, but it seems to me that the additional financial burden may easily be offset by the potential benefits. More frequent trips means (in theory) better access to jobs, daycare, shopping, etc — and, not least, more time at home.

    Of course, it all depends on the details. If the improved service is mostly in the affluent parts of town, then it’s a horrible deal all the way around.

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  • Jason February 10, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    I go out of my way not to give TriMet money. They don’t use it well and their public facing staff needs improvement.

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  • Chris I February 10, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    I would prefer to see the region focus on efficiency:

    1) Stop consolidation
    2) Priority lanes and signal jump queues

    Both of these cost very little, but allow Trimet to operate existing equipment and operators more efficiently. You get more frequent buses and faster service for the same price.

    If any additional service is needed beyond that point, improve efficiencies in management/maintenance, or raise the existing payroll tax as a last-ditch effort. Adding new tax mechanisms is not the solution.

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  • Eric February 10, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    This is very disappointing news. Better bus service would benefit the entire city. Non-car advocacy groups continue to fight over scraps.

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    • Steve B February 10, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      I don’t think anyone is opposed to the benefits, rather these groups are opposed to the way the funds would be raised. In this case, an additional burden for poor folks while affluent folks get a discount. These details matter.

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    • Buzz February 11, 2016 at 12:10 pm

      TriMet is already well-funded; it’s the cyclists and pedestrians that end up fighting over the scraps, both money and space in the ROW.

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  • Paul Manson February 10, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Tack on free passes for those making under $20k and you have a nice progressive system. (And bus fare is regressive….)

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    • Bjorn February 10, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      Printing free passes and then distributing them all takes overhead and just slows down the boarding process. Better to scrap the expensive new boarding system before they spend all the money on the hardware and just eliminate fares.

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      • Terry D-M February 11, 2016 at 8:04 am

        Just tie it into anyone on Medicaid or SNAP. Very straightforward.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. February 11, 2016 at 8:52 am

        Why not just send free Hop passes in the mail?

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  • Bjorn February 10, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    I would support this if they used part of the money to eliminate fares. That completely negates the concerns about it being regressive and will improve on time performance since boarding will be much faster.

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    • soren February 10, 2016 at 4:05 pm

      Lower income people who do not use Trimet would still get the regressive shaft. Every local tax or fee proposed in the past decade in Portland is regressive. We need a political revolution in this city.

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    • lop February 10, 2016 at 7:58 pm

      Does this tax raise 70 million or 174 million? The article seems a bit unclear.


      In 2013 fare revenue from buses was ~63 million, about 115 million system wide.

      I believe I read in an old trimet report on developing hop fastpass that the current setup costs about ten percent of revenue collected to run. If the tax raises 70 million it wouldn’t be enough to get rid of fares.

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      • David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC February 11, 2016 at 9:58 pm

        It’s a graduated increase over a 10 year period. Very little new revenue in the first year, twice as much in the second year, 3x in the third year, etc, until the full tax rise in the tenth year and thereafter. In response, TriMet is making only minor adjustments in the first year, a bit more in the second (adding frequent service to a couple existing lines, for example), then new service after the third year, and more lines in the following years.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) February 12, 2016 at 4:17 pm

        It raises $70 million — sorry, the $174 million mentioned on the second reference was a transcription error from my calculator. The 42 percent figure is correct, but the number of frequent service bus lanes that could be created here is more like 5 than 12. I’ve fixed.

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  • scott February 10, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    A 42% increase in frequent bus service is 100% useless unless Trimet starts respecting the times that bars close. It’s criminal how the buses stop running before they would be useful to car and bike owners who had a few and don’t want to roll the dice on a DUI, wait an hour for a cab, or have an Uber tell them no bikes.

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    • Evan February 10, 2016 at 9:26 pm

      Hate to break it to you, but most trips aren’t people heading home from bars. They are people going to work, school, universities, doctors appointments, the store, the library, restaurants, etc etc etc

      Don’t conflate what *you* find useful with when most people are actually traveling. Yes, late night service is desirable and we should be working to expand it, but to call transit 100% useless unless it provides that? Absurd.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. February 11, 2016 at 8:55 am

        To his point though, we DO need late night service. If someone is heading somewhere and knows they will be staying there late at night and there’s no guarantee there will be a bus to take them home, they are more likely to just drive there in the first place. Transit needs to be able to be relied upon at all hours.

