Representative Matt Wingard: Runaway transit benefits

2009 Legislature Passed Bill Allowing Agency to Raise Payroll Taxes

Watch KATU’s July 16 investigation to TriMet’s benefits

SALEM”” Rep. Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville) today called on the House to hold interim hearings on TriMet and its escalating fringe benefits costs. The agency, which was recently granted legislative authority to raise payroll taxes, is cutting services to Metro-area residents while paying over $150 million in unsustainable fringe benefits to employees and their dependents. “On behalf of taxpayers and TriMet passengers, it’s time to hold the agency accountable for its inability to manage its finances and deliver services in a fiscally sustainable manner,” Rep. Wingard said. “The agency and the transit union should be given an opportunity to explain why they are raising taxes while paying more in employee benefits than wages. Because the Legislature has the ability to authorize payroll tax increases, and the Governor appoints members to the TriMet Board, legislative hearings on this issue are appropriate.”
Like the State of Oregon , TriMet pays 100 percent of their employees’ health benefits costs. Despite a $31 million deficit, TriMet’s benefits package is considered the most generous among all transit agencies in the nation.

“TriMet pays $1,932 per month for health care for every current and retired employee – by far the highest of any transit district in the nation,” Rep. Wingard said. “As long as TriMet fails to address these escalating costs, the agency will continue to generate deficits and cut services to the thousands of riders who depend on TriMet for their daily transportation.”

Watch Rep. Wingard’s May 27 debate on TriMet, SB 34

In May, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 34 to give TriMet the authority to raise their area payroll taxes by 14.3 percent. With high unemployment and expensive fringe benefits, Rep. Wingard said the agency should pursue savings and reforms before it completes the process of raising taxes.

“There’s no reason that TriMet should be raising taxes and operating the most generous health care package in the county at a time when the Metro area’s unemployment rate exceeds 12.3 percent,” Rep. Wingard said. “The Legislature should bring TriMet, the union and others to Salem where taxpayers and passengers can learn whether the agency is truly committed to bringing these unsustainable costs under control.”

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 6 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Rupert in Springfield

    >it’s time to hold the agency accountable for its inability to manage its finances

    How foolish. this agency is managing it’s finances quite well.

    Admittedly I do not live in Portland and thus am not familiar with the intricacies of Tri Met. However if you give a board that is appointed on the basis of being a crony of the governor the power to raise taxes you have essentially put in place a feudal system of government. When that board raises taxes so as to enrich itself rather than run a railroad properly it is behaving in a perfectly logical manner.

    This represents a complete fundamental structuring problem of the system. It’s how you get foolishness like quarter billion dollar a mile rail lines.

    You have a transit system that is completely divorced from its customers. This is not the same as ridership. The riders are not the customers, the people who pay the taxes to subsidize the system are. Whether the system works well or not, the customers really have no choice, they have to pay regardless.

    You also have a board that has no relationship to the customer. They don’t answer to them, and the customer can’t take his business away. All the board has to do is keep a third party, the rider, reasonably happy and not in open revolt and they can extract as much money from the customer as they want with little consequence.

    What needs to happen is the customer needs to shift from the taxpayer to the rider. There has to be some direct relationship between rate increases and fares. Remove the taxing authority altogether from Tri Met, that’s insanity. Establish a base line, fares with some subsidy portion by tax payers. If costs increase, Tri Met can raise or lower fares as it deems necessary. Giving them taxing authority, so as to mask fundamental problems in the system with an extortion based funding method is simply absurd.

  • anonymous

    Good for Rep. Wingard! Tri Met is a mess! I saw the July 16 special and heard the Golden Fleece Award from Common Sense For Oregon. Seriously, we need some public transit reform!

  • BC

    I think representative Wingard, and maybe Senator Larry George, should press this issue on their own because the current composition of the legislature in Salem is totally useless. I personally sigh a big relief when the current legislature is not in session.

    Another area of excess the representative and Senator should pursue is the excessive price of solar power being paid from ODOT and Energy Trust of Oregon monies – all taxpayer monies. When school days are being cut, it ludcrious for state agencies to be paying 5 to 10 time more for power than the going market price for conventional, and even some green-tag, power. Some developers are making a mint off of Salem’s renewable energy programs.

  • jim karlock

    Isn’t it time to have the board of Trimet elected by residents of the area that it serves?

    Simple case of local control vs smoke filled room appointments.


    • Steve Buckstein

      Jim, I’m not sure that electing the TriMet board will do the trick. TriMet covers roughly the same territory as Metro. Do you think the current elected Metro Council would be an improvement over the current non-elected TriMet board?

      It might be better to simply keep exposing the truth about TriMet’s unsustainable cost structure. As local cities continue to opt-out, as Sandy and Wilsonville have successfully done, the contrast between their relatively functional transit systems and TriMet’s massively dysfunctional one will become more and more obvious.

      Eventually, and hopefully soon, calls such as Rep. Wingard’s for legislative hearings will have to be heeded, and change may be imposed from the “top.” Bottom line: breaking up, privatizing, deregulating TriMet and opening it up to private sector (and even other public sector) competition may prove more fruitful than expending lost of political effort on getting the TriMet board elected.

  • A Conservative Democrat

    And then there is WES (the Whopper of Expensive Scams), TriMet’s costly rail operation between Beaverton and Wilsonville. It is my understanding that it is consuming 1/2 a million dollars every month to carry only about 575 people each day. It would be cheaper to support the American auto industry and buy each of them a small efficient car where they would pay fuel taxes and registration fees. Meanwhile, Metro is planning more money gobbling so-called high capacity rail corridors to create future taxpayer funded money pits.

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