Portland Street Fee: Swing vote Amanda Fritz says she won't approve latest … – OregonLive.com
Barring a political flip-flop from the City Council, Portland voters will get the final say on a controversial plan to charge residents and businesses more than $40 million in annual fees or taxes to pay for transportation projects.
That’s because Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the City Council’s swing vote on the street fee, said Monday that she won’t vote for the latest proposal.
“I wanted to be clear that this isn’t something I can support,” Fritz said.
Fritz’s announcement appears to be the final coffin nail for a City Council-approved street fee promoted since May by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish, each up for re-election when the concept first surfaced, have said they support referring a proposal to voters. Novick and Hales have been courting Fritz from the onset.
Fritz said she is concerned the latest proposal — which would charge individuals $36 to $144 a year, depending on income — is similar to the much-maligned arts tax.
Fritz said she would support only a proposal that exempts low-income individuals. Fritz expressed concerns to Hales and Novick last week, telling them she couldn’t support the current proposal.
Fritz said she doesn’t expect changes aimed at winning her support. “It means that they need somebody else to be their third vote,” she said.
Despite Fritz’s opposition, Novick said Monday that he still plans to push forward with a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday and a vote Jan. 14.
If it loses, Novick said in a text message, “we’ll start working on Plan B.”
Hales, through a spokesman, declined to comment.
The street fee proposal that City Council will consider this week is substantially different than versions released since May — and is likely different than any that may be referred to voters next year.
Under the latest iteration, Portland hoped to raise an estimated $43.8 million a year, half from residents and half from businesses. The money would pay for transportation maintenance and safety projects.
Initially, Hales and Novick floated flat fees of $144 for most households. Then, after canceling a vote in June, they pursued progressive income taxes that could have hit $900 for high earners.
Last week, to win support from the business community, which opposes an income tax, Novick announced new modifications.
Novick abandoned the progressive plan and proposed something that, while based on income, seemed similar to the May model: up to $144 in annual fees for high-income earners. Novick’s proposal included five tiers, with annual rates of about $36, $60, $90, $108 or $144, depending on income.
Fritz said even $36 a year is too much for low-income Portlanders. She compared the latest proposal to the city’s arts tax, which charges $35 a year.
“Three dollars per month is $36 per year, more than the Arts Tax which is also regressive,” Fritz said in a statement announcing her decision. “We should learn from past experience, and we should not solve one problem by making another struggle worse.”
Regardless of Fritz’s position, Novick and Hales faced heavy opposition. Residents and businesses vowed to block the legislation by collecting more than 20,000 signatures to refer it to voters. Novick last week announced that he would pursue sending a progressive income tax to voters in May 2016 or November 2016 if a City Council vote failed.
Fritz said she supports that plan, calling a progressive income tax “the right approach” and endorsing a referral to voters in November 2016.
Will the rest of the City Council agree?
Novick, asked whether he has tried to win support from Fish or Saltzman, declined to comment: “I hereby respectfully avoid answering your question.”
— Brad Schmidt and Andrew Theen