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      • scott February 11, 2016 at 8:55 am

        Your reading comprehension is at about 42%.

        “A 42% increase in frequent bus service is 100% useless…”

        See? The ‘increase’ is useless.

        I do understand your point, though, I think you missed mine. This city values DUI money more than life and you support that. Cheers.

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        • Evan February 11, 2016 at 9:32 am

          Don’t hide behind semantics. The primary transit needs in this region are simple and have been discussed to no end through TriMet’s Service Enhancement Plans and the process around the Powell-Division Project: all-day frequent service on the major East PDX north-south corridors.

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          • scott February 11, 2016 at 2:18 pm

            Semantics? I’m merely instructing you on what I originally said since you did not read it or understand it correctly. This isn’t a spin zone. Please understand that you missed my point entirely.

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          • scott February 11, 2016 at 2:20 pm

            Also have you never heard of swing shifts or night work? Do you, like tri-met, think that the city shuts down at 1:45am?

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        • Robert Burchett February 14, 2016 at 11:53 am

          Could we please retire the idea that fines imposed for traffic law violations, much less nominal fees for driver’s licenses and hypothetical cyclist’s licenses, are a source of net revenue? The costs of operating a police force and a court system, or the DMV, swamp any fines currently imposed.

          If we changed the laws and let machines fine MV operators for offenses committed in vehicles, OK, ka-ching. (Nothing here is an argument for that.)

          Back to topic: Many numbers are bandied about in this thread, some of them astonishing. I think that if Tri-Met put a bus line on 7-minute frequent service for a year we would learn some very useful things. I also think that the main use of the fare system is to give a plausible legal reason for excluding people we don’t like from the system. Also, collecting bus fares the way we do it now slows the system down. As an infrequent bus rider I would certainly choose to pay a regressive tax and ride ‘free.’

          It’s understandable that various progressive suspects are against the Tri-Met proposal but I regret missing any opportunity to expand the system.

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  • Joseph E February 10, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    I am very disappointed with the BTA and the other groups for opposing this plan. Current bus service is not frequent enough in the city core, and the network in East Portland, Gresham, Beaverton and Hillsboro is weak and needs lots of improvement to give basic service to these high-population, moderate-income areas. Increasing bus service is progressive!
    A flat tax is fair when it is used to fund services used mainly by low an moderate income families, like bus service. Progressive countries in Europe like Denmark, Germany, France and Sweden have tax systems that overall are about the same is ours; their taxes are not more progressive. But since they spend more on public services used by everyone, including transit, there is less inequality and people and live well even if their income is lower.
    OPAL must be the leader in opposition to this plan; the other organizations are not directly focused on Transit. What does OPAL want? Should the employer-side payroll tax be eliminated as well? Are they holding out for a special income tax devoted to transit service (is this possible)? I don’t see how their opposition to this plan is good for their bus-riding supporters.

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    • David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC February 10, 2016 at 6:35 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more. A lot of this funding is going towards new service in East Portland, to connect working-class residents, including many immigrants and new Portlanders, to living-wage employment in the Columbia Corridor. The new service includes huge improvements to bus 71 (on 122nd), bus 87 (on Airport Way & 181st, in Gresham), new services on 148th and on 162nd, as well as out to Troutdale (Boeing). The real mystery is why OPAL is opposed to this. In the BTAs case, it’s just ignorance.

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      • Dave February 11, 2016 at 8:09 am

        Bravo, DH, this is one of the weirdest news items Bikeportland has ever run. What is wrong with the BTA? Glad I don’t give them money.

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        • David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC February 11, 2016 at 12:25 pm

          I have a deep respect for the BTA, BTA staff, Rob Sadowsky in particular, and all that BTA has done over the years. However, in this particular case, I think their stance is the wrong one to take. I do understand why they have done so – alliance-building often requires that organizations compromise on occasion.

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      • ethan February 11, 2016 at 9:59 am

        The added bus lines and frequency will really help in East Portland. I used to live off of Sandy around 162nd, and a bus line on 162nd would have been a huge help. Even with the added taxes, I will end up saving money by having more transit. I take a few trips to the airport a year, but because of how long it takes to get to the airport by public transit from my house, I will only take public transit if I’m 100% certain that it will get me there with plenty of time. Trimet is wanting to extend a bus line, and add another one. Both of which could shave down my trip to the airport from over an hour to roughly 30 minutes or so.

