No New Street Fee: City Council Should Approve Street Maintenance from the General Fund

CascadeNewLogoRecently, Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick suggested that the City Council approve $7 million in General Fund dollars to help pay for street maintenance. The City expects to have a surplus of some $9 million this fall, allowing new discretionary requests from individual bureaus.

Such a transfer would be far preferable to enacting a street tax, which has been widely opposed. Continuing to push the tax would be divisive and a huge waste of time for the hundreds of city residents who would show up to oppose it. Street maintenance is one of the most basic responsibilities for any municipality. Therefore, it is appropriate to use property tax dollars from the General Fund to maintain the road network.

Moreover, the City Council has an abysmal track record of managing dedicated transportation user fees. This was highlighted in a report issued last year by the Portland City Auditor, showing that dedicated transportation revenues had been going up over the last decade, while actual spending on road maintenance had dropped. This conclusion makes any proposed tax increase a non-starter.

The unexpected budget surplus gives the Council a graceful way to put the street tax proposal to bed. They should take the opportunity and move on.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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  • Bob Clark

    I wish it were so that Portland City Hall is dropping the street tax proposal. However, instead PBOT staff is full speed ahead with the street tax/income tax.

    City Council is holding a workshop to consider the latest concoction of the street tax – and it is now a steeped progressive income tax with some folks targeted to pay as much as $2,400 per year. There is also a proposed new tax on businesses which is so convoluted the correlation between road usage and the business activity is very weak if at all signifcantly positive.

    And if this were not bad enough for most Portland citizens, both Hales and Commissioner Novick continue to scheme on bypassing voters altogether and simply enacting this new tax on a 3-to-2 Council vote.

    City Council is scheduled to meet next Monday (October 13) between 3 and 5 pm to review the latest street tax concoction, and public comment will not be taken as this is a work session. If this new concoction should get endorsed by the Mayor and Novick or be tweaked, a first reading of the tax ordinance proposal would be November 12th. The Council vote would be one week later based on current scheduling.

    I am looking into referendum and/or initiative if Council simply bypasses voters and implements this new tax. Referendum is exceedingly difficult and requires money and organization. The latter we can work on but the former requires some folks willing to sacrifice for the greater good of all fiscal conservative tax payers. Referendum is most difficult because it allows for only 30 days for signature gathering from the moment the ordinance is passed by Council.

    Initiative requires 50% more signatures but allows for 90 days, more or less.

    The other things folks can do to possibly help gain citizens an upfront vote is to (1) call Commissioner Fritz’s office asking for referral before tax can be implemented. (2) Contact neighborhood associations asking them to take a position in favor of letting citizens a vote on the implementation of any new tax designed to raise revenue for transportation.

    Dr. Eric Fruits runs the website, and it provides an ongoing review of developments in Portland’s proposed street tax/income tax. Admittedly, it is fairly critical but in this town if you are milk toast, you get run over backwards and forwards, multiple times.

    Finally, it is interesting John is using the City Auditor’s report to argue against imposition of a new street tax. Hales and Novick are also using this same report to support imposing a new street tax and fee. But in John’s case it is prim a fascia evidence of how the city time and time again blows public monies not on basic maintenance but instead on the latest new glitzy, public conspicuous consumption project.

  • Fie on the incumbents

    IMO, the twits on the Portland creepy council should be recalled and sent packing to a boiler room wherein their unwelcome spam is the game of their inane!

    • F o t i

      substitute ‘game’ with “shame”

  • Jonathan

    I would probably put the surplus into a reserve fund.