A threat by Governor Kate Brown to veto a highly anticipated project in southwest Portland has been met with shock and bewilderment by advocates and legislators. Now with little time to spare before Brown acts on her stated intentions, an effort has begun to persuade her to change her mind.
Neighborhood advocates have been urging the City of Portland to make Southwest Capitol Highway safer 26 years. The City of Portland has raised about $10 million for a project that would finally build sidewalks, bikeways and make other updates to the street between Multnomah Village and Taylors Ferry Road. Thanks to the passage of House Bill 5006 last month, everyone expected an additional $2 million for a final, key segment of the project. Governor Brown’s inexplicable veto threat puts that funding in jeopardy.
Asked for comment this afternoon, Brown’s Communications Director Chris Pair offered no additional rationale for the threat beyond what was shared in a statement yesterday — that they felt the project should go through more vetting and evaluation and that it should have been included in the larger transportation package.
But that explanation doesn’t sit well with Senator Ginny Burdick, whose district is directly adjacent to the project.
“I was very upset when I learned of the line-item veto,” Burdick shared on the phone today. “Senator [Richard] Devlin worked very hard to get that funding and the project absolutely needs to be done. It’s a hazard for everyone concerned — particularly bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Burdick said she and fellow legislators including Senator Devlin and House Rep Jennifer Williamson have all been in contact with the Governor’s office. “We’re all urging her to change her mind.”
“The project absolutely needs to be done. It’s a hazard for everyone concerned — particularly bicyclists and pedestrians.”
— Ginny Burdick, Oregon Senator
Asked why the project wasn’t put into the $5.3 billion transportation package, Burdick said they feared it would have gotten lost in the shuffle, put further down the priority list and possibly delayed. “Senator Devlin worked really hard to get it through the process and this is very disappointing.” As for the Governor’s claim that the project needs to be vetted. “Of course it had been vetted,” Burdick said, “It was vetted thoroughly through the Ways and Means process. I don’t buy that idea that it’s not been adequately vetted.”
Advocates who have pushed for this project for decades echo Burdick’s perspective.
Southwest Portland neighborhood activist Marianne Fitzgerald told me today she first wrote a letter to the City of Portland supporting updates to Capitol Highway in 1991. “We have lobbied every elected official and staff for improvements since then,” she added.
Here’s an outline of the history of this project (created by PBOT):
“Vetoing an appropriation of $2 million when the local government is putting up $8 million sends the wrong message.”
— Steve Novick, former City of Portland Commissioner
Jules Bailey, a former Oregon House Representative who lives near Capitol Highway and said he was so happy to hear it got funded that he hugged his wife, said he’s shocked Governor Brown seems to be playing politics with such an important safety project. “This lack of process argument [from Governor Brown’s office] is really confounding to me and frankly if there are political or process reasons it might be vetoed, that’s putting the life and safety of families in the area versus some sort of backroom Salem power game… It sends a signal to people that safety for their familes comes second to backroom deals.”
Another southwest Portland resident and former elected official that has raised eyebrows at Governor Brown’s veto threat is Steve Novick. Novick, who successfully paised a gas tax increase as transportation commissioner and supported over $3 million of that money to fund the Capitol Highway project, reached out to BikePortland today to share his take on the situation. “I told the legislators I was counting on them for the last $2 million as I was putting the gas tax proposal together,” he wrote. “The state should provide incentives for local governments to do the hard work of raising their own money. Vetoing an appropriation of $2 million when the local government is putting up $8 million sends the wrong message.”
Is there a chance Brown could reverse course? Bailey said anything’s possible with enough pressure from the community and legislators.
Brown is required by law to provide notice five business days in advance of a veto. That means we have until Tuesday August 15th to convince her that she shouldn’t do it.
You can contact the Governor’s office via this online form or by calling (503) 378-4582.
UPDATE, Thursday (8/10) at 3:30 pm: Senator Richard Devlin, who represents this district and is considered the primary champion of the project, just told me in a phone call he plans to hand-deliver a letter to Governor Brown on Friday. He said he can’t think of any rational basis for the veto threat. More from our conversation coming in a separate post.
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