        That will save me the cost of a few taxis a year, which would easily cover the costs I’ll be paying in added taxes.

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      • soren February 11, 2016 at 11:56 am

        Neither the BTA or Opal are opposed to the increase in funding. They are opposed to the outrageous regressive mechanism:

        In a letter to the state legislature, the BTA joined with 1000 Friends of Oregon, Better Eugene-Springfield Transit, the Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters to note that transit agencies don’t need legislative permission to levy a new net income tax, which would cover more types of income but exempt people with zero taxable income.

        The idea that someone who pays no income tax at all would be taxed at the same rate as a wealthy person like me is reprehensible.

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        • are February 11, 2016 at 4:02 pm

          this point is made in the letter, linked in the article, but i do think it would have been helpful, michael and jon, to highlight this. a more equitable potential funding source already exists.

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    • soren February 10, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      Denmark, Sweden, and Germany compensate for regressive consumption taxes via progressivity that the average USAnian cannot begin to comprehend.

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      • Joseph E February 10, 2016 at 10:14 pm

        And this would be a tiny, tiny step in that direction.
        I read Michael’s comment above; it looks like OPAL and BTA may be opposing this mainly because they want a comprehensive transit/bike/walk funding package, and are concerned that this bill would make it harder to get the money for bikes and walking.
        I disagree; let’s raise the gas tax and use that for funding street improvements (including adding sidewalks, bike lanes and paths, signals, paving etc).
        But Transit needs more steady operating funds, and a payroll tax is a good way do it.

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. February 11, 2016 at 10:34 am

          Yep. The BTA’s reaction to this bill seems nothing more than a childish “It’s not fair! Why does transit get money but not bikes?!” Transit, biking, and walking should not compete with each other, but rather should be complimentary. I’d love to be proven wrong here, but so far no one from the BTA has commented here to make their case.

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          • Steve B. February 11, 2016 at 1:45 pm

            Where did you get that from? That is not a fair characterization.

            The BTA (along with other groups including transit advocates OPAL) is concerned about the tax mechanism, not that transit is getting money. This concern is clearly stated in the article.

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            • Adam H.
              Adam H. February 11, 2016 at 2:19 pm

              I was basing this off of Jonathan and Michael’s interpretation expressed in the comments.

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              • are February 11, 2016 at 4:05 pm

                the starting point for all this back and forth should be the text of the letter BTA and OPAL et al. actually submitted to the legislature. the argument is not don’t give trimet money, the argument is don’t take the money disproportionately from the pockets of the working poor. it is almost stunning how many comments on this thread have misconstrued what the argument actually is.

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        • soren February 11, 2016 at 11:43 am

          I have absolutely no problem with a payroll tax funding mechanism. Your implicit assumption that I do is a strawman.

          Why are progressive taxes off the table in “liberal” portland? Why do we repeatedly tax lower income people more than wealthy people like me?

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          • dan February 11, 2016 at 9:53 pm

            Maybe because Portland isn’t as liberal as you think it is? Perhaps the influx of new residents is changing the political appetite?

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          • BeavertonRider February 12, 2016 at 2:37 pm

            Except that higher income folks are not taxed less. In terms of rate, they pay the same rate where there is no graduated scale; and in nominal terms, the rich pay more in actual dollars.

            So why do you think the lower income folks pay “more”? They neither do in terms of rate or nominal dollars.

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  • Tom Hardy February 10, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    24/7 service for MAX. Even if it is a single car during the wee hours.

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    • David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC February 10, 2016 at 6:48 pm

      I’ve asked TriMet’s main planner Alan Lehto about that on occasion. They need to close the MAX periodically at night for routine track and signal maintenance. However, they do have an ongoing process for running trains all night, especially at New Years. Doing it nightly would be much more complicated. Basically, they would do a rotation of services whereby parts of the MAX would operate, but other parts would be replaced with buses, different parts each night. New York does this. Naturally, TriMet would need more money to do this, but it is technically possible. Another possibility, often used in other cities, is to run a “great route” bus during the wee hours, a frequent service on a fixed route that is much longer than normal routes – it may take you two hours to ride the whole loop, but it would stop at key locations (downtown, Lloyd Center, Airport, Gresham, Clackamas TC, etc.)

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      • Mao February 11, 2016 at 12:23 am

        Yes please

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. February 11, 2016 at 8:56 am

        Just make all the frequent service bus lines 24 hours.

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    • are February 11, 2016 at 4:06 pm

      they certainly should be running trains from the airport at least until some meaningful time after the last incoming plane arrives.

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      • Robert Burchett February 14, 2016 at 1:19 pm

        TriMet is already laboring to hire new drivers. Because of the need to cover extra commute hours and evening schedules, new hires face undesirable schedules (split shifts, second shifts, getting home at 2:00 AM).

        I agree with another commenter that it’s crazy that the airport MAX shuts down before late flights get in, but if there is no connecting bus what then? I guess it would take a 20-25% increase in labor cost to keep the system going long enough to get the people who board at 1:30 AM home, then park the buses.

        Really the next step is 24 hour service, but who is going to drive?

        Waiting for the smart bus–

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        • Dan A February 14, 2016 at 8:38 pm

          Flew in from Hawaii once, got in around 11:20pm (not unusual for a flight from HI). After picking up our bags, we went to get on the Max and……no Max. Had to take a $50 cab ride to my lot near the Lloyd Center. LAME.

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  • Tom Hardy February 10, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Hopefully they will not be using more Pullgates for MUP crossing

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  • John Liu
    John Liu February 10, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    I suspect that the average regular bus rider is more likely to be low income. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me for low income workers to pay the same 0.18% as high income workers, few of whom regularly take the bus. The worker making $100K will still pay $200/year versus the $20K worker’s $37/year.

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    • Steve Scarich February 11, 2016 at 8:44 am

      That was my reaction as well…well, my first reaction was ‘why not just raise the fares, so that those who use the system, pay for the system?’, but I’m sure that is way too simplistic.

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      • David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC February 11, 2016 at 12:19 pm

        This is what a “public service” really is about. We all pay for it, through various taxes (federal and state gas tax, local property tax, payroll, etc.) and various fees (bus fares, tolls in other states, parking fees, etc.) Bus fares only account for about 10% of the cost of TriMet’s services, the rest comes from other sources, but at least the riders pay a little bit. Car drivers pay even less – gas taxes, parking fees in and around downtown, vehicle registration, etc. And, of course, bicyclists pay next to nothing to use the streets (general taxes which everyone pays, sales tax in Washington, indirect gas tax for UPS & Fedex deliveries, etc.) Granted, the impact of a bicyclist is minimal, but so is the impact of a single rider on a full bus. The car driver on the other hand…

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    • Cora Potter February 11, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      Not to mention that there is a large population of non-wage earning low income folks that are highly transit dependent, including folks on Social Security (retirement and disability).

      It seems to me that the lack of progressiveness on taxing investment income could be solved with a transaction fee or other mechanism in addition to the payroll tax.

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    • Adron @ Transit Sleuth February 11, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      Actually that isn’t true. Median income and higher make up about 70% of riders.

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      • David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC February 11, 2016 at 9:48 pm

        I’ve heard from many of the very poorest can no longer afford a daily $5 round trip transit fare in Portland. For many, it is actually cheaper on the long run to buy a used car on Craig’s List (stolen?), not pay insurance, nor register the car, nor have a license, then drive on back roads to work. If they don’t break any laws, the police generally do not pull them over, at least in Portland. Plus with gas heading to $1 a gallon, who can resist a bargain?

        And since many of these folks work at night, when there is no transit service, in areas that lack good transit connections (or bike and ped infrastructure for that matter), why would they not do this?

        (Here in Greensboro, there are several recent notorious cases of being pulled over for “driving while black.” And, yes, biking and walking here totally sucks!)

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  • al m February 10, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    COME ON!
    Do you trust these technocrats?
    Fred Hansen living in luxury on a $17k/mo pension and Neil Mcfarlane about to get a $170k cash payout on retirement and then $13k a month FOR LIFE!

    HELL NO!


    This end run around the voters tells the story!

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    • Dave Thomson February 11, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      You live in a representative democracy, not a direct democracy. The “I should get to vote on everything” refrain just illustrates our failure to effectively teach civics.

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      • Al M February 12, 2016 at 6:54 am

        Right. Our elected leaders are doing such a wonderful job just let them make all the decisions

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  • J February 10, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    There isn’t anyone at any of the organizations opposing this bill (I can confidently assume) that doesn’t want this kind of money – and much, much more – for transit expansion.

    But this bill, as written and timed (ahead of the 2017 transportation package), is a transparent attempt by TriMet and LTD to protect the wealthiest residents in their district from contributing their fair share to a transit funding solution. It’s an attempt to reduce the impact that the growing political consensus around new transportation revenues might have on wealthy households.

    But first, let’s back up and stop pretending that a regressive tax – and nobody can reasonably argue that this tax isn’t regressive – is fine and lovely when/if it is “used to fund services used mainly by low and moderate income families, like bus service.” The ends justify the means, right? No.The first thing (among many other things) wrong with this is how narrowly the benefits of bus service are being characterized to justify a regressive tax. Better transit benefits everyone! Everyone. In many, many, many ways that a few minutes on google can tell you all about. The thing about transit is, even if it’s only “used” by some, its public benefit is enormous and intersectional and shared by “non-users.” And don’t forget, the people we call users have to pay for transit twice – in taxes and at the farebox. Wealthy non-users should not be excused from paying their fair share… but I digress…

    Anyway, the tip-off that this is a transparent attempt to reduce the impact of new transit taxes on wealthy residents is that TriMet and LTD already have authority for a proper income tax – not just this much narrower tax on wages. They just don’t want to use that authority. Because wealthy people don’t like income taxes. Thus, the wage tax compromise.

    A wage tax is nearly the equivalent of an income tax on poor and working class households because most of their income comes from employee wages. But this is less and less true the further you move up the income scale, as more and more household income comes from non-wage sources. So the *effective tax rate* on wealthy households is actually lower than the effective tax rate on poor and working class households – some of whom will then pay for transit a second time at the farebox. And the technical, political science term for that is: bullshit.

    I’m thrilled to see groups like BTA, OPAL, and others think meaningfully and strategically about important revenue policies like this.

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    • Joseph E February 10, 2016 at 10:28 pm

      Can you confirm that the bus services in Eugene and other small cities have the authority to add a new income tax, in addition to Trimet?
      Why didn’t Trimet do this instead of cutting service during the recession?

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      • J February 10, 2016 at 11:28 pm

        It’s a bit more complicated than this of course, but basically, TriMet and LTD are treated the same under Oregon law, and have the power to raise revenue *by board ordinance* in several ways they don’t currently use (for political reasons). This including net income taxes. See: http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/267.300

        This income tax power include both personal income and corporate income. See: http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/267.370

        Almost all the other transit districts/agencies in Oregon (including, for bizarre reasons, Salem) have this same power except that they have to first get it approved by popular vote in their service district. See: http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/316.147 (section 2)

        As to why TriMet didn’t explore revenue options like this during their recent financial crisis… Well, first of all, there was no financial crisis at TriMet. You should really talk to the folks at OPAL about that…

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        • J February 10, 2016 at 11:57 pm

          Oops. That link to the non-TriMet/LTD financing authority should have been: http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/267.615 Cut and paste fail.

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        • Joseph E February 12, 2016 at 1:01 am

          I can’t literally do that (I’m not living in Portland at the moment), but do you have a link to something I can read?

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          • Joseph E February 12, 2016 at 1:01 am

            (Commend re: “You should really talk to the folks at OPAL about that…

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    • Steve B. February 11, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      Comment of the week! Nicely stated, thank you.

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    • bjcefola February 11, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      Where is the campaign for a transit-funding income tax?

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  • al m February 10, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Why are people so blind to Trimet and what it REALLY is?

    I just don’t get it

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    • GlowBoy February 11, 2016 at 7:53 am

      You mean, a transit agency? Which runs buses and trains? Which hundreds of thousands of Portlanders ride to get around? Which allows them to avoid going there in cars?

      Why are people so blind to TriMet and what it REALLY is? I just don’t get it.

      I’ve been riding TriMet for 20 years, and have taken several thousand rides – with few major problems. Although I recently moved to Minneapolis, I still spend 4-6 weeks a year in Portland, and thanks to TriMet I’m able to leave the airport on a MAX train instead of a doofy rental car. TriMet is not perfect, but it is one of the higher ranked transit agencies in the country. Overall, I’ve found it to be pretty great, and arguably it’s more functional and cost-effective than the road system.

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      • al m February 11, 2016 at 6:35 pm

        Ah, no, I know that I am not going to get a lot of sympathy around here but I can tell you that there is plenty of funds at Trimet to do bus service (and rail service) in a much more comprehensive fashion.

        You guys here are buying the idea that “IF WE DON’T GIVE THEM MORE MONEY WE CAN’T EXPAND SERVICE”

        I got news for you, I am AGAINST ALL TAXES on working people. I don’t care what its for. And Trimet has this HUGE bureaucracy that is eating up most of the current dollars.

        Fred Hansen gets $17k a month for the rest of his life

        Neil Mcfarlane will be handed a check for $170k the day he decides to leave the throne and then he will recieve $13k a month for the rest of his life

        There are DOZENS AND DOZENS of these examples but nobody ever wants to ask about it.

        TRIMET says “we need more money to expand” and everybody just believes it.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. February 11, 2016 at 10:38 am

      TriMet, a transit agency, wanting more money to pay for transit services? Colour me shocked.

      What exactly are you accusing TriMet of doing here, Al?

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  • TheCat February 10, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    I support the BTA, OPAL, and other social justice groups. Regressive taxes are a bad idea. There are other ways to raise money for transit.

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    • Steve B. February 11, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      Agreed. Kudos to these groups for standing against regressive funding measures.

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  • J_R February 10, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    I have a very hard time believing that Trimet would actually increase bus service by more than a few percentage points if this tax were enacted. I think it more likely that they would significantly add middle manager, supervisors, and various personnel. I predict they would waste more money on “enhancements” like swing gates, public relations efforts, and exotic equipment like the WES.

    Trimet already has one of the best benefit packages for their employees and health insurance plan for employees and retirees that beyond belief.

    This is an agency that really needs to improve its fiscal performance.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. February 11, 2016 at 10:42 am

      exotic equipment like the WES

      Blame the FRA for that, whom requires all heavy rail vehicles to be made in the US and meet ridiculous weight standards. This prevents US transit agencies from simply (and much more cheaply) pulling from off-the-shelf European DMU trainsets.

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      • J_R February 11, 2016 at 10:59 am

        We’re talking about Wilsonville to Beaverton. It makes absolutely no sense for this to be served by ANY type of rail system. Not heavy rail made in the US nor European. Not even light rail. We’re talking about fewer than 2000 riders per day! Costs are in the millions for running this system.

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        • Dave Thomson February 11, 2016 at 7:00 pm

          Tri-Met never wanted WES, they were forced into it.

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          • Al M February 12, 2016 at 6:53 am

            That was the streetcar. WES was free Hansen’s baby

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        • Dave February 12, 2016 at 11:29 am

          No sense? Driven 217 in midafternoon lately?

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  • Randy February 10, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    Do you really want more diesel air pollution from more Trimet buses? I’ve asked, no answer yet. How much air pollution from one Trimet bus during one shift.

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    • GlowBoy February 11, 2016 at 7:39 am

      You do recognize that the pollution from one TriMet bus more than offsets the pollution from the cars that its riders would otherwise be driving, right?

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      • dan February 11, 2016 at 8:44 am

        Not if the bus was routinely running at less than capacity, or worse yet with only one or two passengers.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty February 11, 2016 at 12:53 pm

        Bus exhaust is worse than car exhaust.

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        • GlowBoy February 12, 2016 at 8:09 am

          But the exhaust of one bus is not worse than the exhaust from 20 cars.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty February 12, 2016 at 8:16 am

            That probably depends on the vintage of the car.

            The real question is why doesn’t Trimet use cleaner buses.

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            • GlowBoy February 13, 2016 at 6:47 am

              We’re talking averages here, obviously.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty February 13, 2016 at 9:47 am

                We’re talking about Trimet needs to clean up their buses.

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    • canuck February 11, 2016 at 10:08 am

      It would be great if they considered using LNG instead of diesel on newly purchased buses.

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  • Bankerman February 10, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    I agree with the comments by Joseph E and J above. Tri-Met management has issues, and the agency tends to be reactive instead of progressive in many instances. However, it is clear that Portland needs more and better public transit. I fully support this new payroll tax even though it will cost my household $250.00+ annually; I don’t use the bus or Max system, but even an old codger like me understands that how we get around needs to change. There is nothing preventing revisions while the bill is in process, such as raising the threshhold to say $20k or $30k to exempt low income households from having to pay the tax. I believe that improved and expanded public transit is vital and hopefully more people will take the bus if service improvements are made. I also agree with posters suggesting that fares should be completely eliminated and I would gladly pay another $250.00 a year to make the system free to everyone who wants to ride (I understand that fare revenues total approximately $115k per year). As a car driver, every person utilizing public transit takes more cars off of the road and makes my automobile commute easier.

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    • Captain Karma February 11, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      I would totally use TriMet ALL the time if it was fare free or even half what it is now.

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  • JeffS February 11, 2016 at 12:13 am

    Earmarked taxes rarely work because nothing prevents the government from removing existing funding. In the end, it’s just another tax increase.

    Raising an existing tax could accomplish the exact same thing.

    Many seem focused on the equity of the tax itself without mentioning the lack of equity in the system itself. We continue to want to charge everyone equally for services that are not provided equally across the taxed area.

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  • TheCat February 11, 2016 at 7:30 am

    JeffSMany seen focused on the equity of the tax itself without mentioning the lack of equity in the system itself. We continue to want to charge everyone equally for services that are not provided equally across the taxed area.

    That’s a straw man argument. None of the people arguing for equity “want to charge everyone equally.” In fact, we are arguing for progressive taxation, which is the opposite.

    In addition, none of us said we shouldn’t have more and better transit service.

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    • JeffS February 11, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Can’t believe I’m even responding to a strawman accuser, but you’re wrong and your reading comprehension is horrific. Increased funding does not equal service equality.

      If you want me to do your research for you and support my position… well, I’m not going to do it, but I certainly could. In the mean-time, if you can find me one comment, or one article that is arguing for both progressive taxation AND equality of service city-wide I would love to see it.

      You’re not going to find it though, since everyone has accepted decreasing levels of service as you move away from the core as fact, which was exactly my point.

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  • GlowBoy February 11, 2016 at 7:37 am

    Disgusting move by the BTA. Another reason they won’t see a dime from me.

    And yes, the tax is regressive, but transit also benefits lower income people proportionately more. An expansion like this would allow significant numbers of poorer Portlanders to leave their cars at home or not own one in the first place – saving them a tons of money. You’d think more BikePortlanders would recognize that.

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    • dwk February 11, 2016 at 9:01 am

      They could also ride a bike? Maybe we could encourage that instead?

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    • Scott H February 11, 2016 at 11:10 am

      I can’t stand the BTA either, but I don’t fault them on this one. Everyone is trying to form an orderly line and TriMet is trying to cut to the front like a Washington driver.

      Not to mention, TriMet has recently proven they’re incapable of spending the money they already have, responsibly. They waste it on manual swing gates and fancy, expensive, redundant fare system when they can’t even maintain the one they already have, and now they want to just throw more buses at the problem instead of improving efficiencies. Obviously any public transit agency is going to have a few missteps here and there but TriMet has been taking the incompetence to the next level recently.

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  • Tom February 11, 2016 at 9:28 am

    I would like to see funding for a more holistic approach instead of piecemeal grab bags. BRT lanes may help more than more frequent service. Where is the thoughtful holistic analysis that puts everything on the table and then distributes the funds in proportion.

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  • Jessica February 11, 2016 at 9:31 am

    Wow, you guys really don’t see that $37 dollars is a WEEKS WORTH OF FOOD for some families? $37 is a month of getting to work on the bus – with a subsidized ticket. $37 is the repair your bike needs to get to work, if you bike. $37 is NOTHING TO SNEEZE AT when you are poor.

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  • Daniel Costantino February 11, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Several reasons I disagree with the opposition to this bill:

    Objectively, it’s not that much money: 0.18%. Sure, it’d be nice for the rate to be progressive, but at this small of an amount, how much would that really change? $0.73 per week for someone making $20,000 per year.

    Objectively, the proposed service increase is huge: 42%. 12-20 new frequent bus lines. That’s comparable in scale to the ENTIRE current frequent network. That directly serves the core constituencies of many of the advocacy groups in the TJA.

    Economically and/or politically speaking, alternative revenue sources all come with major liabilities. Capital Gains is even more vulnerable to recessions than wage income. Fare increases would have a much stronger immediate impact on disadvantaged riders. And Oregonians pretty much blanket refuse sales taxes anytime they come up.

    In my opinion, the “affordable housing” argument is a distraction. Housing issues are solved over timelines that reflect planning, development and construction. Even if the legislature (and city council) came up with perfect policy solutions today, it would take at least 5 years for major amounts of new affordable housing to appear on the market. New bus service can likely be implemented within 1 year of establishing a new income stream, providing immediate, measurable benefits to disadvantaged households.

    In my opinion, the state legislature is highly unlikely to pass a more “holistic” approach to non-auto transportation. The fact is that there is no financial model in place for building walking and cycling infrastructure. Sidewalks have always been built by developers, and bike lanes/tracks/boulevards are an after-thought that only cities have ever expressed any interest in. The state’s general fund is desperately tight, and I don’t see the legislature making any massive shifts toward programs they’ve never funded before. Particularly not in a short session. But a quick-fix payroll tax that only affects areas of the state where transit support is higher than everywhere else? That could work.

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    • soren February 11, 2016 at 11:45 am

      “Sure, it’d be nice for the rate to be progressive,”

      This is exactly what was argued for the last 4 taxes or fees. There is absolutely no reason this tax cannot be progressive.

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      • Daniel Costantino February 11, 2016 at 11:51 am

        The point I am making is that in theory this can be progressive, but it wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference. So, this might be worth arguing over in committee, but it’s probably not worth making a hard stand about it if it jeopardizes passing the legislation and getting the massive service benefits it promises.

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        • soren February 11, 2016 at 1:08 pm

          but it’s probably not worth making a hard stand

          i’d have sympathy for this argument if i had not heard the last half dozen times.

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  • Dan Christensen February 11, 2016 at 11:09 am

    As a bus driver I do not support this tax at all. This is a terrible idea to give Tri-met a permanent independent source of income without requiring changes in the structure of the Tri-met board. It’s not a matter of who will benefit and who will pay. It’s how will it be spent. Neither Tri-met board nor it’s management team can be trusted to act in a way that will not serve themselves first and the public second.

    Reforms must be made to make the board and Tri-Met management accountable to the public that it serves. Even as a bus driver I want to see change. I do not like this witches brew (no offense to witches out there) of Corporation and Government. It’s time to make them accountable first.

    Do not think this will go into increased services. This is a grab for capital projects money. We have never needed this tax before! Now though Tri-Met is on the hunt for fund to build their over bloated Capital projects.

    4 Reforms-

    1: Make the board and Management accountable through reforming their mandate and board structure from appointed to elected.

    2: Put a cap on capital projects limiting their size of the Trimet budget by % per year. This would allow them to expand at controlled steps.

    3: Open information policy. No more freedom of information acts require to obtain operational information of a non-personal kind. This cat and mouse game of hiding information has got to go. Everything must be open and accessible. Once this would have cost a fortune now it’s virtually free with the internet. DO it!

    4: Termination for obstruction of public information. This should start at the manager level. If you change data, hide data or fail to report data you will be terminated. No more finding tens of millions after contract talks are done. No more padding contracts with that are only there to be cut when latter to disguise budgets going over. No more secret pay raises. Above board on everything possible.

    When we have the 4 reforms, we will have the ability to control our transit agency. Then I will back giving them more.

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  • Daniel Costantino February 11, 2016 at 11:51 am

    The point I am making is that in theory this can be progressive, but it wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference. So, this might be worth arguing over in committee, but it’s probably not worth making a hard stand about it if it jeopardizes passing the legislation and getting the massive service benefits it promises.

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  • Matt S. February 11, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Why doesn’t Trimet just increase wages and then tax. Oh wait…

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  • TheCat February 11, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    You’re not going to find it though, since everyone has accepted decreasing levels of service as you move away from the core as fact, which was exactly my point.

    Nice of you to tell me what I have accepted. I most definitely have not accepted that, and by one example your “everyone” is dismantled.

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  • Al M February 12, 2016 at 6:59 am
  • Jason McHuff February 13, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    Chris I
    I would prefer to see the region focus on efficiency:
    1) Stop consolidation
    2) Priority lanes and signal jump queues
    Both of these cost very little, but allow Trimet to operate existing equipment and operators more efficiently. You get more frequent buses and faster service for the same price.
    If any additional service is needed beyond that point, improve efficiencies in management/maintenance, or raise the existing payroll tax as a last-ditch effort. Adding new tax mechanisms is not the solution.
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    Yes, we have a government which seems to see only two options on what to do about some issue: either do nothing/don’t spend money or throw money at problems. There’s not enough discussion on how things can be done more efficiently and how existing funding can be used more creatively.

    Another big thing they could do is encourage more employers to provide free passes (like they provide free parking), and do it by giving payroll tax credits to those that do. Just putting buses out on the street isn’t useful if people don’t ride them.

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